Sunday, August 26, 2012

August 26, 2012

It is amazing what a difference a week can make!  First of all, we are both finally sleeping at night and waking up refreshed and ready to conquer the world.  Our familiarity with the area has increased from 1 city block to 3 or 4, plus we are familiar with a couple of tram and train lines.  We know the names of all the missionaries we are working with and sometimes can remember names of 10 - 12 Chinese students.  We attended our first Zone Conference (good, but very long) had one pair of missionaries to our flat to dinner, and I went on a 6 mile run along the Yarra River without getting lost.

We are getting used to the oddities of our little flat, which is very little.  Two of the light fixtures only work part of the time, the tv doesn't work, and the shower turn on knobs are outside of the shower, so adjusting the temperature creates a bit of a challenge.  It seems that the oven works part of the time.  It took 45 minutes to bake a pan of brownies, yet a roast was cooked to a crisp at what was supposed to be a low temperature in a couple of hours.  We are in close proximity to a tram line, a "footie" field, 440 meter track, a farmers market, supermarkets, a mall, lots of shops, hundreds of mostly Asian food restaurants, and less than 3/4 of a mile from a huge IKEA store.  I've really enjoyed all the walking, and I think Max is losing weight, because he's had to tighten his belt another notch.  It seems people on the street don't make eye contact with anyone else, but if you ask a question, they are extremely friendly and eager to talk and help in any way.  We met a man the other day who had a small pet bird perched on his shoulder.  He said he had rescued it, because it got kicked out of the nest.  The bird was colored in brilliant shades of blue, yellow, and green and was very tame.  It only had one foot; maybe why it was kicked out of the nest.  I think he called it a lourakeet.

This weekend we  attended the baptisms of 4 Chinese students and 3 Vietnamese students.  We hope that since most of the students will return to China, that their faith and testimony will remain strong, and that they will be able to help build up the Church in their country.  It is amazing to witness the teaching of the students, and though we mostly sit and try to stay awake during the Chinese discussions, sometimes we are asked to bear our testimonies in English.  We spend lots of time visiting and interacting with the students, and they are very kind to us.  They are studious and interested in learning English, so they can pass a competency test.  I teach an English class once a week, and the skill levels of the students differs to a very wide degree.

Even though we have been here less than two weeks, we feel that this missionary assignment is the best in the Church.  The Chinese students are great, but we also get to interact daily with 16 dedicated and faithful  missionaries.  We are amazed at how hard they work and how much teaching they do.  It's like having our own grandsons with us every day.  We loved watching them crowding around the mail desk at Zone Conference, hoping for a package from home, and then getting excited about really small a Pez dispenser, Chex Mix, or a key chain.  Make a young missionary happy and send them a package.

Thanks for your prayers and faith on our behalf, and please keep it up.  I know a power beyond our own pulled us through that first week.
Hello you all !
This is the other half of the companionship from down under. My first comment is: "yah, what she said."  It has been/is a bit overwhelming but we trust that we will learn and improve in some way most days and that we will some how be able to serve the Lord by serving these missionaries and the Chinese Branch.  Today is Sunday the 19th, so we will get to attend the branch for the first time. Branch President is Chinese but Cantonese speaking, not Mandarin and we hear that becomes a bit of a problem some times. We might, probably won't ever know.

It is so amazing to actually be here. We are slowly getting acclimated and we hope that continues to improve.  Sleep has been hard to come by.  Waking up, especially Sharla at 2 or 3 in the morning. This morning we both were awake about 4:30. (maybe Sharla even earlier.) No place to take a nap at the Branch and so when we get home and eat dinner, what ever that might be, we are about worn out, but not to anxious to go to bed at 8, so hopefully that will get better, not worse.

The weather has been cool or cold and rainy.  It is 49.5 F right now at 6:45 AM. We have not been totally soaked yet but Sharla got pretty wet yesterday on a run and then later at a local Farmers Market.  We are not having any trouble spending lots of Money. I forgot to call Capital One and so they put a hold on my credit card.  Oh well, I will just use a different one.

We think about family and friends very often, we have had one face time experience on the ipad and that is amazing and it was a great way to connect. Hopefully it will prove to be a very good way to keep up with family.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Friday, August 17, 2012

Whew!  So many things have happened in the last couple of weeks, and we are now "down under" enjoying some Australian hospitality. 

We spent a week in the Provo Mission Training Center learning how to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, with the focus of the training coming from "Preach My Gospel."  We were assigned to a group with 4 other senior couples, and together our young trainers motivated and inspired us.  I loved walking the grounds of the MTC and seeing all the missionaries; probably my favorite time all week was on Wednesday, watching them get dropped off.  A "host" missionary was assigned to meet every greenie at the curb, help them with their luggage, and bring them into the MTC.  I didn't see any sad farewells; rather quick good-bye hugs at the curb, then enthusiasm and eagerness to get started.  Mealtime was also an experience, as 2000 plus starving young men and women gobbled down enormous amounts of food.

We filled the 24 hours after we arrived home from the MTC until we left for the airport with fun family activities:  an evening at the North Salt Lake Splash Pad Park playing tag, running races, getting wet in the rain, eating yummy food, and visiting.  Saturday morning Rachelle and I had a last long run around Bountiful Pond and celebrated with a Keva.  Then  the adults and Whisenant kids went golfing and to lunch at Rio Grande.  Seems we tried to cram in all the good food possible. 

Kam took us to the airport, and waited to make sure we didn't get hung up in security.  It was sure hard to wave good-bye to him from the other side of the scanners and walk towards our gate.  While waiting for our plane to leave for Los Angeles, I shed lots of tears watching the video Tyler put together of all our grandkids and kids giving us advice. 

The airbus from LA to Melbourne was huge, service was good, and fortunately we had a seat between us for the 18 hour journey.  We both slept soundly for a few hours, thanks to Ambien, and when we woke up, watched the sun rise on the south pacific. 

Passing through customs and quarantine was stressful, because we had so much stuff.  A little Beagle  sniff dog sniffed all our luggage for contraband and thankfully wagged his tail, giving approval for us to emerge from the caverns of the Melbourne airport, where we eagerly anticipated being greeted by missionaries.  Problem one was there to greet us. We looked at each other, shrugged, and I headed for the nearest ticket counter to purchase a ticket home, while Max went in search of help.  He returned soon with Sister Lifferth, who was waiting at a different location.  Her warm smile, hug, and greeting warmed our souls, and we knew we had at least one friend in Australia.    We met President Lifferth, crammed our luggage and ourselves in his Toyota Camry, and headed to the mission home.

The Lifferths treated and fed us like royalty, helped us get  our "Working with Children Permits,", introduced us to other missionaries, and drove us to an area where kangaroos grazed on the hillside.  We walked among those funny critters for an hour or so watching them scrutinize us and hop around on two legs.   Heavenly Father certainly has a sense of humor and was in a really good mood when he created them.  Sister Lifferth effortlessly  prepared dinner for 10, as she had invited 4 people Max met and converted 50 years ago to join us.  It was fun to get reacquainted with them.

Our assignment is to work in the Melbourne Chinese and Vietnamese Speaking District with 16 missionaries who are mainly teaching students.  We spend most of our time in an LDS "church center," which encompasses the second floor of a highrise building in downtown Melbourne.  This area is a hub of activity from about 11:30 AM till 8:00 PM every day of the week.  The floor has a chapel, 2 medium size meeting rooms,  a small kitchen, office, clerk's and branch president's office, library, ping pong table room, lounge area, and 4 small teaching rooms, totaling about 10,000 square feet.  It is a very open area,  (no place to go take a nap) and generally between 10 - 20 assorted investigators and missionaries are in the area teaching or hanging out.  Our job is vaguely defined; general description is to teach an Institute and English class once a week, provide treats and meals for some of the activities, and be a mature presence, hopefully assuring that no inproprieties exist between missionaries and the very cute, enthusiastic, Chinese female students who are being taught the Gospel.  It seems there is an average of 3 - 5 baptisms per week from this district, and we have also been asked to try and help with retention and tracking these new converts, many of whom return to China.  The Gospel is taught in Chinese and Vietnamese, but the students all speak English to some degree, so we can communicate with them. 

We live in a very small flat, walk or ride the tram everyplace we want to go, and have only branched out a bit.  Generally we are comfortable, warm, and well-fed.  For a couple of old duffers used to having everything conveniently our way and being surrounded by family and friends, this experience has so far been overwhelming and hard.  Sister Lifferth told me that when the Chinese don't all look the same to us, we will know we have "arrived."  We know the names and backgrounds of most of the missionaries in our district, and have become acquainted with a couple of the Chinese students.  Everyone is kind and eager to help us.  We are thankful to have a week under our belts and know that as each day passes, we will become more comfortable with our assignment as missionaries and our life in Melbourne.