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 was....no 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.