Sunday, August 28, 2016

End of our First Week in Australia

We have finished our first week in Australia - what an amazing and busy week it has been! We received a warm welcome from Elder and Sister Myers, the other self-reliance senior missionaries here. They picked us up at the airport and got us settled in our apartment. They also guided us through getting an Australian phone number and activating our bank account. This was all accomplished on the first day, despite us being in a jet lag fog!

We spent the week in training and meeting church leaders and others involved in self-reliance. The people here are warm and friendly and so helpful. We particularly liked meeting church members from Tonga, Samoa and Fiji. They are a spiritual people with a strong testimony of Jesus Christ and his gospel. And they give lots of good hugs!

John is more comfortable driving on the left side of the road now. He only needs the odd reminder from Janette that he is drifting to the left side of the lane. He assures her that his driving will improve as he adjusts to Australian time.

We have walked in some of the local parks and seen a plenitude of bird life. They are a lot noisier than the birds back home in Canada. But they are also more varied and colourful. It is not uncommon to see small flocks of Lorikeets or Parikeets streaking from tree to tree. Or to see the sulfur-crested Cockatoo, which is both common and raucous. They don't care if they are seen or heard! There are also birds here with names like "magpie" and "wood duck" that look quite different from birds with the same name at home.

Here is an Australian magpie, which looks more like a black and white crow (to us) than a Canadian magpie.  One other difference - it is not at all raucous (that is left to the cockatoos and parikeets), but has a fluid, melodious call.

Likewise, an Australian wood duck - it's definitely a duck, but nowhere near as colourful as its Canadian cousin.

Finally, a collared dove - we think the origin of the name will be pretty obvious...

At the end of August, we are entering Melbourne's spring. The weather now is like early spring in Vancouver, Canada - cool to cold days and some rain. We see many interesting plants and bushes flowering. What is surprising is to see the orange and lemon trees with fruit ready to pick! Despite the cold, wet weather, the fruit has ripened over the winter. These trees must know that there is hot, dry weather arriving soon and that is their time for dormancy.

In the following photo, the large bush on the right is just starting to show its spring bloom whereas the orange tree on the left is ready to pick!

Here is just one of many interesting flowering plants - we have no idea what it is, but is lovely!

We find it challenging adjusting to the heating systems in Melbourne. Many homes and chapels have no or little heating, or only space heaters. Sometimes the inside of a house is colder than outside! We have learned to wear layers of clothing and be ready for any temperature!  Breakfast this morning contained several "warm-me-ups".

We are enjoying the food here a little too much, especially the desserts. There is something called "double cream" that is tasty. It can't be whipped but it is delicious. Fortunately, we've signed up at a state-of-the-art gym close by and hope to reverse the weight trend.

We look at a different set of stars and planets here. Tonight, Jupiter and Venus are in conjunction over the western horizon, just after sundown. They are both bright and clear, even in the light-contaminated Melbourne sky.

We haven't seen any snakes yet - these aren't expected until the summer. But when we were in the bush this weekend a lady mentioned that there has been flooding and mild weather. This has caused them to appear earlier than usual. She told us that if the Kookaburras are silent, watch out!

A treat this past week was the visit of Elder Leota from Sydney. He is a self-reliance manager for our church and the person to whom we report. What a warm, gentle, inspiring person he is! We have learned so much from him already and we have just got started.

A "selfie" of John and Elder Leota - a bit goofy, but we don't have any better photos yet!

This weekend we traveled with Elder and Sister Meyers to Benalla and Wangaratta. These are two towns about 2.5 hour's drive north of Melbourne where there are small church congregations. We participated in training and got to meet the wonderful Saints in that area.  Janette felt impressed, as we left Melbourne, to bring along several training manuals.  We met one father who had recently finished his schooling and was looking for a job, and were able to share the My Job Search course with him.  We also shared the Mom's Pre-School book with his wife.  Unbeknownst to us, she is a school teacher and was thrilled to receive it.  Legislation is changing in the Australian schools and parents are concerned with some of the values being presented.  As a consequence, she is considering home schooling.

Here is a photo of us in Benalla, enjoying a wonderful dinner at the end of our training session.

John and Janette spoke in Sacrament meeting in Wangaratta. Janette's topic was "Principles of Self-reliance"; John's was "The Character of Christ". We have provided links to these talks if you would like to download and read them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Rubber Hits the Road!

Well, we are now on a 22-hour countdown for our flight to Melbourne, Australia.  We've spent a week at the Mission Training Centre in Provo and 3 days at the church office building in Salt Lake City.  As a result, we feel more prepared in mind, body and spirit for our mission.  That is not to say we don't still have a lot to learn - we do! But we can't wait to be in Melbourne.  We want to meet the people there with whom we will be working.  And we'd like to meet the other senior missionaries, roll up our sleeves and get to work.

We've posted some information before about the church's self-reliance initiative. However, the recent training put the spirit into our understanding. Here are some important spiritual lessons that we have learned:

  • Our main purpose is to invite others to Christ. The most important thing we do is testify of Christ.
  • Our focus is on people and their needs.
  • Everything we do in this life, no matter how physical it seems, has a spiritual basis. That applies to all the training we will be doing in self-reliance - it is a spiritual work.
  • There could have been no Atonement without the character of Christ.
  • One of our personal study priorities should be to examine His life and determine those characteristics. We want to serve others as He did and that means striving to become like Him.
  • One thing we know about Christ is that he was selfless. He turned outwards to help others when most of us would turn inwards. Given our natural tendencies, always thinking about others is a difficult characteristic to develop.
  • Another characteristic is that Christ listened to people. He asked many question. He listened to the Spirit. Only then did he speak or act. If we want to help others, we need to develop these same skills.
  • We want to be kind and considerate to others - much more so than we are at present! In other words, we want to treat people as Christ would treat them if He were present. And the most important person to whom we should apply that skill is to our life long companion!
  • The scriptures are a springboard to testimony and personal revelation. This is particularly true of the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, which speak so much of Christ.
  • Love everyone that you serve. Never mind if you like them - love them! Look for the positive and see the good in people and in their culture.
  • Each of us has two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we speak. Then listen to the Spirit. Then we can teach so that both the teacher and the student understand one another.
  • When we have an open heart and an open mind, the Lord will reveal what we are to do.
  • No one is alone and no problem, temporal or spiritual, is too small or too big for the Saviour.
  • It is important to learn doctrine first and then figure out how to apply it.
  • Local solutions developed by local people are almost always better than solutions imposed from the outside.

We like a poem that we heard last week. This is from our memory and it was a translation, so we may not have it right:

"Come to the edge.", He said.

"Come to the edge.", He said.

"Come To The Edge!", He said.
So we came to the edge.

And He pushed us....

And we flew!

So, those are some of the spiritual lessons. We also learned many things about our specific calling in self-reliance. We will discuss some of those learnings in other posts, when we have actually had some time "in the field".

To whet your appetite, we did learn that "...self-reliance is the ability, commitment and effort to provide the spiritual and temporal necessities of life for yourself and your family...."

In speaking about a Zion society, Elder Todd Christofferson (a modern day apostle) said that we must " for the poor and the needy with such effectiveness that we eliminate poverty among us..." That is the challenge of the self-reliance initiative.

It does feel odd leaving with a big winter jacket packed in our suitcase.  But it is winter in Melbourne for a while yet and a lot of homes do not have central heating.  So...we will go prepared!

Monday, August 1, 2016

It's Almost Time!!

We're on the final week countdown to leave on our mission. This Friday, we fly to Salt Lake City / Provo for some training, and then in a week or two after that, we're off to Melbourne and the great land of Oz. It felt like the date would never come, but of course now it is rushing at us like a great, overpowering waterfall. It's a great feeling!!

We'll mostly be posting here, but there may be some short, different comments on Facebook.  Look us up at "John-Janette Sobkowicz" - we're happy for more friends!