Sunday, September 4, 2016

Week 2 - Spring is Here!

We will preface this post by explaining the terminology for LDS church groups, as those terms are used below.  A "Ward" is a congregation typically of a few hundred members (usually from 400 to 500, but could be less or more) who live in a relatively small geographical area and meet together in a church building for Sunday services.  They are led by a Bishop, who is their priesthood authority and spiritual "father" (or mentor).  In areas where there are fewer members, who meet in a smaller congregation, the term "Branch" is used instead of Ward.  The next larger ecclesiastical unit is a "Stake", which is formed of anywhere from 5 to 10 Wards and Branches, and typically has from 2500 to over 5000 members.  A Stake is led by a "Stake President", whose responsibility is to provide spiritual guidance and direction for all of the wards under his jurisdiction.

Between the Melbourne area and Tasmania, there are 11 Stakes with 53 Wards and 11 Branches.

So, on to the experiences of this past week....

We had a wonderful time, meeting some of the people involved with self-reliance in several different Stakes for which we are responsible in Melbourne.  They are dedicated and passionate about the subject and doing a good work for the members here.  A few examples will give you a flavour for a typical week:

  1. Saturday and Sunday, as reported in the previous blog, we traveled to Benalla and Wangaratta to visit with two small congregations (Branches) - small in numbers but big in spirit!  It was a long but enjoyable weekend of driving, teaching and meeting members in these outlying areas.
  2. Monday - a team meeting with the other self-reliance missionaries, Elder and Sister Myers.  They have been waiting patiently for us to "get up to speed" and take some of the load off of their shoulders.  They work hard and are excellent trainers.
  3. We did take some time late Monday afternoon to travel to Plenty Gorge Park, which is on the north edge of Melbourne, to see some kangaroos.  They didn't disappoint us, turning out in large numbers (see photos below).
  4. Wednesday - we attended an "Accelerated Job Search" discussion with one young man from the Craigieburn Stake.  He returned from a mission a while ago and is keen to get a job.  This discussion really teaches people how to identify resources and network, and challenges them to be fully engaged in the process of finding a job every day.  When you realize that Heavenly Father wants to help us as we put forth effort to move forward ourselves, you realize that everything we do has a spiritual basis and that what we do is a manifestation of the faith we have in Him.
  5. On Wednesday evening we visited with a couple who are self-reliance specialists in another Stake .  They are serving as "church service missionaries" (typically requiring a day or two a week of their time).  They are doing a great job organizing and overseeing self-reliance classes in the various Wards in their Stake, and seeing people benefit from learning about how to improve their education and how to start or grow their own business.
  6. On Thursday, we had the opportunity to meet with a couple who have just been called as self-reliance specialists in another Stake, to do some training on the "My Path to Self-Reliance" devotional.  Later in the evening, we met with them and other Stake leaders and learned of their plans for advancing the self-reliance initiative in their area.
  7. This past Saturday, we met with 6 young adults who have recently returned from missions in various parts of the world, and are now home in Melbourne, working and planning to advance their education.  That was a very dynamic group and it was a pleasure to get to know them and hear what they had planned for their lives.
Our mission isn't all work and no play.  We get up early each morning (usually by 6 am) and go to a local gym for aerobic and weight training.  We try to arrive by 7 and get back home shortly after 8.  We find the regular exercise gives us energy for the day and helps to keep us sane!  We also spend about an hour in the morning studying scriptures and our self-reliance materials, during which time we can receive spiritual direction for the day.

On some days, we walk in the local parks, which of course includes bird watching and photography.  John is really missing his SLR camera, which at the time we flew here seemed too bulky and heavy to bring along, given the weight and luggage restrictions when flying from Vancouver to SLC and then to Melbourne.  This was a big mistake!  He is trying to capture some bird photos using a "point and shoot" camera with a a 30x zoom lens, but the results are less than satisfactory.  However, on occasion, mostly by luck, a few decent photos are taken:

The first photo, below, is typical of pathways in Melbourne Parks and just shows that in the summer months (November to March) you really need to keep your eyes open :>)

Note that not only do people drive on the left, but they also walk and bicycle on the left - it's actually harder to get into that habit when walking than it is when driving.  Just to show that spring has already arrived in Melbourne...

While at Plenty Gorge Park, we had some excellent views of Kangaroos.  As usual, John took way too many photos and even videos; we will only share one here.  This is only a mild telephoto view, which shows that with patience you can get relatively close to these cautious animals.

The back lighting on this photo is particularly nice in emphasizing the kangaroo's outline without turning them into silhouettes.  Another indication of spring are these Noisy Miner fledglings who just couldn't wait for the next bite to eat.  They kept momma and papa hopping, providing food.

Also at the entrance to her (his?) nest is this Rainbow Lorikeet.  Unfortunately, we couldn't (yet) see the babies:

We tend to mostly look up for birds, but there is a small parrot here who loves to eat seeds from various low lying ground plants.  It is called, for obvious reasons, a red-rumped parrot:

We suppose a tour of Melbourne spring birds would not be complete without a photo of the sulphur-crested cockatoo - a large, bright, raucous, fairly common inhabitant of the parks in the area.  When this bird gets a little excited, it fans the yellow crest out, which looks very impressive.

While out in Warringal Park tonight, our friends Elder and Sister Myers, took this photo of John and Janette - it seems to capture the spirit of the moment nicely.  If you look closely, you'll see those are mostly "gum" (or Eucalyptus) trees in the background.  We walked along a portion of the Yarra River towards a billabong (or oxbow lake).  We're trying to learn and use local terms - when greeting someone, people often say "How are you going?" (rather than "doing").  One of my favourite expressions back home is "No problem" but down here it is "No worries" (which I actually like better).

If you look closely at John, you will see he has put on a few pounds.  It is very difficult, when visiting a lot of people each week (particularly the Islanders) to not eat way too much food.  What is needed is more willpower to limit the calorie intake (keeping in mind that dark chocolate has no calories :>)


  1. What a wonderful picture of the two of you! I enjoy reading your blog. Wish you both the best. Lalainia

  2. That Rainbow Lorikeet is very pretty!