Saturday, January 7, 2017

Happy New Year!

Life has been fairly quiet over Christmas and into the new year - many Australians take extra time off  for summer holidays.  E-mail and phone calls drop way off.  Fortunately, we found some things to fill our time (more on that later).

Spiritual Message - Exercise Faith in Christ

We recently watched the movie "Gifted Hands - the Ben Carson Story" (2010; with Cuba Gooding Jr).  It is a great example of someone who combined faith in God with dedicated effort to learn and improve his knowledge and skills (he became one of the world's top neurosurgeons).  The story also appealed to us because it exemplified the self-reliance values of education (including the importance of guidance from parents in the home) and hard work that we are teaching in Australia.  Thanks to the other Melbourne self-reliance couple - the Myers - for a wonderful Christmas gift!

Each of the self-reliance classes that are taught here have a spiritual component as well as a practical component.  There are 12 spiritual principles (for more, see "My Foundation" at this link):

  1. Exercise faith in Christ
  2. Use time wisely
  3. Be obedient
  4. Manage money
  5. Work / take responsibility
  6. Solve problems
  7. Become one / work together
  8. Communicate (petition and listen)
  9. Persevere
  10. Show integrity
  11. Seek learning and education
  12. Stay on task / receive ordinances.
With a final injunction to "go forward and serve".

We are going to include a short quote on one of these principles in each of our following posts.  For "exercise faith in Christ", we like this quote from Elder David A. Bednar:

"Taking action is the exercise of faith. The children of Israel are carrying the ark of the covenant. They come to the River Jordan. The promise is, they will cross over on dry land. When does the water part? When their feet are wet. They walk into the river--act--power follows. The water parts.

"We oftentimes believe, "I'm going to have this perfect understanding, and then I'm going to transform that into what I do." I would suggest that we have enough to get started. We have a sense of the right direction. Faith is a principle--the principle of action and of power. True faith is focused in and on the Lord Jesus Christ and always leads to action".

Another quote from Elder Dietr F. Uchtdorf emphasizes this principle in a humourous manner:

"When our wagon gets stuck in the mud, God is much more likely to assist the man who gets out to push than the man who merely raises his voice in prayer - no matter how eloquent the oration".

Birdwatching and Teaching with a Purpose

Some of you may think that we spend a lot of time watching birds in Australia!  Aren't we supposed to be working down here?  Well, we do need the exercise, but we are working (and exercising faith) while we are walking.  We find the people in Australia are very friendly and like to stop and talk, especially when they learn we are from Canada.  We go prepared to share a short gospel message with them - that could be a self-reliance principle or a spiritual thought - because we know the Lord will lead us to people who need our help.  On occasion we have invited people to attend self-reliance classes, since they are not only for church members.  We often leave them with a card which can direct them to information about church doctrine and self-reliance teachings.

For example, we recently met a lady who had returned to Australia after spending 10 years in India and was looking for a job.  We are teaching her a concept called "Accelerated Job Search", which shows how to effectively present yourself and how to develop a strong network of people and resources that work for you.  We have seen the quick results when others have had the faith to try this approach.  It takes work to get work, but it is effective!

We also sat in on a "Starting and Growing my Business" class recently, which was about half way through the set of 12 lessons.  Each lesson is run as a class discussion with a facilitator, and attendees are invited to consider and discuss various business principles, sharing experiences and helping one another learn from the other attendees.  We met a lady (who is not a member of our church), who wants to improve a business that she has of making and selling candles.  She had a number of questions and the class members provided some good suggestions as part of the lesson discussion.  She knows about the value of web sites and on-line sales, and wants to develop those tools but needs some assistance.  This is an area in which we can help and so we are meeting her this coming week to get her web site up and running.

It is exciting to us to see the impact as people apply self-reliance principles.  We were also excited to learn that this initiative is being introduced in the U.S. and Canada in 2017 - we believe there is a great need for these classes all over the world, no matter how apparently affluent a country or society.  Once we learn these principles ourselves, it help us to encourage and lift others in their journey to self-reliance.

Christmas Break

We had an opportunity to do some traveling around Melbourne with two other senior missionary couples between Christmas and New Years.  This included:

1.  Hiking through the Dandenong Mountains through old growth eucalyptus tree and fern tree forest.  The vegetation along the creeks in this mountainous area is lush and beautiful.  This area is also about 5 deg C cooler than in downtown Melbourne, so it is popular with residents as well as tourists.

A beautiful view of the forest floor, covered with ferns and fern trees (above).

The photo above shows a typical hiking trail, well-populated during the holidays (note the lack of snakes!  We guess they don't like humans that much).  Despite the number of people, we did catch a glimpse of the reclusive lyre-bird.  It loves to skulk in the underbrush and is well known for its ability to mimic almost any other bird and a number of other sounds, such as train whistles, chain saws, etc.  What lengths will a guy go to, to impress his girlfriend!  (Note: the lyre bird was too quick for us to photograph, so the following image is taken from the web - Wikipedia).

Superb Lyre Bird

Some tourists were taking an intimate photo of the Sulphur-crested Cockatoo (below).  They couldn't have gotten any closer!  John was enviously eyeing their Go-Pro camera.

2.  A trip to the "12 Apostles" and a drive along the Great Ocean Road east from the 12 Apostles park to near Geelong.  The day was, on and off, hot, wet, windy and a combination thereof.  But we had a great time viewing the ocean, beaches, and local fauna (Koala Bears on Eucalyptus trees along the highway, and of course birds) and flora.

Following are a couple of photos taken at the 12 Apostles park.  These are pillars of rock sticking up from the ocean, not too dissimilar to the "hoodoos" back home, although in this case more impacted by differential water erosion at their base than from wind erosion.

John and Jan pausing for a "photo opp".  Despite looking wet and wind blown, you should keep in mind that the temperature was nonetheless at about 35 deg C.  It was difficult to know what to wear to "protect" ourselves, but at least we didn't have the sun burning directly down on us!!

John was thrilled to have this (male) Australian King Parrot fly down onto his hand.  Of course, there was some incentive - some bird seed artfully hidden behind his fingers.  Normally a shy, quiet bird, their friendliness in this case was a real treat!

The following photo shows a ubiquitous flower that grows along road sides all around Melbourne.  Mostly blue, with the occasional white, flower, it is a welcome sight.  Our originally from South African friend Jeremy says it's a Blue Agapanthus (thanks!).

3.  Touring around Melbourne and Williamstown - we spent the day in down town Melbourne, wandering the streets, looking at impressive architecture, and getting overheated!  It's difficult for a Canadian, used to cool temperatures, to understand how carefully you need to protect yourself against heat stroke.  John discovered one quick way to cool down your body - order a milkshake in a metal container and then just sit with your hands wrapped around it, having your partner stir occasionally to keep the walls of the container cold - works wonders!

We took a person-ferry down the Yarra River to Williamstown, which is a pleasant 1-hour trip with good views along the river banks.  While in Williamstown, the sky darkened.  While waiting for the ferry to return, just before it berthed to pick us up, we were deluged with a 1/50 year rainfall.  It doesn't sound like much unless you are caught in it.  Even with umbrellas, we were soaked to the skin.  There was also a lot of flash flooding in Melbourne.  Cars were floating in the street near the Rosanna Library, which we often attend.  Here is a photo of the area around the Williamstown pier, just before the sky opened:

4.  Trip to see the Penguin Parade at Phillip Island.  This was the highlight of our Christmas break, traveling south and a bit east of Melbourne to Phillip Island.  The island and surrounding area has great birding habitat, but is most well known for the "Little Penguins" that arrive out of the surf each night at dusk, run across the sand, and climb the nearby sand banks to find their burrows, where their babies are eagerly waiting.  Their choice to leave the water and rush across the beach is a wonderful example of "decision making by committee", with numerous attempts by leader to entice them counteracted by the stragglers who always want to dive back into the water.  In the fairness to the stragglers, they are exposed to predators in the air who would love to catch them for supper!

We were not permitted to take photos of the penguins, since photo flashes disturb them and contaminate their environment.  However, the Australian parks people very kindly make some photos available for download from their mobile phone app (e.g., search Penguin Parade, Phillip Island in the iTunes store).

Mystery Animal - Starting with a "W"

On our December 8 blog, we showed a photo of a "mystery animal", whose name started with a "W". We only got one entry for its name "Warthog".  We think the Wombat might have been insulted to be mistaken for a warthog, but maybe not - maybe it thinks of the warthog as a sort of super-hero.

You can find more about wombats in this Wikipedia article.  Here are a couple of exerts:

"Wombats are short-legged, muscular quadrupedal marsupials that are native to Australia. They are about 1 m (40 in) in length with small, stubby tails...They are adaptable and habitat tolerant, and are found in forested, mountainous, and heathland areas of south-eastern Australia, including Tasmania..."

"Wombats dig extensive burrow systems with their rodent-like front teeth and powerful claws. One distinctive adaptation of wombats is their backwards pouch. The advantage of a backwards-facing pouch is that when digging, the wombat does not gather soil in its pouch over its young...They are not commonly seen, but leave ample evidence of their passage, treating fences as minor inconveniences to be gone through or under, and leaving distinctive cubic faeces..."