Saturday, January 27, 2018

Home - The Next Adventure

We were driving to the Melbourne Airport last Friday, to pick up a new senior couple who will be replacing us in the mission.  We happened to pass by a billboard with an apropos by-line: "Home - The Next Adventure".  It certainly will be an adventure: returning to Canada, but coming to a new home, a new ward, and in some ways, a new life.  However, we have always welcomed change in our lives and we look forward to whatever new experiences await us.

Our feelings are bittersweet.  Of course, we have missed our children, grandchildren and friends.  We look forward with great anticipation to seeing them again.  We have also grown close to many new friends in Melbourne and it is with sadness that we leave them.  Australia is a beautiful country, full of natural wonders and friendly people.  It is delightfully multi-cultural.  Perhaps we like it so much because it feels so much like Canada.

Self-Reliance Corner - Why Help the Poor?

We are self-reliance missionaries. When we talk to people, a natural question (which we hear often), is "What is self-reliance"? There are a number of good definitions, some of which we have discussed previously in our blog.

For the purpose of this entry, we would like to use one by our manager, Elder Leota. It is the following:

"Self-reliance is the humble rich helping the humble poor"

This is a deceptively simple definition which contains a deep well of doctrine. We could start to explore that well by asking ourselves: "Why should the rich help the poor?".  Let us tackle that question.

In Mark 10, we learn that a rich young man came to Jesus and asked the question: "Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?", (note the wording of his question!). Jesus' answer was simple: "One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me". We know that the rich young man "...went away grieved: for he had great possessions".

Jesus later commented that "...a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven", meaning that it is difficult for a rich man to enter into heaven because he loves his possessions more than anything else.

Areas in Which we can be "Rich" or "Poor"
This scripture isn't just about the rich young man; it is also about the poor and the obligation of the rich to help them. Jesus repeatedly taught of the need to help those who are poor.  And he didn't just mean poor in worldly goods, but also poor in knowledge (temporal or spiritual), poor in social skills, poor in physical or emotional health, poor in employment, poor in spiritual blessings, poor in hope or in faith, etc.  He also taught that helping the poor was a necessary condition for us to "have treasure in heaven", that is, to have eternal life!

In the D&C 104:15-18 we learn:

15 And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.
16 But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.
17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.

These verses provide insight into how the needs of the poor should be met - that is, men are "agents unto themselves", they can act independently, look about them, see the needs of others, and apply themselves to relieving those needs using whatever resources are available to them. The "poor are exalted" in that they find relief; the "rich are made low" in that they humble themselves in providing service to their fellow man and thereby do God's work.

We have learned on our mission that there are many in our society who are poor.  In fact, we are all poor in some areas, just as we are all rich in some areas:
  • We have only to think about those things in our lives for which we are grateful to know how we are rich.  Do we enjoy good health?  Do we have a clear, active mind?  Have we been blessed with a good education or a good job?  Are we emotionally healthy?  Then those are areas in which we are rich.
  • Likewise, we have only to think about those areas in which we are unhappy or struggling to know how we are poor.  Do we lack the basic necessities of life (food, clothing, shelter)?  Did we miss out on opportunities to gain an education?  Do we feel discouraged or lack hope in the future?  Then those are areas in which we are poor.

Why should the rich help the poor?  Because we are all rich in some areas and poor in others, and it makes sense for us to help each other, to uplift each other, to become better people together.  Not only does it make sense, but helping one another is the only way to truly progress in our lives and be happy.

Marion G. Romney said it this way: "We are all self-reliant (i.e., "rich") in some areas and dependent (i.e., "poor") in others. Therefore, each of us should strive to help others in areas where we have strengths. At the same time, pride should not prevent us from graciously accepting the helping hand of another when we have a real need. To do so denies another person the opportunity to participate in a sanctifying experience", ("The Celestial Nature of Self-Reliance", October 1982).

Trip to Albury

About a week ago, we drove for about 4 hours to Albury, NSW - just north of the Murray River and thus outside the state of Victoria.  Some friends, another senior missionary couple, are serving there.  It is a beautiful town of about 90,000 people (Albury and Wodonga combined, Wodonga being on the south side of the Murray River).

We had a chance to walk along the Murray River, through Padman/Mates Park, to the West Albury Wetlands, which is rich in vegetation and water fowl.  Here are a couple of shots of the river and the wetlands.

View Along the Murray River, Albury, NSW

West Albury Wetlands

We can't write about our time in Australia without at least one good photo of a dam.  In this case, it is the Hume Dam, built on the Murray River near Albury, from 1919 to 1936 (with upgrades in 1961 and from 1994 to 2003).  The dam's purpose includes flood mitigation, hydro-power, irrigation, water supply and conservation.

The Hume Dam, on the Murray River near Albury


Blue-Tongued Lizard

We have been watching a female blue-tongued lizard, who likes to sun herself on a rocky outcrop near where we walk in Warringal Park.  She is very pregnant; in fact, we were hoping she would have her babies before we left for home, but that is not to be.  Here is one photo of her taken when she was feeling very lazy and allowed us to creep up within a few meters of her.

Very Pregnant Blue-Tongued Lizard


We promised some great bird photos at the end of our last post, but you will have to go to our next post, written 6 months after our mission, to see our final fanfare to the wonderful birds of Australia.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Home Stretch!

Self-Reliance and "Getting On" with Life

Roughly every 6 weeks, our mission experiences an influx of new, young missionaries and simultaneously an outflux of young missionaries who have completed their term of service (18 months for the Sisters and 24 months for the Elders), and who are returning home.  We call the latter group "departing missionaries", for obvious reasons, and part of their experience as they get ready to go home is sitting through a one-hour seminar on self-reliance, put on by us and/or other senior missionaries.

In this seminar, we talk about several topics:
Helping Out After Typhoon Haiyan (Phillipines)
  • What have they learned during their service?  What good habits have they developed, that they would like to remember/continue when they return home?  How can they best do that?
  • How has their understanding and perspective of life changed because of their experiences?
  • Where are they headed in life; what goals do they have (personal, family, spiritual, education, work, and career)?  Which of those are most important?
  • How should they set and pursue goals?  What can they put in place to ensure they are successful (e.g., detailed plans, good habits, having a trusted mentor)?
  • Why is it important not just to think about ourselves and our immediate family, but also to think about others (extended family, friends, neighbours, random people we meet) and look for opportunities to help them, in whatever way is needed?  In this regard, why is looking outwards more important than looking inwards?
  • Why should the "Self-Reliance Path" be an integral part of their life?

This is a lot of material to cover in one hour, particularly when we would prefer it to be more of a discussion than a lecture.  The discussion is usually vigorous and informative, both for us and for those who are going home.

We held the last such seminar earlier this week.  In keeping with our "handing the reins" over to our replacements, they ran the seminar and we observed.  Initially, we were there just for moral support, but it occurred to me (John) that we were going home soon and should participate fully in the discussion, considering all the questions that we normally posed to others.  After all, what have I learned from my period of service?  It would be a mistake to think that because I am older and supposedly more experienced than our young missionaries, that I couldn't benefit from pondering the questions listed above.

For this blog entry, I would like to focus on two related questions: How has my understanding of and perspective on life changed because of our mission experiences?  Why is looking outwards more important than looking inwards?

One of the reasons for taking a sabbatical from work and "normal" life, and going on a mission, was to provide a space and time in which I could evaluate my life and determine whether I wanted to adjust either my goals or my priorities.  I thought it might be difficult to do that properly while still embroiled in life's normal demands and activities, and that a change of setting and day-to-day focus might open perspectives, clarify thinking and otherwise enable/improve the process.  This has proved to be the case in many ways.

(As an aside, I love this scripture from Psalms 139.  Verses 23-24 read, in their fullness, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts.  And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting".)

How has my understanding of and perspective on life changed?  In no particular order:
I am a Child of God
  • God loves every one of his children (period).  Can I do the same?  Can I open my mind and heart to see each person as God sees them?
  • It is important (and possible) to be more observant and caring of others, whoever they might be.  A smile, a friendly greeting, an attentive ear and engaging conversation are good skills to develop.
  • While I love discussing various topics, listening is more important than talking.  A discussion is not about what I think but about connecting and understanding others.
  • It is not difficult to stop what I am doing and help someone.  It is a simple choice.  It is not a distraction; it is the essence of living a joyful life.
  • The time that I spend arguing, contending, judging or complaining is wasted time.  It benefits no one.
    A good Hug is Great Therapy
  • A good hug is a great therapy - I love giving and receiving them (a wonderful Polynesian practice amongst men).
  • In spiritual terms, teaching doctrine, or in worldly terms, teaching ideas, is the most powerful way to influence another's thinking and behaviour.  Each person is a capable human being - leave them be to digest, ponder, feel inspired and take action, in ways that are meaningful to them.
  • When I am patient and forbear to react in word or deed, I make or keep a friend.
  • Love is a verb.
  • Faith in Jesus Christ powers intelligent choice and action.
Are We Following Christ's Example?
The last concept that we want to mention is that there is a simple test for Christian discipleship - do we primarily look outward (seeing and considering the needs of others) or do we primarily look inwards (thinking first of our own needs)?  Someone mentioned to us that Christ always looked outwards, always thought of the state of mind and the physical needs of those around him.  It is a powerful idea, supported by every verse of scripture we have about Him.  It is also a sobering question to ask ourselves - are we striving to be like Him or not?

We will end this section with the following graphic.  It expresses a simple but powerful idea - that we are all (hopefully) on a path to becoming a better person, and ultimately to becoming like Jesus Christ, who is our Exemplar in all things.  The path starts as we learn about God and Christ - through reading and studying the scriptures and other good books, and through speaking to and watching the behaviour of our friends.  It proceeds to a level where we practice what we have learned, providing for ourselves, our family and our loved ones.  At some point, we also progress to serving others, whether that be directly or in a role as a teacher, mentor or coach.  Our ultimate goal is to develop Christ-like characteristics.

In every aspect of our lives, we are somewhere on this path, and hopefully, as time passes, we continue to improve and progress.

A Special Family Visit

Christmas break is, in Australia, also summer break for school children.  Many families pack their bags and head out for 3 or 4 weeks of summer fun and life in Melbourne (and in our self-reliance work) quiets down considerably.

Fortunately for us, one of our daughters and granddaughters came to visit us.  We had a great time over the Christmas break, showing them around our favourite hiking and bird-watching locations.  The following two photos were taken from the Eureka Skydeck - a popular spot for tourists to view the downtown portion of Melbourne.

Looking South from the Eureka Tower Skydeck (88th Floor) at Port Phillip Bay
Daughter and Granddaughter at the Eureka Tower

We spent a couple of days at Phillip Island.  There are fabulous views from Nobbies Point at the west end of the island, three of which are shown below.  It must have been a tough place for sailors but a perfect place for Fairy Penguins to nest.

View of the ocean cliffs.  Ground cover is Disphyma dunsdonii, a small plant/flower shown below.
Disphyma dunsdonii (common name "Pigface"; thanks Plantsnap!)
View of the very tip of Nobbies Point.  The small island is a protected bird nesting site.
The ocean covers part of the access when the tide is in.

We also spent a day at Wilson's Promontory National Park.  Following are a few photos taken inside the park.  The first is a photo was taken at Lilly Pilly Gully, a 6.5 km hike over hilly terrain.  We found an eel swimming in the creek nearby.

Lilly Pilly Gully, named after the unusual trees that grow in this area.

Norman Beach, Wilson's Promontory (Restricted Swimming Areas due to Currents)

Tidal River, near Norman Beach.  Families prefer a quieter setting for their children to play.

The drive to Wilson's Promontory is a long one on secondary roads and seemed to us to be deserted.  Imagine our surprise when we arrived at Norman Beach to find a large camp ground absolutely packed with families enjoying their summer vacation.  As far as we could tell, all camping areas in the park were fully booked.  This is a beautiful area, but if you want to visit in the summer time, book well ahead (a year?).  Day use is free as long as you leave by dusk.

Driving out of the park in the evening was challenging.  We had near misses with a swamp wallaby on two occasions and drove right by a wombat who was feeding at the side of the road (they can weight up to 100 kg and with their bony backs can cause a lot of damage to an unwary vehicle).

Swamp Wallaby, about 1 m high - cute, but you don't want to hit one with your car!

Three Generations of Bird Watchers (at Wilson's Promontory)!

The following video of a sleepy Koala was also taken on Phillip Island, at the Koala Conservation Centre (on the east side of the island).

We also spent a day at the Healesville Sanctuary, which specializes in the flora and fauna of Australia.  Of particular interest was seeing a Dingo - Australia's wild dog that arrived with Indonesian seafarers about 5000 years ago.  They do not bark but howl like a wolf.  They are very thin, as is illustrated by the "normal" size dingo in the following photograph.  In the wild, their prey is mostly wallabies, kangaroos and small mammals.

A Dingo trying to catch up with a dog that, after months of encouragement, he has befriended.

One night we went to Shakespeare in the Park and saw this lovely scene of a palm tree and a red flowering gum tree.  Melbourne's Botanical Garden is a local treasure and well worth visiting.

Palm and Red Flowering Gum Trees in Melbourne's Botanical Garden


We have a great selection of birds to show you NEXT POST, including some magical shots of Lyre Birds taken at Grant's Picnic Ground just before Christmas.  However, this blog is already getting long enough.  We'll end with three photos of some beautiful water birds, taken at Jell's Park in Wheelers Hill (a greater Melbourne community).

These photos were snapped when many birds were nesting and raising babies.  It is a marvellous time to visit Jell's Park!

Little Black Cormorant babies - Crying (in unison) for their next mouthful!

Lovely shot of a magnificent bird - a Male Australasian Darter

One of my favourite birds - the stately Australian Pelican (showing its breeding plumage)