Saturday, August 18, 2018

Reflections on Our Mission

Family waiting at the Vancouver International Airport
It has been 6 months since we returned to Canada from Australia and time to close off that chapter of our lives with some reflections on our experiences and what we learned.  The time is right; we are sufficiently removed to give some backwards perspective but not so far removed that we have forgotten the experiences or allowed them to disappear below a worn set of oft-repeated anecdotes.  The latter threatens every time friends ask "what was Australia like?".  From now on, we might just tell them that the experiences were varied and complex, too much so to summarize in a few minute conversation, and that they should start by reading our blog to get a sense of how our mission unfolded.  If, after investing that time, they still want to talk, we might have a more interesting conversation.

‎⁨Phillip Island Nature Park⁩,  Victoria, ⁨Australia⁩
Our approach to writing this blog was to consider a number of questions that might help focus our thinking: What was the most interesting experience of our mission?  The most challenging?  The most spiritual or faith-promoting?  The most educational?  What people had the most impact on us?

All that could be juxtaposed against what expectations we had when we arrived in Australia, for it is in comparing the two, and then thinking about our life now back in Canada, close to children and grandchildren, that we really appreciate Australia - the beauty of the land, the flora and fauna, and most importantly, the people.  C.S. Lewis had it right - looking back on our mission...everything (now) is different!

Interesting Experiences

Koala at Healesville Sanctuary, NE of Melbourne
When we started our mission, we were consumed with learning about all the "unknowns" in Australia - the driving, cycling and pedestrian culture, the wonderful plant and animal life, the precautions necessary when out walking or bird watching to avoid venomous spiders and snakes, understanding Aussie slang, and even finding our way around a grocery store.  What became of greater interest, as time went on, was meeting Australians and learning about how they viewed their own country and the larger world.  While we felt an immediate connection because of our shared Commonwealth roots, we also realized that Australia has a stronger "English" flavour than Canada.  At the same time, it is also even more multi-cultural and shows more integration of cultures than Vancouver or Toronto.  Maybe it is partially related to Australia being populated by a very rich mix of native, Caucasian, Polynesian, Asian, Indian, Arab and other immigrant peoples, who are all "isolated", that is, a long way from family and home countries.

Think baseball?  Have a closer look (it's Cricket)!!  That pitcher just finished a 30 m run-up.
Fred and Judith - we met them in the park and became close friends!
There is a great width and depth of languages, cultures, and religions, but people co-exist mostly peacefully.  It makes interactions with those that you meet on the street, in the parks, on the sports fields and at church always unpredictable and fascinating.  Everyone has a unique personal story and a quite varied viewpoint of their country and society.  It's like living in a Canada on steroids.

View from the Eureka Tower, downtown Melbourne

Australia is a country with strict gun laws and a very "civil" society.  While there are local police, they are even less visible than in Canada.  Our sense, walking around Melbourne, was always that we were safe and that we were surrounded by friendly people.  There surely would be some times and locations where that would not be true, just as it is true in North America, but as missionaries, we never felt threatened by the people that we met.

Educational Experiences

Will, Nellie and their children.  With lots of hugs, smiles,
and wonderful (Samoan) dinners, they were our family
away from home.  We love you so much - thank you!!
We learned many good lessons while in Australia.  Some were related to the cultures of the people that we met, with special mention of those of Polynesian (mostly Samoan, Tongan and Maori) heritage.  Here are men who could scare you silly on a rugby field and create a sense of awe when performing the traditional haka.  But the Polynesians are also warm and friendly to all, regardless of race or language, and welcoming of strangers.  And they are wonderful musicians, both the men and women seemingly naturally talented in singing harmony in rich, textured voices.  If you are invited to a Polynesian dinner, you can expect a feast with a multitude of dishes.  And if you are asked to bring a "small plate" or a "large plate", just keep in mind that it doesn't refer to the size of the plates on which you eat but the size of the plates on which you bring your pot luck delicacies.

Father and son outing - they flashed by so quickly!
A common cross-cultural value (e.g., Polynesian, Indian, Asian, Arabian) was respect for family and respect for those who are older and more experienced.  This was expressed in different ways in each culture, but the wholesomeness of family relations was refreshing and uplifting because it ties so closely to gospel values.  In fact, the gospel principle of sanctity of the family appeals strongly to people from many different countries and cultures.  We learned to recognize and appreciate these values in most of Australia's diverse communities.

A "Flying Fox" sipping water from the Yarra River in the heat.
While speaking of (our own) education, we cannot avoid mentioning the wonderful flora and fauna in the state of Victoria and in Tasmania.  It was a constant source of fascination for us.  We could not stop taking photos of flowers, trees, birds and unique Australian animals.  We particularly liked to talk to local birders and tried to learn as much as possible from them.  But what can you accomplish in 18 months except just to scratch the surface?  We are thankful, though, for the many kind people who patiently educated us about Australia's environment, with all it's joys and challenges.  We have mentioned in a previous post the unusual (to us) progression of six seasons in Melbourne (see September 9, 2017), which was for us an unending parade of new and unexpected learnings.

A rookery for the Australian White Ibis - as prime real estate as you will find anywhere!

We arrived in Melbourne carrying two suitcases each, containing all our important worldly goods - at least, those we thought essential to our assignment.  We were housed in a modest 2 bedroom flat - it had a queen size bed, a couch, a kitchen table, and basic kitchen utensils.  What we quickly discovered is that we didn't need anything else to "live".  It became apparent that the boxes and boxes of stuff stored back in Canada were mostly extraneous goods.  Moreover, living a simpler life allowed us to focus more on what really matters.  We understand from talking to other senior missionaries that this is a common learning.  We have maintained this simpler life style since we have returned home, moving into another, modest 2 bedroom flat and jettisoning a large volume of non-essential worldly goods.  It is a liberating experience.

A panoramic view of our "flat" in Melbourne.

Challenging Experiences

President Peter Vidmar (Melbourne Mission)
We caught him in a rare casual moment, and
we just loved the message on his t-shirt!

Being a missionary and looking for effective and meaningful ways of serving people in Australia entailed many challenges.  Some were difficult but none were unpleasant.  We had the support of a great mission president and his wife (the Vidmar's) and an extraordinary self-reliance manager (Elder Leota), all of whom coached and cheered us on.  We worked with dedicated and wonderful, fellow senior missionaries.  We rubbed shoulders and encouraged younger missionaries (Elders and Sisters) with strong testimonies, who were focussed on serving their Heavenly Father and His children.  It was an uplifting and strengthening experience which drew us close to these people.

Senior Missionaries serving in Melbourne near the end of 2017.
Lost in a metaphorical or spiritual maze?
But it was not all "smelling roses in the garden".  There were challenges learning how to work with other missionaries, learning how work with local church leaders, learning how to technically carry out the tasks assigned to us, and surviving the sometimes long days and long distances driving (even after 18 months, a somewhat stressful experience).  And of course, we never knew when we might receive a ticket from the Victoria Motor Vehicles branch for going more than 5 km/hour over the speed limit :>) (they are very strict about driving the speed limit in Victoria and it was easy to miss some of the speed changes around construction zones).

For John - perhaps the most challenging experience for me was just interacting with so many people each day.  I am a fairly "quiet" person, a closet introvert, so to speak.  I like time to myself, to read, study and think.  The continual need to interact in a pleasant and helpful manner with others was difficult.  At times, I felt a kinship with a certain man in the story in Luke 9:57-58:

"...A certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.  And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head" (Luke 9:58).
Several different lessons can be taken from this statement, but for present purposes we draw the idea that Jesus' time was never his own, he was always in demand, always being asked to bless and heal others, with no surcease or rest.  If we wish to follow Him, we should expect no less, we should expect to put aside our personal comfort in His service.

Christ is the way through

I am not comparing my poor, mostly self-centred life to Christ's incomparable, selfless one.  But this parable teaches me that because of all that He experienced, He is able, in all circumstances to fully understand and empathize with what we experience, and both support and comfort us.  When I was feeling confused or discouraged, when I wished for a soft bed and pillow (physically or metaphorically), I instead felt His uplifting and strengthening influence.

Spiritual and Faith-Promoting Experiences

There are two areas that we want to mention in regards to feeling God's Spirit and having our faith increased.

Pathway Connect Class engaging in a Math exercise

The first is attending various self-reliance classes (more information here) and other educational classes (such as Pathway Connect).  Classes were typically of 5 to 15 people, of various ages and interests.  But what was common was a thirst to learn (both temporal and spiritual principles) and a commitment to support and help one another.

Working through a Self-reliance / Life skills exercise
An extended family group discussing a self-reliance class
"Success in School Begins at Home"
The discussions were intense, engaging and enlightening, and the love expressed between class members inspired us to be better missionaries and better disciples of Christ.  We observed first hand the gospel in action.  We observed how, as people combined what they learned about temporal topics with what they learned about faith in Christ, their lives were blessed in unexpected and unpredictable ways.  We felt the love that God pours out upon those who seek him, no matter how humble their station in life or state of knowledge.

Even a young student can teach new ideas!

The second was a happy opportunity to be involved with music - singing in church choirs for conferences and Christmas concerts, and preparing/arranging musical devotionals for the young missionaries.  It was thrilling in one case to participate in a largely Polynesian choir and feel the Spirit expressed in the wonderful hymns they sang.  In another case, it was uplifting to sing Christmas hymns under the direction of a talented choral conductor with other church members, accompanied by a full orchestra.  Learning Australian hymns that talk of Christmas in full summer was a particularly interesting experience.

On one occasion Sister Sobkowicz asked three young Sister missionaries to sing a Christmas carol in Samoan at a missionary devotional.  As these three Sister missionaries sang, we could hear the gentle sound of 50 or 60 Polynesian Elders, quietly singing along with them, completely unrehearsed.  At times such as these, we could feel God's Spirit in abundance and understand why music is such a pure expression of each of our feelings about the gospel.  By this means, we can reach out and touch the hearts of any who listen.

Christmas Choral Concert, St. Paul's Cathedral, Christmas 2016

Inspiring People

Almost everyone we met while in Australia, with whom we served in one capacity or another, inspired us to more faithful and selfless service.  Some moments were truly transcendental, such as the first time we heard a young Samoan Elder sing the Christmas version of Leonard Cohen's wonderful song "Hallelujah" (modified Cloverton lyrics).  Our hearts and spirits were profoundly uplifted.

Christmas version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah

"Starting and Growing My Business" Self-reliance class
Other people inspired us in quieter ways, their example slowly building, act by act, until their dedication to the Lord was absolutely clear.  We saw this in the actions of several stake and ward leaders and self-reliance specialists, and facilitators of self-reliance classes.  As they felt the spirit of the self-reliance work, they in turn inspired others, including us.  We published a newsletter each month with many, many examples of lives touched and spirits uplifted.  We saw it also in the faith and actions of other missionaries, whose love for those they taught and served transformed many lives for good.

Lastly, we were inspired by the faith and love of so many people we met in Melbourne, who were true disciples of Jesus Christ.  They served those around them in many capacities, leading, teaching, encouraging, lifting "up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees" (Hebrews 12:12), loving, healing the sick and the broken-hearted, following to the best of their ability the example of their Master.

Quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (Quorum of the 12 Apostles)

For all of these inspiring acts of selfless service and Christ-like behaviour, we are truly grateful.  We would never have seen the extent and breadth of the gospel in action if we had not spent time as full-time missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  It is truly His church and His work, of which we bear witness.

Birds (and other Flying Creatures)

As with many past posts, we end with some of our favourite photos of birds, taken on many enjoyable walks around Melbourne, the State of Victoria, and Tasmania.  We are starting with 4 endemic birds, that were always a joy to find, increasing in size from the first to the last (although all are on the smaller side; 10 to 20 cm long).  They never seem to keep still, which made photographing them a pleasant challenge.

Superb Fairy-Wren (Male, about to take off from its perch)

The first, the Superb Fairy-Wren is a tiny, friendly little bird that we would often see flitting in the brush alongside our Yarra River walks or in low grassland.  This bird was lovely to watch, with its vibrant colours and active movements.

Spotted Pardalote

The next is the Spotted Pardalote, a brightly coloured small bird, a bit larger than the fairy-wren.  We saw them more in the lower branches of trees, but not that commonly.  There are several varieties, one with a red rump (seen here) and another similar one with a yellow rump.

White-throated Treecreeper

The third in the series is the White-throated Treecreeper.  As its name suggests, it forages upwards through the bark of trees, mostly on the trunk and some larger branches.  Sometimes, it was a difficult bird to locate, mostly because it seemed to like the denser forests with tall Eucalyptus trees.

White-eared Honeyeater

The last in this endemic series in the White-eared Honeyeater.  There are over 50 species of Honeyeaters in Australia, most of them endemic (including this one).  The White-eared Honeyeater was locally common but generally not that common.  We saw 7 species of Honeyeater during our time around Melbourne.

European Goldfinch

Before moving away from the small grass and tree foragers, we wanted to show a photo of an introduced species - the European Goldfinch.  This is a beautiful bird that loves to perch on and feed from thistles, much like its American Goldfinch counterpart common on the prairies in Canada and the United States.  The colouring of the European cousin is particularly striking.

Little (or Brush) Wattlebird
The next bird is also a type of Honeyeater, although a different species of bird known locally as Wattlebirds.  They are moderate in size (30 to 40 cm long) and fairly aggressive in their foraging habits.  This one is called the Little (or "Brush") Wattlebird, as it is smaller than most of its cousins.  They seem to be a noisy and nervous lot - you know they are around, but they have an uncanny sense to fly away when you point a camera or a binocular at them.

Red-capped Plover

The following two birds love the water but are at the very opposite ends of the size spectrum.  The one at left is a Red-capped Plover - of similar size to a Fairy-wren.  It loves the sea shore and nests in grass just above the tide line.  The one shown here is young and has not really developed its full colouring.

Straw-necked Ibis

The bird on the right is one of our favourites, the magnificent Straw-necked Ibis.  It is a large bird that loves (and nests near) the water.  Its name comes from its loosely feathered neck, but its body colour is also gorgeous.

Juvenile Australian King-Parrot

At left is a juvenile (and also not in full colour) Australian King-parrot.  The full adult is almost 1/2 metre long and looks very regal in its brilliant red and green plumage.  We did not see this parrot all that often and so were delighted to catch this one having a short nap.

Sacred Kingfisher
Another favourite of ours is the Sacred Kingfisher - the one we saw most frequently along the Yarra River on our walks.  We sighted these perhaps once a month, or so.  We only saw one other variety of Kingfisher (Azure), but both times did not have a camera long with us :>(. We particularly like this photo of the Kingfisher diving.

Superb Lyrebird

Our penultimate photos are of the very vocal but elusive, Superb Lyrebird.  The male Lyrebird can imitate almost any sound it has heard and does so in a complex performance to impress a potential mate.  Along with their magnificent tail feathers, which they tilt forward over and in front of their heads, it is quite a show!  There are two male Lyrebirds in both of these photos.

Superb Lyrebird (two males in this photo, one on left, partially obscured by the tree,
and one on the right, almost entirely obscured by its own tail feathers - head facing left)

The last three photos are not of birds at all, but of a type of fruit bat that are locally referred to as "Flying Foxes" (the name is evident from their appearance).  A colony of 10,000 or more live along a 3 km stretch of the Yarra River, hanging in large groups from Eucalyptus trees.  The first photo shows a flying fox in the early evening, hanging and resting from a tree branch.

The next photo shows a flying fox in flight, just before dusk.  As dusk approaches, the flying foxes become quite active, flying from branch to branch, "sipping" water from the Yarra River (see much earlier photo in this post), and making a lot of noise.

Then, in an almost coordinated effort, they all fly into the sky and out in various directions over Melbourne in search of food (mostly fruit).  For 15 minutes, the sky is filled with the profile of these unusual creatures.

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)