CHRISTMAS GREETINGS FROM DOWN-UNDER
We can’t believe it is Christmas time already. It is difficult to get the Christmas spirit when it is 80 to 90 Degrees and there is no Snow. Two weeks ago, our ward had a Christmas Breakfast at the beach! The Ward we are assigned to is only about 10 minutes from some of the most beautiful beaches in Western Australia. It was a beautiful sunny day and the beach was wonderful. Santa even found us and brought candy for all the children & some of the “older kids” too. It’s hard to realize that we’ve been here more than six months. Our days have become so busy, the time passes too quickly. Hopefully after the start of the New Year, it will slow down some.
To bring everyone up to date, after waiting for several months, we arrived in Perth, Australia the last part of May, to serve an 18 month mission for the Church. What an adventure it was just to get here. Sister Nielsen could not get a fingerprint clearance from the FBI (requirement to obtain a Visa) because her prints were unreadable. After we submitted the third set, the missionary department allowed us to enter the MTC (Missionary Training Center in Provo) on 10 May 2010, with hopes that the clearance would come before our departure date. After many prayers & lots of faith, our Visas came the 2nd (& last) week we were there.
The MTC was amazing!! The Spirit was so strong in every meeting and activity; we did not want it to end. There were about 40 Senior Missionary Couples in our Group. Their assignments were all over the world. It was unbelievable that we could bond and become attached to people we only knew for two weeks. We still try to keep in contact with several of them. One couple has already completed their six month mission at Cove Fort, Utah and returned home.
Our flight to Perth was another great adventure. One I don’t want to experience again. Maybe we can take a boat home!! After our arrival & with very little training, we were given our assignments. Sister Nielsen is the Referral Manager and Elder Nielsen is the Finance Secretary. (I thought I knew a lot about finances.) All referrals are received by Sister Nielsen and then passed on to the Missionaries. She then has to follow-up by phone on their progress. She receives referrals from Temple Square, Visitor Centers, Members, other missionaries, Media Campaigns, etc. We just had a huge “Summer Wonderland - Island Christmas” activity we hope will generate a lot of referrals from the over 800 in attendance.
Elder Nielsen spends most of the day paying bills for the Mission. EVERYTHING in Australia costs more, lots more. The rent for one of our flats (apartments) is more than $3,000.00 a month, with the lowest being only $500. I have to submit payments for rent, utilities, repairs, office supplies, air travel (Perth is one BIG mission) and any other costs of the mission. I am still amazed that our budget is well over $1.5 million.
Working in the office gives us the opportunity to have the missionaries share their marvelous experiences when they come to the office. They have shared many wonderful stories with us. Our testimonies grow each day we are here. The members here are great and have some very strong testimonies. Each Testimony meeting, they line up and have to wait their turn. We have made some wonderful friendships.
Saturday is the Seniors Prep-Day and we try to do some sight-seeing after completing our household jobs. A single sister in our ward has become our tour guide and has helped us visit many of the points of interest in and around Perth. We have visited King’s Park, the old colonial Freemantle Prison, The Ship-Wreck Museum, The Aquarium, Maritime Museum, Kafarella’s Vineyard, The Ngilgi Cave, Leeuwin Lighthouse (the most southwestern tip of Australia, where the Indian Ocean meets the South Ocean) and the Perth MINT ( I really enjoyed this one!! Got to watch a “Gold Pour”, coin minting and even made a personalized coin of our own.) But we have yet to see our first kangaroo or koala . We are told that there are kangaroos all over every golf course. (Haven’t been to any golf courses, though.) We hope to soon go to Whiteman Park where we can see Australia’s unique animals.
Like I said, Western Australia is very big. It is about the same area as all of the western part of the continental United States. From Perth to Broome, the northern most city we have missionaries, is about as far as from Los Angeles to Seattle, Washington. And from Perth to Albany, the southern most city in the mission, is about twice as far as Los Angeles, California to Tijuana, Mexico. Most of the population is centered around Perth (almost 2 million people). And they all drive on the wrong side of the road! And the roads have NO shoulders to allow you to pull over and look at the map. Sister Nielsen has become a very good navigator.
We are grateful for our calling to serve here in the Australia Perth Mission. Our testimonies of the Church and especially the Book of Mormon have grown stronger. We love the work we are doing and know that this is where the Lord wants us to be. We so enjoy working with the young missionaries and the members. It is wonderful.
We will be spending Christmas Day with the nearly 60 city area missionaries, enjoying games, activities and a turkey dinner (cooked by the senior missionaries and Mission President’s wife). We might be on the other side of the world physically, but our hearts are with each of you as we truly wish you a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS.
May the Lord bless you and be mindful of your needs,
Elder and Sister (DeVon and Judi) Nielsen