Greetings from down under!

March 3:

So, you want to know what Australia is like?  Well, what they say about the water flowing upside down is true.  Everything is upside down here.  In fact, I’m actually standing on my hands right now and typing this email with my feet.  Eating cereal is very difficult, as you can imagine.

What is it really like?  Well, to be honest, it feels a lot like California. The only differences are the accents and everybody drives on the left.  Otherwise, the road structure and suburbs are pretty close to California, except less premium.  Also, the population is very diverse.  People go off about how diverse America is, well, they haven’t been to Australia.  If America is a melting pot, Australia is like a casserole salad with everything from beef lo mein to Kentucky Fried Chicken.  In my less-than-a-week here, I have met people from South Africa, Serbia, Turkey, New Zealand, Sudan, China, America, and of course a large population from Samoa.  I’m working in two wards, one of which is the Hampton Park ward (the other is the Berwick ward, pronounced “berrick”) which is entirely Samoan.

So you want to know about my companion?  His name is Elder Aisa, and he grew up in Samoa.  He has been serving for 8 months.  When he first got here, he could somewhat understand English, but not speak it.  Three weeks later, it clicked.  Now he speaks it just fine, even if he occasionally makes a grammatical error.  He prefers to speak in Samoan when he can, which he does often. I don’t mind.  Before serving, he was a taxi driver.  Right now he is actually 23.  He’s a great trainer, he showed me the ropes on how things work, and we’re a great team.  We get along just fine.

Gosh, there’s just so much to talk about.  Let’s see, you want to know about my plane ride?  I sat next to this guy named Steve.  We talked for a good two hours about big life stuff.  It was a good conversation, but he just wasn’t elect, and the spirit wasn’t there to testify.  But he was really nice and a lot of fun to talk to.  That’s what most of the people here are like, nobody is horribly rude.  I remember tracting back in like 2007 with Elder Patten just around Belmont, and man, we live in a town of jerks.  But here, even people who aren’t interested still smile and just say “have a nice day!” Well, except of course for the first door I knocked on.

On my first day, Elder Aisa drove me around to visit members, including Bishop Vaivai in the Hampton Park ward and the ward mission leader (btw Lime ice cream=the best).  Then we knocked on just a few doors that day.  The first door we knocked on, the guy answers.

“Hello, my friend and I are missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we go around and teach people about Jesus Christ.” Being my first time, this is what Elder Aisa said to the man.  He told us he was Christian.  Elder Aisa mentioned Joseph Smith. The man said, “No, I believe in Jesus Christ, not Joseph Smith.  I believe Joseph Smith was a fraud.” I tried to testify, but he interrupted saying, “And this is the part where you’re going to force your religion upon me, when you should just be saying to yourself ‘oh here’s a good Christian fellow, we should just leave him be.'” I apologized, he said, “That’s quite alright.” So, quite deflated, we let him shut the door.  The rest of the doors that night weren’t fruitful either, people saying “I believe what I believe!” etc. etc. I realized if I didn’t get used to rejection quick, it was going to be a long mission.

At this point though, after tracting quite a bit, rejection doesn’t bother me at all when I have the Spirit with me.  After all, it’s not me personally they’re rejecting, just the message I carry.  My job is to just explain it as clearly as possible, and if they listen, they listen.  And surprisingly, there are people who are interested, maybe one door out of ten.  At least, people who are willing for us to come back later to teach a full lesson.  We’ll see this week what those seeds reap, if they are at home during the time we scheduled for.

Long email, huh?  I’m just getting started.  I’ve got some really good stories for you.

One woman, Irene, we tracted into wanted us to come by that very night (this was friday)! We said sure, absolutely.  She’s African.  When we drove up, we could hear quite a commotion inside.  Lots of Amen!’s and shouting and even some singing.  We knocked on the door, and two African adolescent boys opened the door for us, said hello, fetched Irene, and they invited us in.  There were maybe 3 or 4 families gathered together who were having, essentially, a demi-church-like service, in that well-known evangelic spirit we all know and love.  They warmingly welcomed us to the meeting.  A woman was preaching about Matthew in a thick African accent.  Her points were punctuated by the adults nodding and M hm’ing and Amen’ing.  She spoke about hungering and thirsting for righteousness. It was awesome.  When she finished, we were invited to stand up and pray.  Now, in our church, when a bunch of us pray, that means we all bow our heads, fold our arms, and listen to one person quietly praying to Heavenly Father for all of us.  When these people pray, it’s really anything goes.  Some of the kids just sat in a meditating position and sat there, while most of the adults just stood up and shouted at the air their prayer.  It gets very loud. XD  It’s interesting, because you can still feel the spirit, but instead of that still,small voice if feels like a fire, a wall of sound.  I was laughing inside, I just enjoyed it so much.  And then they invited us to preach.  Not teach. PREACH.  What would you have done?

Well I’ll tell you what I did! I said, “Yes, absolutely! How much time do I have?”  Ten minutes, they said.  So I stood up.  And then I preached the Restoration.  It was basically the same as giving the lesson, but I had the freedom to be a bit more expressive.  It will be ages before I can speak with the kind of passion that these people show when they preach, and even longer before I can make it not look ridiculous probably, but I spoke with conviction, thanking them for the spirit they had, and then told the story of Joseph Smith.  Now, in retrospect, I suppose this may have been like walking into a Toyota dealership and preaching about how Honda is so much better, but they didn’t take it that way at all.  In fact, they kinda missed the whole magnitude of the message, I think they just took it as a good story, but didn’t quite get the point of there being a whole church based on this story.  But they were receptive, and invited us to come back next week.  It was great!  I can officially say I have preached.

So, we have also delivered some DVD’s referred to us from HQ, which have brought us some return appointments.  We taught one half-sane guy.  We’ve knocked on a lot of doors.  It’s missionary work, what can I say?  Missionary work is, essentially, a career.  We are hired by the church to be salesmen.  That’s quite an irreverent way to put it, but this is a job.  We go to work.  We talk to people, we teach lessons.  The difference is we are employed by God, and our business is changing lives.  Pretty cool, huh?  But this also explains to me why some people hate leaving their missions.  It’s a career change, and they’re only just getting warmed up.  One of my zone leaders leaves in two months (says he has as many fast Sundays left as I have experienced. ha ha ha.) and he says it’s kind of depressing.  I wonder what I’ll be feeling like when I get to that point.

Dad, you wanted to know my address? It’s 133 Bemersyde Drive, Berwick, VIC.  We live in a flat, and it’s kind of a bunch of little flats combined in one area.  We drive in a deep driveway past other doors and garages before we get to the one in our corner.  We have some obnoxious little kids that tried to sneak into our flat yesterday… oh they’re just so cute.

So…whew.  That’s a long email.  I still have some time here at the library, I’ll respond to some individual ones quickly.  Oh, one more thing.  I’m picking up Samoan pretty well.  Oute ole tama aulelei!

I love all of you, glad you are all doing well.

-Elder Baker


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