August 23, 2010
Hello family and friends,
I was so stressed out this week, but it ended on such a good note that I really don’t care anymore. We worked hard and made little progress, but on the borders of those efforts, trememdous blessings came. I can tell someone is pulling some strings here. Let me tell you about it.
This was my first full week as the senior missionary in charge of Shepparton’s progress. It feels similar to my second transfer in Springvale, except much harder because we don’t have as much to start with, and the branch is in a different state from Springvale’s ward. My paranoia, as I have declared before, was that our efforts would amount to nothing if the branch had trouble retaining converts, as it clearly has in the past. I think I’ve explained it before, but I’ll do so again in the clearer light I’ve been given over this week.
There is a tendency in many wards that several Samoan families of members will move to a branch or ward, and establish a notable presence. Samoans are entertaining and joyful people, who will always take good care of you. However, cultural differences make it hard for the members to mix, and sometimes they simply don’t mix. As more Samoan members move in, the Samoan culture finds its way into more and more activities in the church and alienates the longtime members of the ward; for example, speaking the Samoan language in prayers and testimonies, Samoan-style meals, and even the Samoan food. Some can’t handle it and jump ship. The Samoans are just trying to be comfortable in the church community, but so are the Australians. Shepparton is not the first place that this has happened. Jan, a friend of members who Elder Faumui and I helped move, is one investigator who doesn’t want to go to church anymore because she finds it irritating.
As missionaries, this affects our work drastically. My paranoia was based on this tension with whoever we might bring in. However, I am delighted to say that those worries have been put to rest.
Thanks to the missionaries in Echuca, Elder Born (district leader, and he’s the man) and Elder Kaakau, we have one great investigator names Gloria who is Maori with a Catholic background. She was found in Echuca when the missionaries were tracting, because she was visiting a friend. She’s felt she needs to go back to church, but she’s had difficulty finding one that worked for her. Elder Bartle was on trade-offs with Elder Kaakau and she responded very well to the lesson about the Restoration, and came to church on Sunday! I didn’t meet her until she came to church, but she really loved the meeting and will be back next week. We’ll probably teach her at some point this week too. So she’s really good.
Also, Elder Born and I bumped into a mother named Lucinda, just around the corner from the chapel. I really admire Elder Born, because he can make friends with anybody. He was talking to her, and as we talked about churches and the like, she said she was raised as a seventh-day adventist but since then hasn’t gone to church in a while. Her concerns are the same as many people have — tension at home, materialistic world, improper values, and of course the many many churches out there. We gave her a booklet about the Plan of Salvation, which explains why we’re on the earth and where we go later on, and scheduled a time to come back.
On Saturday, we came back, and the whole family was there to let us in. Lucinda’s husband, Daniel, works in agricultural business and travels a lot. As a result, he’s seen many different cultures and the values they have, and has a reserved perspective on church. Lucinda says he believes in God, but will be slow to attach himself anywhere. We all chatted together in their home as their girls ran around and enjoyed their Saturday. This is an interesting thing about serving a mission — coming into a home and checking in with a family. Even more astounding is having the gospel to give them that can solve so many problems they face. This is universal. As we got on the subject of church, I bore my testimony about the Church, this Church who we serve missions for, and the blessings that came into my family from following the gospel of Jesus Christ. And then, Lucinda just opened up. She talked about her family growing up in church but not feeling the correct spirit among a judgmental congregation, but at the same time lacking a spirit in the home, especially because Daniel travels for weeks at a time. She had read the Plan of Salvation booklet thoughtfully (which does not happen all the time) and appreciated what it taught. Unfortunately we missed the chance to teach it more in depth, but we invited her to church, and she said she would try to make it. Usually, “try” means try again next week.
To my amazement, we walked into church yesterday, Sister Miller said, “She’s here! That Lucy person of yours! She came!” Ecstatic, we welcomed her, and made way for the rest of the branch to say hello and introduce themselves. Gloria came too, and Sister Bethune took her by the side and sat by her the whole meeting. I was so happy to see the Branch coming to the rescue. Daniel didn’t make it, but Lucinda brought her 3 daughters, and they stayed for Primary while Lucinda went to Sunday School. They all enjoyed it, and will be returning next week. It made my week. Lucinda now also has a Book of Mormon, and on Saturday we’ll be making it a teaching appointment to start seeing how they respond to the message of the Restoration. Finally, some real teaching again! I can’t wait.
So that was the sweetest part of the week. Let me put into perspective how much it meant to me. Wednesday and Friday were drudge days. We spent those whole days talking to people on the street and knocking on doors for several hours in light rainfall and long walks. People fall into categories: curt, rude, odd, passive, teasing, and sometimes freaked out. We also got a Jehovah’s Witness who invited us to their Sunday service, that was interesting. The work here is certainly slow, but that’s just how it goes. Eventually, you find yourself caring less and less for how people respond to invitations since the tendency is rejection, so you become more truthful and direct in a way that is seen as bold. Elder Bartle was surprised when I invited a guy to church at the door, which I did simply because he was in town and had been taught by Elders before. He thought it was bold, I just thought it was considerate.
I really want to help Shepparton. My stress comes from not having as much control as I would like, but I was reassured yesterday by the efforts of the branch to fellowship those who attended church. The members trust us, and we were blessed with a great turnout at church. I just pray for the patience to withstand the people who misunderstand our mission, and that the people we have found will progress. This is a daunting assignment, and the payoffs will probably be slow, but when they come, they will be sweet.
The photos! That’s Elder Bartle and I on his first day in Aussieland at the mission home.
Dinner with the Robertsons. Yes, that is a whole fried fish with its spines and scales. I ate all of it. I also ate a bit of the eye just to gross out Elder Bartle. He still tells people about it in horror.
Also, the countryside on Packham street facing south. The last one is us helping with a child’s baptism yesterday. The water wasn’t heated, so we were dumping in boiled kettles of water to nudge the degrees up slightly. Poor kid.
(Editor’s Note: Not all of the photos made it through – maybe next week?)
That’s all for this week! I love you! Take care!
-Elder Scott Baker