Back to Berwick – in a Trio

February 6, 2011
Hello everybody,
My time is short today because we went to the library, and had to get a guest time limit.  I’ll have more time later.
Remember my first area with Elder Aisa, my trainer?  We worked in Hampton Park, the Samoan ward, but then also worked in Berwick ward whenever there we had time.  I have now returned to my stomping grounds, Berwick, but this time I am the senior companion of a trio-companionship, which does not happen often.  As I drive around and see places and people, I keep having flashbacks of what I did and who I talked to.  The Bourne Identity got it right with how it feels.
Things are different now.  The ward has doubled in size from people moving in.  This also used to be a Zone Leader area, but they took my place in Dandenong.  I am still the District Leader of the same areas, but we have relocated.  If you remember Elder Nebeker from when I was in Shepparton, he is my Zone Leader again.  In the district is also Elder Beck, who came in at the same time as Elder Bartle, so I was there for his whole welcome-to-the-mission orientation.  It’s exciting to make more connections.
My companions are Elder Smith and Elder Peteru. 

 

Elder Smith & Elder Baker

Elder Talataina & Elder Peteru

Elder Smith just finished his first transfer in training, and so I get to follow-up train.  He is from Adelaide, Australia, and has the thickest Aussie accent you’ve ever heard.  He knows some of the people here.  The small world in the church is small even across the world.  My other companion is Elder Peteru, and this is his last transfer.  He grew up in New Zealand and Sydney, but his family is Samoan.  The Samoans make fun of him because he can’t actually speak Samoan.  Tough break.  He’s had some tough companions for the past few months, so he wants to make his last transfer count.  And here I am in the middle, hitting my year mark this week.  So we cover all the bases: beginning, middle, and end.  Beautiful.

At first I thought a trio would be awkward and cumbersome, but it’s actually a lot of fun.  It’s much more of a team effort, and we support each other.  We rotate while tracting and teaching.  We’re having a lot of fun.
Berwick is a difficult area for finding, as many of the people are very well off financially and don’t feel any need for religion.  We’re focusing on working with the 300 members in the ward to show them www.mormon.org and get them to make profiles just as I am sure every single one of you has this past week.  Right?  Good.  They also didn’t hesitate to put me in the stake choir, which I have no problem with.  The members are very generous here.  A recent convert named Bridgett (taught by Elder Nebeker) makes sure to fill up our calendar to have a feed every single night.  It’s wonderful.  🙂
I’m out of time.  Thanks for your letters, I got one from Charles that made my day.  Tell Lar– I mean, Sister Zenger hi and I love her emails too.  Elder Carlile as well.
I love you!
-Elder Baker
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Doubled Out – again…

January 23, 2011

Hello everyone,

I can’t really explain everything that’s happened this week for the sake of respect.  I’ll try to summarize the main points so you understand at least why things are the way they are.

We’re getting doubled out of Dandenong.  I’m not too happy about that, because a) I really like the area, it’s a real hotspot, b) I was just beginning to know the people here, c) Tuvao is here, which has just been cool.  Elder Savelio doesn’t want to leave either, but that’s just the way it is.  The other companionships in my district are all doubling out/going home as well except Hampton Park (Elders Talataina and Hawkins) so big changes are once again here.

Elder Savelio and I had more troubles this week.  We’ve both been trying to make it easier for each other, and we’re both capable missionaries.  It just seems like we’re incompatible, in terms of culture and personality.  We’ve been trying to get on the same page, but we haven’t really been able to fix the problems.  I feel embarrassed that I haven’t been able to solve the problems, but I guess some people just can’t click.  President didn’t want us to leave this transfer, but there’s really no point in continuing the tension when the whole transfer has been a mess.

I love Elder Savelio.  I have a lot of respect for him.  He’s taught me a lot about persistence, boldness, and also enjoying yourself.  He’s helped me better understand the duties of a leader.  I’m glad I got to spend this transfer working with him.  I just wish it could have turned out better.

We had a great lesson with a guy named Fred, from Bosnia.  He grew up there in communism where they just tell him there is no God.  He’s never had any reason to believe in God, but he’s curious to know how and why.  Elder Hawkins and I came to him and he just let us right in.  He offered us a beer and a smoke.  Haha!  It was a great conversation with him.  We left him Alma 32 in the Book of Mormon to read.  We’ll get the next Elders to give him a copy in Croatian later.

There’s really not much else to report.  I miss you all, but I’m glad everybody is okay.  I love you!  Take care.
-Elder Scott Baker


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Bead Fight

Elder Baker in Transformer Heaven

G’day,

Wow, another crazy week, but better than the last one, in case you were worried.  A lot of interesting things happened.    For one thing, this is the last week of the transfer!  I can hardly believe it.  It was like I got here, then it was Christmas, then it was the New Year, and now it’s almost finished.  1,2,3.

One fun thing I got to do was learn how to make a Samoan umu.  I took pictures of all the steps.  Basically, it’s a makeshift oven outdoors.  The hard part is getting the right rocks.  You make a fire with fist-sized rocks at the base, and then cover the fire with more rocks.  As the wood burns down, you remove as much charcoal as you can, and insert the food in the fire

Umu Food

and

Scraping Taro for the Umu

put more heated rocks on top of the food.  Then you get some wet paper and just cover it for about a half hour.  The heated rocks just cook everything straight through.  You put in taro, meat, and also this really cool thing that I’m not sure what it’s called, but you take taro leaves (they look kind of like lilies but shaped like a rocket rather than a circle), layer them together, pour coconut cream with onions inside, close the leaves, and wrap it in aluminum foil.  The result is this spinach-like dish with coconut cream turned into something like cheese.  It’s delicious.  I really want to see if I can replicate it at home sometime, but it would be tricky.

We also had a zone P-day where we all bought copper tubes from Bunnings (like Home Depot) and also some crafting beads (what they use to make those bead animals or bugs type).  We painted up the tubes, popped the beads in our mouths and blew them at each other through the tube for a massive blowgun fight.  If you could put three in at a time you’d get a shotgun spread effect.  It was a party!

Bead Fight

We had a leadership training meeting, and one thing they showed us is the new church advertising website, which is www.mormon.org.  All my Mormon friends reading this, you have a homework assignment: go to mormon.org, log in with your church accoung (make one if you don’t yet have one) and make a profile for yourself.  The point of the website is to show that Mormons are ordinary people, and to establish a peer-to-peer network of church information from the direct source, rather than from the messages from the organization itself.  People these days trust peers more than an organization.  This website is key for missionary work in a day when everybody is online looking for information.  Mormon.org is colorful, fun, and cool.  I especially love the I’m a Mormon section that has videos spotlighting the lives of different people.  For all my non-Mormon friends, just go to the website and look at it.  You’ll get an idea of what it is I’m teaching people here.  You’ll like it.  🙂

In other crazy news, I have a couple stories.  Elder Savelio and I were teaching a man named Andre from France.  He has horrible health problems, mainly emphysema.  Every time we would go to see him, he’d always explain how Australia doesn’t take care of him, nobody takes care of anybody, and basically that the world was going down the toilet.  He spent a lot of time explaining just how serious this was.  In our previous visits, we were able to teach basic doctrine to him, like why there is so much evil in the world and what we can do about it.  He would listen, and he even read the Book of Mormon that we left with him.  Progress was slow, but coming.  However, in our last visit, he got frustrated when we said that maybe he complains just a little bit too much.  I’ve noticed that because he lives alone and is too weak to leave his home, he’s trapped in his own thoughts.  His thoughts are all anti-world anti-everything, and so he’s constantly spiraling into more and more anger.  As soon as we suggested to complain less, he did the opposite and complained until he was shouting.  When he finally paused, I quietly asked, “Andre please don’t yell at us.  We are not the cause of the problem.”  But he was past feeling.  He crudely commanded us to leave, or else he would call the cops.  “And take your book with you, you morons!”  SLAM.  There was nothing we could do.  So we left.  It’s sad to see somebody make such poor decisions in their thoughts and actions.  He let his rage jump to conclusions.

On the way home from that appointment, we got to a green light, but the cars were stopped.  Confused, I soon noticed that two cars had crashed, and one of them couldn’t operate.  It sat in the middle of the intersection, half the front decimated.  “Oh no.  We have to help them,” I said.  Hazards on, we jumped out.  5 of us came to try to move the car.  The driver said it wouldn’t turn on, and the steering was locked.  We helped him shift into neutral, and we tried to push it aside.  It took a couple minutes for us to steer it out of the intersection.  During that time, one of the ladies helping us was very helpful and proactive, but she also found it necessary to shout obscenities the whole time.  Other people sat in their cars impatiently, watching us struggle to move the car.  The worst were the drivers who honked their horns and grouchily revved and swerved around us, as if our efforts to get the car out of the way were an offense to them.  The worst was a driver from far down the road who gunned it into the wrong side of the road and barrelled past, blaring his horn the whole way.  For us in the street trying to fix the problem, it adds a lot of tension and makes it harder to concentrate and work together.  The poor guy who’s car was wrecked looked more scared than a toddler underneath a rugby scrum.  It only took a moment for the problem to be solved and the street cleared, but it was sad to see how impatient and inconsiderate the other people were.  All of you, don’t be like them!  Step forward, be helpful.

Our work is moving slowly, but we’ve been making progress with the ward, much thanks to our spot-on ward mission leader Brother Collins.  Elder Savelio and I have a better routine worked out, and I’m really glad I have a skilled companion to help with everything.  I have trouble understanding him sometimes, but I’m figuring it out.  Each time I feel frustrated, I remember that he’s improved a lot since we first started, and when we talk about our responsibilities and things we have to do, we’re on the same page.  Elder Savelio has taught me about how important it is to speak my mind, stand up for myself, and not be afraid.  I generate more anxiety than necessary when I assume people will say no.

I hope everybody up there is healthy or at least getting closer to it.  Stay warm, because I sure am.  I love you.  Mormon.org!  Go there!
-Elder Scott Baker

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The Umu

January 9, 2011

Hello friends and family,

Umu Cooking

Umu cooking

Today, our P-Day, we have had what the Samoans call an umu, which is a way to cook food.  You make a fire over a bunch of rocks about the size of a fist, and then put rocks on top as well.  Once the rocks get really hot, you put the meat and taro inside and cover it with leaves, paper, cardboard, whatever.  Then you let it bake for an hour or two.  It was especially fun to chop up the wood with a machete. 😉  We have the whole Pakenham zone coming down for a feed and then we have some activities planned.  Hopefully the rain will go away.

So today looks good, but this past week has been, again, very stressful.  Elder Savelio and I really butted heads this week when we were on companion exchanges.  We were supposed to trade back in time for a Ward Council meeting, but Elder Savelio decided he didn’t want to go, so he did some other work without telling me.  I didn’t know where he was.  We missed the meeting because I was looking for him.  He’s been frustrated about things I’ve been doing as well, although we both have trouble understanding each other simply because our culture is completely different.  We’re still working together and getting things done, but we had to have the Zone Leaders and AP’s come down to try to sort things out.

Fortunately, the rest of our district is doing very well.  We had some miracles on Sunday with people who just showed up, ready to be taught.  In Narre Warren, a brother introduced himself saying, “My wife is a member.  I’m not, but I will be in the next three weeks or so.”  Elder DeWitt and Elder Adams then decided they needed to talk to him.  Tecoma also had a brother who had been coming to meetings for a few months, but just missed the memo about the whole missionary lessons thing.  Wonder how that happened?  The Bishop called up Elder Talataina and Elder Hawkins saying, “I have someone for you to meet!”  In Dandenong, we had a less active member who said, “I decided I needed to come back to church.”  So now we all have new people to teach.  Nice little miracles.

We taught an investigator this week named Zoee.  She’s a single mom.  Her life has been insane.  She has some mental illnesses due to drug use and trauma in the past, but she has managed to come out on top of it all with confidence and wisdom.  She’s fun to teach, because we agree about everything.  We were teaching her about the Plan of Salvation, which is the big picture about life.  She pulled out her journal and read something she had written years before.  She said, “A lot of the things you’re talking about are things I had learned and written down here long ago.  It’s kinda freaky.”  But you can see how experience and God’s words line up.  That’s because He can see the big picture.  So that was one of my cool teaching moments this transfer.

I’m running out of time.  I also need to thank everybody over in Belmont ward who signed that christmas poster for me!  I loved it!  It made my day.  I’m going to hang it up in my room.  I appreciate everybody who asks about how I’m doing.  I’m glad to be from such a strong ward.

I miss you.  I love you.  Keep in touch.

-Elder Scott Baker

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Happy New Year!

January 3, 2011

Happy New Year everybody!

Sorry for the late email, we were playing sports with Hampton Park ward in the morning and came for emails later.

This week has been very difficult, and there is a lot of work to do to set things right.  I’ll explain the difficulties first so I can share the good news afterwards.

Missionary work is like a three-legged race; both participants need to be actively moving to the same destination in synchronization.  When one companion runs a little funny, it can throw you off, but you can keep moving.  However, if one companion wants to go one way and the other a different way, it doesn’t work.  It especially doesn’t work if one companion doesn’t want to move at all.  Each companionship in our district has been struggling with this unity, including Elder Savelio and I.  We’ve also had trouble pinning people down to teach due to the New Year, so our work has been neglected.  I have a new training in mind to try to address this problem in our next district meeting, and I also have to start taking initiative and leading the way to get everybody back on track.  We had our holiday with Christmas and New Year, but now we have to get things back on track.  It’s not easy being the one to set the example, but it’s also a privilege to find ways to help other Elders keep going and feel comforted in the trials.

On Tuesday, I got a call from the music coordinator in the stake who was arranging musical numbers for the next mission president’s fireside.  He asked if I could do a duet.  Of course I said sure.  So on Wednesday we met to put it together.  You can probably find the song on Youtube, it’s called Be Still by Hilary Weeks.  It’s about a girl praying for strength, crying for help, and then God’s answer of comfort.  So of course, I got to be God.  Cool as.  It was funny how brother Pinker asked if I could sight read.  I said yes.  We ran through it, and I got the whole thing just about perfect.  He gave me some pointers for style, but then admitted he was surprised I picked it up so fast.  He asked, “What sort of experience do you have?”  I told him BYU Singers.  His eyes went wide and he said, “Did you really?”  He poked me and looked at his finger.  “I touched someone who sang in BYU Singers.”  Normally, when I tell people BYU Singers they think “Oh cool, a choir from BYU,” but it was nice to meet someone who was actually familiar with it and could appreciate it.  We then got to perform it last night, Sunday, to missionaries and their converts.  It went really well.  Yes, I did get a video of it!  I’m having trouble finding a computer that can burn DVDs, so it will be a while until I can send it, but it will come someday!   I promise.

On New Years Eve, we went to bed at our normal time because that’s how it is, and I woke up later to the sounds of thudding.  I thought someone was kicking a ball against the flat wall or something.  Then I heard crackling.  I bolted out of bed with a soft shout, “Fireworks!”  And ran outside.  Just a few blocks down was a firework show.  We climbed up onto the roof and watched.  We could hear some of the nearby houses booming music with celebration.  Happy 2011!

I got to see Ellen Blake at the fireside on Sunday!  She’s still going strong.  She got to do baptisms for the dead in the temple last month, and she’s also engaged to Jamane, her returned missionary boyfriend from back when I was teaching her.  It’s so cool to catch up and see someone still doing well.  There’s a chapter in Alma that talks about that, I think 26.

Anyway, those are highlights from my week.  I really miss you all, but I’ve still got a lot to do and learn.  I know it’s going to be difficult, but I wouldn’t still be here if I thought it were impossible.  I’m glad you liked the package!  I’ll talk to you again next week.

Love you!
-Elder Scott Baker

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Christmas Update

December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas everybody!

The Christmas "Haul"

I hope everybody enjoyed themselves this weekend.  Christmas was a crazy week for us that we’re still recovering from.

Christmas is a busy time for everybody, so a lot of our visits were people not yet home or people saying, “Try back after New Year’s.  So, that’s left us with a lot of holes in our schedule.  We decided to take advantage of the time by staying with members and other Elders for all the celebrations going on.

The mission had its Christmas conference on Wednesday in which we got to have performances of Christmas songs.  I went up twice, one for O Holy Night with Sister Solomon and then again with 4 other Elders to sing Silent Night a cappella.  There was one Elder who sang a funny song with his guitar.  Elder Peek said, “Oh no!  Keep him away from the Sisters!”  Haha!

We had a read-through of the Nativity and sang carols together as a mission, then Sister Lifferth gave us a quiz of the facts surrounding the Nativity.  It turns out a lot of the representations of Christmas are speculation and not fact.  For example, how many wise men were there?  The Bible doesn’t say.  I got 50% on the quiz, so next time I’ll have to study.  We ate lunch together, and then all sat down for Toy Story 3.  I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it, the whole thing is beautiful.  For us it’s a rare treat, so we soaked it up.  We got our Christmas packages, said goodbye and headed back home.  Elder Bartle even went the extra mile and bought me a Transformers mug for Christmas.  I was so happy.  I use it too.  It’s perfect.  It goes with the Transformers belt buckle I bought at the market. 😛

At 5:30 in the morning, a bunch of Elders gathered together at a park to play touch rugby.  At first it was one-sided because it was mainly Americans vs. Kiwis (New Zealanders) and Polynesians.  Americans don’t play rugby, so we were getting smashed until finally we did some switches and got more Elders playing.  You have to be quick and play as a team so that you can pass the ball to somebody before you get tagged.  My sneakers weren’t the best on the wet grass versus everybody else’s cleets, so I got some dirt on me.  It was good fun.  I’m still sore from it, so I know I did a good job.

Because Australia is blazing hot at Christmas time, “Christmas” translates to “Sports party day.”  We went to the Christmas party that Tuvao’s family was holding, where they had ping pong, volleyball, and they even got a pinata for the kids to smack around.  They also had an umu, remember, the pig on the spit over the fire.  When family is far away, it felt great to be included in their family for their celebration.  I really enjoyed it.

Afterwards, we went to a sports party that Hampton Park was holding.  Basketball, volleyball, and of course food.  I really enjoy volleyball now.  Nothing beats a perfect set and getting to jump up in the air and spike the ball as hard as possible.  I love it.

I didn’t anticipate how it would feel at Christmas time.  What shocked me the most was driving around town between parties and activities and seeing zero cars on the streets.  Everybody was home with their families enjoying the holiday.  We got to enjoy it too, but not the way I preferred.  However, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t really worth it.  Pretty soon things will go back to normal and work will pick up just like always.  There’s still so much to do, progress to make, lessons to learn.

I loved my packages.  My favorite was the family photo calendar.

I’m out of time, but thank you so much for everything.  I love you all.  Happy New Year!
Love,
Elder Scott Baker

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Back to the city

December 20, 2010

Good morning for me, evening for you,
After sailing around the solar system in the Wangarratta zone, I have now crash-landed back to the city.  I’m in Dandenong!  Remember Tuvao, the investigator I taught when I was back in Springvale?  She got baptized into this ward!  So now I get to see her.  She’s doing really good.  She’s in the Young Women’s Presidency.  Her sister Jules also got baptized, as did a few of her kids.  She’s working in Primary.  I was so happy to visit them in the week to see that they were still going strong.  It’s really cool.
My companion is Elder Savelio, my third Samoan companion.  He is so cool.   He reminds me a lot of Reuben with his energy and sense of humor.  He makes me look like a sloth sometimes, but we’re getting along.  He’s been on his mission for 20 months.  His name looks Italian, like saVELio, but it’s actually SAveLIO.  People get it mixed up at first glance, but he doesn’t care.
While I’ve been adjusting to the buildings, cars, trains, shops, lights, noise, etc., he’s helped reorient me with how things work in the city.  I forgot how different it is down here.  In the country, you work very closely with individual people, befriend them, and work them to improvement.  Here, you’re visiting, finding, and teaching all the time.  There’s now so many people at church!  I’m still getting used to it.  But I remember now why I enjoyed being in Springvale so much.  It was sad to go, but it’s good to be back.
Elder Bartle has also moved to the city, although he’s right in the center.  The area is called Ivanhoe, and it is directly in Melbourne.  He’s most likely in more shock than I am.
Elder Peek has ricocheted past me, because now he is up in the outskirts of the Wangaratta zone at Griffith.  Pluto.
Elder Savelio and I were doubled into the area, so we’ve been spending the week trying to get to know the member and investigators taught by the previous Elders.  It’s difficult however, because I have no sense of direction and we have no clue where the people live.  My GPS might as well be supplying me oxygen.  You work blind.  However, we still get to talk to people on the street, which always yields interesting experiences.  Some Jehovah’s Witnesses got fired up at us, that was interesting.  Elder Savelio served in the Hampton Park ward before coming here, so he knows a lot of the Samoan members nearby, and he also knows his way around better than me.  It’s nice having a Samoan companion, because that means any time you need food, they can help you.  It’s a very generous culture, and sometimes it saves us.
We’ve been getting up at 5:30 three times a week to play volleyball at the chapel.  It’s really fun!  I need to work on my spikes though.  Samoans love volleyball.
The Dandenong ward is also where the Assistants to the President work, so that is a privilege.  They had a convert baptism this Sunday, so I got to do my first baptismal interview where I ask them the questions to make sure they understand everything.  This investigator’s name is Jason Joseph, and he is from Sri Lanka.  He understands everything and knows it’s true.  It was even more beneficial for me I think to see his faith reach this peak before the sacred ordinance.  Sometimes you forget the true power of the gospel.  Seeing it make him so happy made me happy too.
This Wednesday, the mission is gathering for our Christmas conference.  I’m going to perform O Holy Night again with Sister Solomon, and heaps of other missionaries will perform too.  Then we get to eat, and then we get to see Toy Story 3!  Woohoo!  It’s probably the best treat I could have ever asked for.  I’m excited!
Well, Christmas sure feels different not being home.  Sometimes it feels like it’s just passing by on a train while I get to watch it come and go.  Even so, I’m enjoying my new area and companion.  The work is going pretty well.  I feel like things are in control.  I’m just excited to see what kind of people I meet next.  I loved my time in Springvale so much, and being right next door can’t be much different.  This will be an exciting transfer.
I love you all! Merry Christmas!  Enjoy your stuff, spend time with family.  Bye!
-Elder Scott Baker

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