Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Having a Merry, Very Green Christmas!

We're Wishing You and Yours a Wonderful Christmas! 

Though we're far apart, dear family & special friends, we are close in our hearts!

What a shocker to have everything in full bloom and the sun blazing during December! Most of you are in store for a beautiful white Christmas while the temperatures keep climbing daily in Brisbane.  No slipping on ice, no shoveling, but we're missing the ambiance and beauty of winter, no lie!  So enjoy having to put on a coat to shovel the driveway! 😊🌟  Here we sit in our flat blasting the AC with our sweet 24" tree, and a wreath on the door, happily enjoying the joys of this most special season of the year. Pictured is one of the live displays at the Brisbane Temple where the public was invited to a celebration of Christ's birth with music and lots to see. We were privileged to usher one evening which surely put us in a permanent Christmas mood!  We've been very engaged in preparing for our Logan Ward's Christmas Musical Fireside where Elder Yates narrated and Sister Yates played the organ, sang in the choir and accompanied several musical numbers.  Elder Yates even sang with all the beautiful voices of our Samoan and Tongan brethren as they belted out "O Come All Ye Faithful"!  We love our South Pacific Islanders who comprise about 95  percent of our ward!    

 Pictured here is our amazing BYU-Idaho Pathway students who last week completed their first semester with us as their "Parents" in the Institute and Gathering parts of Pathway.  They range in age from 19 to 61, and are either beginning, returning to, or working on another college course of study. It's an online program that is all over the world now!  These 15 students have worked very hard, putting in about 12 hours outside of class each week to prepare for the educational portion of their courses.  On Thursday evenings we drive about 1 1/2 hours north to Burpengary to meet with them for 2 1/2 hours, where we teach Institute, then we have their academic gathering which supports them in their online studies.  Many transformations have taken place as "old" or "lazy" brains have been activated and they are reaching new heights...the brains and the students!  It was so touching on Thanksgiving Day, a Thursday of course, to have them feel badly that we "had" to teach them instead of celebrating Thanksgiving on that very day.  They threw us a little surprise mini-Thanksgiving program complete with pumpkin pie, gave us a sweet class card, and sang "Count Your Many Blessings" at the top of their lungs!  How could we be more thankful than to have these awesome students as our thoughtful friends! We have two weeks off and then begin 2nd Semester on Jan 5th---MATHS this semester.  (Not a typo---they call math "maths" all over AU!)  We'll have heaps of fun with the maths, and Elder Yates will be in charge of tutoring.

We have also begun teaching an English class  to some Mandarin-speaking Taiwanese people, and one Japanese student.  We have a limited curriculum while we are searching for better programs, so are scrambling to serve the needs of our 5 students.  3 are new English speakers, and 2 have a good command of the spoken language but want to improve writing. Johnson An has finished a bachelor's degree in Taiwan and came here to apply for a Masters in Business program.  He does not yet qualify, for his written language skills are too low.  Sister Yates' school teaching skills are being called into play and Elder Yates is tutoring the 3 beginning students!  We're all learning and stretching ourselves!
The beauties of the summer continue to dazzle us!  Right now the poinciana trees (also called flame trees) are in full bloom---a perfect display of intense red and green just in time for Christmas.  One of our favorites is the frangipani trees which smell absolutely heavenly.  You'll recognize them as the flower  on our blog page.  We first were enchanted with their beauty and fragrance when visiting our daughter Heather in Vanuatu where she served in the Peace Corps! There are over 300 recorded types and colors of frangipani flowers in Australia alone! It's no wonder the South Pacific Islanders wear these flowers tucked behind their ears---it's better than any perfume, and the wearer gets the best benefit of its enticing aroma.  The gum trees are in full bloom and springtime new leaves which makes for good koala food.  Sadly, we learned from a local biker we met while 'bush-walking" that the koala population is challenged because of encroachment upon their territory.  They are being attacked by dogs, both wild and domestic, and foxes when the koalas come down from the treetops of the eucalyptus trees to find a mate. Koalas dine exclusively on the eucalyptus leaves, as you know, but their favorite is the grey gum tree.  (Gum trees are the broader class which includes the eucalyptus trees.)  We've only seen three koalas in the wild, for one needs to go way out of town to see them in the wild now.  Sad, but true!
Spotted Gum Tree
Grey Gum (Eucalyptus) Tree
The wallabies of the area are also in springtime mode, having their little joeys start pushing out of their mothers' pouches to be introduced to the world.  Right over our back fence is bush (forest) which supports several wallabies.  One mother wallaby we have been watching for two months, and her pouch became more and more round as she came to munch the on tender greenery.  Last week for the first time we saw a couple of little ears sticking out of her pouch, then the whole head of a CUTE LITTLE JOEY emerged!  Ah----we ran for the camera, returning to find her turned around, and all we could see was her backside.  
You have that view here--- the best shot we could manage.  But in a minute, while Mommy Kangee was bent over munching, a second head emerged under her arm and began eating the same tender leaflets!  Yep, a hilarious but beautiful sight which looked like a two-headed kangaroo, if we didn't know the second head belonged to her young offspring!  Another quiet miracle of nature we were blessed to see!  We included an online shot of a joey in the pouch for your enjoyment! 

To finish the nature portion of this blog, we have seen the first toads and frogs of springtime. The toads are small to huge, and the frogs follow suit!  The tiniest frogs we've seen are the size of a pencil eraser!  Our manager's sister, Colleen Lawton told me a hilarious tale of going into the ladies' restroom in their church building and raising the lid of the toilet only to be greeted by a huge green tree frog staring back at her from the bowl!  After her loud shrieking was under control, she decided to flush him down to return him to wherever he belonged.  Wisely, she chose another stall that day.  A week later, she again entered the restroom to use the facilities----you guessed it!  The same frog was in the same bowl!  She reported the errant visitor to the building maintenance man who burst out laughing.  Apparently this frog is a "regular" visitor to the ladies' room, and knows how to return to his favorite cooling-off pool whether they flush him down, or carry him outside and far away to relocate him!  Persistence gets results in this case! Just google "Frog in Toilet" and you'll get many such stories!  When it begins to dry out in summer, these little amphibians need a cool and wet place to hang out to regulate their moisture and body temperature.  Colleen didn't get a photo, but I've included one of a Queensland toilet-dwelling tree frog--we live in the state of Queensland.  Be aware before you sit around here!  😄 And be aware of where you step as well!  We have been warned about the very deadly snakes around here, especially the brown snake and the red-bellied black snake, and.....lots of them!! Where I stand to feed the kookaburras daily is at our back fence with bush lands behind the fence.  One morning while we were preparing breakfast in the kitchen Elder Yates suddenly grabbed my arm and said "LOOK!" pointing to the base of our wooden fence.  Though it was young and small, (only about 3 feet), it was a brown snake!! So kooka-feeder beware! I watch my step and clear the bushes away to check the ground before I set nary a foot on any patch of ground in our backyard!  Our kookas are worth the risk! 

Our mission continues to delight us with the many varied opportunities we have to further the work in this part of the kingdom.  As senior missionaries, we don't follow the same schedules as the "juniors."  It makes for varied schedules and we are in charge of furthering the work as Self-Reliance missionaries in whatever capacity we can serve others. We almost always make it to the Brisbane Temple once a week, and attend meetings all over the 11 stakes in Brisbane, focusing on Logan Stake where we live, and Brisbane North Stake where we teach Pathway. We just had a 3-day conference here in Logan where our manager, Brother Maurer invited the "outlying Senior" missionaires from Perth and Adelaide to join us. We hosted the Adelaide couple, the Snells who are from England. Note, they FLEW in because of distance.  Brisbane to Perth is like travelling from South Carolina to Los Angeles.With the local couples, (some 3 hours away), we had 20 people in total for our Self-Reliance Missionary Training Meeting. We had in attendance Paul Reid, the Pacific Area Self-Reliance Manager, who was inspiring and wise in his counsel to us.  We all participated, and since we and the Osbornes are Carl's two "local" Brisbane couples who live nearby, we got to help with the whole conference.  Lots of warm friendships were begun or renewed, and it's good to know there are 20 of us working across Australia where only 2 years ago Auston & Mary Johnson and Carl Maurer began to build this initiative of Self-Reliance from the ground up.  A lot has happened in a little over 2 years!  The photo is 13  of the conference attendees as we hiked one evening to a waterfall  near Tambourine Mountain.  Well, they call it a mountain, but to us westerners, it's a hill!  Beautiful rain forest environment!
Brisbane Australia Self-Reliance Missionary Support Training Conference,  the 13 who hiked to Tambourine Mtn.  
We have a dear local Brisbane missionary couple, the Tarrs.  Though a local Aussie, Elder Tarr wrote this poem for us "foreigners," knowing we're away from our Utah homes and families this Christmas season, serving and loving our missions, but missing our families and friends.  He poignantly captures many of our feelings.  It's a fun quick read:

        Christmas Across the Miles By Elder Tarr

I search through my window for snow on the ground.
My heart sinks within as there's none to be found.
And for one fleeting moment tears fall from my eye
As I sadly recount the very reason why.
I'm here on a Mission and a long way from snow,
Far, far from family and good friends I know.
No snowman, no mistletoe, no gathering 'round the tree,
No grandkids, no siblings to hug and kiss me.

No sled tracks in the snow, their marks cutting deep;
No stockings on the fireplace, no watching baby sleep.
And I'll miss all the great food at our Christmas dinner
Where we all eat too much and then long to be thinner.

Then I become sadder with the same reason why
So far from my home and I breathe a long sigh,
'Til my laptop makes a noise and I cease all the hype--
"Merry Christmas" they call.  It's my family on Skype!

Then the distance dissolves like snow in the sun
As I see all the kids 'round the tree having fun.
Then one at a time they all speak to me...
Oh, I feel like I'm there 'round my own Christmas tree.

Then the Spirit fills me and warms me inside,
Although I sit here in the heat, hot and dried.
But my family I love makes me feel they're here,
Far, far from my home and yet ever so near.

With eyes brimming tears, I don my brave face, 
I laugh and I frolic as if I'm at my place, 
And I thank God for family whether here or o'er there,
For wherever I am, I know that they care.

And yes, it's still hard with a tiny fake tree
In this air conditioned flat, just my husband and me.
I'm glad that we're here with our Little Christ Child, 
And sense His deep gratitude and I feel reconciled.
So I search out my window for snow on the ground, 
And yes, I still see there's none to be found.
But the Spirit shows me in a vision divine
My Savior's pure love as our hearts align.                         

May Heaven's blessings continue to be showered upon you during this precious Christmas season and for all of 2017!  With our Savior's birth, there came to Earth great hope, faith, and ultimate peace and joy.  He taught us the higher law, to give of ourselves and love and serve each other. You are such fine examples of doing just that, as you lift others by your kindly daily actions.  We know He lives and loves each of us purely. And we love you too, each one, and pray for your well-being and success always.  Love and Merry Christmas! Elder and Sister Yates, Dad/Mom, Grandparents Yates, David/Marsha