“For the Beauty Of The Earth….”

“For the beauty of the skies….Lord of all to thee we raise, joyful hymns of grateful praise.” I never cease to be amazed at the natural wonders and beauty of the world in which we live. I have been privileged to live in and visit different areas of the world that have touched my spirit, strengthened my being, enlivened my demeanor and given me pause to ponder what exists beyond the veil of this earthly life. The Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, Yosemite, the Redwood forests, the Pacific coastline, the Swiss Alps, the Mountains in Slovakia, the countryside in England and on and on. Australia is no exception. It is the sixth largest country in the world with approximately 2.9 million square miles. It is a huge island country and continent. It has a wide range of habitats. There are tropical forests, mountain ranges and coastal wonders. It is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean. The Timur, Tasman and Coral Seas are also close by. We have been able to visit some beautiful areas around Melbourne on our Saturday outings. The sky in Australia is amazing. The clouds hang so low; sometimes I feel like I could just reach up and touch them.

IMG_1928.jpgIMG_1909.JPGIt is still cold. The temperature ranges from upper 30’s to mid 50’s which is not terrible but the wind chill brings it lower and the damp cold goes right through me. I am toughening up, bundling up and looking up through it all.

The work moves forward in the Australia Melbourne Mission. We love working with the young missionaries. They are dedicated, humble and filled with a great spirit as they bring those who are interested to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and His gospel. Those who do not have english as their as their native language continue to struggle to pass the english proficiency exams but are miraculously able to teach their investigators in English…..wow, the gift of tongues and the power of the Holy Ghost! Some of them did not speak a speck of English before leaving for their mission.

At the last zone conference, I was inspired by a young missionary who said that his trainer told him; “There is no comfort in the growth zone and there is no growth in the comfort zone.” That rang so true with me. I know, for me, I have to go outside of my comfort zone to learn and grow and sometimes stumble and make mistakes but I inevitably discover what I can really do, my potential, my purpose, my mission. Sometimes it is painful to be in that growth zone but I can testify that the blessings are great and the experience and lessons learned bring great joy, peace and health to my body and spirit.

I know my body is 68 years old but in my mind I am, maybe, 48. Reality hits when I get on the crowded commuter train and younger folks stand immediately to offer this old lady a seat!😄😜. Ok, I just can’t fake it anymore so I’m just succumbing and enjoying the benefits of old age. All is well. I can, however, still stand on the path railings in the forest:

IMG_5706Well, that’s all for now folks. I love you all and my heart is eternally grateful for your love, your support and your prayers.

Big Hugs,

Sister Cooper

P.S …a bit of Melbourne trivia: Melbourne used to be called “Batmania” after one of the founders, John Batman! Ha!

Little Miracles

There were a few spiritual thoughts that came to me in the latest zone conference…..In the dictionary, there are 3 definitions of the noun “miracle”.

The first definition is “a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.” A good example is Jesus Christ and Peter walking on the water in Matt 14. The disciples saw Jesus walking on the water and when he bid that Peter should come to him, Peter got out of the ship and started walking on the water. When the wind started blowing, Peter became afraid, lost his focus on the Savior and began to doubt that he could continue and began to sink. I believe we can all do “inexplicable” things like this if our focus is on the Savior, the divine, and do not doubt ourselves. We may not be walking on water but we can do hard things, maybe even seemingly impossible things. We see medical miracles, incredible things, physical feats that saves ourselves or others, miracles in nature and so forth.

The second definition is “a highly improbable to extraordinary event, development or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences.” A while ago, some missionaries were in an automobile accident and their car caught on fire and the vehicle destroyed and they escaped unscathed. Someone was looking after them. A guardian angel?

The third definition is; “an amazing product or achievement, or outstanding example of something.” This is more common. These are the little miracles I see almost daily in my missionary experience…..young missionaries having had no prior knowledge of english, studying diligently and learning in a relatively short period of time, passing an english proficiency exam that would be a challenge for a native english speaker and getting accepted to universities; My companion and I have been on our mission for 5 1/2 months and have not been sick with even a cold- a litttle miracle for two “young” women in their late 60s. :). We see young people and older people routinely sacrificing their seats on the train for someone standing..amazing! We see hearts softening in families who have been contentious with one another. We see acts of love abounding, small acts of service and lives changed for the better. Little miracles every day. I love it!

We went into the bush last weekend to give a talk to a small branch of about 25 – 30 people in the congregation, 10 of which were missionaries. Our talks were on forgiveness. Since none of us are perfect, it is a good topic for all of us no matter our age, our life circumstance or our religious conviction. It was good to have the opportunity to reflect on the need for forgiveness and for forgiving others. It brought to mind a talk given by Dale G Renlund. He referred to Nelson Mandela who had been imprisoned for 27 years for his role in the anti apartheid struggle. “His forgiveness of those who had imprisoned him was remarkable. He received widespread acclaim and praise. Mandela frequently deflected accolades by saying, “I’m no saint – that is, unless you think a saint is a sinner who keeps on trying”. For me, I have certainly made mistakes in life but have learned how important it is to keep on trying and to be patient with others who keep on trying in their own way.

While we were in the bush we were shown around the town of Benalla. There were many buildings that were covered with paintings they call “building art”. Well known artists in and around Melbourne come and paint on the buildings (see collage below). They like to paint aboriginal faces. There were also snakes and some weird art that I didn’t really like so I didn’t take pictures of those.

As you can see in one of the pictures below, we encountered a Huntsman spider in one of the church buildings where we were meeting some missionaries. The missionary told me that it was just a baby. I hope I don’t run into the mamma or papa!

Well, we are trying to keep warm but none of the churches seem to have the heat on. When we were in the bush, we went into the Relief Society room and they had blankets for those who wanted. I wanted!! :). I think I need some boots. It probably wouldn’t be missionary appropriate but in my dreams I take socks and my warm slippers to church with me. Ha!

I love you all. Happy 4th of July. Seems strange not celebrating it and seeing all the fireworks… 💥 💥  💥 💥

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New senior couple(relatives of good friends in San Diego); Zone Conference photo; Huntsman spider – eek!; and me,

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“Building art” in Benalla

Hugs to you all,

Sister Cooper

Getting Colder

This morning we woke up to 38 degrees. It is definitely winter here. I know this pales compared to the bitter cold durning the winters in other areas of the globe but for this aging Southern California girl, it is just plain cold. It is a damp cold, similar to what I experienced growing up in San Francisco. We do not let this deter us from bundling up and walking along the trail near our flat to get some exercise. I bought a hat to protect my ears. Bearing the cold is most difficult for the young missionaries from the warm Pacific Islands…Samoa, Fiji, French Polynesia, Tuvalu etc. Sister King and I found some hot springs which is an often visited attraction in these parts. It was oh so lovely to sit and soak for awhile in the warm/hot mineral water and it was worth it even with the mineral stench that lingered for some time afterward.

The last few weeks have been busy with transfers, departing and arriving missionaries, inspecting flats, moving out of flats that are being vacated, cleaning flats, working more than ever with missionaries needing help with their post mission planning and assisting the mission and the missionaries whenever needed. The following is a picture from a simple lunch we prepared for the newly arriving missionaries….meatball subs:
In the last departing missionary seminar, I added a slide with a quote from President Hinckley which is a message that, I think, everyone needs to hear who is moving forward and opening a new chapter in life:

” You have the potential to become anything to which you set your mind.  You have a mind and body and spirit.  With these three working together, you can walk the high road that leads to achievement and happiness.  But this will require effort and sacrifice and faith.  ….pray for the strength to walk the high road which, at times, may be lonely but which will lead to peace and happiness and joy supernal.” (Gordon B Hinckley, May 2004)
We love the young missionaries, their dedication to their missionary service, their enthusiasm, their love for life and for the Savior.  We can invision these young men and women being successful in whatever walk of life they chose for themselves.

On our p-day, we visited the Geelong Botanical Gardens which was lovely and had a date with Big Bird (Emu) at an Australian Aboriginal Cultural center and native garden.

I am happy, well and love serving here in Australia.  Thank you all for your love and prayers.
All my love,
Sister Cooper

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Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining!

Whatever our circumstances and challenges in life, young or old, there are always “silver linings”, blessings, guardian angels, hope, and much more.  Don’t get “caught between two stools”…always choose the better way. The “ball is in your court”. Don’t worry about the “devil’s advocates”.  Listen to the counter argument  but don’t let them steer you in the wrong direction from what you know to be true. Don’t ever “throw in the towel”.  Your circumstance may be a “blessing in disguise”.  Don’t ever “cry over spilt milk”.  Keep progressing forward even though it may not be “a piece of cake”.  “Let’s not beat around the bush”, if you want to understand something like what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints teaches, you should hear it “straight from the horse’s mouth….the missionaries.  It beats “barking up the wrong tree” or hearing it “through the grapevine”……….IDIOMS!  They are a challenge for those missionaries who are trying to learn the English language  and more particularly those who need to take an english proficiency exam to get into a BYU school.  In reviewing some practice tests with some of these missionaries, I have noticed that these english idiomatic expressions are the most difficult for them to grasp and to remember.  The tests use them throughout the grammar and vocabulary sections.  I am making a list of about 100 of the most frequently used idioms for these missionaries to study during their daily allotted time for language study.  Many of these missionaries come from small islands in the Pacific and are very smart and have dreams of what they want to do in their lives.  They want to educate themselves, be successful and provide well for their families.  They know as they learn the english language, opportunities will open up for them in the Church educational system and elsewhere.  I counsel them to study hard, pray hard, work hard and they will be blessed with the gift of tongues.  My companion and I pray for our young missionaries every day.  Miracles are on the horizon!

I hope everyone had a happy Mother’s Day.  I had the wonderful opportunity to help many of the young missionaries by providing them with devices to call their mothers.  I felt like a mission mom.  As I got some set up, more streamed into the city branch throughout the day.  It was such a happy time.  There was so much love in the air.  It was an amazing feeling.  I have included a picture below.

Tomorrow it is supposed to rain but the weather forecasts here are so unreliable.  It could be raining and cold one minute and sunny and warm the next. Some here in Australia say that it is not uncommon to have 4 seasons in one day.  I would like to say that it is going to “rain cats and dogs” but only because I want to interject another idiom! 🙂

All is well.  We continue to be among the “go to” senior missionaries for whatever is needed in the mission.  We will be traveling into the bush at the end of June for a Sunday speaking assignment in a small branch.  We are happy to be serving.  It is, as I always like to say….a wonderful thing!

Here are some pictures:
A farewell potluck for elder and sister Myers at the mission home.  They served for 18 months.
Sister Cooper helping a young sister missionary get set up to call her family on Mother’s Day
Another picture with a young sister calling home

The Olympian never quits; always an inspiration!

Sister Cooper, Sister Myers (departing) 😦  and Sister King
Another hike today in the You Yangs.  There were steps to climb and boulders to maneuver but made it to a breathtaking view.
Time to “hit the hay”!
Love you all and I am grateful for your love, your support and your prayers.
Sister Cooper

 

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Left is “Right”

Driving on the left is ALMOST second nature to me now.  The turn signal on the right of the steering wheel though, tricks my brain and the windshield wipers come on.  Left, left, left.  Choose the left and then you will be choosing the right here in Australia (CTR).  On a very chilly but beautiful fall morning walk, after a near smash (smash is Aussie speak for “crash”), I pictured in my mind’s eye a newspaper headline reading; “Mormon Mission President Collides with Senior Sister Missionary Walking on the Dandenong Creek Bike Trail.”  I was walking on my right and he was on his bike coming around a blind corner towards me on his left.  Yikes.  If it were not for his superior, Olympic athletic abilities I might not be sitting here telling this tale. I guess from now on I better remember to always walk on my left!  Repentance in progress.  Walk on the left, drive on the left, bike on the left, think left at all times.  It’s a steep hill to climb but I can do it!
We had another amazing Zone conference and President Vidmar, as usual, gave some inspirational counsel to his nearly 200 missionaries over 3 regions.  As I ponder on his messages, I realize that they are applicable not only to our lives in the Australia Melbourne Mission but throughout our lives wherever we may be and at whatever stage we may be in.  He talked about always setting the bar high.  If we set it high, we will accomplish more along the way.  If we set it low, we will not accomplish as much. He said his gymnastics coach could only think of one thing…getting to the Olympics.  That’s where he set the bar for all his trainees.  If the bar was set to just win a regional competition, then, president said, we would probably never have made it to the Olympics.  So, what I gleaned from that is if you aren’t reaching for a higher bar, your accomplishments in life will be less than what they could be.  I set a goal to stay healthy and lose 40 pounds while on my mission.  That’s kind of a high bar for me but I am keeping it there and working hard towards it.  I think I’m going to make it!  I have lost nearly half thus far.  I am setting Spiritual and other kinds of bars as well.  It is a great journey.  President Vidmar inspires these young missionaries and all of us to reach higher and higher in our work.
The City Branch where we spend a lot of our time helping the missionaries has a couple of rooms that are enclosed by glass from floor to ceiling.  The glass is very clean and sometimes invisible to my aging eyes.  Walking into the room I missed the actual doorway and bounced off of the glass.  According to the laughing onlookers, it was akin to a bird flying into a closed window or sliding door.  I should have been embarrassed but I couldn’t stop laughing about it.  The “DarnCat” is quickly using up her nine lives.  I was glad the investigator we were teaching had just left before seeing my silly move.
Last week Sister King and I gave a presentation as a part of the departing missionary seminar and I asked the missionaries what talents were they blessed with as missionaries that they developed on their missions and they responded….the gift of tongues for those who had to learn Mandarin or Vietnamese or English for those whose English is not their native tongue; the gift of teaching, of listening, of loving, of understanding the scriptures and so forth.  These missionaries will use these talents going forward in their lives.  They will be leaders and great examples to others. In Matthew chapter 25, it relates the parable of the talents ; “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”
Last weekend we visited the national Rhododendron garden.  Nothing was in bloom but it was beautiful nonetheless and we were able to get in a good bit of hiking.  We will go back in the spring to capture all the flowers in bloom so stay tuned for colorful photos.  For now, I have attached a few photos from the last couple of weeks:
Departing Missionary Seminar:
P-Day hike in the Dandenongs:
Senior Missionary group outing:
I love you all!  Thank you for your love and support and happy Mother’s Day to all you amazing mothers out there!!
Hugs,
Sister Cooper

Young Disciples….Strong and True

It is such a wonderful thing to be working with these strong, faithful young men and women who have found joy in sharing their testimonies of the Book of Mormon and the plan of salvation here in the Australia Melbourne Mission.  They are happy souls.  They are learning unconditional love for those they meet and for each other.  As you look closely at the following picture, you will notice an Elder from Utah with his hand on the shoulder of an Elder from China.  They are companions.  I have watched them and have been touched by the patience and love the Utah Elder has shown to the Chinese Elder as he has worked tirelessly and diligently to help his companion as he struggles, to become proficient with the english language.  The Chinese Elder also helps his companion to stay focused on the work.  They are amazing missionaries.
We have been doing some family history in our down time and have been asked by one of the sister missionaries from Germany for help with hers.  She has not been a member for very long and has very little done.  It is fun to help her  and her companion.  Her companion pictured here, has quite a bit done already.
We were asked to go up into the bush to give sacrament meeting talks to a small branch in Echuca, Victoria.  We drove up Saturday and when we got to the town, we took a ride on a steam powered paddle boat down the Murray River.  I took a picture of an old paddle boat from 1891 called the Etona.  Notice the cross.  It was used by missionaries from the Church of England at that time traveling up and down the river doing missionary work and holding services on the paddle boat.  The Echuca branch is about 3.5 hours from Melbourne.  We were housed and fed by a wonderful family, the Ludbeys.  He is in the Branch Presidency.  The Branch only has about 20 people attending the meetings.  I think they called it a twig :). It was amazing, I felt such a strong beautiful spirit there.  This family routinely hosts a scripture study night and they have people from all different faiths attending…Catholics, protestants, etc…..truly an ecumenical group.

I think the rainy season is upon us.  We have seen quite a bit of rain in the last couple of weeks but it does not deter us from our exercise.  I have not been as brave as my companion.  I sometimes retreat to the stationary bike in the garage but have been known to venture out on occasion with my $2 poncho which does not keep me very dry.  :). When we go into the city or elsewhere to meet with missionaries, I wear my trench coat which is quite adequate.
Hope you are all well.  I love you bunches…..
Sister Cooper

Easter in the Fall

Easter is a time of year that all of Christendom celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the savior of the world, the light to which we can turn in times of darkness.  He paid the ultimate price for us that we might all live again.  He overcame physical and spiritual death.  He lives! I have a testimony of this.  He has blessed my life and it is because of Him that I am here in Australia.

Normally, in the northern hemisphere, Easter is associated with Spring, flower gardens, bulbs shooting forth bursts of color through the warming soil and “popcorn popping on the apricot tree” as the primary song goes but here in the the Southern Hemisphere it is Autumn.  Interestingly, there are very few deciduous trees here that are indigenous to the Melbourne Australia area.  In preparation for the dry season, a few native trees lose some or all of their leaves for a part of the year, mostly in the tropical or subtropical areas of Australia…the red cedar, white cedar and boab trees.  The deciduous trees are outnumbered by the evergreens.  The ancient Australian soil is very poor in nutrients and the ground water is well below the surface.  The one true temperate native deciduous tree is the deciduous beech or Fagus which is found in Tasmania and the leaves turn displaying beautiful colors before they all fall off in preparation for the winter cold.  We haven’t gotten over to Tasmania yet but hope to do so sometime in the next 15 months that we have left on our mission.

The temple here has been closed for cleaning.  I have included a picture of the missionaries who helped to clean the temple including scaling the temple walls to clean angel Moroni:We have met with several missionaries this last week who needed some help with post mission planning.  We help with college applications, career discussions, resume writing, administering english tests etc.  We had one request this week from a missionary who wanted some help with genealogy.  I have gotten very excited about my own genealogy and have finally completed my 5 generations on both my mother’s and father’s ancestral lines.

Last Saturday Sister King and I climbed the 1000 steps in the Dandenong Ranges National Park.  It was really only about 750 steps but that was enough for me!  The trail and steps are very steep and were formed by the Australian soldiers who followed the Kokoda trail in Paupa New Guinea in World War II.  Many soldiers lost their lives as they fought on the trail during the Kokoda campaign of 1942.  I can’t imagine how exhausted they must have been going up that steep hill in all their gear.  They were in much better shape than me but I made it and I am proud of that.

  The coming down was harder than the going up for me.

Happy Easter to all of you.  I love you so much and appreciate your love, your prayers and your support while I am over here on the other side of the world!

Hugs,

Sister Cooper