Here’s a peak at what a senior missionary couple actually does – and what Christmas was like this year in Darwin, Australia!
Thanksgiving in Palmerston. We had a great Thanksgiving dinner at our flat! We invited the Farrers and Pam Hinton, an Australian friend and investigator who is a willing taster of new and different foods. The Farrers brought the biggest turkey they could find (it just fit into their crock pot, which gives you an idea of its size). They also brought mashed potatoes, gravy and some great relish dish items I hadn’t tried before. We provided a sweet potato dish (made from fresh sweet potatoes), stuffing, asparagus spears and drink. We were lucky enough to inherit a package of Stove Top Stuffing from someone who moved back to the U.S. I made it according to the package directions, except I sauteed chopped onion, carrots and celery in the butter, first. It ended up being every bit as good as any stuffing we’ve ever had! You’d never know it came from a box – I may never make stuffing the long way again!
After dinner we caravan-ed to the home of Ben & Megan Wardle, another American couple, for Thanksgiving desserts. Gunda Mattys (also from Utah) was there with her family, too. Megan (bless her!) had provided real pumpkin pie; the rest of the desserts everyone brought were amazing, too.
Thanksgiving in Katherine, too? And, just in case one Thanksgiving dinner wasn’t enough, Elder Buckner had the truly great idea of making and taking a Thanksgiving dinner down to the two American elders serving 3 hours from us in Katherine, NT. We enlisted the support of Robert and Barbara Walmsley in Katherine, and were blown away by the extra three miles Barbara went to make it a special meal, as you’ll see later. A few days before we left for Katherine on Monday morning, we found a frozen 8-pound turkey, which the store clerk thought was enormous! (Turkeys that size ran between $40 -$60, and the tiny jar of cranberry sauce I was so happy to find was over $6. I later found out there were bags of frozen cranberries available for much less. – We continue to learn!). We also provided the sweet potato dish, dressing and pie, and the Walmsleys provided potatoes, gravy, a vegetable, and ice cream. And the best part was, we were able to keep it a surprise until the elders walked in and saw all the preparations!
Isn’t that “cornucopia” plate arrangement beautiful? And it was just “thrown together” with what she had in her fridge! I found out that Barbara had once owned a catering business, and boy did it show! Everything looked delightful! And the missionaries, Elders Bennion and Nelson, absolutely loved it. These two elders rarely get dinner appointments (other than from the Walmsleys), and it was fun to spoil them a little.
Before going to our dinner, we served the elders a quick lunch of sandwiches and fruit we had brought with us, and then took them to the town of Mataranka, followed by a quick little hike through part of Elsey National Park for their P-day – but that little trip rates its own post!
Another pair of missionaries in Palmerston! We found out in late November that we had to find, open and furnish a flat in the Palmerston area for a new set of sister missionaries that were going to be added soon, although we didn’t know when. It took a lot of time in both November and December to get a flat secured and ready, but received help and encouragement from the housing coordinators, the Halls, in Adelaide. Once it was leased, we spent days trying to find the best buys we could on the furniture that was needed, along with everything else that is typically provided to the missionaries here. By the time we were finished, an entire wall of our little garage was lined with stacked boxes and bags. We were able to save quite a bit on some of it though – I had picked up nearly everything we needed for the kitchen from a member who was moving away.
Christmas in Darwin. We are currently in the wet season here, and a lot of people fly off to dryer parts of the country to spend the holidays with family. Possibly because of that, Christmas decorating is much more conservative. While there were some exceptional light displays on scattered homes, most homes had none. And where homes were too small to accommodate a Christmas tree, we saw attractive bowls of ornaments and Christmas displays on shelves.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Christmas, and decorating for Christmas – but seeing the lack of excess here (of which I am as guilty as anyone) was a bit refreshing. Keeping things simpler allowed more time to be about what Christmas is really about.
All that being said, we felt blessed to have a Christmas tree! We inherited ours from another missionary flat, but artificial trees here are really cheap. It wasn’t hard to find amazing bargains on ornaments, either. I never saw any pre-lit trees for sale, perhaps because the heavy wires and plugs necessary to run mini lights on 240-watt power won’t work. They also cost more.
Keeping in mind that we will end up leaving everything behind when our time here is over, I used a little creativity to make our flat a little Christmas-y without a lot of expense. I puzzled over what I could do with our unusual front door – but came up with a solution I liked that worked well: I used suction cups to fasten a Christmas garland along the edge of the window. And finding no nativity sets here, yet wanting something to help keep the Savior at the forefront of the holiday, I found patterns online for some great chalkboard-type ornaments depicting the Savior’s many names. Our tree ended up being pretty much covered with them – a nice change from snowmen, Santas, and the Christmas bears I have at home. And best of all, they were quick to make.
December also was a month for making new friends in our branch. We had invitations to several dinners, and had a little time for playing games at one of them – something we hadn’t done in many months. The first was at the home of Robyn and Michael Kuhn. While there we got to know the Briants better, and had dinner at their home a couple of weeks later. The Briants often share eggs from their backyard chickens with us at church, and also taught us how to grow pineapples from the tops – something I’d been curious about for a long time!
We were also blessed to be able to enjoy a real Australian Christmas Day dinner at the home of Jill and Chris Kuhn. Besides the amazing meal, we were also included in their family gift exchange. It was delightful to see how each and every gift, no matter how small, was received with great tenderness and
appreciation. They even had gifts for us!
Lastly, we learned the art of using what I think are called “crackers” here. We started seeing them in Costco at home a couple of years ago. You and your neighbor at the table each grab an end and pull. Whoever gets the big end (like with a wishbone) gets the prize inside after they pop open. There is also a saying in each of them, along with a folded, thin plastic crown that we were not required to wear. 🙂 Jill’s daughter Michelle also taught me the secret to always getting the big end … which I intend to keep secret. 😉
One of the most enjoyable Christmas activities we had was the opportunity for our Zone to sing at a Christmas luncheon for a group of retirees. (I love the Australian versions of the songs!) If you look closely, you’ll see that Santa is sometimes seen in short sleeves, sandals and Bermuda shorts in Darwin.
Mid-December we received the assignment to drive to Katherine to support the elders there for the day while they were interviewed and filmed by a news crew from Darwin. It was a very hot (102 degrees F with high humidity), long and sweaty day. We started early and didn’t finish until after sundown, then were back at it again the next morning, finishing before noon. We were glad we were there to help the elders get through it with frozen drinks and sandwiches to keep them going. The segment should air sometime soon – watch for the video on my Facebook page!
Rain has been a big part of our month! It has rained nearly every day, as well as many nights. It often cools things off, particularly when it rains for hours. When the sun pops out, though, it gets really muggy. Sometimes the rain is just a drizzle, and sometimes it literally pours down. Elder Buckner tracks it more than I do, but at one point we received seven inches of rain in 2 days. The creeks, ponds and low places are frequently filled with water, and I understand flooding of the roads is commonplace this time of year. You can’t always get everywhere you want to go. Note the meter marks on the railroad bridge over the Katherine River – these get used! When the ground and water tables get saturated, all the low areas then fill with water – not just the rivers.
There was also a Christmas zone conference in December. During most zone conferences, the mission president and his wife, with the 2 assistants to the mission president, all come to town. Meetings or interviews are held, and the senior couples usually are asked to prepare lunches and/or dinners for everyone. We frequently team up, but this time we had a lunch and a dinner the same day. I was asked to prepare the lunch, and since it was Christmas, make it a little nicer than usual. Thanks to some cans of green chilies I was given (you can’t buy them here), we were able to make a “knock-off” Cafe Rio pulled pork, and served it with seasoned rice, rolls and sweet pickles, and topped it off with a chocolate-cherry cake with cream cheese frosting and ice cream. It makes me hungry just thinking about it!
The meal took us all day Friday to prepare, because we also had to attend the meetings and couldn’t spend all morning in the kitchen on Saturday. This particular Christmas zone conference included a fun skit by our zone on “How to Survive Darwin,” receiving Christmas stockings packed with fun and useful gifts, and ended with watching Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. These were both made long before any of these missionaries were born, and none of them had seen either one.
On Christmas Eve, it was our P-day, so we put together small Christmas bags for all the other missionaries, as well as friends, investigators and recent converts we had worked with. We attended church in the morning, and that evening we were asked to assist the Farrers with a meal for the missionaries.They fixed breakfast for dinner, which was fun. It included eggs goldenrod, which I’d never had, bacon, and all kinds of dessert crepes everyone assembled themselves. After that we watched a slide show containing pictures from the year from throughout the mission.
The evening of Christmas Day found us back at the Farrer’s for another zone activity. The missionaries had all cooked a pot-luck meal, after which we watched a Christmas movie none of us had seen and really enjoyed, called The Miracle Maker.
Boxing Day – the day after Christmas – is a national holiday here. It is also the biggest shopping day of the year, much like Black Friday is in the U.S. We were able to have much-appreciated calls with most of our children and grandchildren back home before heading off to a zone service activity.
I wish you could see the backs of the navy t-shirts we all received for Christmas! They show a map of Australia, and read, “A Marvelous Work and a Wonder – Down Under!” Cute, huh? We fed animals, pulled weeds, harvested coconuts, cut down bamboo, and learned a ton at a private animal sanctuary at the home of Barb Backers, a branch member. More about the sanctuary at another time, but suffice it to say, it was a wonderful experience. We were all incredibly tired at the end – which probably shows. I was so sad when I got home – all the wonderful pictures I thought I’d have were taken without the memory card being in my camera! Oh darn – guess I’ll have go back!
Our new Filipino sister missionary, Sister Angoy, finally arrived late on December 29th, and moved into the flat we had been preparing all month with Sister Mongan from Indonesia. She looks to be maybe 4’10” if she stands tall, and is a soft-spoken and extremely sweet sister we are appreciating already.
While this post only covers some of the highlights of the month, it hopefully gives some of you an idea of what an MLS (member and leader support) missionary’s life is actually like!
Next time we’ll share the story of the wonderful baptism we participated in, just yesterday!