Friday, December 30, 2011

Five Things For Friday, 26th Edition

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I hope that you all had a wonderful Christmas. Mine was really nice. I really enjoyed having Christmas on the Sabbath this year. We were visiting my dad and his church started at 9 AM. So we did our Christmas stockings and presents from Santa in the morning but then saved the rest of the gift opening till after church. It really made for a special Christmas; one that was much more Christ centered than usual. I loved it. In fact, I think that next year my husband and I are going to see if any of the churches around us do Christmas morning services and make that a part our Christmas traditions. If none of them do I guess we will just have to create our own little service or program. But I sure hope that at least one of them does because it just felt so right to be at church on Christmas.

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I think I won the "worst mother of the year award".

Really I did.

A few days before Christmas I dropped Asher and Rose off at my friend's house so that I could finish up my Christmas shopping. I took Abe with me and headed off to the store. I went into the store and it took me about 25 minutes to find what I needed and get back to the car. When I got back to the car I realized, to my utter horror, that I had left Abraham in the back of the car the whole time I was in the store. I had totally forgotten about him! Luckily he was bundled up really well and it wasn't very cold outside. I am so glad that he was still sleeping peacefully in his car seat. I think that if he had been crying I would have dug a hole right there and crawled in. Even as it was I felt so bad, I wanted to die. I am glad he has some good guardian angels.

I shared this experience on Facebook and my husband's aunt was kind enough to remind me that even Mary traveled three days with the caravan before she realized that Jesus was missing and had to go back to Jerusalem for him, where she found him teaching in the temple.

It makes me feel a little better to know that even the Mother of the son of God made the same sort of mistake. Granted, her son was 12 years-old instead of a month.

Yet having now forgotten about my own sucking child I better understand now the love that God has for us. We are His children and, unlike earthly parents, He will never ever forget about us.

"Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands..." Isaiah 49: 15

He will definitely never leave us sitting in the Wal-Mart parking lot.



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I think one of my favorite parts of Christmas is having a tree in the house. I am sort of picky and always insist that we have a real tree every year. It is mostly because we never had a plastic tree when I was growing up (and I refuse to compromise on that tradition) and also because I think there is something incredibly beautiful about having a living, breathing tree in my house (because contrary to what my husband thinks, the tree isn't "dead" until it stops drinking the water).

As I basked in the glow and spirit of my Christmas tree I was reminded of an article by Daniel C. Peterson entitled "Nephi and His Asherah". In the article Peterson talks about the tree of life that Nephi sees in his vision and its connection to Christ, Mary and our Heavenly Parents. The symbolism behind trees is deep and powerful and I hope that after reading this article you will never look at your Christmas tree quite the same way again. Here is just a bit of what he says,

"Since Nephi wanted to know the meaning of the tree that his father had seen and that he himself now saw, we would expect "the Spirit" to answer Nephi's question. But the response to Nephi's question is surprising:

And it came to pass that he said unto me: Look! And I looked as if to look upon him, and I saw him not; for he had gone from before my presence.

And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white.

And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou?

And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.

And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?

And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.

And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.

And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look!

And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.

And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! (1 Nephi 11:12—21)

Then "the Spirit" asks Nephi the question that Nephi himself had posed only a few verses before:

Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw? (1 Nephi 11:21)

Strikingly, though the vision of Mary seems irrelevant to Nephi's original question about the significance of the tree—for the tree is nowhere mentioned in the angelic guide's response—Nephi himself now replies that, yes, he knows the answer to his question.

And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore it is the most desirable above all things.

And he spake unto me, saying: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul. (1 Nephi 11:22—23)

How has Nephi come to this understanding? Clearly, the answer to his question about the meaning of the tree lies in the virgin mother with her child. It seems, in fact, that the virgin is the tree in some sense. Even the language used to describe her echoes that used for the tree. Just as she was "exceedingly fair and white," "most beautiful and fair above all other virgins," so was the tree's beauty "far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow." Significantly, though, it was only when she appeared with a baby and was identified as "the mother of the Son of God" that Nephi grasped the tree's meaning.

Why would Nephi see a connection between a tree and the virginal mother of a divine child? I believe that Nephi's vision reflects a meaning of the "sacred tree" that is unique to the ancient Near East, and that, indeed, can only be fully appreciated when the ancient Canaanite and Israelite associations of that tree are borne in mind. Read the full article


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I am excited for New Year's Eve this weekend. We have invited some friends over to help us stay awake. My husband and I have discovered over the years that we have to either go to someone's house or invite people over for New Year's Eve or else we end up going to bed at 11:00 PM. Totally lame.

I am also looking forward to making new "New Year Miracles" and reflecting on how God has miraculously answered some of the miracles I asked for this year. It never ceases to amaze me how when I ask in faith for something God listens. God is truly a God of miracles.

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Wow, this turned out to be a long post. So I guess it won't hurt if I end it a little early, right?

Hope you have a wonderful weekend and a Happy New Year!

If you want to link to your own "Five Things for Friday" post you can use the tool below to add your link. 1) Please link to the URL of your blog post and not your main blog and 2) Please include a link back here.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Latter-day Saint Women Around the World: Sarah in Tunisia

I still have quite a few more submissions to share for my Latter-day Saint Women Around the World series and am expecting to receive a few more in the next little while! It has been so much fun to get to hear about the different experiences women are having all over the world with the gospel.

Today's post comes from Sarah who just got back from living in Tunisia with her young family. My husband and I lived in Jordan for a summer and so I loved her perspectives about how similar Muslims and Latter-day Saints are... it is so true!



I have a husband and two children, ages six and four. We are originally from California, but we love to travel, and have lived in several different countries. Most recently, in September we got back from an eight-month stay in Tunisia. What with the revolution and the first big steps toward democracy in the country, It was a very exciting time to be there. You can read about our adventures, both scary and fun, on my blog: Casteluzzo.com.

1. What is the dominant belief system in your country? Do most people consider themselves to be "religious"? Are business and stores closed on Sunday? Do most people attend church?

The vast majority of Tunisians are Muslim. Many are devout, but the country is fairly secular. It is common to see a woman in a headscarf walking with another dressed in Western clothing. Tunisians are very tolerant of different beliefs, and enjoy talking about religion, both their own and other people's. Their day of prayer is Friday, but they do not have a tradition of closing their shops, except during prayer times and holidays (of which there are many), and during the holy month of Ramadan. Mosques are very well attended.

2. How long have you been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? If you are a convert please tell us a little about your conversion. If you were born in the church tell us a bit about your family and who was the first in your family to join the church.

I've been a member my whole life. Both my husband and I come from families that have been members since pioneer days. I've always heard that "the Church is the same wherever you go," which is true in all the most important ways. But I've really enjoyed going to church in other countries, and all the delightful little differences and things I learn from the members there.

3. What is the LDS church attendance like in your area?

There is no organized LDS church presence in Tunisia. Before we moved there, we contacted the Church's Middle East/North Africa Desk, which gave us the emails of a few members living in the country. We met in a private home, with a couple of other young families and single members. All of the members were Americans who were in Tunisia temporarily for employment. Average attendance was 10-12. We traveled the farthest, and it took us about an hour and a half to get to church most Sundays. We arrived the week after the popular revolution ousted the dictator, so for our first several weeks we had to dodge protests and stop at police checkpoints on our way to church. Yes, it was exciting.

Another Mormon family moved to Tunisia right after we did, so between them, us, and the family who had been there already, we had six children under the age of twelve. We organized a little Primary for them, and the parents took turns teaching. Another member volunteered to do Sunday School lessons each week. For Sacrament Meeting, the Sacrament was blessed and passed by two of the men (we were fortunate to have several Priesthood holders), and then we watched a talk from the most recent General Conference. Some weeks we held testimony meetings instead. Because there were so few of us, everyone always got a chance to bear testimony, and those were some of our most special and spiritual Sundays.



Sometimes I missed the security of a gigantic ward, but I actually loved having the chance to live somewhere with such a tiny congregation of members. We cherished the opportunity to meet together, and had many wonderful discussions and experiences. It reminded me of the very first Christians, who must have met together under similar conditions. In fact, many of those early Christians actually lived in Tunisia. The country is rich in Roman ruins, and some of them contain beautiful Christian mosaics. We also saw an incredible tiled baptismal font--meant for immersion baptisms! I am sure that many Tunisians today are descendants of those first brave Christians. It will be interesting to see what happens when Tunisia opens up for missionary work.

4. How far away is the nearest temple? When was it built? How busy is it? Do most people in your country know about it? What are their feelings about it?

The nearest temple . . . honestly, I don't know. Very far. We were not able to attend the temple while we were there. When the Rome temple is finished, it will be by far the closest, at a couple of hours by plane, or overnight on the ferry.

5. What sort of reaction do you get from most people when they find out you are Mormon? Are people familiar with the church? Do you often have to defend or explain your beliefs?

None of our Tunisian friends had ever heard of the Church. But they were very open and willing to talk about it. The LDS church generally discourages members in Middle Eastern countries from engaging in active missionary work, so we only ever invited our expat friends (non-Muslim) to church with us. But we had many conversations with Tunisians about our beliefs. We found that we actually have many things in common with the Muslims we met. They too avoid alcohol, dress modestly, fast, and pay something like tithing. I did a blog post over at Times & Seasons several weeks ago on other similarities between Mormons and Muslims.

6. How is missionary work in your country? Would you say that it is difficult or easy for missionaries to find people to teach? How often do you have a new baptism? What are the greatest barriers to missionary work in your country?

There are no missionaries (not even service missionaries) presently in Tunisia. I hope that with their new democratic government, the LDS church will be able to build some bridges. Maybe my children will be called on missions there someday!

7. How many families do you know (LDS or not) who have more than two children? If a family with four children moved to your area, would their family size seem unusual? What about a family with six children?

Tunisians love children, and large families are common. Four children would be perfectly normal. Six might be a little large in the city, but not in a smaller village.

8. How many sisters do you visit teach? Do you have to travel far to reach them? What have been some of your best visiting teaching experiences?

We didn't have an organized unit (we called our group the "Tunisian twig"), so nobody had formal callings, including visiting teaching. But we treasured our Sunday meetings, and always stayed afterwards for social time. We often had potlucks too, or met up outside of church for play-dates and other activities. Living so far from family, friends, and familiar things, we really valued getting together with the only other Mormons in the country.

9. What are the greatest challenges the sisters in your Relief Society are facing?

I think the biggest challenge for me and the few other sisters in our "twig" was just adapting to life in a very foreign country where we didn't have too large of a support system.

10. What is the greatest blessing that the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought into your life?

A forever marriage. There are so many forces trying to tear families apart, and knowing that we have been sealed together helps us to keep an eternal perspective, especially when we're far from home and sometimes feel like we don't have anything but each other.

Another reason I love belonging to the Church is that it is an instant support network, practically anywhere in the world. Moving to a new country is fun and exciting, but it can also be lonely and hard. Having even a few friends who share something as important as the Gospel cuts down on the culture shock and makes me feel at home. Even when languages differ and communication is difficult, the music is familiar, fellowship is felt, and the Spirit speaks equally to all.

Thank you so much Sarah. It will be exciting to see where you guys go next!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Have You Opened Your Gift?



I loved this video from Sister Beck sharing a memory from her girlhood and reminding us to open and read the free gift that all the sisters of the Relief Society have been given this year...


Now is the moment when I try to make you feel guilty.

Have you read it yet?

Not just opened it and skimmed it

but read it cover to cover?

Even better have you studied it,

highlighted it, and written notes in it?

Have you used it in a talk, or in a lesson for church,

or for Family Home Evening?

If you haven't you are definitely missing out on a beautiful gift.

I have to admit that when I got my copy of this book I was a bit disappointed with how small it was. I wanted it to be much, much longer. I was also disappointed because I'd had it in my mind that this book was going to try and tackle the difficult to understand parts of Relief Society history-- things like polygamy, women giving blessings, etc...

I think I was expecting it to be more of an apologetic book, defending and explaining the history of the Relief Society, but it isn't.

It is something much more powerful.

After I let go of my agenda about what I thought the book should be about I discovered the real message of the book. My heart expanded and I began to see that it is a beautiful and powerful (official church) history of God's dealings with his female disciples in the latter-days.

It is really incredible.

One of the main reasons there aren't as many women as men in the scriptures is because throughout most of history women have been unable to preserve their histories in written word. Most of the records we have today were kept by men and as a result we don't have very many female voices in the scriptures. Just imagine if the earlier Relief Societies had been able to create something like "Daughters in My Kingdom". What if the Relief Society of Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel or the Relief Society of Mary and Martha would have written their own history? If they had recorded the spiritual experiences they had, the commandments they had received from God, the service they rendered, and the challenges they faced?

That would be a treasure beyond all measure.

So I can't tell you how excited it makes me to see a book, written by a woman, that is totally dedicated to preserving and recording the stories of women and their relationships with God.

I'm not trying to be prophetic but it is my guess that if the Lord ever commands another book of scripture to be written-- one, that like the Book of Mormon, preserves the spiritual history of a people-- that "Daughters in My Kingdom" will most certainly be included. I can't help but feel that God wanted this book written not only to help His daughters who are living on the earth now to better understand what their privileges and responsibilities are in His kingdom, but also for the future generations of His daughters.

I think it may be His way of making sure that the stories of His daughters, and their contributions to His Kingdom, don't get lost or forgotten. He knows that they have powerful and important voices that need to be heard and "Daughters in My Kingdom" is all about preserving those voices.

So really, if you haven't opened your gift yet,

I highly recommend that you do.

Don't miss out on this beautiful gift

from God to His daughters

(and His sons!).

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Darkest Day of the Year

" ...the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth."
1 John 2:8




Today is the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere.

This means that today is the shortest and darkest day of the whole year.

It is beautiful to me that the time when the world is as dark, cold and barren as it will be for the rest of the year we are preparing to celebrate the birth of the child who is the "light and life of the world."

Starting tomorrow we can start looking forward to ever increasing days of light
and decreasing nights of darkness.

We can look forward to the promise of spring

and new life for every creature on the earth.

I hope that as you turn on the Christmas lights on your house, light your Christmas tree, or read in front of a fire that you will remember that even though today life may seem dark, barren and cold that the birth of Christ and His glorious promise of light and life lay just around the corner.

For The Light has conquered the darkness.

Wishing you a happy Winter Solstice, a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and every other celebration of light held this time of year!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Red Coats and Race Cars

Story #1

When I was 15 I begged my parents to buy me a red wool coat. The one I wanted was expensive, really expensive, and so I used every ounce of my persuasive power to convince them that I had to have that coat or else my life would be over. My persistent pleas worked and on Christmas morning I found myself the owner of a beautiful red wool pea coat.

Pea coats had yet to come into high fashion in my High School and so when I wore it to school I was the only one who had one. That made me feel important and I loved it that I got lots of compliments about how classy and old fashioned it made me look.

I really loved my coat.

The next year at Christmas time I was sitting in Sunday School when my teacher told a story about President Heber J. Grant as a boy. Apparently when President Grant was young he needed a new coat badly but his family was too poor to afford one. His mother finally manged to get him a beautiful new coat but the first day he wore it he met a boy who didn't have any coat. Without hesitating Heber took of his new coat and gave it to the boy. When he got home he told the story to his mother and she imploring asked why he couldn't have given him his old coat instead of his new one. He didn't say anything in response but just looked back up at her, and then she said, "No Heber, you couldn't have done that, could you?" She knew her son's heart and knew that his love for others was greater than his love for himself.



After church that day as I stood in the foyer putting on my red coat I asked myself if I, like President Grant, would have given up my new, treasured coat when I had an old one sitting in my closet at home. To my dismay I realized that parting with my coat would be really, really hard for me. In fact, I probably wouldn't give it up. If faced with a similar situation as President Grant I saw myself running home to get my old coat and giving that one away instead. A person without any coat, I rationalized, would just be grateful for any coat and wouldn't care what color or style it was. There would be no need to give up my new coat when I had a perfectly good old coat at home.

Story #2

This week was full of birthday and Christmas parties and by Sunday evening we had a house full of Grinches. After listening to our children beg and whine unceasingly for even more presents and even more candy Jon and I realized that we weren't doing a good job about teaching our children that Christmas is about giving and not just receiving.

Actually, we were pretty much failing at it.

So yesterday I helped Asher and Rose go through their toys and pick out things that they would like to donate to the local women's shelter. I explained to them that there are children in our city who don't have any toys. I told them that since Heavenly Father has blessed us with so many toys it would make Him happy to see us share what He has given us. Asher got really excited about this and enthusiastically started rummaging through his toys.

He opened his box of toy cars and I was surprised when instead of picking out a handful of his least favorite cars he brought me over his three most coveted cars. These were the cars that he had played with nearly every single day for the last few months, the cars that he never let his sister play with, and the cars that when one got misplaced everyone had to stop what they were doing and search for it.

He brought them over to me and said, "I want to give the boy who doesn't have any toys my cars."

My first reaction was to say, "Oh, Ash not those cars. You have lots of cars, you don't have to give your favorites away" but I caught myself just in time. I swallowed my greed and instead asked him,

"Are you sure Asher? You know that you won't get them back if you give them away."

He looked at me with the sweetest simplest face and said, "Yeah, Mom but I have lots of toys." Then without missing a beat he broke out the wrapping paper and personally wrapped all three of his little cars up for the "boy who doesn't have any toys." Afterwards he also chose some other nice toys to donate and made sure they were all wrapped up and put in the bag with his cars.



As I watched him wrap up his favorite cars to give to a little boy he's never met my heart melted.

Already at age four he has already learned a lesson that I, as an adult, am still struggling to learn.

His innocent kindness reminded me that it is when we give those things that are dearest to our hearts that we really give a gift worth giving. And the times when those gifts are hard to give are the times when we understand the true meaning of "charity" and become a bit more like our Savior.

My red coat is still hanging in my closet.

I'd like to think that now if I ever found myself in the same sort of situation as President Grant that I'd give up my coat in a heart beat. Yet, even as I write this, a part of me hesitates. I know that deep down inside I am still attached to that red coat. Giving it up would be hard for me. Yet I hope that when it came down to it that I could give it up joyfully ( regardless if the other person appreciated it or not) knowing, like my son and President Grant did, that it is truly more blessed to give than to receive.

Do you have a "red coat"? Would it be hard for you to give up? Do you think you could do it?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Five Things for Friday, 25th Edition

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I just wanted to say thank you to all the wonderful women who have written posts for my series on Latter-day Saint Women around the World. It has been so much fun for me to read and share them... not to mention it has been such a help to have a series of pre-prepared posts so that I haven't had to worry about keeping my blog going while having a newborn. So thank you so much. I look forward to sharing the rest of the wonderful submissions I've gotten!

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The other day when I was loading all three of my kids into their car seats (which miraculously do all fit into the back of our car) I got thinking about how nice it must have been back in the days when they didn't have car seats. No straps to fuss with, not belts to untangle-- just throw the kids in and go! But then I started thinking more about it and realized that not having car seats or seat belts would mean that the kids could, and would, wander, jump and crawl all over the car. How did people drive with chaos like that going on? And what did they use to do with infants? Just lay them on the seat and hope they didn't roll off? Really, how in the world did our grandmothers manage riding in cars without car seats?

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This one of my favorite paintings of all time. It is called "Nativity" by Brian Kerkisnick (click the picture to view it bigger). I saw it once several years ago and it is stunning in real life, 17 feet long X 7 feet high! I can't even begin to say how much I LOVE this painting. It is my favorite depiction of the Nativity because it seems the most realistic. Mary breastfeeding Jesus, Mary attended by two midwives, the angels pressing down to see-- young and old, the dog with her puppies in the stable, and Joseph overwhelmed and awe. It also reminds me of this post, which I've linked to before but really love.

Someone informed me that the original of this painting is hanging up at BYU's Museum of Art right now, so if you happen to live around Provo, Utah make sure you go over and see it. It is so beautiful.

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I'd like to try adding some more variety to my family's breakfast diet but sadly my knowledge of breakfast dishes includes: cold cereal, pancakes, scrambled eggs, french toast, waffles, oatmeal and cream of wheat-- all of which we are TIRED of. I really need some new ideas. What does your family like to eat for breakfast? Do you have any good breakfast recipes to share?

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Just a heads up, there won't be a Five Things for Friday post next week. We will be traveling to visit family instead. I can't wait to see them and introduce them to our new baby! Hope you all have a very Merry Christmas as well!

If you want to link to your own "Five Things for Friday" post you can use the tool below to add your link. 1) Please link to the URL of your blog post and not your main blog and 2) Please include a link back here.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In Mary's Words


"According to Thy Word" by Elspeth Young
used with the artist's permission


I know I shouldn't pick favorites but the Gospel of Luke is my favorite book in the New Testament.

This is because Luke includes more stories about women in his gospel than any of the other gospel writers. His account is just overflowing with women! Not to mention that many of the women's stories are told in detail, beautiful intimate details, which show that he didn't just view women as a side story but as an important part of the story.

Luke, who also authored the Book of Acts (another book brimming with women's stories), was a later Christian convert and did not know the Savior himself. Though, as he explains in the second verse of his gospel, his purpose in writing was to give an account of Jesus' life, "Even as they delivered them unto us, which were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word." Luke wanted to give an account "of all things from the very first" and since he had not witnessed them himself drew from several different sources to compile his gospel.

Many scholars believe that Luke wrote his gospel some time between 80-100 AD (source) and that he, as well as St. Mathew, used the gospel of Mark (which was written around 70 AD) as one of his sources. Scholars also believe that both Luke and Mathew drew information from another unknown source, commonly referred to as the "Q source" , which supposedly contained sayings of Jesus (see chart). Yet in addition to these sources Luke's gospel also includes much material that is unique to him and not mentioned in other gospels. For example many of the stories that Luke includes about women are not mentioned anywhere else, including the story of Elizabeth's miraculous conception, Mary's visit from Gabriel, Mary and Elizabeth's meeting, the words of the Magnificat, and the story of the nativity, among many others. All these stories are ones that scholars believe may have been part of a Christian oral tradition and that Luke drew from this tradition in order to compile nearly half of his gospel. (Source)

It is interesting to note that Christ died around 30 AD and it wasn't until 40 years later, after the temple was destroyed, that Peter instructed Mark (who personally knew Jesus and was an eye witness to much of His ministry) to write his gospel. Some scholars believe that during those 40 years Christians preserved the stories of Christ's life and His words through a strong oral tradition of storytelling and song rather than the written word. Evidence of this oral tradition might be evidenced many times throughout the epistles of Paul and other New Testament writers as they traveled preaching the gospel (source). In 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul writes,
"...because of this we also give thanks to God unceasingly, so that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you received not the word of men, but just as it truly is, the word of God, which also is at work in you who believe."
and in Hebrews 2:1 the author instructs,
"On account of this we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. "
This possibility of a vibrant oral tradition among the early Christians in interesting because it means that many of the stories we have in the New Testament were first told by the individual involved and then later preserved through repeat tellings, though it is possible that many of the stories could have been written down.

For example, Mary is the only one who could have known what was said between her and the angel Gabriel, or what took place between her and Elisabeth, or who would have known the details of the night Jesus was born. It appears that even though at the time Mary may have " kept all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19) that later in her life she shared them and that it was her words that were preserved through the oral tradition (or a written document) and which Luke later included in his gospel.

It is a beautiful to me to think of Mary telling her story--Christ's story-- to a group of believers and imagining what an impact the story of his miraculous conception and birth must have had upon them. Sometimes as I read Luke 1 and 2 I imagine myself sitting at her feet listening to her tell me about how she questioned the angel, "How can this be, seeing I know not a man,", how when she realized that what the angel had told her was true she exclaimed, "My soul doth magnify the Lord", and how she brought forth her newborn son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes. And even though the words we have in Luke must have changed some over time, I can still hear her voice and her story impacts me deeply, just as it must have those early Christian saints.

I hope that as you read the accounts of Christ's miraculous conception and birth this Christmas season that you too will to listen for Mary's voice and let the message of her story change your heart and bring you closer to accepting the sacrifice of her divine son, Jesus Christ.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Latter-day Saint Women Around the World: Pamela from Finland

Today's guest post is by Pamela from Finland. Pamela is the one who inspired me to start doing these posts on Latter-day Saint women around the world. So you if you are enjoying this series you have her to thank for it! I am so glad that I've gotten to know her better, and hope that maybe someday we will get to meet in real life. Her answers to my questions and below and wow, they are SO interesting. I would love to go to Finland.


(Photo taken by Daniela Talvitie)

Hi! My name is Pamela. I live on the beautiful west coast of Finland. I am 31, married, and mama of two. When the kids nap I like to read, knit and… let’s be honest, stare at a glowing screen. Our family loves the wonderful outdoors! I fantasize of babies, genealogy, traveling and that perfect dream house. I’m a journalist, indigo is my favorite color and I use three languages on a daily basis. I have a neglected little craft blog, found here: fridulina.blogspot.com

1. 
What is the dominate belief system in your country?

A large majority of the Finnish population is Lutheran (78 %) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland has a legal position as state church. Although the Lutheran faith is so dominating, I wouldn’t say Finns in general are very religious. In a recent poll 29 percent of the respondents stated that religion is important to them. Tradition however is, and I believe many are Lutheran simply because of tradition, not conviction. For many Finns it’s important to be able to have an old-fashioned church wedding, a church christening or funeral.

People in general don’t attend church on a regular basis, not necessarily even those that are religious. When I tell people I go to church every single Sunday, three full hours with kids and all, they really think I’m joking.

I naturally wish many more would share my faith, or even show a little more interest in religion. But I still have a deep appreciation for the tradition and legacy of Christianity in this country. Every time I step inside an old Lutheran church I feel something special. I feel that it is a part of my heritage as much as anyone else’s.



2. How long have you been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

I was born in the church. My mother joined the church when she was a teenager and my paternal grandparents became members in the 50’s.

One favorite story about my family is about my grandfather Viktor. As I was writing this I was a little unsure about some of the details, and so I e-mailed my dad and asked him to write down the story for me. This my father’s story:
As a boy I had noticed an old book sitting in a drawer at home. I sometimes wondered to myself why it hadn’t been thrown away. It had literally been read to pieces. The cover and the first few pages were missing, the binding was starting to come undone so several pages at the beginning and the end were loose. The edges of each page showed marks of being turned countless times. It lay in the drawer with a rubber band wrapped around it to keep it together. I asked someone sometime about that book, and was told it was my father’s old Bible. Our neighbor had a brother that was very religious, and he knew about my father’s interest in religion. So he stopped by a few times every year, while he was visiting his brother next-door. My father who was on disability retirement (he was a war veteran) had plenty of spare time, and these two would immerse themselves in different religious topics. This friend sometimes wanted to question the Book of Mormon, and one time he especially wanted to underline the importance of the Bible. So he pulled out a Bible from his briefcase, and explained that he had received it many years ago as a wedding gift from the Lutheran priest that married him and his wife, with the exhortation to study it carefully and follow the teachings he would find. He said that he had followed the priest’s advice and this had led him to join another faith of which he was now a member. I wasn’t present when this happened, but my father told me about it afterwards. He told me that the Bible this man had showed him was very well kept and looked like new. Then he said: “I also have the Bible we were given when we were married, but I didn’t have the heart to take it out. I didn’t want to embarrass that man. You know, it’s the one in the drawer with the rubber band around it. I have read through it twice, and some of the scriptures I’ve read over again hundreds of times."
I love to think that when the missionaries earlier knocked on that same door and taught my grandfather about the restored church and of another testament of Jesus Christ, something within him recognized the same truth he already loved and knew so well from the Bible.
3. What sort of reaction do you get from most people when they find out you are Mormon?

To be honest, I am super shy about my faith. Some of my friends don’t know. I’ve never given away a Book of Mormon, and I only just recently shared a Mormon Messages video on Facebook for the first time. (I promise to post a link to this blog post!)

I really don’t mind people knowing or asking, but I always worry about being pushy or offending people. Religion is considered a very personal thing in our culture. Like sex or something. It’s nothing you discuss with a stranger.

But every time I do have a chance to tell people something about my beliefs, people are kind and respectful. People are definitely more open and less prejudiced nowadays, than perhaps one or two generations ago. Some will ask questions out of genuine interest, and some will feel really awkward in that typical Finnish way and quickly change the topic. ;)

I’m really trying to change my ways and be more open. I want to set a good example for my children. But it’s hard! (I’m even a little nervous about writing this post for the whole world to read!)

4. How is missionary work in your country? Would you say that it is difficult or easy for missionaries to find people to teach? 


Not easy. Finnish is a complicated language. And Finns are a complicated people. But the work is slowly moving forward. I can remember a time when there were only about a dozen baptisms per year in the whole country. Today, just in our ward we have a new baptism every three months or so.

I know the missionaries are teaching more families these days, and more young adults. The Institute Outreach Centers have been a huge hit, and I feel like there’s a growing optimism and enthusiasm about missionary work in this odd little corner of the vineyard.


5. How far away is the nearest temple? When was it built? How busy is it? Do most people in your country know about it? What are their feelings about it?

The Helsinki temple was dedicated in 2006. Having our ”own” temple was something many Finnish members wouldn’t even dream about. I’m so glad president Hinckley did! With only 4 500 Finnish members we obviously wouldn't be able to keep a temple running just with our own resources, but the Baltic States and big parts of Russia are also part of our temple district.

The Helsinki temple open house attracted about 50 000 visitors. It's nothing exceptional compared to visitor numbers in other parts of the world, but for us it exceeded our wildest dreams. 50 000 Finns got out of their comfort zone to learn about our most sacred doctrines! Many of them stood in line for hours, whole families, sometimes in rain... It was a miracle. (I even invited some of my friends to the open house, which was a little miracle too. And they came.)

The building, and the dedication of the temple were widely covered in the media, mostly in a respectful and positive way. For anyone living in this country I'd say it was almost impossible to avoid hearing something about the temple. Through this whole process I’d say the church in Finland finally fully established itself in Finnish society.

What can I say; I just love the temple in so many ways!

6. What is the LDS church attendance like in your area?

There are two wards in our city. I should check this with someone, but I think attendance in our ward is about 100 on an average Sunday. The ward covers a large geographical area, but most active members live quite close by. We have a nice balance of people in the ward, maybe slightly more active women than men.

There are only two stakes in Finland, plus three districts. We travel far for our stake meetings!

7. How many families do you know (LDS or not) who have more than two children? If a family with four children moved to your area, would their family size seem unusual? What about a family with six children?

The Finnish fertility rate is actually slightly on the rise, but still hangs below two. Four children isn’t in my opinion unusual, but is definitely considered “many”. And anything above four is already a little unusual. I actually can’t even think of that many LDS families that have more than four children. My husband comes from a family of ten kids and they were always considered a little strange, haha. (Sorry, darling.)

8. What are the greatest challenges the sisters in your Relief Society are facing?

- The constant struggle to find balance in life - between children, husbands, home, work, church, society, personal needs and so on… Many sisters are tired, stressed and struggle with feelings of inadequacy.

- Trying to stay strong, and trying to find hope and happiness in the gospel, when children, husbands and friends choose a different path of life. While this is a challenge that can sometimes feel almost unbearable, I’ve found that the greatest comfort often comes through faithful, loving sisters in Relief Society.

9. What is the greatest blessing that the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought into your life?

Three things that give me a lot of joy are the temple, the Book of Mormon and understanding my birthright and potential as daughter of Heavenly Father.



Thanks Pamela! Your testimony is so beautiful and thank you so much for being brave enough to share it with us all.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Five Things For Friday, 24th Edition

-1-

Turns out having three kids is harder than having two kids.

Last week someone asked me how I was handling transitioning to three kids and I emphatically told them that I was doing great and that it was much easier than I expected it to be.

Well, that was last week.

The week when my husband was still home during the day with me and I didn't have two sick kiddos (not Abraham thank heavens). This week I've been on my own and it has been hard. Sometimes I feels like all hell has broken loose and is running around my living room. I've decided to re-adopt the motto I gave myself after Rose was born and I was struggling learning how to handle two little ones:

"Success is only having one person crying at a time,
with bonus points if that one person isn't me".


That pretty much sums my life up.

I know things will get better once we all get back into some sort of schedule, but until then I am going to try really hard to remember that having three kids under the age of four (until next week that is) is a challenge and that as long as everyone is fed, bathed, has clean pants, and no one is bleeding I can consider the day a success!

-2-

I want to share Abe's Christmas stocking because I am pretty proud of how it turned out. I actually finished it before he was born and now just need to embroider his name on it. I've made similar looking stockings for my other kids (Asher's has a dove on it and Rose's has an angel) but I think this nativity scene is my favorite out of all of them!



-3-

Did you get a chance to watch the First Presidency Christmas Devotional? Elder Eyring shared some of the videos that the church has produced about the life of Christ. These videos are beautifully done and so powerful in their simplicity. I love the one they made of Elizabeth greeting Mary, it is such a sweet portrayal of a scene, which in my opinion, doesn't get shared enough. What truly remarkable women these two women were! I hope you will take the time to watch these videos and to share them with your friends they are a wonderful way to commemorate the birth of our Savior.

-4-

I've been reading "Radical Homemakers" by Shannon Hayes and am really enjoying it. Reading it has been so validating because the whole book is pretty much explaining (much better than I ever could) what I was trying to say in my "This is the Type of 'Feminist' I Am" post. What I call "family feminism" in my post she calls "radical homemaking", and while she takes a more of a ecological approach than a feminist approach she is really saying almost the exact same thing as me-- except with lots of good research to back it up. I would LOVE to have a online "book club" discussion about this book if there is anyone interested. What if I gave you a couple months to read it and then we could discuss it more on my blog? Any takers?

If you need something more to get you excited to read this book check out this book review.

-5-

Asher's pirate phase is still going strong and his latest obsession is drawing pirates. Our house is littered with dozens and dozens of his pirate pictures. The other night I came home and found that Jon and the kids had drawn some ornaments for the Christmas tree. Asher's started out as a regular ornament but turned into a pirate ornament



complete with a hook and a sword. Crazy boy.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a great weekend!

If you want to link to your own "Five Things for Friday" post you can use the tool below to add your link. 1) Please link to the URL of your blog post and not your main blog and 2) Please include a link back here.




Thursday, December 8, 2011

Latter-day Saint Women Around the World: Emma Lucy in Bosnia

Today's guest post is by my husband's cousin Emma Lucy. She, along with her family, just recently returned home to United States after having lived in Bosnia and she just started her Freshman year of college! Hearing about her adventures has been a lot of fun and so I was excited she was willing to share her experiences with the LDS church there, especially because while she was there Bosnia was dedicated by Elder Nelson for the preaching of the gospel!



I come from a very observant LDS family with six children. We’ve moved around quite a bit, following my father’s work, and we have twice lived in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The first time, I was eight years old (I was actually baptized in Sarajevo, in a bathtub since we didn’t have a meetinghouse), and the church had no presence whatsoever save for my family and a few people living on a military base. We returned recently to spend a year there, and the church was both slightly larger and much more organized.Link

1. What is the dominant belief system in your country? Do most people consider themselves to be "religious"? Are business and stores closed on Sunday? Do most people attend church?

Bosnia is a predominantly Muslim country, although there is a significant Jew and Orthodox presence as well, especially within Sarajevo, which prides itself on its “triangle” of worship places (a section of town in which a mosque, a synagogue, and a cathedral are in close proximity to each other). In rural areas especially, Muslims tend to be strictly observant, but many people in the bigger cities are laxer in their adherence. Alcohol usage is quite high, and a significant number of women don’t wear the veil. At the same time, though, many believe very strongly in their religion and I had some friends who didn’t wear the veil but were very passionate in their faith. Almost everyone I knew identified themselves as religious, but there were a few who didn’t attend mosque regularly or pray five times a day, and Sarajevo as a whole would feel like quite a secular city were it not for the number of religious buildings, especially mosques. There are hundreds of mosques in Sarajevo, and the hauntingly beautiful call to prayer brings an element of faith into the lives of even the least religious.

Based on my admittedly limited observations, the rising generation in Bosnia is much less religious than the older population. This is understandable, as it was religious as well as ethnic tensions that caused the horror of the recent war in Sarajevo. Many of my teenage friends seemed to feel that shedding those ethnic tensions was impossible without also losing some religious fervor.

2. How long have you been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? If you are a convert please tell us a little about your conversion. If you were born in the church tell us a bit about your family and who was the first in your family to join the church.

I was born in the covenant, and on my mother’s side, my family has been LDS all the way back to the pioneers. My great-grandfather on my father’s side, however, was a second-generation Portuguese immigrant and a convert.

3. What is the LDS church attendance like in your area? How many stakes, wards, or branches are there in your area? On an average Sunday how many members attend church? Do people have to travel far to attend church? What are the demographics of your ward? Are most members young, old, married, single, are there more women then men? Or it is it a good balance?

Bosnia’s first branch was organized in September of 2010 by Elder Nelson, who came on a four-day trip through Eastern Europe during which he dedicated six countries for the preaching of the gospel. The branch in Sarajevo is the only currently existent branch, and at the time it was organized it had a membership of about a dozen. We only had one inactive member, but almost all of our members were American, as well, and all the Americans lived fairly close to our meeting place, which was in the embassy home of one of our families. Our few Bosnian members were further away and it was often very difficult to get them to church. Our demographics were quite diverse, however: we had two American families with children from five to eighteen, and then a few adults who were either single, married to nonmembers, or the only member of their family in the country, and there was a pretty even balance between men and women.

4. How far away is the nearest temple? When was it built? How busy is it? Do most people in your country know about it? What are their feelings about it?

The nearest temple to Sarajevo is several countries away, in Frankfurt, Germany. The Frankfurt temple was built in 1987, but I don’t know how busy it is because the distance makes it very difficult to attend. It’s not really within the reach of most Bosnians because it’s so far away; in fact, the only Bosnian that I met who knew about the temple at all was a young man who grew up a few blocks away from the Hong Kong temple. He told me that the temple was beautiful, but he was confused by its role in our church.

5. What sort of reaction do you get from most people when they find out you are Mormon? Are people familiar with the church? Do you often have to defend or explain your beliefs?

Most Bosnians are unfamiliar with the church although the people of Sarajevo, and especially the younger group that I spent most of my time with, were more aware. Still, only those who had lived outside of the country could really be expected to know about the church or to understand it to some small degree. Those were very willing to listen to explanations of my belief and were eager to have religious discussions, although their interest tended to be more intellectual than faith-oriented. On the other hand, the older generations and those from rural areas tended to be more distrustful or even hostile to our faith.



6. How is missionary work in your country? Would you say that it is difficult or easy for missionaries to find people to teach? How often do you have a new baptism? What are the greatest barriers to missionary work in your country?

The church hasn’t actually gotten through the bureaucratic channels to get permission to bring missionaries into Bosnia yet, although there is a single senior couple there right now who are trying to get all the paperwork done. Teaching Muslims is always a tenuous business, but I did manage to give out about a dozen Books of Mormon to various people in my school.

7. How many families do you know (LDS or not) who have more than two children? If a family with four children moved to your area, would their family size seem unusual? What about a family with six children?

There’s a bit of a variety in family sizes in Sarajevo. On the one hand, the war created an immense amount of poverty which kept families small, but there are a significant number of families with three or four children. My family, which has six children, seemed very large to most Bosnians, but they saw it as an impressive and desirable thing rather than something strange and unfavorable.

8. How many sisters do you visit teach? Do you have to travel far to reach them? What have been some of your best visiting teaching experiences?

In our branch in Sarajevo, the Relief Society was composed of four women: three Americans and a German convert who lived in a village quite a distance away who didn’t speak English and couldn’t often come to church because she didn’t have a car. We tried our best to visit the German sister regularly, but it was very difficult until we found somebody to drive her into Sarajevo on the Sabbath and hired a translator to facilitate communication.

9. What are the greatest challenges the sisters in your Relief Society are facing?

It’s hard to separate the challenges of the Relief Society in Sarajevo from the challenges of the branch as an entirety, since it’s such a small group and so much of what we do involves more than just the Relief Society. Still, the Relief Society had a difficult time fulfilling its responsibility to provide aid and welfare for the members since we had so few resources and since the German sister, who most needed our help, was difficult to reach. She was going through a lot of personal problems, and the language barrier made it very difficult to respond to those needs in the way a compassionate service coordinator in an American ward might. I think that it will be a great blessing to the church when missionaries are brought into Sarajevo who can try to fill those cavities.

10. What is the greatest blessing that the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought into your life?

The gospel has always been there. It is the most consistent part of my life, the thing I can rely on no matter where I’m living or what I’m doing, and has been instrumental in my self-definition. In the long run, though, I think the greatest blessing is not in how it has influenced my life already, but in how it will influence my life in the future: it has given me an understanding of eternal families and their importance that has changed how I interact with my family members and how I view the sacred ordinance of marriage.

Thank you Emma Lucy. Good luck with your finals :)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Latter-day Saint Women Around the World: Freja from Adelaide, Australia

Today's guest post is by Freja from Australia. It was really fun for me to get to know her better, her writing is a lot of fun. And personally I'd recommend that while you read her post you try to do it in an Australian accent, it makes it even better!

My name is Freja. My name is Scandinavian – it goes well with my recently obtained married name, which is Finnish. But I am completely Australian.



My Dad is from the bush (we don’t really say ‘the outback’). His Dad could navigate through floods by the types of trees, not the stars. Dad eventually went to boarding school in Sydney, then onto an Anglican monastery in Adelaide. He wanted to be a priest. My Mum is from Sydney. She grew up an only child, supported her family, and worked really hard. She used to get in trouble at school for having super shiny nails (they thought it was nail polish). She worked several jobs, and became a sign writer and artist. She is brilliant with a paintbrush. They both joined the church on their own, later in life. Dad served a building mission in Sydney. Mum served a mission in Perth. They then met each other at institute, and were married. Their honeymoon was a trip to the New Zealand temple (closest temple at the time) to be sealed for eternity.

I, the oldest of their three, grew up in Sydney. I’m the responsible and independent one, extremely organised and well-travelled. I put myself through university twice, all while working full time and travelling the world when possible. Once, I researched every painting by Johannes Vermeer (The Girl with the Pearl Earring, anyone?) and backpacked my way around to each and every painting. Amsterdam, New York, London, Dublin, Las Vegas, etc. I loved being by myself, taking my sweet time in museums (two whole days in the Louvre; I checked off every room on the map). Another time, I travelled with a group to sing in the BBC Proms (not heard of that? How terribly ill-cultured you are) in London, taking my Dad with me to visit distant family, both dead and alive (1740) and to then visit two dear companions from my mission in Paris and Rome. Gotta love serving a mission on Temple Square. It’s the United Nations.


I now work as a lawyer. But my career ambitions have changed over the years. I’m now focused on family-friendly goals. Last year, I was married in the Sydney Australia temple. It is almost our one year wedding anniversary. We had a beautiful ceremony, with as many people as possible crammed into the sealing room (most were standing, with a few sitting on laps). We then ran about Sydney Harbour and the beach, taking photos and getting rained on. It was glorious.



We live in Adelaide, Australia. My husband was born and grew up here. In fact, we attend the same ward (congregation) he did growing up. So, we are completely surrounded by family and friends. It won’t always be that way – we are planning to buy our first home after Christmas, so change is in the air.

1. What is the dominate belief system in your country? Do most people consider themselves to be "religious"? Are business and stores closed on Sunday? Do most people attend church?

The main religions in Australia are the footy (either Aussie Rules (Australian Rules Football) or Rugby) and beer. I admit – I follow one of those religions (but not the other).



To be serious, I think the majority of Australians are not terribly religious. Sunday’s are viewed as a family day, but businesses would never close on Sundays (unless you’re a lazy bank or government agency). In fact, the weather is usually best on Sundays (so the beaches are popular) and most school/community sport is scheduled on a Sunday. Heathens.

In my opinion, if you claim to be religious or affiliated with a religion, you should (a) attend that church fairly regularly, and (b) live what is being taught. And that is where many fall short here in Australia. When the census comes around (as it just did a few months back), a lot of people claim a religion – Anglican, Protestant, Catholic – but rarely attend or even know what they are meant to believe. Unless you were born into “a good catholic family”, you probably don’t see the value in going to church each week or really know if God exists.

Having said that, Australia is more multi-cultural than it once was, and probably a lot more than you internationals realise. So the above is my opinion of Aussies (i.e. Anglo-Saxon descendants and all baby boomers), but we have many other cultures, most of which have a firmer grip on religion and tradition. Italians and Greeks (hello Melbourne!); Asian, Indian, Lebanese, Islamic and Muslims (hello Sydney!); Samoan and Tongan (hello Brisbane and Sydney!). I generalise on their locations, but you get the idea. Lots of great take out places for dinner. And so, with a lot of ‘minorities’ (I use that term very loosely), there is a wider variety of religious beliefs, and a greater possibility that Australians (all-encompassing) consider themselves religious.

2. How long have you been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? If you are a convert please tell us a little about your conversion. If you were born in the church tell us a bit about your family and who was the first in your family to join the church.

I have been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints my whole life (read my Mormon.org profile here) but my parents were not. My Dad joined the Church when he was about 22. I think my Dad was always religiously inclined, sensing there was more out there to learn and become. He felt he was a Christian, and went along to the local Anglican youth group. Sometime after, he felt to go study the priesthood. He wanted to be a priest. He left little-town Walgett for big-city Adelaide in South Australia, and remained in an Anglican monastery for two-three years. He prayed in Latin; chanted; ate simple food and enjoyed the periods of silence (especially now he has children). He wore a long black robe with red tie around his middle. A black cross with a gold crucified Christ hung from the tie.

One day, this path simply didn’t feel right – “I felt I shouldn’t have been there, but I look back with fondness”, and my Dad left the priesthood. I guess he felt a little restless. He moved to Sydney, to live with some friends studying at university. One guy had a friend whose girlfriend was investigating the church. They went to a dance, inviting Dad along out of courtesy, but thinking he would be a hopeless investigator and not terribly interested. Missionaries were at the dance – “like bees around a honey pot”, Dad said – to find prospective members. And later, Dad was baptised after a dance, under the Roseville Bridge - after midnight!

My Mum jointed the Church when she was early twenties too. With Mum, it’s black and white. President Boyd K. Packer reminds me of her. It’s either true or it’s not. Take it or leave it. And after coming across some church literature, given to her from a church member she worked with, she decided to look into the matter herself. She sought the missionaries out herself and asked to be baptised. Done deal.

We are, however, encouraged to know for ourselves. I may have been born to Mormon parents, and as a child I probably did go to church because my parent’s expected it of me while living at home – yet I have come to the knowledge for myself that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only Church on the earth teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in its entirety. (Read more here)

3. What is the LDS church attendance like in your area? How many stakes, wards, or branches are there in your area? On an average Sunday how many members attend church? Do people have to travel far to attend church? What are the demographics of your ward? Are most members young, old, married, single, are there more women then men? Or it is it a good balance?

According to the statistics (as of 14 November 2011), church membership in Australia is at 129,744. Out of over-22 million people in Australia, it’s a low figure, a figure which includes inactive members too I’m guessing. The cross-section of church members here would be greatly multi-cultural. In the past year, I’ve seen several baptisms in my ward. Eight year olds. And international (mostly Asian) students.

I am fairly new to Adelaide – it’s one of the smaller capital cities in Australia. The ward I attend seems to be quite big, but a manageable size. We can fill the chapel nicely, and a few rows in the overflow. We have about 30 kids in primary and maybe 8 in nursery – heaps more than the other ward that shares the chapel with us.

Our ward is one of four in the stake. And I gotta say - I’ve been disappointed with attendance to both Stake and General Conferences lately. Coming from Sydney, I am used to crowded chapels and massive overflows. Here, that is not the case – and it is not because we lack the members. The buildings have been built because the number demanded them. People just didn’t turn up.

In Sydney (similar to Melbourne, I suspect), church attendance is higher. There are way more members, and they are spread out far and wide. Eight wards in my home stake. Eight stakes. I think. But what is most astounding (ask the foreign missionaries) is the sheer size of land. My home ward boundaries cover way too much land for a bicycle. I think a drive north-south of my stake would be (again, in Sydney traffic) about an hour and a half. Its crazy distances, having lived in Salt Lake and now living in Adelaide (aka Radelaide). I grew up 20-30 minutes from my chapel, 45-40 minutes from my stake centre, 40-60 minutes from a dance or fireside. And 20 minutes from the beach. (I had to put that in there.)

4. How far away is the nearest temple? When was it built? How busy is it? Do most people in your country know about it? What are their feelings about it?

The Adelaide Australia temple is within my ward boundaries. It is literally 15 minutes away from the house. Unfortunately for me and my salvation, I don’t reap that blessing nearly enough.
The Sydney Australia temple – the first Australian temple built in 1984 – was within my stake boundaries growing up. Sydney traffic is pretty bad, but with my Sydney driving skills, I could get there in 45-50 minutes.

Generally, in Australia, the temples are very accessible. We have five temples; every member really has no excuse. Whether travelling across the Tasman Sea from Tasmania to get to the Melbourne Australia temple, or driving across desert from Darwin, there really is no excuse.
I think attendance, overall, is low. Very few turn up regularly. I’ve seen the temple opening hours change several times in the past 12 months; sessions cancelled and different schedules offered, in the hope of a higher attendance. I think there are those people, usually the older generations, that are the regular attendees. Most have callings or assignments in the temple, or are retired and have the time to attend. They are the ones you see in the temple consistently.

Some ward/stake temple nights are good. Some are not. But generally, we members need those constant reminders from the pulpit. Otherwise temple attendance slips, and we find it hard to schedule in our busy lives.

As for the general public, not many are aware of our temples. Sure they stand out on the highways – big white buildings with beautiful gardens. But very little would connect the buildings to our religion. Even fewer would know what goes on inside – unless they are invited to a wedding or see the Christmas lights and camels on the hill (Sydney Temple).

5. What sort of reaction do you get from most people when they find out you are Mormon? Are people familiar with the church? Do you often have to defend or explain your beliefs?

I think most Australians do not know the Church or understand who we are. (This may be why the Church recently started the “I’m a Mormon” campaign here.) This is a friendly country – a culture of laying back, enjoying life, and having lots of mates (friends). But ask them about Mormons, and most would hesitate. There are so many misconceptions, and not enough education.

Most people try to hide it, but they are a little taken back when I say “I’m a Mormon”. I always say “I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” first … which only produces a silence stare, like I spoke in a different language. Then the reaction is “Oh. I … ohh.” Most people don’t know what we believe. They haven’t the faintest idea. They have heard of ‘Mormon’ before – probably in high school, associated with the words ‘new’, ‘cult’, and ‘weird’. (Not at my school … let me tell you, it IS possible to have the religious curriculum thrown out by speaking up!)

Recently, I started a new job. My boss took me out for lunch, asked me conversational questions, and of course my religion came up. Even if we are not discussing religion, it is an integral part of my life, so it will always come up. And I choose to discuss it. The entire lunch meeting was me explaining my basic beliefs to my catholic-raised-but no longer attended-boss. And the result is usually the same: once you get over the initial “Oh my ... I thought you were normal” vibe, they see our beliefs are very similar to their own. And of course they are! We are Christian! And we read the same Bible! The best is when I steer the conversation towards topics I know will interest them: raising children in righteousness; the Godhead and our relationship with both God and our Saviour; how a prophet leads us today.

Most times there is no need to defend myself or my beliefs. If they have questions, I answer them. Australians are very friendly people, and unless you’re having a confrontational discussion (as a missionary on their doorstep), they won’t ask you the questions on their mind. I’m sure several people have wanted to ask about polygamy, but didn’t want to be rude or start a serious discussion. Or perhaps they just didn’t want to know.

Of course, these conversations don’t happen unless you get over the bump of the “Oh my … I thought you were normal” vibe. And unless you are talking to a friend or work colleague, it may not get that far.

6. How is missionary work in your country? Would you say that it is difficult or easy for missionaries to find people to teach? How often do you have a new baptism? What are the greatest barriers to missionary work in your country?

Missionary work here is hard. Not impossible, but hard. Aussies aren’t really spiritually inclined. (Our Prime Minister is an atheist.) Sure, some tick the box on the Census, maybe attend church at Easter; but more often than not, just nominal. The problem is lifestyle – our social lifestyle of friends, sport, drinking at the pub – it is too ingrained in some. It is really hard to give it up, to change. For some, it may take a life-altering event (e.g. a death in the family) for them to realise there is more to life, or a void to be filled.

But … there are always those people who have been prepared. The one door in a thousand, behind which is a family who desperately needs the missionaries to answer their questions. I’ve seen that happen a few times.

Also, my country is filled with lots of people with different backgrounds. And we have several Chinese, Tongan, Samoan, and other wards. In my ward, most baptisms have been international students from China (and other places) who are here studying at university, and will hopefully take their new found beliefs back to their homelands.



7. How many families do you know (LDS or not) who have more than two children? If a family with four children moved to your area, would their family size seem unusual? What about a family with six children?

My husband is one of seven. One of his sisters has six boys. So now a family of four or even five children doesn’t seem that bad big. I know of families (all church members) back in Sydney who have nine, ten, eleven children. But golly, that is extremely rare.

I’d say, whether inside or outside of the Church, most Australian families have 2-3 children. The majority of families any larger than that are some other culture - Polynesian or other. A few years back, a federal politician here famously said (when trying to push for more births): We should all have “one for Mum; one for dad; and one for the country”. That is the expected average … that many fall short of, right here in Australia.

8. How many sisters do you visit teach? Do you have to travel far to reach them? What have been some of your best visiting teaching experiences?

I visit teach two sisters. The assignment is generally to visit two or three. I am not very good at it. To be honest, I’ve never really caught the vision of it. I am so independent and so busy, that I’ve never felt (or experienced) the need for it. I know that will change.

One thing that has made somewhat a difference is not being partnered with my Mum or sister. Back home, I guess it made our lives easier, but it ended up being just Mum visiting her friends. I didn’t take much initiative at all. Now that I live far far away from Mum’s plains, I have to do it if I want it done. I travel about 10-15 minutes to visit teach. Not that far at all. And I make the effort to read and think about the message, as well as being genuinely concerned for the welfare of my sisterly-friends.

I must say that I’m in such a great ward - I have diligent sisters who visit teach me right now. I don’t think I’ve have that before.

9. What are the greatest challenges the sisters in your Relief Society are facing?

I don’t attend Relief Society. I am in Primary, and I have no idea what goes on in Relief Society. I usually find out about activities after they’ve happened.

Sometimes I forget that I am a member of the society of relief. Truly. I just don’t think about it. But, of course, when some ward activity, a soup Sunday, a need arises, the women are there. I do think the majority of women get too bogged down in over-tasking themselves. Most have more than one child, which means school and all that it encompasses (homework, camps, sport) as well as sleep overs, youth programs, fussy eaters, toilet training, dating, teaching obedience, blah blah. Wack a calling or two on top, plus cordinating multiple children and husband’s activities, and even a job … you know where I’m going with this. Women are prone to busy over-tasked lives. I honestly think Sunday School and Relief Society are time outs for these women. Sure they discuss things, but for most it is quiet time. Unless you’re in Primary …

10. What is the greatest blessing that the gospel of Jesus Christ has brought into your life?

The gospel of Jesus Christ is knowledge, which equals powerful.

From this knowledge – the knowledge of who I really am, what I am capable of and can one day be, and the understanding of why we exist, and how families can be united for eternity – I have a powerful sense of SECURITY. I understand my purpose; I understand how it all works; I understand my potential; and I understand that my husband and I will be together forever, literally. Families are eternal. That is security.

What a bloody brilliant blessing. (I’m Australian. I’m allowed to say such things.)

Also … as a side note, because I have the gospel of Jesus Christ in my life, I feel incredibly USEFUL. I have the willingness and energy to serve others in my church and in my community. I want to serve others. I love using my talents at church. I love feeling useful. How’s that for a blessing?

Freja you have inspired me to go make a profile on Mormon.org, so thanks! Oh, also I should mention that Freja also has a blog called Young and Faithful that is really a lot of fun to read.