Mention the word Australia, and most people immediately think of kangaroos or koala bears or that really strange creature, the duck-billed platypus. The world’s sixth largest country does indeed have some unusual animals. But it has much more. Australia often surprises visitors who come with the usual preconceptions.
For one thing, “it’s very multicultural,” according to Michael Owen, 14, of the Blacktown Ward, Sydney Hebersham Stake.
For another, “there aren’t kangaroos jumping everywhere,” patiently explains Alison Caballero, 15, of the St. Marys Ward in the same stake.
So what is it really like—especially for young Latter-day Saints?
Well, some live in the vast, isolated areas known as the outback and drive for hours just to get to church. Others live in big cities and enjoy a full range of Church activities. Some come from families that have been Latter-day Saints for generations. Others are the only Mormons in their family, town, or school.
But for all of them, one of the great joys of being a member of the Church is meeting other Saints. Share in that joy as we introduce some of these young Australians to you.
Young LDS Australians cherish freedom. Freedom of country. Freedom of the great outdoors. Freedom to become all of which they are capable. But like Latter-day Saints everywhere, LDS youth here have a special insight on freedom—that the greatest freedom comes from following the Savior and being “anxiously engaged in a good cause” (D&C 58:27).
The Moulds Sisters, Narrogin, Western Australia. At the age of 15, twins Pauline and Claire Moulds (now 19) were Primary president and first counselor in their small branch. Pauline says, “I remember thinking that I was only called because there was no one else. But later I realized that the Lord had called me because I had things to learn and talents to share.” The Moulds sisters have discovered that freedom to grow comes from within, from how you respond to challenges.
Marcus Robb, 15, Perth. For Marcus, seminary and the scriptures were the key to educational freedom. When he was diagnosed with a reading impairment known as dyslexia a few years ago, he was four years behind in his reading level. Fortunately, that’s when he began seminary, where his teacher emphasized the scriptures. “I decided I would read them,” he says simply. He began waking at 4:50 each morning to read for 40 minutes. It was tough at first. But now, after one year, he is reading on a level with his peers.
Emily Kuhn, 12, Darwin: “Through a community organization, I volunteered to help the younger Brownie Scouts, ages five to seven. They’re called Gum Nuts. The first couple of weeks was a bit difficult, but then I got used to it. Now when I meet one of the Gum Nuts, they come around and hug me.”
City of Sydney Youth Band: “We were looking for a band that didn’t practice or perform on Sundays,” explains Karen Mauger, 17, a clarinet player from the Castle Hill Ward. “The Aleknas (another LDS family) told us about a band that had changed practices from Sundays to Fridays.”
Since then, thanks at least in part to seven young Latter-day Saints who joined, the band has grown from 18 to 57 members and won several awards.
More important, “the LDS kids have gained the respect of other band members and their parents,” says Marnie Alekna, 17, of the Baulkham Hills Ward. The band steadfastly refuses to practice or perform on Sundays.
Kinga Badylak, 16, Perth. Kinga’s family traveled a long road to freedom when they escaped from what was then communist Czechoslovakia. In Australia they found even more freedom than expected when a friend introduced them to the gospel. When the missionaries first came to the Badylak home in Perth, they were familiar with it. A number of times in the past they had received strong impressions about that home, even though it was empty. The Badylaks just hadn’t moved in yet.
There is great reassurance in having a friend you can trust, who truly cares about what is best for you. The ultimate example is the Savior, whose work and glory is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). In caring for others and sharing the truth, LDS youth in Australia follow his example of service and love.
David D’Arcy, 17, Adelaide. David was at a local shopping center when he and his friends were attacked by some other youth. “We were fighting,” he recalls with embarrassment. Suddenly the fight was broken up by the appearance of six men in suits, white shirts, and ties.
Later, a school friend introduced him to the missionaries—the same ones who had played peacemaker. David was baptized on his 17th birthday. “Those missionaries,” he says, “I love ’em.” Guess what David D’Arcy wants to be when he is 19.
Peter Dowden, 15, Cairns: “I’m friends with my father. I’m friends with my branch president. You become friends when you spend time doing things together. It’s the same thing with your Heavenly Father. You get to know him by spending time with him, through the scriptures, church, seminary, and prayer.”
Lissa Sarafian, 15, Sydney: “Some time ago the youth in our ward took a group of mentally disabled people to Australia’s Wonderland. It’s a theme park like Disneyland. The joy on their faces was amazing. I’m looking forward to the day when I can see them in the celestial kingdom and be able to communicate with complete understanding.”
Lotu Kimiia, 16, Mt. Isa, Queensland: “When we first moved here, the other LDS girls were shy. They didn’t really open up to anyone. But I just made friends with all of them. They’ve come out of their shells and become familiar with our ways—Mum is Samoan and Dad is a Cook Islander. We’ve brought a lot of the Church kids into our home. We share a lot of our culture with each other.”
Alisha Hunt, 15, and Emma Butler, 15, Launceston, Tasmania: Life in a wheelchair is not easy. Neither is becoming active in the Church when you don’t know the other youth. So Emma Butler was really blessed when Alisha Hunt and other young women of the Launceston East Ward came into her life. Alisha and Emma are especially close friends, spending time at each other’s homes, talking about the usual girl things, even going to the roller skating rink together. According to Alisha, Emma is a lot of fun to be around. “She makes jokes, and we have lots of laughs together.”
Cindy Shropshal, 18, Perth. For Cindy, fellowship in the Church started with friendship in school. She became good friends with a boy in her English class—Cliff Allen. One night they went out with another classmate, who had a reputation as a drinker. Cliff insisted on an alcohol-free night. When they asked Cliff why he didn’t drink, Cindy recalls, “He started telling me about the Church. I started to feel the Spirit. I thought about it a lot that evening. I had been searching for the true church. That night I knew this was the church I should join.”
Daniel Sommariva, 14, Canberra: “I let people know about my Church membership. I always tell my friends what my standards are, and most of them respect that and don’t do bad things around me.”
Jenna Birks, 12, Canberra: “I love my parents. They’re the best. We have seven kids in our family, and we’ve been through a lot together. I think your best friends should be your family.”
Whether it’s rugby, cricket, Australian-rules football, or some other contest, Australian youth love sports. But LDS athletes face tough choices between doing something they love and keeping the Sabbath day holy. Though refusal to play on Sunday may limit their opportunities to reach the highest levels of competition, many Latter-day Saints have learned they can score instead in righteousness—and that in so doing, they set an example for coaches and teammates as well.
Richard Rancie, 14, Melbourne. Richard runs. Right now it’s competitive running (track) and his own neighborhood car wash business. Later, it may be in a political race. He wants to be Australia’s prime minister.
Richard doesn’t train or compete on Sunday. He gave up a place in the national cross-country championships because they were held on the Sabbath. He also took himself out of competition in the Victoria state championships in his best event, the 1,500 meter. Instead, he settled for competing in the 800 meter. “I didn’t expect to make the final,” he says, “but I won a bronze medal.” The great thing is, he doesn’t sound disappointed about missing out on the 1,500. He just feels blessed and compensated.
Des Shore, 16, Atherton, Queensland: “A lot of teammates ask me why I don’t play on Sunday, since it wrecks up your chances of playing representative football. I tell them I go to church every Sunday. Most of them think it’s a bit strange, but they accept it because most people up here are religious anyway. Now if I could just get the coaches to understand.”
Isaiah Kaberry, 17, Perth: “I’m just here with these two guys,” Isaiah says, gesturing toward John and Cliff Mahaurike. Isaiah played a big role in bringing them into the Church by inviting them to seminary and introducing them to missionaries.
Rose Hicks, 18, Melbourne. Maybe Rose Hicks typifies the variety of Australia as much as anybody. Born in New Zealand, she considers herself Samoan but has German, Fijian, Russian, Chinese, and Tongan blood running in her veins, too.
There’s a fierce determination about Rose. At the stake athletic games one day, she won five ribbons—four first-place and one second-place. “I hate coming in second!” she grimaced, stuffing the ribbons in a pocket. “I love competition.”
With that kind of drive, Rose will probably reach her goal of becoming a civil engineer and an architect. “I want to take part in building the New Jerusalem,” she says.
Whether their numbers are many or few, the power of the faithful is tremendous. LDS youth in Australia know that whether they are telling someone about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, studying the scriptures on their own or in a group, or fervently praying to their Father in Heaven, their example is an awesome testimony to all who watch them.
Sam Hansford, 17, Hobart, Tasmania. “It’s pretty amazing.” That’s how Sam describes the feeling he had when he gained his testimony. Something in seminary started him thinking. After school he went home and began to search the scriptures. “I prayed about it later that night,” he says, “and that’s when I started to feel the Holy Ghost.”
Leah Cox, 16, Canberra: “My dad is in the air force, so we move around a lot, every two years or so. The only stable thing besides my family is the gospel. I’ve always had a testimony, ever since I was little. I can feel the Spirit, and that reassures me that the gospel is true.”
Tropical Colours, Cairns: If you want to visit just about every island in the Pacific, learning about the customs, cultures, and dances of the native people, just watch a performance by Tropical Colours of the Pacific, a teenage dance group based in Cairns, Queensland.
Most group members are Latter-day Saints, and thanks to their standards there is more to this group than dancing. There are a lot of good examples.
“We’ve based our performing group standards on the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet,” explains Rosie Mitchell, 17. “That way, we know we’re building on a righteous foundation.”
Through Rosie’s example, two members of the group, Anne Browne, 17, and Alicia Elliot, 17, became interested and joined the Church.
“You feel the Spirit when you’re around Latter-day Saints,” Alicia says. “That’s what got me into the Church. The Spirit is always there, and it makes you want to know more.”
Michael Gibson, 12, Brisbane: “Before I became the second counselor in the deacons quorum, I wasn’t really into the Church that much. I didn’t really know what it meant. Then I got this booklet from the quorum president, and I realized how much fun a quorum can be and how much you can learn. I realized that it’s more than just going to church and sitting on a seat. You can learn a lot.”
Naomi Betts, 17, Sydney: “Prayer is the way to get in contact with Heavenly Father. It’s the way to talk to somebody when you’ve got no one else to turn to.”
Helen Parker, 14, Darwin: “Mum and Dad wake us up in the morning, and we have family prayer and scripture reading. We’ve got a family of eight people, so we just read two verses each. That is including my little brother and sister, and they are three and four. Now everyone is in the hang of it. We do it morning and night.”
Sarah Crosbie, 14, Sydney: “Sometimes you’re tired and don’t want to pray. You think you’ll just jump into bed. But if you do pray, you feel so much better afterwards. If you think about how you’re praying, and you’re not just saying a bunch of words, but you’re actually talking to somebody, then you get so much more out of it.”
Now you know there is more to Australia than kangaroos. There are awesome young people, like you “anxiously engaged in a good cause.”