Have you ever dreamed of traveling the world?
At one time or another, most teenagers (and most adults, for that matter) have wondered what it would be like to ride an elephant to school. Or eat octopus for lunch. Or watch the waves crash on shore from the living room window.
When it comes to exotic travel, many people put Australia at the top of their list. Kangaroos live in the wild. Much of the country has a tropical climate and all the exotic plant and animal life to go with it. The desert-like Outback is the stuff legends are made of. And if you’re feeling sick of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, hop a plane to Australia and, voila, it’s summer.
There are countless things that make Australia unique in all the world. But there are also ways in which it’s exactly like everywhere else. For teenagers who are members of the Church, life consists largely of family, seminary, school, and other worthwhile pursuits.
So when you read about the youth in these stories, all of whom are from Australia, remember that there are things about them that are different (they might have a Vegemite sandwich for lunch, and are likely to spend Christmas getting a tan at the beach). But also remember that, like youth all over the world, they are striving to live the gospel and getting the help they need from the people they love, just like you.
Kieryn Murrin, a Laurel from the Sydney suburb of Oatley, loves to study history in school, especially ancient history.
“History is relevant to our lives,” she says. “It helps us know who we are.”
So it’s not surprising that Kieryn chose a history-related Laurel project. But the history she’s researching isn’t ancient. In fact, Kieryn doesn’t have to look much beyond the walls of her own home to learn more about her subject.
“When I was six and my sister Lyndal was eight, she became ill and died two weeks later. For my project I’m gathering and organizing things that have to do with her life,” she says.
As Kieryn has worked on her project, she has spent considerable time looking through the journals, photos, letters, cards, and school papers that the family kept when Lyndal died. It gives her a feeling of closeness to a sibling who has now been gone for nearly 10 years.
“We always talked about Lyndal,” Kieryn says, “but as I’m working on this project I think of more specific questions to ask. I feel like I really understand a lot more about her and what she was like when she was alive.”
Kieryn says she not only feels closer to Lyndal, but also to the rest of her family, especially her mom (who has helped a great deal with the project) and her younger brother, Cameron.
“Knowing about the plan of salvation, and talking about it, is very important to our family,” says Kieryn.
Most of us probably think family togetherness is a good idea, and the Fa’oa family, from Ulladulla, New South Wales, is no exception. And it’s a good thing. The Fa’oas live in an area where the Church is exceedingly small. At one time they traveled about an hour each way to get to the nearest branch. Now the branch has been divided, and they go to church closer to home but with a much smaller group.
“The branch is pretty much our family and one other family with a few other people,” says 18-year-old Sunny.
Their dad, Paul, is in the branch presidency. Mom, Michelle, is the Young Women president. Add to that the fact the Fa’oas have regular family home evening on Mondays and seminary is held in 15-year-old Troy’s bedroom every morning, and that equals a lot of family togetherness.
“We see each other so much we have to get along,” says Sunny. “Sometimes you feel a little like everything—church, seminary, Young Women—is with just your family. We have to keep a sense of humor so we don’t fight.”
Sunny and Troy meet every morning at about 5:30 with their mother to study the day’s seminary lesson. That’s early, and the fact that seminary is held at home would probably make sleeping in a real temptation. But Sunny and Troy both say their mother’s determination to make seminary a good experience helps keep them going, even if it’s been a short night’s sleep.
“Finishing a year in seminary is a real accomplishment,” says Troy. “I feel so good knowing I’ve read the scriptures and understand them. I would never have made it through the year without my mom to keep me going.”
You might think that having a twin would mean you automatically get along all the time. But David and Diana Elsner, a priest and a Laurel from Wollongong, New South Wales, are living proof that, just like any other brother and sister, a good relationship takes hard work.
“Sometimes there’s some competition between us,” says David. “We do everything together. We have to always remember to be grateful for each other.”
Both David and Diana say that having a sense of humor, gentle teasing, and inside jokes contribute to their closeness. But it’s the gospel that really makes this bond strong.
“Going to seminary together helps,” says Diana. “We know there’s a lot more to our relationship than just little things that might make you angry. We don’t hold grudges.”
Watching their older brother, Mike, get ready for his mission (to the Australia Perth Mission) has also brought them closer together.
“We were sealed as a family just before Mike left on his mission. He received his endowments, Diana and I did baptisms, and then we were all sealed,” says David. “After that the feeling in our home was really good.”
Soon David will be following in his brother’s footsteps by going on a mission, leaving Diana at home. And although they’ll miss each other, Diana is looking forward to the time apart so they can grow and develop their relationship in other ways.
“I seem to discuss more spiritual topics in my letters to my brother Michael. I’m looking forward to writing the same kinds of letters to David.”
Mia Maids Kate Hancock and Charmaine Davison, from the Sydney suburbs of Revesby and Gymea, have been friends since they were very young. Even though they live about 45 minutes apart, they go out of their way to do things together. They like the same music, they enjoy spending time together (especially at the beach), and sometimes they even like the same boys.
That closeness became even more precious last year when tragedy struck Kate’s family.
“My nephew, Ben Innis, died just before Christmas, and Charmaine helped me through it,” says Kate. “She always reminds me to go to the scriptures when I feel bad about it. She helps me remember that we know where he is and that he’s all right.”
But it was more than just Charmaine’s good advice that kept Kate going. It was also her willingness to listen, to sympathize, and to care that helped Kate through a very rough time.
“My grandfather had died some time previously,” says Charmaine. “I was just devastated. He died during school holidays, so I had heaps of time to read the scriptures. It helped me so much, and I knew it would help Kate, too.”
So now when Kate and Charmaine list the kinds of activities they like to do together, they not only include things like shopping, talking on the phone, and sports, but they also remember things like studying the scriptures and attending the temple.
“When you do temple work for a member of your family, and you feel really worthy to be there, it helps you feel closer to people who are gone,” says Charmaine. “It’s such a good feeling.”
And, not surprisingly, Kate couldn’t agree more.
Lots of qualities make a place special. In Australia, there are an abundance of wonderful things to see, do, eat, touch, and smell. But more important than any of the things you’ll find in a travel brochure, there are people working hard to live the gospel.
And that should make anyone feel right at home.