About a year ago, Elder Spencer Watkins left his home in Okotoks, Alberta, Canada to serve a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Sydney. As part of that mission, he is helping to create a wheelchair-accessible path at Greystanes, a service for people with severe disabilities. The ongoing project will allow clients to enjoy the beauties of nature. It is also giving twenty missionaries an experience with compassion.
Mormon missionaries come to their assigned field of labour not only to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ but also to serve the communities in which they live. So when the President of the Australia Sydney Mission heard that the long hoped for pathway at the Greystanes facility was cost prohibitive, he volunteered all the missionaries in the surrounding communities to do it for the cost of lunch.
One of those missionaries is Elder Spencer Watkins. “At first,” says Elder Watkins about the Greystanes work, “I did not realize the full impact of what we were doing. I just knew it was changing me.”
“It was letting me stand in the shoes of those with a disability—to see who they are and what they experience. That is something I have never felt before, and I hope never to forget. I have been a wrestler from the time I was eight. I took movement for granted, but I never will again.”
“The nurses, the caregivers, and the people with disabilities who use the service thank us—over and over,” he said. “They say what we are doing will improve the quality of life for the friends we have made. I hope so.”
“The staff say they can’t believe how hard we work and how happy we are,” commented Elder Watkins, “but I think the work makes us happy. I did not think I would ever feel this happy so far away from my home and family.”
The service project is being done at one of the several services operated by Greystanes Disability Services. The clients have complex physical and intellectual disabilities and fragile health. Their 24-hour care is managed by disability support workers and registered nurses.
Leila Wright, Communications and Service Development Manager for Greystanes Disability Services, said, “The project was envisioned many years ago, but funding and time constraints meant it would remain a dream for many years to come--that is until the Mormon Mission President got in touch with us.”
“People who use wheelchairs will be able to access more of the land and utilize a wheelchair-accessible garden swing,” says Leila. “Greystanes hopes to enhance the sensory aspects of the garden with scented and tactile plants and features such as water fountains and wind chimes.”
Elder Watkins’ new acquaintances at Greystanes may not be the only beneficiaries of the missionaries’ labours. Plans are underway to include the site in the Leura Gardens Festival in 2013, as a wheelchair-accessible space for the general public to visit.
Elder Watkins always thought that a mission was his obligation. “I felt it was my duty as a priesthood holder, and I wanted to see what it would be like to commit 100% of my time to the Lord for two years. As it turns out, my mission has been the most incredible experience of my life—and serving people has been a big part of that.”
“I was pretty self-reliant before, and I didn’t think a mission would change me much,” he says. “However, I have grown in ways I did not expect,” he says. “I am more able to understand and love people, and I have grown closer to the Lord.”
After his mission Elder Watkins says he might wrestle again, but the goals of completing university study, finding a wife, and having a family have also come into focus.