Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Happy New Year!

Our goal was to write for our blog every month. The last entry was in November so we acknowledge that this is an area that needs improvement. We must also admit that it is unlikely that we will do any better. For those of you who are patient with us and want to know about our mission in South Africa, thank you for forgiving us.

Although much of what we do is very interesting and exciting, there are some tasks we are expected to accomplish that are more routine. This sameness is alleviated by getting to know the young missionaries better as we perform these duties. Zone Conferences are held every 6 weeks, by the zone leaders and presided over by the mission president, President Thompson. Our main responsibility is to provide food but we are always interested in the lessons that are taught. We are impressed with their insights. Previous to zone conferences are missionary transfers when we drive missionaries from one place to another…usually early in the morning.  Just before missionary transfers are missionary boarding and vehicle inspections. I must admit that even though these young missionaries have very little experience cleaning and being organized, they are willing to learn and are improving. However, after one recent transfer we had to throw some pans away because food was so encrusted on them that even a chisel wouldn’t help.

Training branch and district presidencies is one of our main responsibilities. We have spent a substantial amount of time focusing on the budgeting process so that they are able to manage the Lord’s sacred funds. The new curriculum for Relief Society and the Melchizedek Priesthood as well as how to conduct tithing settlement have been other areas of focus. We have developed a training notebook that we have used to teach topics including home and visiting teaching, Church discipline, missionary preparation, working with the auxiliaries, teaching, how to conduct meetings and programs, budgeting, welfare, organizing the Young Women and the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood, etc. This month we are attending district conferences every week-end and conducting training at each one. Traveling throughout the mission to speak in Church meetings and for Elwood to conduct temple recommend interviews has been an interesting experience allowing us to view some beautiful scenery and meet some wonderful people. We continue to train district presidencies at each district conference as part of the conference week-end. We speak much of the time. I have no idea how many talks we have given.

District leadership meetings have been sporadic and ineffective. We have worked with President Mashego to help him plan and facilitate the proper leadership meetings. The last two have been wonderful…progress is being made. The district now has a calendar of meetings and activities and a schedule for holding regular meetings. The district council members have monthly speaking assignments and priesthood responsibilities assigned. This is a giant step forward. The district Young Women have planned a New Beginnings activity for this Saturday. It is the first that has ever been held and all the Young Women are very excited to attend.

We continue to hike to the top of the hill, near where we live, as often as possible. The views are spectacular and we never tire of them. Cows and horses populate the area and we observe the cycle of life with these animals.

President Terry Johns, a member of the mission presidency, invited us to come to Ficksburg for the annual Cherry Festival. We had the opportunity to tour a large cherry farm and product processing facility with a picnic in the orchard. An airshow and chocolate factory tour were also part of this activity.

We tried to assist another couple in getting married, but unfortunately, an uncle of the bride objected at the last minute. He was not given lobola! The couple are in their thirties and have a ten-year-old son, but the extended family rules and always demands lobola (bride price). Also, the groom’s mother removed her support because the groom, her son, is deaf and if he married she would no longer receive government money. The picture is of our district president and a friend who, along with us, waited at the government office for the couple that didn’t come for their marriage.

Unemployment is quite high in South Africa. In a local, large retail store, where we buy a lot of missionary supplies, we were able to procure an interview for employment for a young man in Madadeni 2 Branch. They hired him for the Christmas season paying him about $7.00 per day. He worked for all of December and January with no days off. He worked hard with a positive attitude and the first of February the store manager hired Alex as a full-time employee. He was made manager of the electrical department with a sizable raise in pay as well as having off Saturday afternoons and Sundays. The manager asked us if we had more like Alex that he could hire.

We are always looking for boardings (apartments) for our missionaries. The most recent directive is to place missionaries in the townships where it is safe. For a number of years, they have lived in town (in our case, Newcastle) and commuted to the townships for their teaching appointments.

December 10, 2017, was an important day for us. A young single mother that we had been teaching was baptized. Elwood baptized and confirmed her a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints. We have enjoyed her progress from her feeling alone and discouraged to a young woman of faith and confidence. She has seen many miracles in her life since we began teaching her: She was given a government home allowing her to move out of the shack in which she was living. She has begun a better job with higher pay and Sundays off. Her children have been admitted to a better school and one that is in walking distance from her home. She has said that she owes her bright future to putting her life in God’s hands and committing to following His teachings.

We attended a number of branch Christmas parties. At Dundee Branch Elwood played Father Christmas and President Mashego, the district president, at the Madadeni 1 and 2 party (at our insistence). We also had a Christmas party/breakfast at our boarding for the fourteen elders in our zone. They devoured huge volumes of breakfast casserole and enjoyed the small gifts we gave them.

We looked forward to Christmas with even greater anticipation than usual as our family was due to arrive on the 22nd of December. Jeff, Angie and family arrived on time, but Shireen, Brett and family were delayed until the 24th because of airline issues and with Shireen’s suitcase missing. The Browns arrived in time to do some sightseeing in Johannesburg as well as visit the Nelson Mandela Capture site and other spots with us. Picture below is our grandson Gabe by Mandela sculpture at the Capture Site.

We did take the time for Sariah and Sam to visit with their pen pals.

It was wonderful being with our children and grandchildren!

Christmas day was the beginning of a three-day safari with the family. Everyone loved the experience as we were able to view all of the Big Five animals and more.

We then traveled to the beautiful Drakensburg Mountains and then on to Durban to visit the beach and the Indian Ocean.

We said goodbye to Jeff, Angie, Gabe, Mia, Zoe and Gwen as they flew on to Cape Town.
Shireen, Brett, Sariah and Sam stayed with us a few more days as we relaxed in Newcastle, visited a lion farm and another spot where they were able to hold baby lion cubs. They then flew home making a stop for a few days in London.

We love our family and it was a great treat having them with us.

The new year began ominously for us in darkness…our electricity was turned off. After a lengthy visit to the utility company we discovered that the payment that had been made was credited to a wrong account. This was followed by three weeks of no internet service. Begging offered no relief.
Our relief and sanity came from working with the district presidency to help them plan a successful district conference. The theme was “Come Unto Christ” with appropriate music and speakers. I wish we could capture the spirit and sound of the African choir and bring it home with us.

We spent a couple of days sightseeing with Elder and Sister Rhodes just before they went home and toured the Midland Meander, which is an area of beautiful scenery and interesting shops. We saw dramatic waterfalls, rivers, mountains and small villages.

In January we took another side trip with the Rhodes and the Johnsons (the couple replacing the Rhodes) to the “Blood River” battlefield historical site. The combatants were 12-15,000 Zulus and 1000 Afrikaners from the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The Zulus were not pleased with this arrival and assumed that the Afrikaners wanted to drive them from their lands. The Afrikaners gathered their wagons into a “D” shape and battled with guns and cannons while the Zulus had spears and skin shields. There are two museums at this site; each presents the point of view of one side of the confrontation. The Afrikaans emphasize that these early settlers made a covenant with God that if they won this battle they would dedicate their lives to following Him. So many Zulus were killed that the river in the area turned blood red. The pictures below are of the memorial in the Afrikaans area which is a full-size metal model of the wagons, the Bridge of Reconciliation between the Afrikaans and Zulu museums, and a model of one of the Zulu warriors.

We can see progress with some giant steps forward and fewer steps backward. As we follow the Spirit we can see great changes. We have bonded with the people here and we have genuine love and respect for each other.

Our mission will end all too soon. We have extended our mission for about two months and wish we could stay longer, but responsibilities at home require our attention.
May the Lord bless you all.  We love His children and His gospel.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Life in South Africa

We have very good intentions to write frequently in our blog, but we all know where good intentions lead. Anyway, we will give you some highlights of our South African journey/mission.
It is very difficult to put the African experience into words and unless you have spent a significant amount of time here you would not understand the spirit of this place. There is something that gets into your soul…a combination of the beauty of the people and of the countryside. It is wild, but peaceful…discouraging, but hopeful…hard to explain.

As you can imagine we are kept very busy with a variety of missionary experiences. We were asked to train and assist the Church leaders in this area with a new finance program where checkbooks will no longer be used. All donations and expenditures are now processed electronically. This is a major challenge in our area because of lack of computer skills and lack of knowledge related to finances. Penny has been the major trainer of this process along with the district clerk. This has been a huge job and has been very successful. Other experiences include working with the young missionaries…finding places for them to live, furnishing their boardings, buying supplies, taking them to the doctor, interviewing baptismal candidates under special circumstances, counseling ones with problems, holding meetings, etc.

We would like to introduce you to the Wambuzi family. We met them when we first came to South Africa and were fortunate to be able to facilitate their wedding, avoiding lobola (bride price). They now have an adorable and healthy baby.

Alex and Jane were another couple we assisted so that they could be married. Lobola was a major challenge because he had lost his job and the bride’s family insisted on being paid. We encouraged him to be courageous and helped him with some negotiations. The bride was not a member of our Church, but is being baptized this Sunday, 29 October 2017. They are happy and in love. The little boy is their son, the couple is the Mashego’s and the gentleman in the picture is the magistrate who married them.

Later we delivered a large copy printed on canvas of The Family, A Proclamation to the World to the magistrate and was first presented on the floor of the US Senate in 1995 stressing the importance of marriage and the family. This was an inspired document prepared by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

We have gone several times to the lion game preserve near where we live. One set of pictures shows us there with two of the young missionaries. See the pictures below of some of the animals seen there: lion cubs, lions, horse mated with zebra, albino eland, various members of the cat family, etc. Two show lions eating a kill.

When we have a free day (translate: run away from home) we enjoy adventures with Elder and Sister Rhodes, who are stationed in Ladysmith, which is about an hour from us. These are pictures from an area near Winterton which is fairly close to Ladysmith. Picture of the giraffe is obvious. Weavers are the name of the birds that build the strange nests that are pictured. It is fascinating to watch them. We are told that the female birds are very particular about how their nest is built (by the male) and if she isn’t happy with it she insists that it be torn apart and begun again.

In September we had another senior missionary conference which was both informative and relaxing. It was held in the magnificent Drakensburg mountains, which are a natural border between South Africa and Lesotho.

Mission President Thompson and Sister Thompson

Sister Brown and President Johns, who is from South Africa and has been in a mission 
presidency for an indeterminate number of years.

As many of you know, we love being in the mountains and the Drakensburgs are particularly spectacular and beautiful.  We have been able to hike in these mountains three times and look forward to a fourth when our children and grandchildren come here in December.

We always enjoy our periodic trips to Durban for Mission Presidency meetings and other occasions. The pictures show the beautiful Indian Ocean beaches. Many of them were heavily damaged during the recent storms and flooding in the area. The picture of the hotel is where Jeff made reservations for us when the family comes in December.

The picture of the black building indicates the stage of construction for the Durban Mormon Temple. It is due to be completed toward the end of 2018.

The Church is growing here; we have created two new districts and many additional branches. A district is comprised of several local units (branches) that is in a particular geographic area. The Newcastle District was divided in July creating the Ladysmith District making President DeKlerk, the former branch president in Dundee, the new president. President Moloi is the Phuthaditjhaba District president, which district was formed in August. These smaller districts allow the leaders to assist and bless the lives of the people in their units. We are frequently asked to provide training to the district and branch leaders on principles and procedures, which we love to do.

Ladysmith District Presidency 

Phuthaditjhaba District Presidency with wives and President and Sister Thompson

We were asked to go to the small country of Losotho, about a six hour drive from our home in Newcastle, to offer a two-day leadership seminar to the Losotho district presidency and its five branch presidencies. After the training we spent part of a day at a primitive village called Komes Caves. It consists of a number of huts built under and around a huge overhanging rock. About 200 years ago a man discovered this area and built a dwelling under the overhang. Others came and a few more dwellings were constructed and some land was farmed for fruits and vegetables. People live there today just as they did two hundred years ago.

The final pictures show some of our favorite people.

Children from one of the townships (We always carry lollipops.)

President and Sister Mashego (This is the district president of Newcastle District and his wife. We spend a lot of time with them and love them dearly.)

This is a wall from the office in our flat, which allows us to see our children and grandchildren daily.

In mid-August our mission president gave all missionaries the challenge to read and ponder the Book of Mormon in 100 days. We were invited to write our thoughts on each page. We have found that by doing this we have a much greater understanding, love and appreciation for these scriptures. This book is a true and significant witness that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. As the introduction to the Book of Mormon states, “A man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts than any other book.”

Love to all.