We spent two days in Durban getting oriented to the mission and receiving our assignments. Although we had a little practice driving on the left side of the road in Durban, driving to Newcastle was a bit unnerving.
Newcastle is a small city in the middle of a rural, farming area and located in the heart of Zulu country. It is about four hours northwest of Durban and about three hours south of Johannesburg. Most people speak Zulu or English and some speak Afrikaans. The people are wonderful and are very interested in discussing religion, especially when they see our badges. Most have limited income as there is high unemployment. For those fortunate to have a job the pay is very low.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is small in this section of South Africa. There are no stakes in our mission except for the two that are in Durban and one in the far west. We are in a district with seven branches, mostly in different towns. The Church in this part of South Africa is 99% black, while the population of the country is approximately 85% black. The people are dedicated and religious and are striving to build the Church.
Our primary duty is to assist the Newcastle District President with his responsibilities. This involves teaching leadership skills, providing shadow leadership for him and all who assist him, and visiting people in the branches who require assistance of some kind. We also work closely with the young missionaries helping with travel, teaching, and solving problems. We inspect their boardings (apartment or house) and vehicles. We also introduce people to the Church and see that they are contacted and taught.
The past week we went to a senior missionary couple conference and retreat at Nambiti Game Reserve which was about 1½ hours from Newcastle. (This setting is very different from our experience in Nigeria where there were no large animals because they had been eaten by the people living there.) The conference was inspiring and enlightening as we counseled together and were taught more about our responsibilities. In between the training sessions we went on animal drives which were amazing. The highlight was witnessing a baby giraffe being born…a once in a lifetime experience. We were told that no one at the game reserve had ever seen this before. We also observed various types of antelope, several lions, elephants, a cheetah, hippopotamuses and rhinoceroses. It was great!
We love what we are doing! We are much more dependent on the spirit than our last mission because we set our agenda each week and must determine what our priorities must be as there is so much that needs to be done. The people we have met are humble, hard working and religious. We are welcomed, literally, with open arms and feel blessed to be among them. We may be giving some to be on this mission, but are gaining much more.
We miss our family and friends, but we know we are doing what the Lord wants us do at this time in our lives.
Elwood and Penny Brown
Our group in the MTC
Children in neighborhood in Newcastle
Newcastle District Center
District President Mashego
Our safari tent at Springbok Lodge, Nambiti, South Africa
Antelope on the game drive
Sunrise Africa style
Penny at gnarled tree
Safari snack time for senior couples
Cold early game ride