Saturday, December 22, 2007

2007 12 23 - In Another Packed Program...

Merry Christmas Everyone!

The sun is shining (for a change), the flowers are blooming, the fair-haired missionaries are turning red, and I am wilting in the heat. Please send snow.

If reading this entry is as exhausting as living it, I suggest a comfortable armchair and perhaps a few snacks before you begin. I'll start with the week of the 10th.

Monday and Tuesday were shopping like crazy and getting things ready for missionaries coming in from all over the mission for the December zone conference. We bought 10 turkeys - but remember, 2 "large" turkeys fit into the oven together. 16 loaves of bread, 480 slices of meat and cheese, dozens of apples, 325 hot dogs and buns, thousands of chips, jugs of punch concentrate, grocery carts of potatoes, carrots, and frozen peas, brownies and rice krispie cookies to make... well, you get the picture. I am extremely lucky in having Sister Margie and Sister Crystal in Hillcrest Ward, who did the cooking for the Thursday night Christmas dinner.

Wednesday was preparing the Pinetown building for the conference. Elder Hyatt and Elder Johns cleaned everything, then transported 20 tables from Berea, which they then set up with chairs, organized the screen and the sound system. Elders Braun, Biladeau and Woodward helped to un-decorate the office Christmas tree, and take it apart, so we could re-decorate it ornaments of the missionaries over at Pinetown. I put up lots of (laminated, of course) pictures of the nativity on the walls, covered all the tables with white paper, and set around nativity sets and nutcrackers and various other Christmas decorations. The paper goods were stacked in the corner, and misisonaries were rolling in. Then came Thursday...

(At this point I will have to break the story into times of day, to give the full effect.)

7:o0 am Arrive and find that the Church had been broken into. They wrenched the grate off the bishop's office window, and broke the glass. They found keys, but apparently didn't manage to get into the computer room, or didn't know it was there. The bishopric and repairmen were in and out through the day.

7:30 am Elder Dalebout starts shuttling 7 cars to Durban for a modification due to a manufacturing flaw (these are the cars that suck up water and stop entirely when driven through a puddle).

8:00 am Missionaries start arriving; I teach "One Star, A Bright Star" to the 12 sister missionaries.

8:o5 am Elder and Sister Thomas are picked up at the Durban Airport. Elder Thomas is our Area Medical Adviser and spoke to the missionaries.

8:45 am Steve gets a call from Salt Lake (where it is midnight) announcing that the Twelve are reducing the number of sister missionaries in South Africa, and our 12 are to be transfered to their various new missions by next Friday (21 December). (The topic of sisters missionaries in South Africa under discussion for the past few months, but only discussion.).

9:00 am Steve starts off the conference, which is actually very hands on, directed by the Assistants, and spends the rest of the day on the phone with Johannesburg, running back to the office, and having the office elders track down police clearances, passports, and who has had yellow fever shots, in addition to their trip to Home Affairs to extend President Parmley's visa (we have very good relations with the office here, so we get some of Johannesburg's renewals).

10:00 am The Dalebouts try to sort out a broken geyser (hot water heater) at a new boarding so the elders can finish moving in

12:00 A successful do-it-yourself deli sandwich lunch for 120, followed by training and practise in teaching skills.

12:30 pm I run to the mission home for something, and find the power is out (did I mention the potatoes, carrots and 2 of the turkeys were being prepared there?) After several sincere (and panicky) prayers, the power turns back on.

1:00 pm Joseph, the Area Travel Coordinator, calls from Johannesburg to say he's on his way to pick up the sisters' passports, visa photos and signatures - luckily he rented a car at the airport, so we didn't have to pick him up!

1:40 pm Elder Thomas speaks, followed by a "Doctor Is In" session for those with specific questions.

3:00 Elder and Sister Thomas are taken to the airport to return to Johannesburg.

3:30 Elder and Sister Barnes pull out 3 of the sisters to go to their boardings to pick up their passports, which they had in hand for their driving tests. The sisters were simply told that we needed them - and one at least speculated endlessly on what was going on...

5:00 We take a very cheerful and happy photo of all the sisters, then break the news of the transfers and new assignments. I think we could call this a Mood-Swing moment. I'm actually very happy that our sisters loved it here so much - and also that we were in the midst of the all-mission conference, so the elders could lend their support and everyone could say their goodbyes.

5:30 All the missionaries meet in the chapel for the "sister missionary" announcement.

6:00 pm Christmas dinner, complete with gold foil on the tables, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and trifle (not many pumpkins here).

6:50 Joseph arrives for a meeting with the sisters.

7:00 pm Christmas program, starring the missionaries. Numbers ranged from Christmas carols to a "bagpipe" number (elders holding their noses and humming while they hit their throats with their flattened hands - sounds bizarre, but it works) to a break dance to 12 Days of Christmas with each zone, the couples, the sisters, and the office taking a day. The grand finale was a DVD of pictures missionaries had sent in, set to music by Elder Woodward. It was great!

Everyone heads to their assigned boardings for the night, except the office crowd, who stays up frantically searching the sisters' papers to find out who has had yellow fever shots, who has their police certificate with them, and whether we have any extra visa photos. Elder Braun is already exhausted, but gamely continues.

9:00 pm The Phoenix elders call to say a member there has shot his wife and himself, and they have been asked to help the family. The wife's family is Moslem, which complicates things emotionally, even more.

Friday, 14 December

7:30 am Elder Biladeau figures out how to take visa photos of the sisters for Joseph, and gets the last ones done just in time for Joseph's departure for the airport.

8:00 am The conference re-convenes and goes wonderfully - still with little input from the mission president, who is organizing the massive transfer and pulling the sisters out every so often for meetings on details.

8:30 am Couples split up for special training: the elders on how to coach all the new priesthood leaders in the new districts that are being formed, the sisters to discuss auxiliary training needs in the districts. I am leading the discussion, but have to run in and out to answer phone calls about the sister transfer, and one from the Humanitarian couple in Johannesburg to alert me that a large shipment of hygiene & school kits and blankets is on it's way.

10:30 am The greatest testimony meeting ever. The sisters were strong in the commitment to follow the guidance of the Twelve; the elders were supportive; Hurrah for Israel!

11:30 Outside for an all-mission photo

12:00 Hot dogs for 120, followed by handing out of Christmas packages from home, the 2007 mission T-shirt (which has Moroni 10:5 on the back, in Zulu, candy sent from parents in the States who wanted to be part of the celebration, and various stickers and summaries of the conference topics, including a clear sticker for the missionaries' watches, which says "Who else?" and reminds them to ask for referrals after every lesson or contact.

It was then soccer/basketball/Settlers of Zarahemla/Polar Express activities until 3:00 or so, when the missionaries headed out, except for the missionaries and elders who helped dismantle the party! Meanwhile, Steve is calling the stake presidents and new mission presidents of our sister missionaries.

Saturday we head up to Richards Bay for the organization of the new district. Sacrament meeting begins as a ward conference, presided over by President Naismith, conducted by Bishop Baldwin. After 2 confirmations, President Naismith (and all of this is with sustaining votes, of course) changes the ward to a branch. Then he changes the stake bounderies and puts the branch under the mission. Steve is now presiding, and he turns the branch into a district. This is now a district conference, so we sustain all the general authorities, the mission presidency, and the new district presidency. Then 5 new branches are organized, and 5 new branch presidents sustained. Then we have the sacrament! It was a distinctly unusual meeting!

Afterwards, in priesthood meeting, 5 new elders' quorum presidents were sustained, and then all of these new leaders had to be set apart.

Monday 10 am Dalebouts, Barnes & Elder Biladeau take a large load of humanitarian items to 1000 Hills Aids Center

6:00 Sister Boyd and Sister Wileman, heading for South Carolina and Birmingham England, come in for a luggage weigh-in, dinner with the office and the Barnes, and a testimony meeting, then stay overnight at the mission home. A highlight of the evening was Sister Boyd on the piano and Elder Hyatt on the violin, performing "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring". We will really miss these two powerful sisters, but their faith and obedience are exemplary.

Tuesday 7:30 am Off to the airport (barely!) with the sisters. Elder Woodward, our financial secretary, accompanied them, for a day of software training in Johannesburg.

Wednesday 9:00 am The Uffens and the Klinglers drive Sisters Mgimwa and Wamunyima (and their stuff!) down from Newcastle.

10:00 am Elder Biladeau is trying to make DVD copies of the Christmas program for the sisters, as well as "pasting in" the office elders in the misison photo, as they were at Home Affairs at the time. (He was successful, by the way.)

1:45 The other sisters arrive for yellow fever shots (for 6 of them)

3:00 Westville police stations for fingerprints for 3 sisters without police clearances (we also emailed and made a few phone calls trying to track the clearances down - we actually found 1!).

5:00 Weighing in/discarding items/weighing in/discarding items/tears/discarding more items/weighing in of luggage. I might explain: we had sisters going to Ivory Coast, Ghana, Uganda, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Kenya. Inter-Africa flights allow only one bag. Although many had come with only one bag, they had accumulated clothing and other things to use during their mission. They still needed (some of!) these items, so everyone was way over. We covered an extra bag for them, but not any overweight. It was a challenge. It also required an unknown amount of money, so I took out everything I could from the ATM Wednesday and Thursday, Elder Woodward brought the petty cash fund, and I sponged off of the (very kind) Uffens and Klinglers.

6:00 pm Dinner and testimony with the sisters, the office, the Klinglers and the Uffens. Wonderful spirit, and awesome sister missionaries. It's like sending our own kids on missions!

Thursday 7:00 am Take the sisters to the airport, where a very kind airline official gave us a big discount on the extra bags because we are a church (thank goodness for name tags!). We send them off - along with Elder Biladeau, a wad of rands, and many hugs (from me - handshakes from the Prez), then we run out to the Vito with the assistants and dash madly to Richards Bay for the first of 7 district interview/training sessions in Richards Bay, Swaziland, Newcastle and Ladysmith. But you know what, I'll let you imagine those, because I'm blogged out.

We love you all, and appreciate all the help we're getting with temple trips, conferences, and missionary emails and packages.

Happy Holidays!
Love, Grandma/Susan/Sue/Sister President Mann

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The "chapel" at eZakhawini

Morgan's Class - The Last Day of School

2007 11 Departure - Elder & Sister Beazer

2007 11 Arrival - Elders Sprague, Potter, Katende & Wright

2007 12 09 Practising Empty Nesting

Dear Everyone at Home Enjoying Traditional Christmas-y Weather:

The malls are all decorated for Christmas, and I’ve even seen 5 or 6 houses with Christmas lights on them. The tree is up in the office, with the ornaments I brought from home, and I’ve got a few of my nativity sets, including a new one from Swaziland, and even a tiny Dickens Village – by my standards -lit by battery operated candles, in the mission home. One of our missionaries (from the States!) had never seen an advent calendar before. What’s this younger generation coming too???

It’s 5:30 am and I’m sitting in the dining room of Elder & Sister Hafen’s boarding in Richards Bay. It’s incredibly green outside – we have had SO much rain the last few months! And just this week! It’s a good thing our missionaries are wash-and-wear! We’re in Richards Bay so Steve can interview priesthood leaders for the new branches that will be organized next week. Currently, groups of members in the Richards Bay Ward meet in 4 different locations on a Sunday. Next week the ward will become a mission district, and each of these groups will become a separate branch: Richards Bay, Nseleni, Ngwelezana, and eZakhawini. (Try saying those five times fast! In fact, try saying them once!) This is the first of the three new districts being organized.

This was transfer week, and Elder Larsen, who has been a terrific Assistant the whole time we’ve been here, left on Friday with Hunter and Morgan in tow. They should actually be landing in Salt Lake just about now, after about 36 hours of travel. The boys have been so manic about going home for Christmas that we could hardly live with them…but having them gone is decidedly odd. We haven’t been empty nesters (even temporarily) for 27 years! I guess it’s good practice for the future…

On the way to Hafens we took a detour to the beach town of Saint Lucia. Actually, town is a little misleading. The “downtown” is about a half mile long, with restaurants and a grocery store, and vendors with their curios spread out on the sidewalk, a few outfits that offer whale watching, fishing expeditions, and crocodile/hippo cruises on the river, and bed-and-breakfasts galore. The town is on the edge of a GIANT wetlands park that stretches up to the border with Mozambique. You have to be careful about mosquitos (mozzies) here, because it can be a malaria area. We went down to the beach, which would be a great vacation place with kids – long wide sandy beach, dunes, nice views of hills along the coast in either direction – the only drawback was the water. I don’t know what causes it, but the waves carry in sand, and the water is brown almost as far as you can see. I’m not sure I’d want to go in it! And sadly, no shells, which are my personal favorite.

On the other hand, you see signs like “Hippo Crossing” and “No Fencing!” (which means all kinds of wildlife may be crossing the road at any time) and “Keep our monkeys healthy: Please don’t feed them”. (There’s another sign I see on the exit I take for Pinetown Ward: “SLEGGS ONLY”. No one seems to know what a SLEG is, but I must be driving one, because I always exit there, and no one has ever stopped me.) We also have a sign in construction zones: “Please Don’t Kill Us”. Short, and straight to the point.

Last week we were in Umlazi for Church. It’s the 2nd largest township in South Africa (Soweto is the largest). The ward has very little priesthood (at the moment!) and lots of youth. We have been told that it takes about 3 generations to really establish the Church solidly, so these youth (many the only members in their families) are going to be the ones who raise the leaders who will run it. And they are really great. You can see how crucial it is to start teaching the gospel at a very young age, when you visit a branch where 14 of the 18 young single adult women either have, or are about to have, a child. This is totally acceptable in their traditional culture – so we have a long way to go.

Thursday and Friday will be the December Zone Conference. Thank you again for all the things you have sent out for the missionaries: ties, candy, Christmas packages… And also for the contributions to the youth temple trips. You’re wonderful! I am going shopping on Tuesday for groceries for the Christmas feast – Sister Margie from Hillcrest Ward, who does the transfer dinners for us, is going to put together the dinner on Thursday – for 125! – and for the 2 lunches we’re doing “make-you-own” deli sandwiches, and good old hot dogs. With missionaries, you have to tell them how many slices of bread, meat, and cheese they each get, or all the food vanishes into one zone. They are truly a bottomless pit!

I had a funny experience with one of our new group of missionaries this week: there were only 4 of them, so I got some ham and cheese quiches, and put a knife for cutting slices, and a “pie slice lifter outer” (what ARE those called, anyway?) and told them there was a whole quiche for each of them, though of course they didn’t have to eat the whole thing. When I came back out (they were eating outside on the patio) they had ignored the utensils, put the whole quiche on their plate, and were eating right out of the pie tins. And yes, they finished them, at least the 3 Americans did -our African elders don’t eat as much. THAT’S the picture I should have sent home to their mothers!

This week’s scripture lesson is (as usual) aimed at potential couple missionaries: everyone read Matthew 25:14-28 . Let’s pretend the talents (which the Lord treasures) are testimonies: our own, and those we have helped to establish. I know a good place you can increase talents… and it only takes 36 hours to get here!

Well, everyone have a wonderful week – enjoy the snow if you have any – go see all the Christmas lights – eat candy canes (we don’t have them here, apparently) – and think of us. And thankyouthankyouthankyou to those who are helping with Hunter and Morgan’s visit!

Mom/Grandma/Sue/Susan/Sister President Mann

PS Morgan and Hunter: Behave yourselves!!!