Dear Family & Friends:
Wonderful. Amazing. Energizing. Faith promoting. Insightful. Helpful. Renewing. Uplifting. Practical. Spiritual. Testimony building. Friendship strengthening. Fun!
I don't quite know how to convey all the feelings I have about the mission presidents seminar we just attended! We were in Johannesburg from Sunday evening to Wednesday afternoon. The seminar included all the mission presidents (including the Cannons from the MTC) in the Africa Southeast Area, as well as the Area Presidency, Elder Steven Snow, and Elder Holland, as well as all their wives (of course!). Few things are better than working with wonderful people like this in a small group! (Last year we were taught by Elder Scott, which was also wonderful, but totally different.)
We started off Sunday night with a fireside in Sandton. Elder & Sister Holland were the speakers, but Steve was a little distracted watching for some of our returned missionaries who live in the Jo'burg area. He found them, and it was like Alma meeting up with the sons of Mosiah after 14 years!
Elder Holland spoke about missions, and by the end you were in NO confusion over whether every young man should go or night! I love the way he talks (and writes), and the down to earth examples he uses. He talked about chasing down every young man, and gave a real example: he was at a zone conference in Sweden, and an elder got up and left in the middle. Elder Holland immediately slipped down and asked the companion what had happened. "He says he's done - that's it - he's going home." So Elder Holland went outside looking for him. He had to "chase" him around the chapel a few times, but he "caught" him, and they talked about it, and the elder came back in.
Some years later, a young man came up to Elder Holland in Utah, and said "Do you remember me?" Elder Holland didn't, until the man said "Sweden. Zone conference. Up hill, down hill, up hill..." It was the same elder, and he wanted Elder Holland to know that he had finished his mission, was now married in the temple and had a family. So everyone get your jogging shoes on and start chasing the young men in your wards who are wavering about going on missions!
Monday we started the sessions. We all sat at a long, horse-shoe shaped table, and took turns leading the hymns and playing the piano. We already knew all the mission couples except the Poulsens (Johannesburg) and the Probsts (Capetown) who just came out this year. And of course it turns out we know people the Probsts and Poulsens know... Steve had also worked with Elder Snow when he was in the Area Presidency here, while we were in Zimbabwe, and with Elder Holland at the same time. Plus Elder Snow is the one who set me apart for the mission. The other new couple are the Watsons, in the Area Presidency. President Watson was the secretary to the First Presidency for over 30 years, and Sister Watson's maiden name was Mann, and she turns out to be a "cousin" of Steve's. In fact, we have all stood in the same cemetery in Stratford-on-Avon taking photos of the Mann tombstones there!
The training we received covered lots of different areas. Some was in response to questions that the mission presidents sent in ahead of time. Monday afternoon they really got down to "problems" (like polygamy, for instance) while all the wives met together separately. Our session was way more fun. Sisters Parmley, Koelliker and Watson had the room all set up, with music playing, and a black runner down the center of the conference table with beaded sheep wearing labels "Feed my sheep". As they introduced the theme of the meeting, Sister Parmley pointed out that some of the sheep were all aone, and others were grouped together, and some were headed out in wrong directions. I love visual aids! (And we each got to bring a sheep home, which is always a bonus in the womens' meetings!)
I had never met Sister Holland or Sister Snow, and they were terrific. We had a "general board" kind of meeting, and with people who are all doing the same thing, and reaching for the same goals, you feel a lot of unity. I know you all read my experiences, and I appreciate that, but these sisters are living them - and some in MUCH tougher circumstances! So when you relate something, they can say "Me too!" (Can you tell I liked it?)
Before Sister Snow and Sister Holland talked to us, we went around the table and each of us shared something from our mission experience. I showed some of the awards I've made for the missionaries - like after the all-district mugging. They were all wonderful ideas and experiences, and helped us get to know each other even better. Don't you love the way the Church brings people together?
Tuesday President Snow taught about following the promptings of the Spirit, and Elder Holland illustrated how powerful the Book of Mormon is in conversion. He talked about Joseph Smith, and all the things that had to happen before he could restore the Church, including publishing the Book of Mormon. Then he walked us through 1st Nephi, and we discovered that Lehi's experience of visions, angels, and a book were very similar to Joseph's. Now when I read about prophets and their beginnings, I'm looking for similar patterns.
Tuesday afternoon we went to the temple together - we just filled the session room. Steve and I only get to go once or twice a year, so that was a really great. It was like going to a half-size Boise temple.
One small glitch did come up: the mission ran out of recommend forms, and when we ordered them from distribution, we received 300 order forms instead. So when we got to the temple, Steve borrowed a recommend book so he could give me a new recommend, and sign one for himself. Yes, it's true: the mission president is the only one who needs to interview the mission president's wife, and signs his own recommend. Who'd have thought?
Wednesday morning was a powerful testimony meeting, then we headed for home, to a house that was nowhere as near destroyed as I expected it to be! The boys are getting better at fending for themselves. They even got to early morning seminary (with a little help from Elder Nkele & Elder Terry).
I noticed, though, that there was no food left in the house: all the better to defrost the freezer, my dear!
I spent the Saturday picking out excerpts from the video Parker shot for our member missionary training film. I would watch it, pause it, type up comments I liked, listen again, correct...over and over again. There were 14 interviews, so it took awhile. It was interesting, though: some of our members made the same comments we had thought about using from general authority talks, so we're going to use our local people instead. And Zulu grammar is definitely different from American grammar. We couldn't have written lines for the members that would have sounded the least bit authentic.
Today I had a wonderful missionary moment (I'm running out of adjectives today!). Morgan and I spoke in Church, and my topic was ordinances. After Church a sister who is investigating, with her husband and daughter, stopped me and said she liked the talk about ordinances, and that she wanted to understand more about baptism. I suggested that when the elders come over to teach them tonight, that she tell them she wants to know about baptism. I told her they would be delighted...and surprised! Interestingly, right after my talk Elder John told me I had done a good preparation for his investigators, as they were going to work up to talking about baptism tonight. Little does he know!
Our only low point today was that Jubz' mom, Noni, didn't make it to Church. Next week Jubz is going to sleep at home on Saturday night, instead of at our house, so he can "encourage" her. (He usually comes with us.)
I have a lot of computer work this next few days. We filmed the roadshow, so I'm making copies of that, and we received a copy of conference, so I need a few to make a few copies for people who couldn't get out to see it. More critical, I need to email those of you who have been so responsive about adopting an African elder! You've been great, so I'll be sending a name, picture, country, birthday and finish date to each of you. And if I run out of elders (probably not) remember, we get new missionaries every 6 weeks!
Last, but probably the MOST important, I am finally sending out all the pictures we have taken of Steve and me with each new missionary. I was having trouble because of illegible email addresses, and got WAY behind! So if I send you one and your son has been here a year already, please forgive my delay! I'm going to do better on this...along with 40 other things.
Mom/Grandma/Susan/Sue/Sister President Mann
ps Christmas is starting to show up in our local stores, and I was miffed because it wasn't even Thanksgiving yet, let alone Halloween! Then I remembered: South Africa doesn't have Thanksgiving or Halloween, so how can I complain? Besides, it's a good excuse to look for another interesting Nativity set! Can a person ever have too many?