Sunday, December 28, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

2008 12 28 - Just moments from 2009

Dear Everyone:

I hope you all had a Very Merry Christmas!

We began the week on Saturday, by driving up to the extreme northeast corner of the mission -and of KwaZuluNatal, and of South Africa! We were headed for the Tembe Elephant Reserve, as the lodge there is (lucky for me) about as close as we could get to the "twig" in Kozi Bay that we were to visit on Sunday. The lodge is very much what you like to envision for an African holiday: open, thatched roof bomas, staff dressed in safari clothes or traditional dress, and the "rooms" were part tent and part cabin, each down a little trail by itself. That whole area was once under the Indian Ocean, so it is all built on sand, and only 4x4s are allowed in the park, since the sand roads get deeper and deeper and harder to negotiate until it rains and they pack down a bit.

We went on 3 game drives, and saw elephants (up close and personal!), giraffe, kudus, wildebeests, impala, nyalas, red duikers, gray duikers, vervet monkeys, warthogs, zebras, and my personal favorite for this trip, dung beetles. We also had impala steaks for dinner one night (very good). It's strange to go game viewing and then eat what you just took pictures of, but my official rule is "I don't eat anything I've had as a pet". That pretty well covers me for China (dog and cat), France (horse) and Peru (guinea pig). And insects & worms are just not on any list, anywhere.

Sunday morning we drove out to Kozi Bay for Church. Iris is a member from the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) where the Church is growing very rapidly. He has a tailor shop in a rented space in a marketplace, and he holds Church there. There are 10 or 12 members, including 3 Melchizedek priesthood holders. They generally have 15 to 40(!) in attendance. Most of the members had gone to their rural areas for the holidays (like the rest of the country) so it was a small group, but it was fun to be there. He hangs up sheets over the shelves of fabric, to make it less "commercial", and they use a cd player when they sing hymns. Steve asked him to see if we can rent a space at the library for their meetings - the group is almost big enough to be a real branch.

Monday we drove down to Richard's Bay for the interviews and skills training on Tuesday. The Assistants, Elder Schlenker and Elder Schwarting (try saying that fast!) met us there. After the interviews we drove to Swaziland, for interviews and a training on the 24th. While the "men" were all busy, I checked out shopping opportunities for the couples seminar in February. (SOMEbody's got to do the hard stuff!) It is very beautiful and green and flowery in Swazi this time of year, but their tourist business is slow this year, just like everywhere, so sometimes I was the only potential buyer at a market, which kind of puts the pressure on!

We took the Swazi zone to lunch at the best Chinese restaurant in the mission, and then just crashed for the afternoon: it's been a busy month! Our Christmas Eve dinner was on the terrace of the Mantenga Lodge, with VERY loud frogs entertaining us from a nearby pond. Christmas morning we drove home so we could Skype the family in Parma, where the whole crowd descended on Grandma and Marilyn for Christmas, and Heather's wedding yesterday. I was sorry to miss it all - especially the inches and inches of snow! Every year I wished for a white Christmas, and this sounds like the best one ever!

Friday we were back on the road to Newcastle & Ladysmith, for more interviews and training, then home again on Saturday. This week Steve is interviewing in the Durban area, so I'll work on the house and projects, one of which is Primary resource materials for the districts. (In January we're doing district leadership training in all three districts.)

If any Relief Society or Young Women leaders are looking for service projects, we are making some upholstery-fabric bags for Primary leaders to bring their manuals and lesson materials to Church. Most of these sisters walk a long way to and from Church, and we thought that when they are called, if the branch president could hand them a bag with their materials, it would be really helpful (and fun!). Sister Klingler in Newcastle is our sewing whiz, and can give you the plan for the very simple bag - Just tell her I sent you...

I hope you all have a very happy and safe New Year! It's very quiet (and clean, and peaceful...) around here without Hunter and Morgan. They're having a great time seeing their friends and family, so I hope they get back on the plane next week!

Love you all!

Mom/Grandma/Susan/Sue/Sister President Mann/Wildlife photographer

Thursday, December 18, 2008

2008 12 19 - All Zone Conference

Ukhisimuzi omuhle! Gese├źnde Kersfees! Joyeux Noel!
Frohliche Weihnachten! Feliz Natal! Meri Kirihimete
Nadolig Llawen! Kuwa na Krismasi njema Ikrisimesi EmnandI
Merry Christmas!

These are most of the languages spoken by our missionaries: I say most, because many of them also speak a tribal language in their homes. (Our own tribal language is currently Rap.)

We just completed our all zone conference, which included all the elders and all the senior couples. It was wonderful (I seem to use that word a lot out here) and you can tell who did the most work by their level of exhaustion: Elders Hiatt, Schlenker, Schwarting, Terry, Nkele, & Syphrett were the mainstays, with lots of help the days of the conference from some particularly thoughtful elders who saw the need for more hands. Margie Nicholson catered for us again, and the senior couples took so much of the work off my hands, that I could actually enjoy the conference!

It was an interesting and varied week. Monday we took Hunter and Morgan to the airport, with a detailed list of exactly what to do for each leg of their journey. Our first phone call came in from Johannesburg a couple of hours later. "We are in Johannesburg and got our luggage. Where do we go?" The checked in successfully for their international flight, then the next call. "What does it mean if the flight is delayed? Will we miss the plane in Atlanta?" That phone call was repeated a couple of times, until their flight took off about 50 minutes late. They made up the time, though, and landed 15 minutes early in Atlanta!

Tuesday we picked up 6 incoming elders, but Steve couldn't interview them right away because elders usually arrive on Wednesdays, and Tuesday was the mission presidency meeting. We had dinner with the office staff, mission presidency couples, and the new elders, then a testimony meeting. In the meantime, Elder Wright (Area security) and Elder Wells (Are psychologist) and their wives arrived, as well as our senior couples, so after Elder Wright checked on a few boardings, and the mission home/office for security issues, they all went out to dinner before heading to their various B&Bs. Elder Heap (Area medical adviser) and Sister Heap also arrived: all three couples were here to give presentations at our zone conference.

Just before dinner I started getting emails and gchat from Torry and Hayley that Logan was at the airport to pick up the boys, that the monitor indicated that the flight had landed, and they were nowhere to be found. Small panic. OK, big panic. It turned out that the flight schedule had changed to a bit later, and no one had changed the monitor in the Salt Lake Airport. I called Delta while Logan went to the Delta desk and we found this all out about the same time: more phone calls and gchat. The boys arrived shortly afterwards, but of course the monitor no longer had a carousel # for the baggage... Eventually the bags came, Hunter went on to his Southwest flight to Boise, and Logan and Morgan made it to Torry's. Whew.

They did have one interesting situation on their trip. On the first leg, from Johannesburg, the (white) woman next to Hunter complained and complained and complained that she didn't feel "safe" sitting next to a black man. I don't know if she truly has issues, has suffered a bad experience, or was hoping to be moved to an empty seat in business class, but I am very impressed with the way Delta handled it. They moved Hunter to business class instead! He stayed there until the refueling in Senegal, then was moved back, where she still complained. Interesting to have their racial incident on the way to the U.S.!

So, back to Durban. I cleaned like mad so the new elders could stay at the mission home for two nights, as the Richards Bay elders stayed in the office. Fixed breakfast for them Wednesday morning, then off to zone conference.

The presentations were first off: Elder Wright scared all the couples to death with his warnings about muggings, ATM rip-offs, break-ins, etc. Of course all the visitors end with "But don't worry, you're doing the Lord's work and He will take care of you..." Elder Heap counselled the missionaries on health issues, and Elder Wells addressed companionship relationships. He had a couple of problem-solving circles that I plan to implement (like the boys will do it) myself. The first stressed addressing tasks that need to be done, rather than addressing shortcomings of the other person. "I really need the shower at 7:30" as opposed to "You always take too long in the shower". And never to attack the "core" of a person, the things they really feel identify them as an individual. The other circle emphasized putting the problem "out there" and the two companions beside it, so they are both working together on solving something external, instead of a problem wrapped around one of the companions. Good stuff!

Cinnamon rolls for break (there were 136 of us); a make-your-own-sandwiches lunch, then hands-on training to prepare the elders to teach members how to be life-long member missionaries. This is a the next step up from the Neighborhood Walkabout. First the members realize they really do know a lot of potential investigators, then they learn the cues and what to say to people who may be interested. We'll be using the movie Parker and Justin Elias made for us; part of it is motivation, and the rest training segments with time for practice and planning.

The elders did the training, under the direction of the couples, in groups of twelve. Then back to the chapel for goal-setting and a testimony meeting. Turkey dinner, Swazi dirt "socks" full of goodies, the 2008 mission t-shirt (made on a Swazi Dirt Shirt) and the annual Christmas program. Every zone and some individuals performed and it was hysterical. Elder Wells said the emotionally it was worth three preparation days (but the elders didn't offer to give up three to compensate). Then everyone headed home or to cram into a local boarding so they could be back at 8:00 the next morning.

Thursday from 8 to 10 was transfer assignments, then talks and some individual/companionship work on our cycle theme, "Developing Christlike Attributes". 10 to 12 was sports (very successful, as you can imagine) and then hotdogs for lunch, handing out packages and mail, trading luggage from car to car due to the new assignments, and off they went, back to work.

Thursday night was the farewell dinner for Elders Tonkin and Vilakazi. Elder Tonkin is from Johannesburg, so his mom drove down to pick him up. It is always nice to fill in a little background on the elders by meeting their families and hearing their stories. The Barnes are also leaving this cycle: they have established ten Employment Resource Centers throughout the mission, and been instrumental in MANY members getting jobs. We will miss their good work - and their humor. Elder Barnes taught junior high band, which was good training for working around all these occasionally goofy elders!

Friday was Zone Leader Council, which included some new zone leaders, including Elder Nkele who has been our financial secretary. Elder Hiatt, Steve's Assistant, is now training Elder Nkosi and trying to open a new area in Madadeni. I'm sure he will also be working on his already excellent isiZulu. We'll miss both of them, but Elder Schwarting and Elder Syphrett are already shouldering their loads.

Tonight Elder and Sister Hill (I love that name), our Area Seventy, have invited the local couple missionaries to their annual Christmas open house at their farm. It's a lovely area, where she "horse whispers".

Tomorrow morning we are off for Tembe Elephant Park, from which we will drive over to Cosi Bay to speak in Sacrament meeting at the Cosi Bay "twig".

I hope all of you are having holidays heavier on family than on food and presents! We miss you all!

Mom/Grandma/Susan/Sue/Sister President Mann/Zone Conference Facilitator

ps Another South Africanism: "Give it a squiz" (meaning, take a look at it)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

2008 12 14 - About to be "childless"

Dear Everyone:

I'm thinking this is probably about the 2nd day of Christmas? (Assuming it ends on the 25th.) So, how are your partridge and your turtle doves getting along?

I'm sad again - Elder and Sister Baum are heading for home. "People come and go so quickly here!" (for you movie buffs). I'm sure the miracles will continue as Elder & Sister Wilson take their place in Swaziland. It's really quite amazing how will our couples fit into the places they are assigned. And when a change is made, the people in the new branch are always SO happy and grateful to have them...With the latest transfers, Elder and Sister Klingler switched back from Newcastle to Madadeni, and it was like the branch was welcoming back a returning couple they had sent out on a mission!

You make such good friends with the other missionary couples, that it's hard to see them go - but it's also exciting to meet the incoming couple, and we're delighted with another set of dynamite Wilsons! I learned that they also have a sister and brother-in-law serving in Sierra Leone. The Elders Wilson have 11 siblings, so maybe we can get more! They are a very missionary minded family: their father was called on his mission by Heber J. Grant, and most of them served as young missionaries. Elder Wilson told us a wonderful family story about a great-great grandfather in Vermont who was studying to be a minister, but developed consumption and couldn't continue. He ended up travelling to Ohio, where he heard the "Joseph Smith" was a man who could heal people. He met the Prophet, and asked to be healed, and was handed a Book of Mormon. "Read it, and if it doesn't work for you, read it again!" He ended up being baptized by Oliver Cowdery, and the family still has that Book of Mormon. (Sorry if I muffed the details, Wilson family!)

Sister Baum's family also has an original Book of Mormon, as her great-great grandmother helped prepare the first editions. And speaking of Baums, if you read the last blog early in the week, you missed the sequel to the busload of investigators in Manzini. I just learned it. In one of their (constant) miracles, the Baums got up that morning to go to the Mbabane Branch, and as he started the car, Elder Baum said, "We need to go to Manzini. I don't know why, but we need to go to Manzini." And Sister Baum agreed, "Yes, we do." So they were there to sort out the classes and teach the first lesson to the 72 investigators. This is called "Praying for guidance, getting in the car, and going where the Spirit leads". It has worked very well for the Baums for 18 months...and 2 weeks.

With the hot weather, geckos are becoming more active. Sister Sessions really, really, REALLY doesn't like "critters" of any kind, but they have a very persistent gecko in their house. Elder Sessions learned of this the night he heard a scream from the bedroom and hurried in to rescue his wife from the gecko. Sister Sessions decided to keep it out for sure, so Elder Sessions "herded" it along the wall and outside. She then tucked a rug very securely across the bottom of the door, and set jars on it to hold it in place. When Elder Sessions pulled the rug out the next morning, the gecko had been sleeping in it, and immediately ran up the wall to start it's day. I think it likes them.

In case I misled anyone last blog, Elder Magwa has completed his mission, married, and returned to Richard's Bay to live. He wanted to live where people had known him as a missionary, not where old friends might expect him to be his "pre-mission" self. (Kind of like wanting to be your adult self instead of your high school self?) Anyway, I should have referred to the FORMER Elder Magwa's baby - sorry if I startled anyone!

The office and my dining room are packed with handouts, Christmas stockings, gifts, plates/napkins/cups/rolls of gold foil, snacks for breaks, chips for lunch...They're for the zone conference starting Wednesday. It's quite a logistics problem finding places for the more distant elders to stay: with Hunter and Morgan gone, we'll have the six new elders (arriving Tuesday) here at the mission home - the office is already booked! It's nice to be in a mission that is geographically small enough to get the elders all together - it's a real boost to everyone. The elders really like seeing each other, so they're very excited. (If they were girls, they'd be giggling.)

I'm writing up detailed instructions for the boys for their flight home. We even found a map of the Atlanta airport online for them. It's interesting to try to think of all the tiny details you need to know for checking in, finding gates, finding luggage, filling out customs forms... I'm trying to think of all the mistakes I've ever made travelling, so I can build the cautions in for them. Luckily, the Baums will be at the Jo'burg airport in case of any glitches at the start, and the Dibbs are in Atlanta, in case all the flights get cancelled there and they get stuck! I think I'll send the missionary department a list of cities I need backups in, so they can add that to the mix as they call senior couples for Durban! (Just kidding - they already know in heaven, anyway...)

Thanks again to everyone who is sending packages for missionaries - we'll hand out whatever has arrived at the zone conference, then deliver the rest by Christmas. And if any come after, they will be just as welcome: trust me!

Love you all!
Mom/Grandma/Susan/Sue/Sister President Mann/Santa's Helper

ps Two new South Africanisms: "I was pressurized into doing it" and "I was orientated for my new job today"

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Introducing Thanksgiving to Jubz, Jono, Langa, Sizwe & Sthembiso

Steve at the Port Durnford "Chapel"

2008 12 7 - Richard's Bay District Conference

Dear Family & Friends:

December! I can hardly believe it. We sang a Christmas hymn to begin our staff devotional on Monday, and as I looked out at the palm trees and the flowers, and all the greenery, it just didn't feel right! Then I got thinking, that a huge percentage of the world always has a green Christmas, so maybe I'm the one that's out of step. However, in spite of the mixed up season, I will continue to "pickle" through (that's an expression I learned from Sister Baldwin in Richard's Bay this weekend).

We were in Richard's Bay for District Conference, along with the Parmleys. President Parmley and Steve did the priesthood training session, while Sister Parmley and I did the auxiliary training. She is always very good, very practical, and fun to work with. I was teaching about using simple, available visual aids, and also about pitching up every week to fulfill a calling. My visual aids were a rock, and some Duplos - I built a wall, and used a great idea from the Brad Wilcox book, "Don't Leap With The Sheep", namely Nehemiah telling the bad guys "I am doing a great work, so I cannot come down. Why should the work cease, whilst I leave it and come down to you?" (Nehemiah 6:2) That story is full of useful similes for all of us doing our callings: everyone has their own section of wall, you expose yourself to danger if you leave the wall, we work side by side, all the sections are equally important, it's dangerous work so some of the workers have to be guards, as well. Anyway, you might just want to read the whole story... it's actually very insightful!

A few weeks ago, President Parmley was on a call-in radio show originating in Johannesburg. One of the questions was, "How does your church differ from other Christian churches?" His talk then proceeded to explain the full answer (more than he could do on the radio). He did a wonderful job of explaining the establishment of the original Church, and it's various components, and then how things changed over the centuries, and how they were restored. I told him afterwards that I'd like to put it all in one of our booklets - it was really well done.

Sister Parmley told some stories about President Monson interacting with her family. I would guess that most of the members here only ever knew President Hinckley as their prophet, so hearing about President Monson in personal stories really helps with the transition.

It's a year exactly since the district was formed out of a ward that was actually meeting in 4 different locations, and things are going great. I think all the members feel very proud of having their own branches, and are working harder to build them. Swaziland is the same - Being their own district, instead of a ward hours away from the rest of the stake has encouraged the members to do lots more. Pride of ownership, I guess! What everyone is really working for is districts turning into stakes, so the Church will announce a temple for Durban. I have no doubt it's coming.

Great story from Manzini, in Swaziland, last week. A new convert, a teacher, rented a bus and brought 72 young men ages 16 to 20 to Church. He then told them that if any of them want to come again, he will give them a ride. I don't know the end of this one yet, but if they ALL want to come again. we're going to have to convert some combie drivers! The Manzini elders were on an exchange with some other elders, but as they started the car to go to Mbabane Branch that morning, Elder Baum said, "We need to go to Manini." Sister Baum thought, and responded, "Yes, we do." So they drove to Manzini and were there to teach the first lesson to the 72 investigators. Miracles happen everyday!

We have a celebrity in Port Durnford: Ayanda is a 10-year-old who has a drawing in the November Friend. Nice work for a girl from a very humble area, and a branch that meets in a one room wooden building with no electricity or water! We're trying to get her a copy of the Friend to keep, but in the meantime I printed off the page from the, and also the cover of the Friend, and laminated them for her to hang up at home. She is so cute - and was so excited!

Hunter and Morgan cut this last week of school, only on condition of working of the last of the home study course from BYU. Funny, they don't teach any U.S. History here... (They were not the only truants - some of the classes had only 5 or 6 students. Apparently they watched movies non-stop all week.) Now we just need to find someone who can administer the final, and we'll start the next one.

There was a very touching story about two friends in Richard's Bay. One had been investigating the Church for quite a long time. He came across an old friend drunk on the street. The friend had been a policeman, developed a drinking problem, lost his wife and family, his job, and pretty much everything. The investigator picked up his friend and brought him to rehab in Durban for two weeks. When they returned to Richard's Bay, the investigator told his friend hee needed to change his life, and to come with him and hear what the missionaries had to say. End result? Both men were baptized this week.

Elder and Sister Bartholomew have a daughter who sent an unusual gift to the township girls: she got 100 colorful t-shirts and sewed ruffles and trims on them, and turned them into t-shirt dresses. Sister Bartholomew only has a few left to hand out, and she says the girls are SO excited to wear them! Friends at home? We love how generous you are to the people here. There are so many ways to help a person who has hardly anything...

This week we have two new couples arriving. The Mickelsens will be handling PEF (Perpetual Education Fund), which has been handled, along with Seminaries and Institutes, by the Smiths and the Markums. There is a huge need for the young people here to get loans to be able to get an education and jobs, and we hope Mickelsens will be really, really busy! They are from St. George (now) via Ridgecrest California, but 18 months of their 3 years in St. George was spent away - on a mission in Florida! It CAN be done, Snowbirds!

Our second set of Wilsons also will be arriving. They will be serving in Swaziland, as the Baums head for home in another week. If the "Swaziland Wilsons" are anything like the "Ladysmith Wilsons" we will be very happy. (I've mentioned previously that the two Elder Wilsons are brothers, right?)
So, a few trips to the airport and welcome dinners are in order. As with our last few missionary arrivals, the travel plans we were sent for both of these couples have changed a few times. As a result, Steve and I will pick up the Mickelsens and bring them to the office, then he's off to Newcastle for interviews and mini-training. Fortunately, our couples will help them get acclimated. Have I mentioned recently how wonderful it is to have couples in the mission?

The Christmas boxes are starting to pile up in the office. I'm not sure where we're going to put them all, especially as so many of you have volunteered to be foster families for our African elders. Last year we had an elder who was so frustrated: his birthday was the end of November, but we didn't know which might be his Christmas box, so he had to open both of them at Christmas! Oh, and if any girlfriends happen to be reading this, I'd like to suggest you NOT put put scent and stamps of pink lips on the envelopes of the letters you send your missionary? Kind of distracting... and liable to invite a few giggles (do elders giggle? chortles? guffaws?) from the other missionaries! Not that we've ever had a letter like that arrive here...

I'll finish with something I heard from our school receptionist as two boys stopped for a pass to leave early. They had a flimsy excuse, and she responded, "You're pulling the wool!" I've seen that expression in print, but never heard anyone use it before (and for those to young to know, the full expression is 'trying to "pull the wool" over someone's eyes'). I got curious and looked it up, and "This term alludes to the former custom of wearing a wig, which when slipping down can blind someone temporarily" (c. 1800).
So there you go.

Love you all!
Mom/Grandma/Gogo/Sue/Susan/Sister President Mann

ps We saw Elder Magwa's month-old baby girl today: she is absolutely adorable.