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 lds.org, 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.