It felt both familiar and strange to be back at Timbali Lodge for our Couples Seminar. Last year we were there on Valentine's Day, and it was very intense: that was when the couples created our simplified training for new priesthood and auxiliary leaders. This time we didn't even bring all the laptops! Some of the couples arrived Wednesday evening, and our SwaziWilsons made arrangements for dinner that night, but the game drive on Thursday morning got rained out. They had to shop instead. Shame!
We started Thursday afternoon, with announcements and then a wonderful talk on the atonement by Elder LadysmithWilson. Several of the couples shared reflections on their missions during the two days: greatest fears, greatest joys, advice they would give, etc. Each one shared something very different, although the underlying theme was the great love they have developed for the people here. It's amazing that missionaries serving in the same mission can have such varied experiences. Although I suppose it would be more amazing if all these unique elders and sisters had the same experience!
Before dinner at the Boma Restaurant at the Lodge we all spread out our "wares" in the lounge and had a Relief Society bazaar. I had bags and purses made by a pensioner in Durban; Sister SwaziWilson had the latest version of the Swazi Dirt aprons, Sister Barthomew & Sister Hafen had stone carvings by a Zimbabwean in Richards Bay (I'm getting a stone nativity set - surprised?) and the LadysmithWilsons had computer examples of handmade frames with pictures and carvings, made by another Zimbabwean in Ladysmith. It was pretty fun! Then the 28 of us sat at two long tables for dinner and bonding. Both were very successful.
Friday Sister Markum gave a great talk on service - I was especially impressed by the stories she told about a friend in Laramie, Wyoming. He is constantly involved in all kinds of service, from shovelling snow for all the widows in the neighborhood, to helping with the haying for older couples, to restoring buildings in a historic park, to whatever. And then he was envious that the Markums could serve a mission!
Elder & Sister Griffith were next. They are a couple based in Johannesburg, who are moving forward the gospel literacy program, "Ye Shall Have My Word." Their presentation was like being in a literacy class, and they gave us lots of practical ways to use the program both to help members in their scripture reading, and talks, and to reach out to non-members. It was excellent. One of the mission objectives this year is to reach out more to the community with Church programs, so literacy will definitely be one of the first.
Part of the afternoon was free time, for shopping, and the Swazi cultural village, and shopping, and visiting, and shopping... but Steve took me to the airport so I could fly back to Durban to run things at home over the weekend. Last year I flew from Matsapha to Durban on Swazi Express, and it was an hour flight on a 20-passenger plane, and no problem. Sadly, Swazi Express has gone under, and the only choice was the South Africa Airways Airlink. So, first I flew to Johannesburg, where I had a 2-hour layover. Then I flew to Durban, where I had another 2-hour layover! The assistants had parked my car at the airport for me, before heading up to Stanger for an exchange with Elders Bertagnolli & Emaneke. I called when I got to Jo'burg, and got directions I thought I understood, to find it. However, I clearly had NOT understood correctly, so I wandered up and down the parking lots looking for it, until one of the car guards got worried about me and started helping. I tried calling the assistants, but they had, appropriately, turned off the phone during their teaching visits. Eventually they got back to the boarding and called me, and I found the car in the one corner I had not searched twice. It was kind of like one of those movies where they show a wonderful scene (the couples in Swaziland having their closing testimony meeting) and then flash to a less-wonderful scene (Sister Mann pulling her bag up and down the parking lot in the dark) and back to the couples, and back to the airport...well, you've seen the movie too, right? I figure that in the time it took to get home by air, I could have driven, stopped for lunch, and gone on the hippo/croc boat tour. Live and learn. I don't mind so much the delays, I just wish I could have been at the testimony meeting with all our wonderful couples.
When the couples get together we always share lots of stories (of course). Steve was telling about two of our African missionaries who arrived recently. One was wearing a very worn-out pair of shoes, and when Steve asked about them, he explained that he had to sell his good ones to get taxi-fare to the airport to fly to Johannesburg for the MTC. The other elder told about having done everything he could to come up with the money to get from his town to the airport, and just not being able to do it. He prayed hard about it, and just before he really needed to leave, an old friend came by. They hadn't seen each other for a long time, but the friend had heard about his mission call, and wanted to give him something. Not knowing what he might need, he gave him money - enough to get out into the mission field. Some of the elders arrive at the MTC with the clothes on their back - and their scriptures.
A few days before the seminar, Steve went out working with Elder Kuamoo and Elder Swenson in Umlazi, and had a great time. He used "The Circles" with a less-active sister, and it worked really well. You start with the individual in the center, then ask about their family, and draw a circle around them, with all the family on it. Then you continue with close friends, acquaintances, co-workers, neighbors, people at the store or on the taxis, etc. This young woman included her teachers, and it turns out she is well-acquainted with her former headmaster. She took a "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet to show him, so she can ask about bringing in the missionaries to do a presentation on it for the students. It gets even better when one of the people on one of the "circles" gets interested in the Church, and you start making their circles. We used this at zone conference to show the elders that the Neighborhood Walkabout doesn't ever end: you just keep adding circles.
Elder Syphrett got out of the office on an exchange with Elder Goldsmith, and visited a member in Umlazi who was on Mixit. (Mixit is an internet chat feature on the cellphones here.) The elders encouraged the member to invite the friend on Mixit to come to Church the next day, and to read the Book of Mormon, and he did. Neighborhood Walkabout via Mixit - another good use of the internet in sharing the gospel!
On the home front, homework is starting to pile up in all the boys' classes. Afrikaans is the hardest for them, and for practically everyone else. It's very interesting the way it works. Students are allowed to fail one class each year, with no consequences (and drop the mark, I suppose). This is probably because when they take the matric exams, they don't take an exam for every class; they choose. The nearest example I can give you is Hogwarts, although the exams are not called OWLs... Anyway, if you don't do the homework in a class, you can get detention. If you whip through the homework putting random answers, even if they're all wrong, you don't get detention, because you did the homework.
So-o-o, I am going to petition whoever it is that can make the decision, and ask if the boys can skip Afrikaans and go to the library and work on other lessons during that class period. The last two years they wouldn't let them skip it, but it may be becasue they were in one classroom all day and the teachers rotated, so it would have been very obvious. It would also have created a difficult precedence, as the majority of the students don't want to take Afrikaans, and would protest (well, Americans would protest, we've had lots of experience). I'm hoping the arguments about them not doing matric here, and having correspondence courses as well as local courses, will carry some weight. If not, Hunter and Morgan will be turning in a lot of homework with random answers!
Morgan asked me to order the new DVD about President Hinckley - he and Hunter watched it with Sthembiso. It's very good - all new wives/moms should watch it. Older wives/moms who have already raised their kids ought to avoid it... unless they are really really happy about their parenting. (Did I mention I'm getting depressed?)
Lastly, Langa (known as Langabobo) has been elected class representative. There are only 2 or 3 black reps on the council. His campaign slogan was "Elect Barack Obobo!", and yes, Morgan was his campaign manager. Although they don't really campaign, I think the boys just throw out names and the class votes: no posters, no speeches, no elections assembly.
Have a wonderful week - and Happy Valentine's Day!
Mom\Grandma\Susan\Sue\Sister President Mann
ps The Swaziland District Conference went great this week. And attendance was up again! There have been 3 conferences since the district was formed: 220, 280, 330 (ish). And this is without all the people who would have liked to come, but were unable to get transport.