Wednesday, May 27, 2009

2009 05 31 - New branches may start bustin' out all over!

Dear Family & Friends about to begin summer vacation:

We are about to begin exams! And winter! (OK, so winter here is pretty easy - just different plants flowering...)

Last Sunday was pretty exciting! The "experiments" are working out. The first ever sacrament meeting in Dundee took place in a restaurant owned by a member in Newcastle, and there were 45 people there! That's more than came to Pinetown Ward last week. AND 22 OTHER people told the elders that they couldn't come last week, but planned to come this week. This is so amazing! A set of elders will be moving into a boarding in Dundee on Monday, so we are officially starting serious missionary work there.

And in Osizweni where they meet in a less-active member's garage, they had 39 people. They'll have to start looking for a school to meet in. Two new branches would be a huge step towards Newcastle District becoming a stake - they already have Newcastle, Madadeni 1 & 2, Ladysmith and Esikhawini. Very cool! (Or should I say humbling, satisfying, inspiring, encouraging, rewarding...or all of the above?)

It's coming on transfer week - and Steve has already called his new assistant, so I'm not giving anything away: it's Elder Ang'ila from Kenya. He's been a zone leader in Swaziland with Elder Wright the last while. And he's the first African assistant since we got here. This is due mostly to the fact we had WAY a majority of American elders at the start. He'll be power. Elder Schwarting can't wait to get out in the field, and was practicing at McDonald's in Richard's Bay after interviews/mini-training. A nice looking group of people was there, obviously interested in the 9 white shirts/ties/blacknametags, so he went over and said hi and started talking to them. Two of them were the son and fiancee (due to be wife #6) of the King of Zululand. They were very friendly and said to drop in when the elders were in their area. Well! So I doubt he'll have too much of an adjustment as he goes back to contacting...we'll miss him, though! And the totally unfamiliar hymns he chooses for office devotional...

We've had the Durban and Hillcrest stake conferences these last few weeks. They were both wonderful, the only downside being that so many people can't come because of transport. Even in our geographically small stakes at home - do you think we'd have a smaller turnout if no one had a car?

Elder Hesbon Usi, a new Area Authority from Kenya, came to Hillcrest today. Elder Sitati, wfrom Nigeria, used to be one of the Area Authorities, but is now in the 1st Quorum of Seventy. It's very nice for the members in Africa to see priesthood leaders from their own countries becoming general Church leaders. It helps them feel their own value, which not everyone has had the opportunity to feel, in the past political climates. ((How's that for non-confrontational comment?)
The conference theme was unity. President Wilford, always a wonderful speaker, told about going straight into 2 years of mandatory military service, straight from high school. One of the first activities for their platoon was running several kms. The soldiers were promised a prize if they won, so they all took off, and came in fast. But there was one soldier who was out-of-shape and slow, and came in last. President Wilford's platoon was called around the corner for their prize: a pile of logs. Each of them had to carry one and run the distance again.

Next day, same run, this time for a "record". The young, fit guys take off fast again, and finish quickly. Naturally, the same slow guy comes in last. Around the corner, pick up your log, and off you go again.

The third day they figured out that this was a group effort with "no man left behind". So they CARRIED the out-of-shape guy, made it in all together, and no more logs.

So we are all left to figure out whether we want to be the fit guys who carry others, or the out-of-shape guy who needs to be carried (possibly through no fault of his own). Any guesses as to which one we're supposed to be?

Another gigantic rugby week has come and gone, as the season is winding down. Morgan went to the final trials for the KZN team. He didn't make it, but 3 of the Westville boys did, including his good friend and fellow prop, Sthe (Stee). I'm actually relieved: it would have meant 3 more rugby practices every week, possibly in Pietermaritzurg (45 minutes away) where most of the team lives. But it would have been fun to go to George and see all the teams play! (Not that I'd have much hope for us against all those big Afrikaans teams!)

It was Founder's Day Weekend at Westville, with all the old boys coming back, and a giant white tent ("full of beer" explains Morgan) on one of the fields. The competition was from KES (King Edward Seventh School), pronounced KEZ, and we hosted 4 of the U16A players overnight on Friday - along with 4 other friends who are usually here on Friday night. Morgan went into good host overdrive and brought extra mattresses over from the mission office (we keep them in the back boarding) and set up beds, and moved around video games... They all spent the evening a Pavilion Mall (dinner and a movie) so it was pretty easy. We gave them breakfast and dropped them off at school Saturday morning. KES is the third-ranked team South Africa, so when both our U16A and 1st teams ended with tie games, we considered them wins! The 1st team tied it up with a kick at the last minute, so it was very exciting. All the boys (in their uniforms or sports kit) ran on the field and chanted one of their school anthems. Nice end to a long day!

The project to replace the water system throughout Durban is continuing - our street has been full of workmen and ditches and piles of dirt for the last few weeks. Yesterday they must have hit a water main, as I passed a very powerful geyser of water shooting up over the road in the afternoon. And something sprung a leak last night, as well: we woke up to no water, and the intersection at the bottom of our hill looked like a river delta, it had so much deep mud in it! But the water was back by the time we got home from conference, so all is well. We always assume it's the workmen, too, when our power goes out unexpectedly. Because it doesn't happen often (at least in Durban) it's kind of fun!

In a lightning change of subject: We are running short on people to email our new African elders. If you are willing to be a reliable electronic penpal for two years, or know someone else who might be - please let me know! The elders love it, and it gives many of them their only email correspondent. It's also a way of supporting missionary work - without leaving your house!

And thanks to all of you who are already helping -


ps One of the elders (Steve can never remember who, when I ask) had a succinct comment about the need for preparation: "The Spirit can't pull anything out if there's nothing in there!"

pps As I drove up the street yesterday I saw flowers (I thought) on the very thorny bush that tries to scratch my car when I pull in and out of the gate. It looked nice, but when I was tempted to investigate more closely (getting stabbed by thorns in the process, it turned out to be a trick - vines from a nicer bush, twining their way around the dangerous one and making it look attractive. There's got to be a zone conference talk in this somewhere...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Durban Mission "Big Five" as memorialized at Mt. Rushmore (someone does not have enough to do...)

2009 05 24 - Back to Being a Rugby Mom

Hello, everyone!

Today was the annual Comrades Marathon, with competitors running from Pietermaritzburg to Durban - 56 miles! It's in memory of fallen comrades in World War I, and has been run every year (except 1941-1945) since 1921. For more information, check out the Comrades website at

The reason I mention this is because part of it is run on the M13 highway we take to Church in Pinetown, which will therefore be closed most of the day, along with many other roads that members travel. So instead of a 9am to noon block, we had sacrament meeting only, at 4pm: Pinetown Ward's first ever "evening service". The race started at 5:30 am, and when we went to Church the last runners were still in Westville, which is 10k or so from the finish line at the Sahara Stadium in Durban. A lot of people got stuck trying to get to Church and never made it - and we got detoured on the way home. I have to admire runners who are still moving after running/walking continually for 12 hours!

Elders Lemmon, Muhwezi & Anderson were our (excellent) speakers in sacrament meeting. Elder Anderson referenced a talk by President Faust in the April 1996 priesthood session of conference:
"The Lord said, 'He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.' If you will lose yourself in missionary service, you will find indescribable joy."
I really noticed it because last week our missionary couple in Newcastle, Elder & Sister Klingler, had their boarding robbed - for the second time in not very long. Their computer was taken both times, the first time being absolutely horrible because it had all their mission pictures, journals, etc. After this second home invasion, they were ready to move to another boarding, or even just go back home. Then Saturday the Young Women asked them to deliver quilts they had made to the children at an orphanage. They weren't too excited, but did it, and by the time they had given out the quilts and spent time with those children, they felt completely at peace and anxious to continue on with their mission. It was an unexpected miracle - and an example of how sadness can be replaced by "indescribable joy" when you're in the Lord's service.
And yes, that's a HUGE, OBVIOUS hint!!

And now for sports!
There has been a lot of rugby this week. Morgan, having missed Friday and Monday 2 weeks ago for the Parktown Tour, and then taking a day off "just because" (somebody always skips a day of school when we are away!), missed Tuesday last week for another set of Rugby Trials, on the way to choosing the KZN (provincial) U16 team. He will also miss Tuesday this week, as he plays in what I believe is the last set of trials. Ironically, he is being helped out by the fact that the KZN team has to have a quota of black players ... but apparently they don't have to be Zulu, or even South African! For once, his favorite song lyrics are true: "Is it because I'm black?"

We were up in Pietermaritzburg (again!) for the regular school rugby games Saturday. Sadly, Morgan's teams lost (he played for both the A and B sides), but the 1st team won, 3-0. It was Founder's Day Weekend (homecoming) and the game was televised, so that cheered Morgan up now now. By the way, have I ever mentioned how much laundry a rugby game makes? The boys wear full school uniforms to the game, white polos & white shorts for warm-up, striped jerseys for the game, and sometimes their track suits between games.

Hunter, who rejects rugby for basketball, drove up with us, and had to wait in Mpumulanga while Steve did a baptismal interview. I got out of the car and took pictures (see above) because I don't really get into the townships much, and I know you all want to know where the elders are every day. Hunter stayed in the car, because both of the boys think the townships are ghetto and dangerous. That's the trouble with raising kids in a very nice neighborhood... must have made it fun for Logan in Jamaica on his mission!

Elder and Sister Johnson and Elders Terry, Moremong, Swenson, Muthoka, McColgan & Mahloko ran a ward activity in Umlazi W yesterday. The participants moved through the plan of salvation, and if you made it to the Celestial Kingdom you got a brownie. In the Terrestrial Kingdom it was a few pieces of candy, and the Telestial Kingdom was one cheese puff. But everyone got refreshments afterwards. It's a lot of work teaching people how to put together a fun activity for their wards and branches - but it surely pulls them together. It's great to hear the youth, especially, talk about activities, and youth convention, and camp (where they have one) during fast and testimony meetings after the event. There aren't enough activities here for anyone to take them for granted or feel overscheduled.

Happy Memorial Day, by the way! We spent a lot of years putting our ski boat in the water in McCall on Memorial Day weekend - but this is better. Hayley is off yet again, this time to Jackson Hole with Parker for the weekend. I cannot imagine where that girl got her yen for wandering...

Torry and Chris, in the meantime, are taking Eva and Brody to every place of interest within 4 or 5 hours of Amarillo. She remembers our years in California, where we visited state parks, national parks, amusement parks, garlic festivals, pumpkin festivals, beaches, and anything else we could find in the "California tourist book". And now she has her own Texas tourist book! It's nice to see the upcoming generation continuing important family traditions.

Steve and the assistants are in the throes of interviews and mini-training - they're doubling up because of our being gone last week. There were 18 interviews in Newcastle and Ladysmith on Wednesday, plus a few temple recommend interviews. Given this is Steve's first calling where he did much interviewing, he's getting it down pretty good. I guess it's a sign that the elders are very comfortable with him that some of them would talk all day, given the opportunity! It's nice to be in a mission that's small enough that Steve can get around to all the missionaries, and see them twice a month at least. He hardly remembers any interviews with his own mission president in Germany. 98 missionaries is manageable, too - it's got to be so hard for missions like Johannesburg that are so spread out and have 160 or so missionaries!

And if you can be in the middle of two throes at once, we are. We're working on zone conference training that will help the missionaries to better apply the things they learn in Preach My Gospel more directly in their work. Steve wrote up the first draft and worked it over a little with the assistants, then Elder Anderson (our financial secretary/graphic designer) and I got involved about draft C. My job is to "slash and burn" the text and simplify it down. The assistants are cross-referencing with Preach My Gospel, and Elder Anderson is helping with design, for yes, this will undoubtedly end up in yet another booklet. (I actually love all our booklets - they are so much easier to use than a lot of A4 sheets in a binder.)

So, have a great week, and I'll be back next weekend!


ps Just for the record, the McDonald's in Pietermaritzburg is on Burger Street.

pps And I was disappointed to learn this week that the girl at the till point is not called a tiller - she's a cashier, just like at home.

ppps In case it ever comes up, if you're in a shop with a Muslim shop owner, and there is a small carpet on the floor, DON'T STEP ON IT! It could be his prayer rug. (Don't even ask...)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

President & Sister Gaya making new friends...

Just as good as the Disneyland Jungle Cruise! And just as real looking...

Hippos with personality...

Chobe does great elephants...

2009 05 16 - Interim Mission Presidents' Seminar

Dear Everyone:
First, I owe a big apology to Elder Pier, the true originator of the "Two-Mite Day". We have so many good teachers among our senior couples, that I can't always keep track of where the great ideas come from! This particular great idea started out in a district meeting up in Richard's Bay, and ended up in zone conference. Elder Pier told the story of the widow, reminding us that she actually had two mites. It was all she had, and she would have been making a huge sacrifice if she had given one: half of all she had. But she gave both... and serving that way makes it a two-mite day.
Since I updated the blog I have visited two new countries: Zambia and Botswana. The Area Presidency meets with all the mission presidents twice a year for training. The interim meeting includes a day of "relaxation". This is because mission presidents absolutely, categorically, autocratically, cantankerously, stubbornly, and sometimes just plain ornery-ly refuse to take a break unless forced to. We were even told in the MTC that the transfer cycle had been increased from 5 weeks to 6 so mission presidents would have a week to take it a little easier. Hah! Like THAT'S going to happen! Even at the seminar Steve spent a morning typing up notes - and enjoyed it!
Anyway, the training meetings were terrific - The area presidency talked about the 2009 goals for the area, and how things are going (pretty good!). Then each mission president shared things that were working well in their missions - if you guessed that President Mann talked about member missionary work, you're right. I only to hear a few of the mission presidents, as the second day the "wives" split off into our own session, which was way more fun, emotional, uplifting, and creative than the men's session. The Heaps and the Wells did presentations on health and mental wellness in both sessions, and they liked ours WAY better!
I felt just like the elders do at zone conference, when they meet up with the other elders they came out with, as I re-connected with " the class of 2007". Sadly, the DRC is a two-year call, so the Livingstones, who came out with us, will be heading home this July, as will the Packards (Mozambique) whom Steve had worked with previously in their humanitarian efforts, the Gayas (Madagascar) whom we plan to visit in a few years in New Caledonia - which I'd never seriously heard of before - the Besters (Zimbabwe) who live in Johannesburg, and we'll hopefully see occasionally, and President and Sister Parmley, who have been here 5 whole years and known around 30 different mission presidents/wives. This all makes it seem the time is passing even more quickly than before. We're very glad not to be finishing this year (except for missing the family, of course).
The relaxation day included a river cruise and safari in Chobe, a park in Botswana. To get there you go through customs, then take a powerboat across the confluence of the Chobe & Zambezi rivers, where Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe all come together. Hop in a boat and go wherever you want! There were dozens of semi-trucks lined up waiting to drive onto the big barge to cross over - one truck per trip. The local people seemed to be riding over that way, too. Tourists are in too much of a hurry, I guess.
The last day was a testimony meeting, and you can rest assured that the Africa Southeast Area is in good hands - this is an awesome group of mission presidents and leaders. Their biggest problem is figuring out what they can do when they finish and go home, that will feel the least bit as important as what they're doing now. Oh, and where they'll live, in the cases of those who sold or rented their homes - or can't get their children out of them!
One of the wives asked whom we had left in charge of the mission, and I had to think seriously for a minute: I left Sister Sessions all the medical information, in case of illness or injuries, but the elders, district leaders and zone leaders pretty much "govern themselves", and the couples are strategically located and deal beautifully with emergencies. So no worries! Some of the other missions had to delegate more, as it was their transfer week and new missionaries were coming in. Good thing mission presidents have assistants and office staff! We were in the middle of the transfer cycle, so our new elders were arriving at the MTC. In fact, one called Steve's cellphone early Wednesday morning, to find out what time he should go to the airport to catch his plane to Johannesburg! At first Steve couldn't figure out who Elder Mholo was, or what any of our elders were doing flying somewhere. He finally asked the elder where he was calling from, and it all came clear. We still don't know how he got the cellphone number...but it's nice to know that even before they arrive, our elders feel comfortable asking their mission president for advice!
Within an hour of getting back I was driving Hunter to a braii and picking Morgan up from a party. Life certainly goes on... And today it was 3 trips downtown to George Campbell Technical College for rugby (we won), back again to the stadium for the Sharks/Blue Bulls rugby game (they lost) and then back again to pick everyone up. Good thing we relaxed so hard at the seminar!
Thank you yet again to those who have adopted our African missionaries and are emailing them every week - you can't imagine how excited and happy and supported that makes them feel. If you know anyone who would like the blessings of this kind of service, please ask them to email me at : we have new arrivals every 6 weeks!

ps A few new South Africanisms: I sometimes dig out material for a talk...Sister Bester "scratches" it out...and is "over the moon" if she finds it. And if I go to a store and they're out of what I want, I can ask at the "till point" and they will "source it" for me.

pps There were vervet monkeys at the lodge, and a few of them liked to make a mad dash into the patio restaurant and steal food off the plates - while we were sitting there eating!

Victoria Falls Railway Bridge - Torry & Hayley bungy jumped off of it back in 2000. Very long drop...

Victoria Falls - Eastern Cataract in Zambia

Rainbow over Victoria Falls

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

2009 05 10 - Stake Conference, Gogos and Grannies

Dear Everyone:

We had a terrific Durban stake conference at Durban City Hall last Sunday. Umlazi, Durban North, and Bluff Zones are all in the stake, so we had a strong missionary presence. Steve and I spoke (which I think is the drill for most mission presidents at stake conferences).

President Bricknell has a very clean, concise, way of teaching, and uses great quotes. Here are some of his comments:
We always lead by example, whether it's good or bad.
Our Church is Priesthood-driven, family orientated, and Christ-centered. (Elder Young)
What you are doing is not a sacrifice - it's a consecrated offering. (Elder Bednar to couple missionaries)
There are two levels of discipleship: testimony (know and declare) and conversion (do and become). (Elder Bednar)
We must be more than convinced that Jesus Christ is the Savior, we must be converted.
I also learned an object lesson at conference was that we can be noticed even in a crowd: There were probably close to 500 people there, and I was up front on the stage, and when the hymns were sung, I immediately knew that Elder Nare was there - I could hear him! I guess that's the light on a hill concept come to life.

Mother's Day is a good time for paying tribute to the wonderful gogos and grannies here in the mission. There are so many of them! Some are raising grandchildren and nieces and nephews and whoever else has been left alone. Gogo Gumede is credited with single-handedly bringing in most of the members in Umlazi: she is tireless and fearless about sharing the gospel. Sister Kathie in Pinetown is the official "missionary mender". She is not only willing to repair their clothes - but reminds us often that she "still sews". Grandma Wilford has fed hundreds of missionaries over the years, and has elders living her in "granny flat" out back right now.

Sister Vilakazi in Madadeni deserves special recognition. She passed away recently, and there were 400 people at her funeral. This is what her daughter Charity had to say about her.
She was baptized in 1991, and her service over the last 18 years included (among other things) teaching seminary for 4 years & institute for 2 years. She was also a very effective Relief Society president, good at giving the sisters direction in doing what needed to be done.
About 6 months ago she gave a talk in sacrament meeting. The microphone wasn't working, but she could project her voice, so everyone could hear - this is especially notable because people here are very soft-spoken, and you can't always hear a speaker WITH a microphone! She had memorized her whole talk, including the scriptures and references.
And by the way, Sister Vilakazi was paralyzed for 20 years - even before she was baptized. She couldn't use her body at all - just her voice. Before the Church got her a wheelchair, they used to carry her into Church, and lay her on a mattress, then carry her to Sunday School, then back to the chapel. And just a few weeks before her death, she bore her testimony in fast meeting. She taught everyone around here that everything is possible if you have faith.
So Happy Mother's Day, wonderful grandmothers! (Including Grandma Mann in Parma, who has great stories as well!)

Steve got an email from Elder Thompson this week - he finished his mission in November, went home for about a month, then went back to the Marine Corp, and after training at Camp Pendleton is now in stationed in Ramamdi, Iraq. We are so proud of him - I'm going to share a little of the email, and hope he won't mind. (He's used to the way we use good examples we can find as teaching tools in the mission - Steve's been sharing this with the elders in mini-training this cycle.)
" is definitely a different place here, and nothing like my mission, but at the same time it is, because everywhere I go I always see a good chance or opportunity to do missionary work. A lot of the time I find myelf teaching my fellow marines about the gospel, and especially about the plan of salvation, and it is helping them so much. There are a lot of temptations out here, but I know because of my mission and what I've learned ... they aren't temptations anymore. My mission made me stronger than ever, and I was scared that I would lose that over time, but I haven't. The Lord is still with me the same, just like when I was on my mission, and he is keeping me strong. Everybody thinks I'm the weirdes kid because I don't do anything they think is normal, and even some returned missionaries are starting to falter, and I'm doing my best to help, but it is still their choice at the end of the day. But I'm still doing great, I'm staying way positive and it is giving me true happiness. Being powerfully positive is seriously one of the greatest things that I learned on my mission and I have used it everyday, and it has helped me motivate myself to do better and help others. (From) LCPL Payden Thompson, always Elder Thompson."
I corrected the spelling, but I wouldn't want to change one single other thing. Can you see why we love all our missionaries so much?

Just to finish with a few "missionary-isms":
There is a new member who is from Nigeria, who is doing wonderful member missionary work: the elders call her the "Nifty Nigerian Fellowshipping Friend".
"Make it a two-mite day." (Elder Pier)
"The gospel is so true it's ridiculous!" (Elder Schwarting, picked up from Elder Crowther)

And on that note, Happy Mother's Day to everyone!

ps My amazing children found a way to have flowers delivered to me here for Mother's Day. It's way fun being a mom!

pps In another case of elders maintaining their missionary awareness: Elder Hiatt finished his mission this last cycle, and his parents came to pick him up and tour a little. They were in Richard's Bay and he found himself driving behind a mission car he recognized, only it wasn't missionaries who were driving it. He thought perhaps it was another carjacking, so he followed it as he called in to Elder Sessions. It turned out, yes, to be one of our cars, but it it had recently been sold and replaced by a new car. If only the police were as capable as our missionaries!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

2009 05 03 - Zone Conferences just keep getting better...

Dear Everyone:

We've just completed our zone conference cycle, and I wish you could all have been here. The topic continued with Being a Consecrated Missionary part II (and in the words of Elder Schwarting): This Time It's Personal... The ladysmithWilsons had helped us out with a photo/caption presentation on President Monson, so we started with becoming more familiar with our "consecrated prophet". Then Elder & Sister Sessions put taking care of cars and boardings into context as stewardships from the Lord, and it was impressive. The second section was talks by elders in the zones, concerning consecration, what the Book of Mormon means to them, working with member missionaries, and miracle stories. As our missionaries express it: It was power!

I learned a new term from Elder Zeeman's talk: consecration points. He went through his companionships and shared what he had learned from each companion about consecration. Elder Moreno's "consecration points" were being fearless, and having charity; Elder Hart has a love of the commandments; Elder Rothenberger is always positive, and strives to be a master teacher; and Elder Tandberg's consecration point is putting away pride: winning souls, not arguments. It was a great way to teach a lesson and give credit to some fine elders, all at the same time.

A different group of elders spoke in each zone, and they were all inspiring - and very different from each other. Elder Kono was extremely articulate - he began by quoting Winston Churchill; Elder Otieno told stories about working with Elders Potter, Hamilton, Hansen. On one occasion the elders went to make arrangements to teach at a school, and had to wait in the headmaster's office while he tried to deal with a girl who was having some kind of a fit or emotional "event". She was kicking, and screaming and yelling, and no one could do anything with her. Her parents were out of reach in another town, they were afraid to try to transport her in a car while she was so violent. So the headmaster asked the elders to do something - like pray - and they did, and she calmed down. They later went back to the school and taught 1000 students about Strength of Youth.

Elder Sprague is experienced in construction, so he spearheads a lot of service that involves tiling floors, and roofs, etc. The people receiving the service don't always choose to learn about the gospel - but some of their neighbors do! And I have to mention Elder Richey: he was so-o-o excited to have the opportunity to speak at zone conference -these elders just love to teach!

It's always interesting organizing lunch for 40 to 50 missionaries. There are a few pizza restaurants around the mission who are very fond of missionaries, as they get a call every 6 weeks for 25 or 30 pizzas! We start at 9am, and by around 10 my talk is usually over, so I go out and call the lucky pizza franchise (Roman's for choice, Scooter's & Debonair in places where Roman's is not available). First I have to count up the number of conference attendees; multiply by 5 or 6 slices per missionary (depending on the kind of pizza - Roman's is particularly substantial); divide by 8 slices in a large pizza, to get my number of pizzas. Roman's sells their pizzas 2 to a double-sized box, so I have to be sure to order an even number in Newcastle and Hillcrest. I usually ask for a 12:15 delivery, but I'm not sure I've ever had one: 12, 12:30, even 1:00 are pretty common. From around noon on I'm hovering around watching for the deliveryman, so I can open the gate to the Church.

Prior to the start of the conference the elders set up tables and chairs: 6 to a table, plus 2 serving tables - except of course in Hillcrest, where the tables are set up after the meeting in the back of the "chapel", and there are only 4 long tables, so a few people eat on their laps. And in Swazi, when we have a conference there, because with only 8 or 10 elders we sometimes just go to Spar or the Great Taipei (shhhhh....). I haul a big bag full of tablecloths with me, as well 3 plastic pitchers, paper plates, cups, napkins and black trash bags. Also a giant bowl for apples, and something for dessert. Here the couplesisters are very helpful, as they are always willing to bring brownies or whatever. (In Newcastle, when there were 3 couples, we even had home-made crockpot Sloppy Joes several times, instead of pizza. Those were really nice lunches...)

It's always essential to tell the elders EXACTLY how many slices of pizza they each get, otherwise the last in line get zero. It's every elder for himself when it comes to food. And it seems like the skinniest elders eat the most! I wish I could package their fast metabolisms - I could make a fortune! As they go through the line, the sisters help me whisk away the empty boxes and open up the new ones (which we are now bringing back to the office to recycle: the South Africa Durban Mission has gone green). We also tend to whisk off the tablecloths as soon as the elders finish eating, to give them the hint that it's time to head back out to their areas. I'm working on the trick where you pull the tablecloth out without disturbing the dishes, but it's hard with paper plates... And then it's pack everything up for the next day, buy more apples/plates/cups or whatever has run out, and start over again.

The other item that always needs organizing when we have do the zone conference loop is transportation for Hunter and Morgan while we're gone overnight to Newcastle. They have 6am seminary (elders don't even get up until 6:30!), and need to get from there to school, and home from school, or rugby, and to youth or whatever is going on that day, and back again... Elder & Sister Sessions are a lot of help, but they came to all the zone conferences this time, so the office elders pitched up. Unfortunately, Elder Lemmon is still in a leg brace, so 5 don't fit very well in a mission car (we have an office threesome just now) so it takes a little trickiness to make it all happen.

And speaking of Hunter and Morgan, we had a braii Friday night - 12 officially invited. (I always get a basic number, for food and drink purposes. The latecomers just don't get any!) We ended up with 25 or 30, of course, as the kids get on mix-it (cellphone chat) and the word spreads. Some older boys tried to crash, and were smoking out front, outside the fence. (Time to put up Word of Wisdom posters and hand out Strength of Youth pamphlets.) The boys, and their "regulars" are very good about evicting anyone who acts inappropriately. By the way, there are lots of cute girls in South Africa! And even boys at an all-boy high school seem to have no trouble finding them!

Speaking of "regulars": Jubz got mugged Friday walking to his apartment complex. Three guys with a knife jumped him and took his money & cellphone (the one he was borrowing from us - does that mean that technically WE got mugged, too?). They were going to take his flat, technical drawing bag, thinking it had a laptop in it, but he was able to talk them out of it. This incident, of course, lends additional weight to the "Mom, can you give Jubz/Sthe/Langa/Nellie/Wetu/Ana/Jono/David/Peter/Keighan/Danga/... a ride home?"

Saturday was my usual transport service: Group Morgan to and from Pinetown and to the Sharks rugby game in Durban; Group Hunter to and from Gateway Mall, in Umhlanga, and to Kloof; Group M back from the Sharks game. Plus grocery, Pavilion Mall & petrol runs. Meanwhile Steve was doing interviews, unusual for a Saturday, so he will have the week of the 11th free to go to the Mission Presidents' Seminar in Zambia.

Hunter is back in the swing of basketball, and putting a smile on the coach's face. Unfortunately, it's offseason, so these are just sports period games, but he's enjoying the attention. Morgan gets lots for rugby, as you can imagine, so there's a little sibling rivalry in the house. Who would purposely choose to have two boys exactly the same age, anyway???
This week coming up is interviews and skill training - assuming Elders Vance and Schwarting can get over their colds. Hunter is convinced it's Swine Flu ("Do I have it? Will I get it? How do you know?") but I told him that in South Africa it would be Wart Hog Flu, and they haven't identified any cases of that, yet. Unfortunately, they have found one case of Swine Flu, so Hunter is keeping his eye on the reports. (For those who don't know him, Hunter is convinced he is going to catch everything that's going - even though he hasn't ever caught anything!)
Well, that's it for now. Enjoy the first week of May - I hear the weather is not exactly idyllic back home: it's lovely here!


ps on the serious side, President Bricknell of the Durban Stake has a great description of the atonement "deal": We give everything we have, for everything He has.
Pretty good deal.