Please pause for 60 seconds on Tuesday to mentally wish our daughter Torry a Happy Birthday. It will be the first of her 29ths.
The mission home minivan has been in the hands of Kia "experts" for a week now, and remains a mystery to all. Last week we were almost strandced at Gateway Mall, when it failed to start. It sounded like a nearly dead battery (but wasn't) and eventually started and got us home. We were able to use it for 2 more trips, each time after several attempts to start it, and then it died entirely - in the driveway, fortunately for us. Elder Johnson had it towed to Kia in Pinetown on Tuesday, while Steve and I borrowed a car from the office elders for our beachside holiday. (They shared the Box with the Assistants.)
When we returned, we were surprised to find it still missing. By Friday we had discovered that the mechanics couldn't figure out what was wrong, so they had mostly just left it sitting all week (!) After a few heated phonecalls, the dealership had the minivan towed to the Kia service department in Umhlanga, and two experts from Johannesburg flew down to work on it.
The second week passed, and by Thursday they had found it was something in the electronics control system. Next step: order parts this Monday, and when the arrive, they'll fix it. Meanwhile, Friday afternoon Elder Johnson called the Avis headquarters to find out about renting a car for us, and was told there were plenty available at the airport. He and Sister Johnson dropped me there, along with Danga and Hunter, on their way home to Amanzimtoti. I waited my turn in the queue, waltzed up to the counter and asked confidently for a TIIDA automatic. "We only have G-class cars available - the government just booked 50 of our cars." (Turns out President Jacob Zuma is coming to town.) So I booked a VW Polo. It works just fine, but we couldn't quite fit three big guys in the backseat, so we had to take two cars to Church.
And just as a heads up: if you ever rent a Polo, don't bother spending 10 minutes looking over the dashboard and through the owner's manual to figure out how to open the gas cap: just explain your dilemma to the petrol station attendant, and he'll smile, say "That's easy," and just pull it open. I didn't know anything worked manually anymore!
We've had a lot of people through the mission home/office this week. With Elder Sessions and Elder Bartholomew going home this month, Elder Johnson and Elder Pier will now be in the mission presidency, so everyone came to the presidency meeting Tuesday, bringing their lovely companions with them. That made our presidency/farewell dinner out pretty big: Butcher Boys gave us the round table for 8 and a long table for 10, and we had a wonderful time. We shnaked Spencer and Lori Sessions for our table and heard lots of good stories about his folks. The Sessions had picked Spencer up from his mission in Australia, so when they came here, he decided it was his turn to pick them up from their mission. It's always fun to add a family dimension to our missionaries.Wednesday saw 14 new missionaries arriving - we had to overflow into a B&B for four of them. We could have had more of them sleep on the floor in the mission office (we do provide mattresses, worried moms) but two showers among 14 elders is a bit tight. The missionaries were divided into two groups for orientation, which meant one group in the office conference room, and one group in the mission home. And Steve was kept very busy interviewing them all!
We had an unusual experience at the airport: when we arrived, there was a huge crowd around the arrival door. Many were holding professionally printed signs with slogans like: UR 2MORO IS NOW, and INSPIRE B4U XPIRE. The group was very enthusiastic, and included some youth dressed up for dancing and singing - beads, decorated skirts (and tops, thanks goodness!), drums... I asked one of the women who they were waiting for, and she responded "Our pastor". OK, that was interesting - he must be very popular with his congregation.
Someone spotted him through the automatic doors, and let out a shout. Then some of the young men slipped in to help with his luggage. Finally, just before our missionaries came out, the crowd started cheering and yelling and singing and here came the "pastor" - Reverend Jim. He was dressed in a black jacket with bright gold designs all over it, and wore sunglasses. We saw all this as he paused for photos, while his congregation was exuberantly welcoming him. He was followed by two tall men who looked an awful lot like bodyguards, to me. There were also some young women in matching outfits who - his backup group? Honestly, it was like watching a rock star arrive. And it was very interesting, to watch him come out, followed almost immediately by our new missionaries. It was quite a contrast - a little like the great and spacious building and the iron rod?
After our very large welcome dinner Wednesday night we had our usual testimony meeting. The new missionaries are all very prepared and impressive - new power elders! Elder Jensen made a great comment - I especially noticed it because in family scripture reading we're reading about Alma's missionary travels, and it made me think of the Zoramites being forced to be humble. Anyway, to make a long story short, he was talking about being impressed by the African elders, and how they talk about being "on mission" instead of "my mission". He felt their expression sounded more like being on the Lord's errand, instead of his own. His comment was "I hope I can learn that quickly, before the Lord pounds it into me!" Well said!
Thursday at transfer meeting we sent the 14 new missionaries out, and brought 8 departing missionaries in. We had several parents who came to pick up their sons - Elder Bertagnolli's dad was secretly wearing his own "Elder Bertagnolli" name tag on his shirt pocket, inside his suitcoat. I loved it. Several of the couples brought 1 suitcase each for themselves, and a duffel bag for us - filled with white shirts, socks, ties, & slacks. The back boarding looks like the ZCMI men's department, and we are already handing out clothing (with love from their fellow Saints)
to our elders, and young men who are preparing for missions. Thankyouthankyouthankyou!
Saturday was another crazy day, with all of us going in different directions. I drove up to Richards Bay (north on the coast) to speak at their district Relief Society Conference. They were nice to ask me, as the other two sister who spoke were wonderful and could have been the whole program. I always have mixed feelings when I go to a district or stake event. On the one hand, it's wonderful for all those who attend. On the other hand, I know there are 2 or 3 or 4 times more members who would love to be there, but can't, mostly because of transport, and I feel bad for them. And most of those meet in libraries and schools that they rent on Sundays, and wouldn't be able to watch the meeting even if every unit had a communication link of some kind. Hmm, maybe we could put a cellphone on speakerphone and set it by the microphone and people could listen at someone's home... Have to be creative in the pioneer Church - If King Benjamin could get the word out to all of his people without a satellite dish, I guess we can.
Steve headed the other way, south coast to Amanzimtoti to watch Morgan play rugby. Fortunately, it's been rainy, so Hunter's outdoor court basketball game was cancelled. This is fortunate because it was to be in Pietermaritzburg, inland north and west. You can only be in so many places at once!
Transportation issues aside, the missionary work is going GREAT! There were 15 baptisms today, just in Dundee - which is not even a branch yet. And it was families! Queensborough is teaching 4 families, and you have to know Queensborough to recognize what a miracle that is.
Plus we have a wonderful situation that is repeating itself all over the mission, kind of a twist on member referrals. A companionship will start teaching a family, and soon the baba will say "My neighbors need to hear this - you need to teach them" and pretty soon they are! Elder Ballard doesn't like the term "nonmember", so we'll call this notyetbaptizedmember missionary work.
We will be having zone conferences this week, so I'll be looking for more miracle stories to share. In the meantime, keep those emails coming to the missionaries - especially those who are emailing our African elders -who absolutely love it, and thank me all the time. We'll need new adopters starting with our Feburary 10 transfer, so please spread the word. And start thinking of Christmas packages: I'd suggest mailing them by November 1st, just to be on the safe side.
ps I have another new expression. I learned it from the manager of the Junior Rugby Association. He was introducing a well-known rugby player, and said "He has the accolades, and the silverware's in the cupboard." I believe that last refers to his trophies and medals. Feel free to use it when appropriate!
pps For those in my extended family who will relate: I made Mom's noodles and meat with the Campbell's Tomato Soup we found in Ballito, and it tasted just like home! (One of the constant challenges here is opening a can of soup, or tomato puree, or just about anything, expecting it to taste familiar, and finding it quite different, as it's seasoned to the local taste.)
ppps Sign painted on the back window of a combi: "If it's too loud, you're too old."