Dear Family & Friends:
We've just spent 4 days outside our mission - don't tell the President!
We have a pretty intense training seminar in Johannesburg each October, with visitors from Salt Lake. This year we had Elder Neil L. Andersen, Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, and Bishop Keith B. McMullin. In addition, the four Area Seventies were there, the Area Presidency, including Elder Dale G. Renlund, our new counselor. Add all the mission presidents and their wives, and it was pretty high powered! I really like meeting and learning from the priesthood leaders, but my favorite part is renewing and making new friendships with "the wives". With the couplesisters in our mission, and the wives of the mission presidents and area presidency, I am surrounded by wonderfulness!
I'll share a few of the good comments - they are all really close to the originals, but could be slightly off as I was writing as quickly as I could.
Elder Andersen: "When you move away from your conscience, move to your knees, and the spirit of repentance will help you back to the right road." He continued with a scripture chain that traveled through dull conscience to refined conscience, and where each of those can lead us. We were filling in some blanks in Alma 29:5, such as good or _____, life or _____, joy or____? It's "remorse of conscience". Thought-provoking. My other favorite scripture was 1 Timothy 4:2 where it talks about having your "conscience seared with a hot iron". Been there, done that.
Elder Hallstrom: "True unity is not horizontal - it must include God."
Bishop McMullin: "The keys to success in life are undivided belief in God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the power of prayer."
President Cannon, Johannesburg MTC, in speaking of a missionary's purpose: "...helping them receive the gospel" is different than just teaching the gospel."
President Christensen compared spiritual growth to looking through a microscope. Each new spiritual experience is like turning the lens to a higher magnification as testimony is refined and vision becomes clearer.
I didn't take notes on the testimonies shared by the mission presidents' wives, as I was too involved in their stories. One of the real benefits of this seminar is spending time with sisters who are all in very similar situations. The missions vary a lot, but most of the issues and concerns are the same, and we learn from each other. I have heard that it's very hard for returning senior missionaries (and I include mission presidents & wives) to find people to talk to who can relate to their experiences. Very lonely! Of course, our friends will all relate really well after they serve their own missions... I guess in the meantime we'll just have to have a lot of missionary reunions.
There was a big emphasis on teaching the elders honesty - I don't know where that is coming from, as we feel our elders do well in that area. Elder Andersen (whom we all sustained as a prophet a few weeks ago) also re-emphasized that missionaries should only use their missionary email address, at myldsmail.net, and email only their familes, as instructed in the white handbook. Apparently this is a tougher issue than in the past, as our elders have all grown up very high tech, using text messaging, Facebook, online chatting, and twitter, among other things, to communicate.
He talked about the way missionaries voluntarily cut themselves off from the world: dating, working, movies, etc. "They're not inherently bad, they're just not what we're doing." He suggested that focusing on just emailing family, and not everyone else, is a form of self discipline that will help the missionaries prepare for more difficult tasks: such as focusing on their future wives only, and eliminating everyone else from their field of vision.
Some of the missionaries have been using their home email addresses, because they found myldsmail too slow, and it was cutting them off before they were finished. Apparently myldsmail is designed to cut off after 30 minutes, and that's not enough time to download photos. Our elders have been telling me the ways they have learned to cope with the situation:
1. Their moms forward their emails to all the zillions of relatives and friends who are anxious to hear about the elder's missionary experiences.
2. Elders have 2 memory cards for their cameras so they can fill one, and send it home for downloading onto the home computer, while they use the 2nd one. The family sends the emptied memory card back, and he just keeps switching from one to the other.
3. Moms print out the mission blogspot and mail it to their sons - which means the elders get LETTERS!
4. Elders write letters (imagine!) and mail them to friends at home or on missions. And the friends write back! (More letters!)
These are just a few of the ways missionaries keep in touch with everyone, while receiving the blessings of obedience (and letters!). Please help them keep it up - it's definitely a great way to support their efforts. And at our end, we will remind and remind elders that they need to email home every Monday! and to call the mission office if for some reason they can't, so we can send an email to their families that all is well.
And for all of you supportive, obedient, friends and families, our mailing address is South Africa Durban Mission, P.O. Box 1741, Wandsbeck 3631, South Africa.
Neli's baptism went very well on Sunday, while we were gone. The Assistants drove the boys and some of their notyetmember friends to Kloof, where they attended Church and the baptism. Apparently there is a very good Young Men's leader there who taught both Sunday School and priesthood, so that was a good experience. Hunter was a witness for the baptiesm, and gave a talk, and Elder Crowther said Neli bore a very strong testimony. She will need it, as she is the only member in her family, and her parents didn't even come to the baptism. I hope the ward will stay involved fellowshipping her.
Exams start next week, and there is a lot of panic in the air. Suddenly boys are studying! I'm helping where I can, with quizzing and whatever I remember from high school math and science. Always willing to do service, the Assistants/office elders kindly agreed, on their preparation day (Saturday) to run a maths class in the mission office. I provided food, and they tutored Hunter, Morgan, and some of their friends. Another side benefit of a mission call that I hadn't anticipated! Why didn't I think of this terms ago??
Steve is doing a series of one hour mini zone conferences, to share with the elders what he learned at the seminar. Nothing is as good at secondhand, but in the zone setting the training can be applied to our specific circumstances, so it will be very valuable. If nothing else, the Durban missionaries go home very familiar with training sessions, and the question: "How do we use this to help our investigators?"
Our indispensable house & office cleaner Gertrude brought a PEF form in for her daughter Kanye on Thursday, and I noticed it had Gertrude's Zulu name on it. I asked her which name she would prefer we use, and she immediately responded, the Zulu name. So now we are all practicing saying "Ntombenhle".
We gave Kanye a ride home at 9:30pm on Thursday and Friday nights from a career workshop held at the Pinetown chapel, as taxis don't run that late. She lives in a township called Chesterfield, on the other side of the Pavilion Mall. I had seen it from the mall, which is on a hill (of course it's on a hill: this is Durban!) and it looked OK from there. Maybe I was looking at the more well-to-do area, because "Ntombenhle's" neighborhood is definitely not. The office elders reminded me that the missionaries spend all their time working in areas like that, full of shacks and government housing, but I don't see it much. The most surprising thing was the number of people (almost all men) on the streets at 10 o'clock. The elders informed me that almost everyone out that late is looking for trouble. Oh good. Fortunately I had three tough bodyguards in the Kia - we were on the way home from Youth. (And yes, we do have the van back - it needed the equivalent of a new motherboard.)
Just one more comment on Ntombenhle's humble home. It is often full to overflowing because of her generosity to others in need - even non-relatives. How many big, fancy houses can make the same claim?
By the way, exciting news: I am a great-aunt once again, as Heather Brooks Torres presented the world with Jack Torres on Grandpa Mann's birthday, October 21st. Grandpa Great offered his kids $1000 if any of the grandchildren were ever born on his birthday - I don't know if that still holds for great-grandchildren! Congratulations to Heather & Jason!
ps I had a very downhomeandpersonalandprobablysilly simile for Centers of Strength and the importance of gathering on Saturday. Unbknownst to me, one of the boys turned down the temperature in the refrigerator. I opened a carton of 18 eggs to make breakfast for our Friday-night-sleepover crowd, and took one from the outside row. I cracked it on the side of the bowl - only it didn't crack. It was frozen solid. 2nd egg on the outside row? Also frozen.Third egg? The same. Turned out that the six eggs on the extreme ends of the carton were all frozen solid. The eggs that were "gathered" together in the center of the carton were all just fine. (OK, so I'm not in the parable class yet, but it's fun to liken things to ourselves!)