Saturday, December 19, 2009

A few missionary Christmas trees...sometimes you have to be creative!

And just in time for Christmas, Mr. and Mrs. Elder Fowler!

This is alongside the road into Pavilion Mall - a really efficient tsunami could turn it into a great desert island!

To a mystery fan, this looked an awful lot like a load of bodies being taken out to be dumped!

These aren't actually space ships taking off, just the roof parking at Pavilion Mall while waiting for the Hunter and his friends

These are some of the Young Women from Beaverton Oregon, making the t-shirt dresses for the girls at 1000 Hills Community Helpers

2009 12 20 - Logan and Sara are arriving tonight!

Happy Holidays, My Darlings! (That's South Africa talk.)

It almost seems Christmasy here every so often: like in Hillcrest today having brunch at Mugg & Bean. It was very foggy, and there were Christmas decorations hanging on the building, so it looked kind of wintry - if you didn't look at the extremely green leafy trees. I've put out lots of nativity scenes, and decorated the tree - again, only this time with Christmas ornaments instead of pictures of missionaries. Morgan made sugar cookies, and I bought 2 traditional Christmas cakes at Woolworth's (with some encouragement from the cashier: they're having a competition selling them).

Monday was like a whole transfer week rolled into one. First the internet was down in the office, and when that finally got going, the elders couldn't get into any of the Church system to work on things. The assistants usually do stats on Monday mornings, and they were going so crazy they asked for a job and I suggested strongly that they clean their office upstairs - and they did! We had (very minor) runs to the hospital, a (minor) car accident, and a number of other small but annoying and time-consuming incidents. It even went into the night! At 10:30 Elder Johnson got a call about a car in Empangeni that wouldn't start and had to be left at a member's all night while the elders were rescued by another set of elders - all of whom should have been home in bed. Lastly, at midnight Steve and I heard several minutes of loud, eerie wailing outside, and then a most tremendous catfight. I was worried that it was "our" cat, but he showed up as usual the next morning, looking unscathed.

Tuesday started the same way, with a car coming in to the office for a new headlight getting rear-ended on the way, but later things picked up. The best news was the computer system being straightened out so everyone could get back to work. The worst news was that the boys are now on holiday and home all day - except when I'm running them to the mall, or a braii, or a party, or picking up friends or taking friends home... Actually it's fun, but I'm trying to get them through a correspondence course, and it's a bit of a battle. Progress is being made, however! Hunter and Morgan are currently writing research papers on terrorism and racism, respectively. Are they cheerful, optimistic boys, or what?

We had a lovely story out of Esikhawini this week. The young new branch president has been waiting for his wife to deliver their 2nd baby. She had a caesarean the first time, and really didn't want to have another one. They waited and waited, and things were just not happening. She was in the hospital, and the doctor said there was something wrong, and they really needed to do the c-section. They asked for a moment alone, and said a prayer, and then the doctor came back. He checked again, and said "You must have a lot of faith. Everything is fine!" The sister had the baby naturally and everything is fine.

Khulekani Mchunu is a young man in Enselini Branch who has wanted to go on a mission (he's 21) but his grandmother would not agree, so he couldn't go. Elder Pier went to see her, taking the branch president along with him (fortunately, as she didn't speak much English). She didn't want him to go because he is the only able-bodied man around to help her with the younger children, and a disabled man who also lives with them. Elder Pier left feeling pretty discouraged about it.

The next day Khulekani was very anxious to talk to Elder Pier, but there wasn't time, so he cornered him on Sunday after sacrament meeting. He asked what he needed to do to go on a mission. His granny had received a phone call from his oldest uncle in Johannesburg, not a member of the Church who felt the Spirit had urged him to call and talk to her. She told him about the conversation with Elder Pier and President Vilane, and he said that he thought Khulekani should "go teach the gospel". So now he has permission, and all he needs to do is complete his papers - and cut of his very impressive dreadlocks. He plans to do that soon, anyway, so he can start looking and feeling like a missionary.

We'd like to recommend the movie Invictus to anyone who would like to get a little flavor of South Africa. You have to remember that it is recreating Johannesburg/Soweto of immediately after the end of Apartheid. The neighborhoods you will see still exist in many areas, but there has been a great deal of improvement, and most of the townships our elders work in are made up of brick homes, and look much better. But it is very authentic and will make you appreciate a whole different culture and way of life. Nelson Mandela is really amazing. Thank goodness for South Africa that he "came forth" at the time he did!

Morgan and I had an exciting experience on Friday - we were driving through Bluff in Durban, and passed some men working on the center island. They were using weedwhackers, or something motorized like that. Just as we passed I heard what sounded like a small explosion, and the car shook, and I thought I had a flat tire. Then Morgan looked around and discovered that a rock had been thrown against the middle passenger window. It had radiated out into a zillion cracks, and we could hear a little cracking still going on. Luckily, there is a tint on the window, so the glass didn't fall in. It's actually very Christmasy looking - like ice all over the window!

Elder and Sister Johnson had a more cheerful if peculiar car experience this week. They came out one morning to find a cat stretched across the front window of their car, taking a snooze. They got in and started the engine, and the cat raised it's head, yawned, looked around and through the windscreen at them, then laid back down. They backed out of the parking space, and the cat just ignored them. Elder Johnson finally had to get out and lift him off. The cats here are pretty persistent - or else think they're in charge. Actually, I think that's a cat thing, here or anywhere.

The elders are excited every time mail is delivered - packages are pouring in! It's going to work out well for them this year, as we can take everything that comes in at the last minute to Richards Bay and Swaziland on our holiday with Logan and Sara. Newcastle might some a few days late, but at least it will be before New Year's!

So, have a Merry Merry Christmas! And remember why you're celebrating...



ps Vocabulary words of the day:
1. Suss it out: figure it out
2. Timeously: in good time, or a timely fashion

Thursday, December 10, 2009

2009 12 13 - All-Zone Conference

Dear family, friends, and missionary support group:

We have absolutely terrific missionaries here! I can say this as a fact, because I just saw every one of them at our all-zone conference. They are dedicated, hardworking (and hard playing, and hard eating) creative, helpful, attentive to instruction, supportive of their brother elders, and anxious to build the kingdom. There are few things as inspiring as a chapel full of missionaries. You can feel the power - and the potential power.

The theme of the conference was "I Believe in Christ" and we started out with two hours of instruction on the Atonement, by our Area Seventy, Elder Garith Hill. Through use of the scriptures, group participation and pure testimony, Elder Hill brought a spirit that lasted throughout the conference.

He gave some good counsel to the missionaries. He reminded them that through the Atonement we can always start over and progress. "The advocate uses love to inspire people. The adversary uses fear to control people." He used the example of Adam and Eve and added,"The minute you do anything wrong you hear ringing in your ears: Run away! Hide! You are no longer worthy."

"An angel came to tell Adam and Eve why they were performing sacrifices. For the Adams and Eves out in the world, we may be the only ones who ever clearly indicate to them how they can have hope." We do not threaten, coerce, or manipulate. We invite as many as will believe."

After lunch the elders split into workshops: The Divine Companionship (with the Holy Ghost as the third companion), Tailored Lessons (designed specifically for individual investigators),
Teaching Skills, and Having a Balance in the Work. Then we had a wonderful testimony meeting, with missionaries sharing miracles and things they have learned, along with their testimonies. It's so amazing to see the change that occurs in a missionary during his two years of service. They are so impressive!

We had a Christmas dinner (the couples sliced 10 or 12 small turkeys to make it happen!) and then the infamous talent show. Every zone sang or did a skit, then individual missionaries put some very nice numbers together. And last, but not least, the annual slide show, composed of photos taken by the missionaries throughout the year, sorted into categories, and set to music by the office elders. Elder Lemmon was the "producer" this year. The missionaries were then asked to "Drive home slowly, and get to bed quickly!"

Wednesday morning was another powerful session, as President Colin Wilford of the Hillcrest Stake spoke on the characteristics of Christ. He referred to the way President Hinckley used to refer not only to the reality of the Saviour, but to his personality. We should understand and appreciate both. He referred to scriptures that exhort us to learn about Christ: "These scriptures were not suggestions. They are divine imperatives to know the nature of God." President Wilford also reminded the elders that "The Saviour himself only served a three-year mission."

He then discussed the temptations Jesus resisted in the wilderness. Jesus responded to each temptation with doctrine: "It is written..." as if to say, "Don't challenge me on this." Satan knows what is written, so in the second temptation he himself quotes scripture, and Jesus again responds with doctrine, as He does with the third temptaion. "Every single temptation you will ever be exposed to was intensified in this experience of the Saviour. He gave them no heed (which means not allowing them any foothold, no matter how small). He turned to the doctrine and remembered who He was."

Elder Hill had said the day before, about missionary work: "We do not threaten, coerce or manipulate. We invite those who will hear. " President Wilford added: "We are here understand what they need to help them become better." Then we offer it.

He encouraged the missionaries to find the scriptures with the phrase "one by one" and ponder about each of those experiences. Finally, he invited them to "firmly resolve to put aside any actions that are foreign to the nature of Christ." President Wilford always gives a thought-provoking, personal talk that sends me away with lots to think about and follow up on in the scriptures. He's a counsellor by profession, so maybe he looks at things from a slightly different angle than the rest of us. In any case, we were "well-nourished by the word of God" by both our speakers.

The last activities were sports (no injuries!!!) and lunch, then back to their areas with renewed energy to Build the Kingdom. Last year Elder Wells, our Area Psychologist, attended our all-zone conference and did a presentation. He told us that it was one of the best emotional lifts the elders could receive - so we feel it was practically like filling a prescription for emotional health.

Getting back to real life included several elders needing doctor's appointments, and one with an emergency appendectomy. The elders in Nhlangano, Swaziland hit another cow (same bakkie, different elders); one of our cars (parked and empty, fortunately) was hit by a drunk driver, who tried to reverse and take off, and ended up in a ditch instead; a transmission went out; and a bike elder crashed and hurt his knee. They'll be walking for a few days. Everyone's fine, though!


ps A cat has started hanging around the mission home (and inside the mission home, when it can get in!). It's well-fed and very tame, so we assume it has a home. We aren't allowed any pets, but it made me miss my cats!

pps I've seen 2 houses with Christmas lights as I've driven around (a lot). One was all blue lights, and the other yellow-white. I miss my big old coloured outdoor lights!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chris Mangum's Eagle project making a difference at Tyburn Primary School

2009 12 06 - District Conference, Eagle Scouts, and Return(ed?) Missionaries

Dear Family & Friends:

This few weeks we are definitely living in the tropics. The rain, with very short intermissions, has been coming down day and night. Most of the time it's "mizzle", which Elder Johnson explained to me as a combination of mist and drizzle. Other times it is a downpour - and you can't predict when, so the people walking are often caught out in it and drenched. I've seen lots of hats, umbrellas, plastic grocery bags, and even trash bags aimed at keeping people dry. The ground is so wet that houses -mostly shacks- are sliding down the hillsides -which is where they usually are, as no one can build there on the slope. Fortunately a shack can be put together more quickly than a house. It's definitely a proof that "The wise man builds his house upon a rock..."
On the flipside, it is green, Green, GREEN!

The President and Sister Koelliker came to Richards Bay for district conference this weekend. Sister Koelliker asked for a description of the units in the district, so she could focus better on their needs. I thought you might like to see what missionaries are working with in just one of our districts - and they are all different.

The Richards Bay District Conference (our last in Richards Bay) was outstanding. President and Sister Koelliker flew from to Johannesburg to the Richards Bay Airport (so who even knew Richards Bay HAD an airport?). The flight arrived at 10:00, so we left home at 7am to drive up and be there to pick them up (although the Piers were perfectly willing to pick them up for us). It was a "mission president hosting a member of the Area presidency thing".

The first meetings were for auxiliary presidents (us) and district presidency (the men). It's always fun to meet with the women in small groups so we can get a little better acquainted. And it's amazing to think that when we got here, Richards Bay wasn't even a district, and it was a long time before they got any district leaders. Hurray for growth and progress in the Church! You'll probably be surprised (not) at what Sister Khumalo feels is the most challenging problem in Relief Society: you guessed it - visiting teaching. Wouldn't it be great to go to a ward or branch or stake or district where the visiting teaching was so good they were concentrating mostly on food storage or how to make funeral potatoes?

Auxiliary and priesthood leadership sessions came next. Our focus (as ever) was on being better teachers. Now that sisters are accepting teaching callings, and still coming to Church - yes, that can be a problem - the next step is getting away from just reading the lesson out of the manual. In some classes, if the teacher does read the lesson, the class is over in 15 minutes. Then what? Sister Koelliker always brings lots of good supplies for the sisters - manuals, and helpful handouts, and Primary music cds - and a great spirit. They can tell she sincerely wants to help in any way she can.

The adult session came next, with some of the members coming in rented taxis, including those from Cosi Bay, 3 hours away. Steve interviewed a sister from Cosi Bay for a temple recommend, and she and her husband wanted to know what to do to get to the temple within the next few weeks. The reason? They are building a house, and have the money to put the roof on - or go to the temple. And they want to go to the temple before they might be tempted to use the money for the roof. With such an honest explanation, and righteous desire, circumstances are being tweaked and the Knudsens will be taking them to Johannesburg next week.

A young man who was recently baptized taught a great lesson about proper missionary work. He and his roommates like to be "cool, and all that..." so when the missionaries first came they had fun distracting them from their message. "Where are you from?" "Tell us about your country?" etc. Then they would bunk appointments and just not be available. After some time and transfers, Elder Weaver and Elder Peterson showed up at their door. The young men figured it would be more of the same, but it the young convert's words "These elders were disciplined. They would not be distracted from their message." Some lessons were actually taught, and the young man agreed to come to Church with the missionaries - if the elders would go to his church the following week. But that never happened - because after attending the Richards Bay Ward, he didn't want to go anywhere else. Well done, Elders! You are truly focused on the work.

A recently returned missionary told the young men "I urge you to serve a mission - it is the best gift you can give to yourself and to your Heavenly Father."

President Koelliker invited all the Primary children to come up (and there were lots of them) and they sang I am a Child of God in English and Zulu, led by Sister Baldwin and Sister Vezi. I loved it, but the part I liked best was the gogos in the congregation singing right along. And in case you'd like to join in:

"Ngingumtaka thixo, ungilethe lapha. Unginiki khaye lihle, nabazala bahle. (Chorus) Ngihole ngigade, hamba nami, ngisize ng'tholindlela, ngifundiso kumele ngikwenze, ukuze ng'halale nawe."

How did you do?

President Koelliker then reminded us that the Spirit of God speaks every language on earth.

It was a wonderful conference; there were about 250 people present, including a lot of investigators; they were all very happy to be there and to be together; the spirit was strong, and the messages were all well worth listening to. And the sun was shining! First time we've seen it in days and days. It was nice to have the last Richards Bay conference also be the best Richards Bay far.

Earlier in the week I had a terrific morning out in Chatsworth. Chris Mangum, a Boy Scout from Provo, contacted me some time ago about doing something for people here, as his Eagle project. He chose school bags, and a few weeks ago I received 3 boxes full - close to a hundred! Morgan and I met up with the Chatsworth Elders, and we went to the Tyburn Primary School, which is a very poor senior primary school. The government here pays the teacher salaries, provides the building (but no upkeep) and some money for textbooks, and that's it. Where other public schools may charge R10,000 per year for school fees, Tyburn charges only R600 ($80) and still, only 20% of the students can afford it. They depend on donations for a lot of what they do, for instance they feed lunch to the students, donated by temples and churches in the area. For many, that is their only meal of the day. They also enter every available competition. The most recent was collecting a particular brand of bread bags; they won, and now have their first jungle gym.

In November of 2007 I went with Elder and Sister Dalebout to take blankets, hygiene and school kits to Tyburn. Grace, the principal, told me they gave the blankets to some of their poorest families. Then they took the kits apart, and every single one of the 900 students received something - a bar of soap, a pencil, a washcloth - and they were absolutely thrilled. We have no idea how blessed we are - but the best part of having "stuff" is being able to give it away.
So, Chris: you did a very good thing! Keep up the good work.

Have I mentioned lately how terrific our elders are, and how rewarding it is to know them and see them grow?

This week is the last week of school, although this last week Hunter and Morgan haven't gone much. Westville had their exams 2 weeks before everyone else, and although the school claimed they were going to begin the 2010 first term work this month, they haven't. The students watch movies, and visit out in their lunch areas, and basically do nothing. We negotiated with the boys that on days they don'y go to school they have to spend 3 hours on their correspondence courses - and they do! Finally, we're making some progress! The trick will be overcoming the "But Mom, it's the holidays!" attitude that will start next week.

Love to everybody!


ps The Piers found a spice at Victoria Market called "Mother-in-Law Exterminator".

ps We had dinner in Richards Bay at a Thai restaurant on a yacht harbor. Steve was casting a lot of hungry looks - but it wasn't at the food! (I keep telling him he ought to just sail home in July...)