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 conference...so 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...)