Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

You're right, this is still Texas, but I couldn't resist...

2010 01 31 - Added Upon...

Dear Family & Friends:

Things are always changing in the Church with revelation, and we are the latest proof. A lot of missions have been undergoing changes: divisions, consolidations, reduction or expansion of missionary complements, etc. The Missionary Committee recently asked our Area Presidency for recommendations for changes in the South Africa missions, and last week the First Presidency approved a boundary change which moves part of the Johannesburg Mission into the Durban Mission. President Poulsen has around 200 missionaries and a large geographic area, so this will ease his burden somewhat as 28 of his missionaries are added to our 110. Of course, he is extremely reluctant to give up a single one - mission presidents are very possessive of their missionaries - but everyone feels very good about the changes.

The new area generally consists of the southern part of Free State Province, north to Welkom, and the country of Lesotho. They make up the Bloemfontein District, with six and four branches respectively. Each area is a mission zone. This will add two more district conferences each year to our current four stake conferences and six district conferences, which takes care of all the weekends in one quarter of the year. We'll also have two more zone conferences, 28 more interviews each cycle, and a few more kilometers every loop. Oh, and one more country stamp on my passport, but who's counting (besides me...)?

On Thursday there will be a mini zone conference in Bloemfontein with both mission presidents to clarify things for the missionaries there. I'm guessing they'll have mixed feelings about it all - and some of them will end up having 3 mission presidents during their mission, President Poulsen, President Mann, and whoever comes to Durban Mission in July. More details as they develop...

We had some very odd car incidents this last week. I'm used to hearing about scrapes, and hitting poles, and backing into things ("Elder, where was your backer?") and actual collisions. But Saturday we had one car hit by what appeared to be a watermelon rolling or thrown down the hill (big dent in the fender) and one car hit...a hyena. It wasn't even in a game park. And then there was Elder & Sister Pier's car in Richards Bay: they took it in for brake repair. When the young man tested the brakes, he failed to pump them to get hydraulic fluid running (or something mechanical like that: ask Elder Pier). In any case, when he went to stop, the brakes didn't work, he panicked, and crashed into the wall. Now the car is at a panelbeaters.

Satan may be running out of ideas to slow down the work, but this is ridiculous!

Saturday was Hunter's 17th birthday. It was also Morgan's 17th birthday. I list them separately because they really hate sharing anything. Morgan celebrated by throwing a party Friday night. We learned a very good lesson about being specific: at our request, he made a guest list, and even had friends watch the gate and make sure everyone who came had been invited. There were around 40 boys on the list. The instructions were very specific: "Don't let them in if they're drunk." "Only let in people on the list unless approved by Jeffrey Morgan Mann or Steven Hunter Mann." "If they have a cigarette in their mouth then they must put it out before they enter the premises." "Girls are free." This last meant that any girls who showed up were to be allowed in. THAT was our mistake.

The 40 or so boys showed up, then some of Hunter's friends, and half of the first team (rugby)- and a lot of girls. Morgan admitted (claimed!) that 124 people wandered through: it was hard to tell. But I have to say, it was a great party. There was an LDS DJ running the music, so I never heard anything I had to run in and turn off. And the girls (especially the Zulu girls) made it rock! They were dancing in the family room all night - and singing/chanting/shouting along with the music. I asked them to play one last song at 10:3o, then turn it off - only I forgot how long house music songs can be (think the long version of "Light My Fire") so I had to finally cut them off. The lights came on and Morgan's "bouncers" walked around saying "Club Morgan is now closed - everybody out!"

Then the most amazing thing of all: several of the kids cleaned up! And I don't just mean picked up the trash; they also washed the floor, put the furniture back where it belonged, and generally made everything look great. Those kids can come anytime - they are now on my permanent party list.

Last Sunday Steve went to Ngwelezane (Richards Bay District) for sacrament meeting, and there were 60 people there, as opposed to the 18 last time he was there. And Elder Johnson was a few minutes late for priesthood meeting in Umlazi W, and there weren't any seats left. And in Umlazi BB they're going to have to move the growing investigator class to the chapel - there just isn't enough room where they meet right now. Isn't all this wonderful! I'm sure there are similar "problems" in most of the units. At least I hope so!

And now, for the trivia buffs among us: I was working with the missionary pictures the other day and was distracted by the names - especially the given names, which I rarely see. I found we have had:

A John, a Johns, a Johnson, and a John Johnson.

2 coupleelder Larrys, 2 couplesister Sues, 2 couplesister Karens, 3 coupleelder Daves; a David Aaron, a David Shawn, 2 Kyle Davids, a Mark David, a Peter David, a Jesse David, a Michael David, a Daniel David;
a Daniel Larson, a Daniel Glenn, a Daniel Leland, a Daniel Christopher and a Christopher Daniel; a Christopher James, a Christopher Janek, a Christopher Ryan, a Christopher Glen.

A Genesis, a Michael, an Adam, an Abel, a Seth, an Abram, an Isaac, a Jacob, a Gideon, a Moses, an Aaron, a Miriam, a Joshua, an Eli, a Shadrack, a Jesse, a Benjamin, a Manasseh, a David, a Jonathan, a Daniel, a Jeremiah, a Samuel.

A Gabriel, a Mary, a Joseph, an Emmanuel, an Elizabeth, a Matthew, a Luke, a Simon, a Peter, an Andrew, a James, a John, a Thomas, a Philip, a Nathaniel, a Bartholomew, a Jude, a Steven, a Paul, a Mathias, a Cornelius.

An Mahonri, an Ether, an Ammon, a Helaman, a Jared...2 Christians, a Bishop, a Sabbath and a Zion.

Not to mention an Andriamampiovarivo, a Pomaika'iokalani, a Nambinintsoa, a Sololfonantenrina and a Romeo.

This is why we simply call them all "Elder".


ps "Are you being seen to" = "Have you been helped?"
pps A Trolley Porter is the person who brings the grocery carts in from the
parking lot.
ppps A bursary is financial aid awarded to a student to help them pay school

Sunday, January 17, 2010

2010 01 24 - Prayers are definitely answered

Dear Everyone:

I had an interesting Sunday afternoon last week! Elder Mapfumo, working in Umlazi BB, was bitten on the hand by a dog. Our instructions are to verify that the dog's rabies shots are up to date, which is usually easy to do (and yes, I speak from experience). Unfortunately, no certificates of vaccination were available, so I met Elder Mapfumo and Elder Ikahihifo at Kingsway Hospital Amanzimtoti to get the wound cleaned, stitched (if necessary) and wrapped. When the doctor learned that we couldn't know for sure about the vaccinations, she was very insistent that Elder Mapfumo have a series of rabies shots; apparently there have occasionally been some cases in the area. Actually, mission policy is exactly that; rabies isn't something you mess with.

So, on the way to the hospital, all the traffice gets slowed down by a bus followed by 5 or 6 cars, surrounded by motorcycle police with their lights flashing. I thought first it was a sports team on the way to the airport, or an important visitor, but the cars weren't fancy enough, so when it turned off for Chatsworth, I decided it must be a funeral.

I finally got there, met the elders, and headed back into the "Toti Med" clinic, which is for minor emergencies. While Elder Mapfumo was being repaired, the police brought in a handcuffed man who wailed and talked and complained: I really wished I understood Zulu. We eventually learned that he was a drunk driver who had hit an ambulance - possibly the one transporting some of the injured people who were arriving? - then drove on and rolled his car. He refused the breathalyzer test, so they brought him in for a blood test. This use of the medical staff, while injured and ailing patients were waiting for care, was not well-received by those who had brought the patients in. However, we eventually finished everything up, and left.

Elder Mapfumo will get additional shots on the 3rd day, the 7th day, the 14th and th 28th - unless the dog is still alive in two weeks (extremely likely), in which case it doesn't have rabies, and he can skip the last shots. I was happy to learn that they no longer give painful shots in the stomach; the shot was in the shoulder, and he said it didn't hurt as much as the tetanus shot did... And by the way, I'm telling this story not to scare you about dogs (which EVERYONE has) or rabies, but to show what good care the missions take of the missionaries. We take no chances.

Here's a way better story - it comes from Elder ladysmith Wilson, dated 17 January 2010:

"There is a young man in Ezakheni named Danny Madondo. Danny's father was Korean, so he is of mixed blood. He is a smart young man, eager to learn, and impressive. He is 13 years old. The elders found his family a few months ago; he is living with his granny, Ma Fikele, as his mother died when he was 8. They began to teach them the gospel, and he was baptized a couple of weeks ago.

Danny's aunt and 10-year-0ld cousin came to stay with the granny because they had TB and were very ill and needed tending to. It put a big strain on the family financially, as they didn't have much to begin with. Danny's cousin passed away a month ago, and his aunt died just this morning.

Danny was to be confirmed today in Church. He came, and said he didn't know what to do about Church, but decided he should come because he thought it was the right thing to do, and so he was confirmed.

Tonight the elders asked if we had heard of Danny's miracle. We hadn't, and we were so happy to hear it. School just started this week, and because funerals are such a big expense for a family, Ma Fikele didn't have any money for the registration fees, uniforms, etc. Danny and his granny went to the school to see if they would let him start, and they would pay as they were able. The principal said no.

Danny had to go make copies of his papers, and he was crying. A woman came over and said, "Danny, why are you crying?" He told her. She asked to see his grade report, and then he left.

Later that day Danny's granny got a phone call from a woman and she said they should meet her in town the next day at a certain time. Ma Fikele didn't even ask who it was or anything, she just said they would come.

The next morning they worried that maybe it was a con person, so they decided to pray before they left. They took a taxi to town, and waited at the arranged place. In a while a woman came; it was the woman from the school. She took them to the bank with her and then to the school, where she paid all of Danny's expenses to get him in school, and bought his uniforms and everything he needs. The registration and fees alone were R800, which is really a lot here. Then she told them she would pay each year for Danny through grade 12! She told him she was giving him an opportunity, and he was to study hard and not waste it.

When Danny went to class, the woman was his teacher."

So who says prayer doesn't work?

Here's another example. There was something Morgan wanted very badly, and while we were waiting to hear whether he got it or not, he said to me, "We need to say a prayer." We did, and when the call came, the first words I heard were "Sister Mann, your prayers have been answered - and that doesn't usually happen around here!" Morgan succeeded in what he wanted, and it was a good lesson in how prayers can be answered very directly. I hope he remembers that next time...

Paul, a young returned missionary in Pinetown Ward, gave a very powerful talk about home teaching in sacrament meeting. One example he gave was when he misunderstood the due date for a very important, long essay, and found himself starting it the night before he had to have it in. (It was 4 pages longer than any essay he had ever written, and the 3 page ones were very hard to write.) As he started the essay, a former home teaching companion called to say he had several appointments set up, but his companion couldn't come. Would Paul help come out with him? Paul prayed and asked for help with his paper so he could go on the visits. He went home teaching, and had some wonderful experiences. Then next day he finished and turned in the paper, which was rated 2nd highest in the class and earned distinction. Time to review attitudes about home teaching and it's importance?

A postscript to Paul's story: he's now considering going home teaching the night before every exam!

I learned yesterday from Elder Terry & Elder Mwita that the kingdom is growing here in yet another way: families moving in from other areas. We were in Amanzimtoti so Steve could do a baptism interview, and the elders were telling me about the baptisms coming up, the families they are teaching...and about two families who have moved into the ward, one from Zimbabwe, and one from Johannesburg. So a big thank you to both of those missions, for sharing!

Two of our favorite friends are now sharing the continent with us: Delray and Marsha Maughan arrived in Accra, Ghana last week. Delray will be the Area Medical Adviser for the Africa West Area. We had really hoped they'd be here with us, but I know they're really needed there - and will have a much more varied and dramatic set of medical problems; Delray will be great at it. And although it's harder to imagine Marsha in the wilds of untamed (OK, less-tamed) Africa, she'll be great, too. When I read Ensign articles or Relief Society talks about the kind of women the Church is trying to develop, I think of Marsha (and our couplesisters and a number of other wonderful friends). When I first met her, I thought she was a sweet, lovely, gracious person, but it wasn't until I got to know her that I discovered her backbone of steel. I can envision her standing up to a mob or pulling a handcart. I should know by now that there's so much more inside people than you can see at first acquaintance, but I seem to have to learn that lesson over and over.

Our African elders often tell me how much they love the "adopters" who take time to communicate with them. I think a lot of lasting friendships are being made. But we have to make it a little more challenging, I'm afraid. As some of you know, we have been strongly reminded that missionaries should only be emailing their families on preparation days. So, those of you who are emailing elders who have no one who can email them: you are their family. Please continue emailing. Those of you who have elders with "email support", please start writing letters instead of emailing. (I suggest you send a large envelope of self-addressed envelopes and stationery to your elder, to help him write back - and I will stress the importance of prompt replies.) This is not going to be as satisfying - parents with missionaries out can attest to how much they appreciate knowing every week that all is going well with their children. But we need to be obedient, so I'm asking everyone to help out. Thank you so much for your support, and please keep it up. It makes a big difference to them. The mailing address is P.O. Box 1741, Wandsbeck 3631, South Africa. If you send a package that requires an actual address, it's 8 Windsor Avenue, Westville 3630, South Africa.

And by the way, ALL of our elders love letters and packages.


ps Happy Birthday the 23rd to Carolyn: our internet was down, but I was thinking of you!

pps For those of you who are keeping track, I passed another Grindrod company Thursday.

ppps I have it on very good authority (a radio newscaster) that if you drive too fast on wet, congested roads you'll "become unstuck". So be careful! I like you as you are: stuck.

Great news from Madagascar: The new Brother and Sister Romauld Rambikarison

Friday, January 15, 2010

Clothes (or the lack thereof) make the man (or the woman)

Africa - Land of Romance...

Looking good!

You never know what you will see as you travel the mission

2010 01 17 - The Boys are Back in School!!!!!!!!!!!

Dear Family and Friends:

I know the mothers out there can relate to my enthusiasm at the reopening of school. The upside is a quiet house during the day, and gym or sports practices most afternoons. The downside is early morning seminary. Oh well, you can't win them all! And by the way, it's the early morning part of seminary that I am whinging about. I am actually very sad that Hunter and Morgan will only get the first semester of Book of Mormon in seminary, due to the 6-month difference in school schedules between the U.S. and South Africa.

(I've got a National Geographic special playing in the background, which just explained how all of us descended from the early humans in East Africa. Someone needs to contact them and tell them about Jackson County, what mission is the headquarters of National Geographic in?)

Steve started interviews on Tuesday, and he comes home most nights absolutely overwhelmed by the wonderful elders we have in the mission. He says that almost every missionary starts his interview with "Before we start, can I tell you about this great experience I had..." There was a huge number of new investigators in almost every unit last Sunday, and some branches had the largest attendance they had ever had. Plus many of the branch presidents and bishops, entirely on their own, are starting the combined Relief Society/Priesthood meeting on fast Sundays, to focus on member missionary work. Yes!

Our new office couple has been delayed by paperwork for a month - and the wonderful, wonderful Elder & Sister Johnson have decided to extend long enough to train them. We always thought we had the best couple missionaries in the Church - now we are sure! And we appreciate their children and grandchildren for not trying to talk them out of it! (Braden - thank you very much! Rachel - repent?) They may have been influence in their decision by the amazing story of Willard Bean and his wife Rebecca, which Elder Johnson shared in our office devotional (June 1985 Ensign: Willard Bean, Palmyra's "Fighting Parson"). It's definitely worth a read!

Steve received a wonderful email from Elder Mbithi, who returned home to Kenya just a few weeks ago. I hope he won't mind my sharing a little of it:

"Dear President Mann

I'm happy to say that I arrived home well and 30 of my friends from my youth group were there and after sharing my mission experiences with them I could not fail to extend a commitment for them to come to Church, and I'm excited to be involved in their conversion process and their families, too, as they are excited to join the Church.

Sunday I was called as the Branch Mission Leader and I talked with the Branch Presidency and they gave me the last Sunday of the month to do How Great (Shall Be Your Joy) training and they ordered Preach My Gospel for every family as I entend to introduce PMG Member, and also they agreed to make sure that there are missionary moments in the auxiliaries every Sunday.

President, it's fun doing this and I can't wait to show them the PEC Action List so their PECs can be productive..."

This is just one example of the excitement and leadership the elders take home with them. I hope all the local priesthood leaders are taking advantage of their new maturity, right away. I know it happens in Africa, so I actually worry more about our elders from areas where the Church is strong! How unexpected is that!

Saturday Steve and I took Morgan down to King's Park for an Athletics (track & field) meet. Athletics is a "minor" sport, which in this particular case means any boys who want to participate can make their way to an occasional practice at Westville Girls High School and get some coaching. The meets are not actually school vs. school - the one Saturday was open to anyone who wanted to participate, including students, coaches, etc. Morgan did shot put - which he's never done before, and had no coaching in - so he'll have enough events to be on the first team (such as it is) and get gear and glory. His other event is the 4x100 relay, and their team has won the last two meets.

Rugby pre-season practice has also started, and at the moment he is on the 2nd team, which is actually terrific, as the 1st team last year was almost all 11th graders who are still on it. So he is competing against the 2nd, 3rd, etc. team 11th graders, plus all he 10th graders. If he stays on it, he'll get to do some more travelling to competitions during the holidays.

Hunter, meanwhile, is keeping up the social end of our family activities. Last week he went out with three different girls - and two of them are 18 and 20! Of course, they look about 14 - it's so hard to tell how old people are! I'd worry more if I weren't his chauffeur, and the dates weren't in very public places - like theaters and malls. Thank goodness for 18-year-old driver's licenses!


ps Anybody else get to watch monkeys playing in their bushes on Saturday morning?

pps Went to Phoenix Branch today - a very full house and everyone very happy, but missing the Dalebouts.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Our Christmas Cat is still visiting - and we feel much safer...

KZN and Swaziland continue to send out more and more missionaries...

2010 01 10 - First Zone Conferences of the New Year - and Decade!

Dear Everyone:

We saw all of your sons and parents/grandparents this week, and they are all doing great. They are also better trained, stronger in testimony, and full of pizza and brownies. As zone conference week follows transfer week, it was, as usual, fun to watch former companions and MTC buddies meeting up. It's very invigorating to work with a group of young men who like each other! (In contrast to the sibling rivalry in a certain South African mission home which will remain nameless...)

Elder and Sister Pier set me a good example as they "contacted" the pizza delivery man. He lives on the same road as the Berea chapel, but he said he couldn't come to church there: he gets up at 4am and races bikes every Sunday. But at least he's been asked!

These are examples of the kinds of encouragement and counsel our elders have received this month:

President's Message
Dear Elders,

It has been a great year for the South Africa Durban Mission. Baptisms are up once again with an even greater emphasis on families. Temple attendance and missionaries serving (missionaries going out from our mission stakes and districts) are up dramatically. We have provided thousands of hours of service and strengthened the image of the Church throughout the mission. The districts have each formed district councils and are becomiing more and more independent. We have a number of new twigs (independent units) beginning to grow. The stone is rolling forth at an ever more rapid pace.

We are more obedient and hardworking than ever before and that is what brings us miracles and spreads the gospel. We have learned how to be more versatile and develop success strategies for each area we serve. Our teaching is getting better and better as we tailor each lesson and invite the Spirit to be our senior companion.

As we plan for 2010 we are poised to move the work forward with greater force and boldness. The mission has often talked about 5oo baptisms, but it was never really seen as a possibility. for 2010 it is a very real probability. We are starting the year with 14 December baptisms that will be confirmed the first Sunday in January. Our numbers of progressing investigators and investigators with baptism dates remain at historic levels. We have the tools, the missionaries, the training and the faith in place for extraordinary growth.

Here is what we must do:

Live the Mission Equation (Obedience+Hard Work +Faith=Miracles)
This is our touchstone. When we exercise faith, work hard and are obedient with exactness, miracles happen and the Spirit guides our every action. Don't let down your guard. The more exact you are in living the mission rules the more you will be guided by the Spirit. Don't make excuses or rationalize.

Teach by the Spirit
As you work to tailor each lesson to the needs of each investigator not only will the investigators understand and embrace the truth, but your own knowledge of the doctrine will expand beyond measure.

Be fully consecrated
You are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You are His missionary. As you take upon yourself Christ-like attributes and make every moment count you will be filled with his love and truly become His brother in the work. Be the missionary who really makes a difference.

Love your companion
Make a decision now that you will work well with every companion you have. That does not mean that you let him break the mission rules. It means that you put your personal ego and needs aside and work together to do the Lord's work.

Love the members and teach them how to be missionaries
We have great tools in the mission to do this. This year the big push will come from the stakes as each bishop and branch president is asked to be the "mission president" of his unit. Let's turn our 100 missionaries into 1,000.

What an exciting time to be in the Lord's army. What a wonderful blessing to be chosen to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to our brothers and sisters. I bear you my testimony that we are engaged in the greatest of all work, to assist in bringing about the immortality and eternal life of all mankind. I love you elders and love being engaged with you in this great work.
President Mann

Assistants' Message to the brotherhood
This past cycle has been full of personal revelation and insight. You have experienced it last cycle with making tailor-made lessons for your investigators, and this cycle with seeking inspiration with what we want our investigators to DO, not just learn. We received personal revelation during all-zone conference, where we learned how we could make ourselves more like Christ. We have grasped the basics, now let us move forward. Let us make tailor-made lessons for every investigator. Let us seek inspiration to how our investigators will best progress into the waters of baptism. Let us accept the will of the Father, instead of letting our pride and knowledge hold us back and cause contention. This is the brotherhood. Let us join together and make each other even better than our potential. We watch out for each other. We strengthen each other. We will do our best, to serve you best, serving the Lord. Brethren, be good.

Our former missionaries continue to help us from afar. The Hafens "recruited" a couple who have put in their mission papers, and we hope they will reach us in the end! Please keep talking to all your friends (and yourselves) about joining this great labor. Our couples often say "If our friends could only come here for a few weeks, they would realize just how badly they are needed, and how much good they could do." To say nothing of the many members who would love them dearly and consider them angels. So if you're feeling like the younger generation is now running the ward/stake and you are not needed...think again!

Elders Mahloko and Murch spoke in Pinetown Ward today, and I was really proud of their maturity and the way they used the scriptures and Preach My Gospel. The stakes are being very supportive of missionary work - Hillcrest is beginning combined RS/Priesthood classes on Fast Sunday to focus on member missionary work and the Preach My Gospel Member program, like last year. Hurrah for Israel!


ps I saw three interesting business signs this week:
1. 20th Century Distributing (it looked closed; wonder why?)
2. "Fireworks, Schoolbooks & Standard Printers", an interesting combination...
3. Mississippi Seafoods - I really hope the seafood is sent frozen!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Last transfer of 2009 - Elders Mashiloane, Ngoetjana, Kaseke, Smith, Gondo, Shawairira & Mutariswa

Off to start 2010 as returning missionaries - Elders Mbithi, Hartvigsen, Rothenberger, Vance & Hurlbut

Elder Mbithi heads for home, so Elder Holmes heads for the office as the new Assistant

2010 01 03 - A New Year, and 7 New Elders

Happy New Year, Family & Friends!

Sorry for the missing blog last week, but I was on holiday with my family - Steve actually left the mission office for 4 days! Logan and Sara arrived on the 20th of December, and we showed them as much of the mission as we could. (OK, so with jet lag they slept through a lot of it, but we tried!)

Our last few days of 2009 were very productive: we welcomed seven very prepared young elders into the mission, and they had a chance to interact with the five powerful elders who were on the way home. This was unusual, but due to holiday ticketing glitches, we combined our departing and arriving elders dinner. I really liked it, but it would only work when the transfer is small. Ten leaving and fourteen arriving would definitely stress our dining room!

We also had Elder Andile, from Swaziland, who was on his way to his own mission in Kenya. So here is where it gets really good. Elder Hurlbut, who left last week, was one of those who baptized Elder Andile. Sweet! (Oops - I hang around young men too much.) Another great story out of this group: Elder Kaseke, just arrived from Zimbabwe, baptized his mother and brother four days before he entered the MTC; his brother baptized his father at the same time. If they can get to Johannesburg during the next two years, he will be allowed to meet them at the temple and be sealed. Elder Kwendo, from Kenya, will be meeting his family this month to be sealed. There is a lot of good stuff going on!

Logan and Sara headed back home on the 2nd, but we packed a lot into their visit. Morgan and I entertained them the first few days, with a game drive "appetizer" (small local game park), snorkeling, shopping and eating out. Steve and Hunter joined us in St. Lucia, and we drove through Hluhluwe-Imfalozi Game Park on the way to Tembe Elephant Park. Two things I hadn't expected, not having holidayed during the high season: People everywhere, and baby animals in the parks. And hot, hot, hot!

We did Christmas Eve at Tembe, with a gift exchange in our tent, and Logan reading the Christmas story from the Gideon Bible: "Let's go to Bethlehem!" Then we did our last game drive, where we saw eleven lions - which I had never seen in nine previous game drives. That gave Logan and Sara four of the big five: leopards are really hard to find. After brunch (with surprise gifts from the Lodge, and the staff in Santa hats with twinkling lights) we drove to Swaziland and the Timbali Lodge - and the swaziWilsons' washer and dryer! I told the kids to pack light so they could bring "stuff" for us from home, so we had to do laundry occasionally.

Saturday morning we hit the Ezulwini craft market, then all four kids rode four-wheelers on a wilderness track behind the Royal Swazi Spa Hotel - and made it successfully to Level 3, the most difficult trail. We then made our way to the Swazi Cultural Village, where Sara made a hit as an impromptu dancer, and Morgan doffed his shirt to become a Swazi warrior.

While all of these activities were going on, and during brief lulls, we were catching up on all kinds of news with Sara and Logan. Since we are on a mission, and Sara got home from hers Toronto Canada) just last January, and Logan from Jamaica a few years earlier, we swapped lots of missionary stories. My favorite from Sara was about the woman she taught who was from Jamaica(!). This sister was progressing very well, but had to return to Jamaica. She thanked her "angels" for all they had taught her, and asked them to send her name to the missionaries in Kingston. They did (not really expecting much, but hoping) and she left.

Meanwhile, in Kingston, the elders received the referral. Not really expecting much, but hoping, they looked her up. When she opened the door, she identified them as Mormon missionaries and said "My angels must have sent you!" She was later baptized. But here's the good part: the elders got permission to email Sara and her companion to tell them the news, and that they had been praying that "angels" would prepare an investigator for them. And they did!

Sunday we went to Church with the Ezulwini Branch, in a school. It was a wonderful meeting, and Sara wanted to know how get people to speak using the scriptures. I told her we can't stop them - not that we'd want to - and that every talk is like that. The choir sang, too - a cappella, and very enthusiastic. I met Sister Shongwe, who has 2 sons out on missions right now. A lot of the members live in the Shongwe "compound".

We had planned to do some hiking in the Drakensbergs on Monday, but the distances were just too far, so we drove down towards Durban and met the Assistants, who took Steve and the boys back with them, while I took Sara and Logan to Karkloof to ride the zipline in Karkloof. They are now part of an exclusive club: missionaries and their relatives who have slid down a cable through the trees of KZN. It was a hit, by the way, as always.

Tuesday I showed off the uShaka Aquarium, including the dolphin, seal and penguin shows. I was trying to remember how many aquariums I have toured over the years with Logan and the other kids: it's a lot! Once again, I was amazed at the crowds. Everything was packed, whereas on my other (off-season) visits there were sometimes only 25 or 30 people in the stands for the shows. Sara and Logan liked the look of the waterpark at uShaka, so on Wednesday while we were welcoming new missionaries, they went back, along with the boys, and had a great day. They even got Hunter to walk through the aquarium, which I haven't been able to do in 2-1/2 years!

Thursday after transfer meeting I started worrying about what might or might not be closed on New Year's Day, so we went downtown to Victoria Street Market for more curio shopping. The underground parking lot was full (a first for me) so we parked in a multi-level lot a few blocks away. Walking through the crowds (residents, not tourists) to the Market was an interesting experience. Many of the shoppers were carrying long skinny "sticks" which we learned were fireworks for New Year's Eve. We cut through the meat and fish market (big mistake!) where I saw my first goat head displayed for sale. I won't go into detail on some of the other items we saw on sale - but I will admit I'm sticking to PicknPay from now on.

Steve held Zone Leaders' Council on Thursday after the transfer meeting, so he was able to come with us Friday to hike above Kloof Gorge. It was gorgeous, and muddy: we all had to clean up before we could drive up to Umdloti to see Ike and Edwina Schwartzberg, who were visiting. Once again, the crowds were unbelievable - we took the exit, which goes to the beach, and were sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for awhile before we could finally get to their place. After the usual delicious treats, Logan and Sara went down to the beach while we visited. They were wetter than anticipated when they came back. The tide was coming in, and while sitting on some rocks, they were drenched by an unexpectedly large wave. Then, as they were standing in the water enjoying the waves, Sara got knocked down, bumping into Logan, who kind of rolled over her and out to sea - at least 10 or 15 feet out to sea - as the receding tide tried to take him along.
In case you are wondering where Hunter and Morgan were during all these adventures, they were chilling with their friends, playing video games, calling girls, and hanging out at the mall. This is not much different than their normal weekend activities, but they loved doing it day after day... They have had to work some on their correspondence course - Sara and Logan edited/critiqued the boys' English research papers while they were here, which was a big help on moving them forward.

Saturday was "D(eparture)-Day", so in order to cram in everything possible, we went to Essendown Market and shopped in a slight drizzle of rain. Because of the rain, not everything was out, but we still managed to find a few things to buy! Our final lunch was at Woodcutter's, and in keeping with KZN tradition, the meal took so long to prepare that we had to do take-away and eat on the way to the airport. Logan is looking forward to quick American service - and having the bill presented practically before you're done eating, so the next customers can sit down. Here you have to beg and plead for the bill, and then it takes another 10 or 15 minutes - even if you're the only customers in the restaurant! We then left them at the airport, loaded with souvenirs and looking forward (not!) to their 29-hour trip home. Going back to the car, we missed them already.

So now we're beginning a week of zone conferences, while Hunter and Morgan enjoy their last week of holiday. Did I mention several of their friends have been holidaying off and on here at the mission home? When we picked up Sthe last week, his mother came out to ask "what day he'd be home?" - which proved very true. He stayed from Tuesday to Sunday. He borrows clothes from Morgan, which I love because the boys are doing their own laundry just now...

Love you!

ps "I took the test, but I fluffed it." "Is it? Shame!"

pps I had a close encounter with an "investigator" today. I was working on my zone conference talk just now, heard a rustling noise, and looked up to see a large vervet monkey going into my kitchen. I admit that when he turned to face me, I backed off. Then I shut him in the kitchen and went to open the front door so I could shut the hall door and hope he went out. He met me in the hallway, but fortunately he turned around and went back into the testimony room and I got the front door opened and the hall door shut. I grabbed a broom for courage, and went on in, but he was gone already. Thank goodness.