Dear Family & Friends:
OK, the bad/good/sad/hopeful/surprising/unexpected/potentiallyterrific news first. Morgan is, as I write, flying to the States to stay with Steve's sister Marilyn in Parma Idaho. A combination of events brought this about, not the least of which was the lack of communication between Morgan and good grades at Westville Boys High School. Frankly, the academics there are nothing to write home about (even though I am). Add to that Morgan's lack of interest in class/homework, excessive social activities, overwhelming devotion to rugby and working out at the gym, and casual approach to his correspondence courses, and you can see why something had to be done. It may have been meant: Grandma Mann is moving out of the Care Center where she has been having physical therapy since having a fall, and into Marilyn's house. The hope is that over the next few months Morgan will both acquire enough decent credits to maybe graduate in 2011(!) and be a lot of help to Marilyn and Grandma.
But I already miss him, and so do his friends. Even Hunter has found that a few gaps have appeared in his life, and he'll have to make some adjustments. Maybe by June he'll be glad to see Morgan again...
So, there's the outgoing news. As to the incoming, we are now the proud mission parents of 26 new missionaries, 21 of whom we have met. They are a great group, and President and Sister Poulsen can be (and are) very proud of them. We had a joint zone conference with Lesotho and Bloemfontein on Wednesday, and you could see how much the Poulsen's hated to say goodbye to their elders. They also let go of two senior couples, the Elder & Sister Van Blankenstein in Lesotho, who do practically everything from CES to PEF to leadership training to negotiating cheaper rates for the missionaries passing through the border. Our other new couple are Elder & Sister Foster, who are Family History missionaries and have been digitalizing records in Bloemfontein. Their current project is around 400 family Bibles. Most of them were taken from Afrikaaner homes during the Boer War, when the English were looting homes before burning them. The Bible were taken to England, and the Afrikaaners wrote and said "You've taken our country - please give us back our history" and they got them back! Once this project is over, the Fosters may be moving to Durban to digitalize records in the Berea Archives.
The pictures of Bloemfontein and Lesotho are from the internet - except the one of the very nice chapel. They have more buildings just in the Bloemfontein area than we do in any of our other three districts. Our new area has one city you have probably heard of: Kimberly, home of the diamond mines. It's right on the edge of the Free State Province.
Because time was tight, we flew to Bloemfontein this time, but it didn't save a lot (except hours on the road). There are two daily flights to and from Durban and Bloemfontein. At 6:45 am you can fly either way, and the same at 6:45 pm. Any other time (like for us on Tuesday) you have to go through Johannesburg. The Bloemfontein Airport has two gates, and the direct flight is on a prop jet with about 30 seats - window seats on the left, and an aisle and window on the right. Looking out the window on the way in, I was really struck by how flat it was. Durban is so hilly, and lush, that it looked like a whole different world! Lesotho will be more like Swaziland, I think, but I don't know if it will be as green. Being a walking elder in Bloemfontein must be way easier than in Durban, but in Durban you'd get in better shape.
The Free State is strongly Afrikaans, and the black population speaks seSotho, not Zulu. I didn't ask, but English is undoubtedly the business/school language. In Lesotho seSotho is the national language. It is totally surrounded by South Africa, and has a king and a parliament. Lesotho is a much poorer country than South Africa, and the elders there will need a new wardrobe: they get snow! Apparently the people wear blankets (not coats) much of the time.
So, back to Durban. Today we visited the KwaMashu Branch, in Durban Stake. This is the spiritual home of Elder & Sister Sessions, who are greatly missed. Since it was fast and testimony meeting, we were able to hear from a lot of members - mostly newer ones. Among the comments: a man in his forties spoke of meeting with a friend from high school, and counting up which of their group of friends are still living - and no one else is. He then expressed his gratitude for the saving difference (both spiritual and temporal) the gospel has made in his life. A young man spoke of having previously been a very heavy "weed" smoker, and how he is grateful that learning the gospel helped him to quit, and that he prefers the spiritual high he now feels. One young man closed his testimony by saying "The Church is so, sosososo true!"
We sang all the verses of "Behold the Great Redeemer Die" - when's the last time you did that? And there were no empty gaps, as people of all ages came up to bear their testimonies. The Branch President told us that the attendance is running around 250, which is up a lot from a few years ago, and that there are 20 baptisms scheduled in the next few weeks.
Many of the congregation have limited (or no) English, but all the testimonies were in English, with one exception who went back and forth. President Zulu did give the benediction in isiZulu, though. I don't know what happens in the classes: everything at Church is supposed to be in English, but I'm sure there needs to be some occasional translating into Zulu. I've been told that when the missionaries aren't present, meetings/classes in Swaziland are taught in seSwati.
This week will be transfers, then we're off on a mission tour with Elder & Sister Watson. Hunter will be on his own for 4 nights, unless he has Jubz stay over. Fortunately, Elder & Sister Johnson and the office elders are here every day, and live close, so there's help in emergencies - which we don't plan to have. Won't it be ironic if he actually misses Morgan, now that he's gone?
Love to everybody!