Dear Family & Friends:
We got back Friday from the Mission Presidents' Seminar in Johannesburg: it was wonderful. The best part, of course, was spending time with the other couples. I felt just like the elders when they come to zone conference and get all excited over seeing the elders they came out with from the MTC. We came out with the Livingstones (DRC- went home last year), the Taylors (Kenya) and the Christensens (Uganda). The bond has increased as we have sent missionaries to each others' missions - we have a lot to talk about when we get together! And now we're commiserating with each other over having to leave our missionaries. It's always nice to talk with someone who is sharing similar experences.
In addition to very good training and idea sharing, an amazing braii in the Area Office garage (rainy weather) and a temple session, we visited the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, and Plumari Game Park with it's "domesticated" elephants. I took lots of pictures, and even kissed an elephant.
One of the lunchtime stories swapped: In Uganda baby boy was adopted by the Tar family, and given his new father's name: David. A few years later, Mom Tar had a baby boy. Dad Tar wanted to give this boy his name. so he split it. David became Da, and the new baby was named Vid. So now David Tar has his sons Da Tar, and Vid Tar. Pretty effective recycling...
Elder & Sister Van Blankenstein are heading home from Lesotho, as Elder & Sister Knudsen move there from Newcastle to continue the good work. The Van Blankensteins have done huge amounts in public affairs, as well as practically everything else, and this is their report of their last event - very exciting!
"We here in Lesotho have been very humbled and well-taught as we put the principle of faith and fasting into practice last week. We held a special fasting day for missionary work to go forward in this country, so the top leaders would be moved to attend our "Appreciation Dinner" where we could better introduce them to the Church and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"We know that 'faith precedes the miracle' and a true miracle happened. We had an outstanding evening at the best hotel in the country, sponsored by the South East Africa Public Affairs and attended by Elder Watson, of the Area Presidency. But the miracle was that the government leaders came, even the King, His Majesty King Letsie III. Other Honourable Ministers, Prime Minister of Foreign Relations, Principle Secretaries, Clerk of the Senate, NGOs and Ambassadors all came and were introduced in a variety of ways to who we are, what we believe in and what we can do to help the people of Lesotho.
"During the evening, several dignitaries asked for information and where our church was located. President Watson even invited the King and Queen to Salt Lake City for October Conference! I know that our prayers were heard and that hearts were touched...
"The news camera was there (Lesotho has only one channel) and it was broadcast last night. Also, yesterday we taped an interview for a weekly Christian show to be shown on TV. Our Government Relations Director from Johannesburg, our local member of our branch presidency, Public Affairs Directors and Humanitarian Directors were all present, which started another chain reaction of contacts and future publicity.
"I know that our prayers were heard and that hearts were touched. Van and I feel so blessed to have been an instrument in the hands of the Lord to help bring this to pass. What a great way to leave the mission field!" (Amen!)
Elder & Sister Mickelsen left today. They were our first ever PEF couple, and over their 18 months (and thousands of kilometers) managed to get more than 100 students through the 2-3 month loan process and into school. They have a dozen or so still in process, and hated leaving any unfinished. We miss them already - but I think Sister Mickelsen and I will be able to keep our little "book group" going even at a distance. And now we have yet another reason to visit St. George!
We had two unusual robberies in Richards Bay the last few weeks.
1. At the Pier's boarding: Sister Pier heard some unusual noises outside, and when she opened the drapes to see what it was, someone had stolen...their front gate! It may be the same group that vandalized an early 20th century cemetery in New Germany and chiseled off or wrenched off the name plaques and every other piece of metal on the gravestones, the fences, etc. They sell it all to scrap metal dealers - who should be at least a little suspicious when a cemetery plaque in Afrikaans is offered for sale?
2. Someone broke into the Richards Bay building, and took... baptismal clothes, tablecloths and cutlery. Better than computers and organs - which has happened here!
Elder Davis has a very poetic way of encouraging elders to drive more thoughtfully:
"I have concluded it is time to promote a 'gentler touch' in driving our vehicles. Some of you, probably most of you, drive too harshly, brake too hard, corner too fast, and accelerate too strongly... If you were riding a horse, I would say 'She was rode too hard and put away wet'." I'm already paying attention to his advice - and nagging Steve about his driving.
ps Steve had a little free time last weekend - and spent most of it whinging about moving from beautiful, lush, warm Durban, to the deserts of Idaho...