We had a great set of zone conferences this week. (Do I say that every time? Must be true!) We focused first on technical review - reminding the elders of the things that help them in the work, from pass-along cards to weekly planning to Walkabout to the Preach My Gospel Member Program. All the elders came prepared with a talk on "As a missionary, what is the best gift I can give the Savior?" and 4 elders were called on to give their talks in each conference. Their answers included faith, love, diligence, obedience, hard work..." (By George, I think they've got it!)"
For an example of obedience with exactness, an elder talked about going to KFC(which is on every other corner) and ordering a meal. If the price is R100, and you only have R50, or R75, or even R90 - you're not going to get it. Exact results (and rewards) require exact obedience.
I was thinking as the elders sat in the chapels, worrying whether they would be asked to speak, how it would be if everyone throughout the Church always had a talk prepared, in case they were called on. That happens to the elders, the senior couples, and to us all the time here, especially in the small branches. I would suggest some aspect of the atonement. My zone conference talk was on helping investigators understand the atonement, and the Lord's love for them, through our examples. If you have a Preach My Gospel (and doesn't every home, by now?) I went through Faith and Charity under Christlike Attributes and shared my favorite scripture story for each one. Steve then gave his "Last Lecture", which was the scriptures he has most learned from/relied on during the mission, and then there was a brief testimony meeting, started off by the elders who will return home at the end of this cycle. And then, of course, pizza!
After the Hillcrest zone conference on Wednesday Steve and I drove to Newcastle for the Thursday zone conference with Swaziland and Newcastle zones. It was fun to see how the towns have dressed up for FIFA even out there (see photos above). Then we drove back to Durban, so we could fly to Blomfontein at 6:50am on Friday. Bloem is also highly decorated - some of the games are played there - and it was cold - by Durban standards: 0.03 C (34 F?). After the zone conference we had a farewell meal with the Knudsens and Allreds at Coco C's - right near the top of our list of favorite restaurants in the mission, along with Butcher Boys in Hillcrest, Summerfields and in Swaziland, and Mugg & Bean, RJs and Stega d'Oro in Durban.
I think that in spite of the last photos and goodbyes, the zone conferences were pretty cheerful and normal and the elders will just move on into the next ones without skipping a beat. Steve encouraged them all to write a letter this week to President Von Stetton... "and he'll think you write a letter to the President EVERY week!" They loved that - and as you may have guessed from the story, yes, the elders are supposed to write a letter to the President every week; and no, they don't always do it. I hope they're more faithful about writing their families every week.
The mission home remodeling continues - but not as "apace" as Ray Holder would wish. Ray is in charge of all the Church-owned buildings in the Durban and Mozambique missions: KZN, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, & Angola. He really wants the mission home finished for the Von Stettons - it's nice to have lofty goals... However, the painters are done, the tiling is done, the bathroom is maybe a third done, the kitchen only lacks cupboard door handles, sinks and applicances; then we need the new carpet laid, followed by putting all the food and kitchenware away, and straightening the furniture. I'll have to look at the pictures Sister Brock sent me three years ago, to know where the bedroom furniture went: we've moved things around a lot. The good news is, Sister Von Stetton will probably like organizing it the way she wants it, anyway, so "What, me worry?" (Well, yeah, but I'll get over it. I hope Ray does!)
When we breakfast at Little Haven, I always get good stories from Vic and Grace. Today we were talking about the difficulties African return missionaries face in finding work. they told me about a young man who emigrated to the States, jobless and poor. He saw a construction site, bought a broom, and went there and started sweeping up. The foreman asked him what he was doing there, and he answered "Cleaning up." "We didn't hire you!" "That's alright - you don't have to pay me, I'm just going to clean things up." He went to the jobsite every day with his broom, and by the end of the week they hired him and taught him the construction business. As you can imagine, he became very successful.
We met a young man named Surprise, not a member, who is staying with them during some training. His parents are divorced, and when he was 13 or 14 his father took him out of school and away from his mother. Surprise was very good at maths and science, and started tutoring children at a church. More and more students came, and the pastor asked him to encourage them to continue with their education. He was then asked to give his motivational talk other places, and was paid a little - enough to get back in school for another semester. He also started helping at a school for illiterate adults.
He never did his matric exams, but a friend encouraged him to apply at Nestle's. They required their own exam (which he failed) and an interview - which he passed brilliantly as he explained his own efforts for an education. They hired him and are now training him in various areas of the company.
We have elders who were not able to finish school - some because they were supporting their families or helping a younger brother afford school. There isn't a GED type degree anywhere here, that I've heard of, so if they wanted to take the matric exams they would have to go back to school, with the youngsters, and complete all the years they missed. Brother Vic tells me that the answer is to start their own business. There is a niche for everything, and if they can find their's, they can rise to anything. I guess it's like thinking up the Post-it, or rubber bracelets, or vuvuzelas! Completing a mission gives the elders lots of training in goal-setting, strategy planning, endurance and tailoring performance to the needs of the situation. I'm sure they'll find their "niches" if they'll just keep on as they are going now.
And here is one more example of why all the senior couples (including us) wish we could put a few of the elders in our bags and take them home. When I cam out of church at Pinetown Sunday it was raining. Elder Cuguara saw me standing on the porch looking at the rain, came out, and offered me his suitcoat to keep dry on the walk to the car - which would have meant his walking through the rain in his shirtsleeves to bring the coat back.
How can you not love them?
Mom/Grandma/Sue/Susan/SisterPresidentMann(until Tuesday at 1:30pm Mountain Standard Time, when the Von Stettons get off the plane at King Shaka International Airport)
ps There'll be a last mission blog next week
pps We're going to set up a mission website where the elders/sisters/couples can post pictures and comments on their own pages