Monday, February 19, 2018

Our First Branch Conference of the Year

The final day of our trip to Ethiopia was Zone Conference. We enjoyed our time in Ethiopia so much with District Conference, interviews, and Zone Conference. These missionaries have been wonderful, and it is so great to know that, although they are far away from us, and do not have a senior couple there right now, we really don't have to worry. They are strong, and obedient, and willing to do all that the Lord requires of them. The spirit at the zone conference was strong, and positive, and was really a blessing to be a part of.

Ethiopia Zone!

Upon returning back to Uganda, we immediately went to Jinja and Iganga for our final interviews. While sitting at the Bugembe Chapel with the missionaries, we had a car pull into the parking lot. We were so happy to see our friends and previous senior couple, the Howards! They have been doing some service here in Uganda with Sister Howard's brother. It was so fun to get a hug from them and to visit with them for a while. It's hard to believe they have been gone for over a year, but we were so blessed to be able to see them. I'm so glad they stopped.

By Friday, we made our way to Gulu. We pulled out missionaries from most of the outer branches about a year ago, and were working with the missionaries more in the Stakes. While doing this, President Collings would have a monthly conference call with all the Branch Presidents, and would bring them into Kampala yearly for several days of training. This was to help the Branches to understand that they can do missionary work on their own, and  to help them to become more spiritually self reliant. Before we did this, we found that when we would go to the outer branches, they were relying on the missionaries to do almost everything. We went to watch General Conference once, and there were no members of the branch presidency in the building on that day. The missionaries had set up the projector and were preparing everything for the meeting. The missionaries were always the ones to prepare the sacrament table, and play the music, and even give the talks, lessons, etc.

With the missionaries gone, and these monthly training meetings with the Branch Presidents, we were able to see some amazing changes in the branches. If the branch mission leader has somebody who is interested in learning about the gospel, he and the branch missionaries can teach that person. When that person is ready for baptism, they would call the mission, and we would send a zone leader to their branch to interview that person for baptism. Pretty soon, some of the branches were having investigators that needed to be interviewed every month. The Zone Leaders were being asked very often to leave their area to go interview in the outer branches. One branch in Gulu, Bardege Branch really stepped it up. The branch president was heavily involved in missionary work. He was a return missionary. He would also go visit the less active members of the church, and would invite them back. The attendance in Bardege went from about 25 at sacrament meeting to about 120 at the highest. This took place over the period of just a few months. This branch was calling all the time to request missionaries come and give baptismal interviews. President Collings said, because we were sending missionaries to the branch so often, it only made sense to bring back the missionaries. When they arrived back in Gulu Town, there were about 30 people lined up to be baptized. The missionaries have so many to teach, they barely have time to do any finding on their own. Because of the work of the Bardege Branch, we now have 8 missionaries back in Gulu Town. 

This weekend we went to Gulu Town for Zone Conference and interviews of the missionaries. We also had Branch Conferences for the two branches, Gulu and Bardege. On Saturday after Zone Conference and Interviews, we had a Priesthood Leadership and Auxiliary Leadership meeting.

On our way to Gulu on Saturday morning, President Okello was with me and President Collings in the car. We had to slow the car down as some cattle was crossing the road. There was a car coming the other direction very fast, and one of the cows (bulls actually) crossed into his lane. We saw the car almost hit the bull, and swerve to avoid it. It was so close, I think it actually side swiped the bull, as the car drove off the road in a cloud of dust. The roads here have these deep ditches to catch the water when they have the thunderstorms here. It was actually miraculous how it all worked out. The car went off the road in a place where the ditch wasn't that deep, it missed a huge boulder on the right side. It somehow crossed over a VERY deep ditch with it's front tires (probably had a little bit of air as it was going so fast). Stopped before it's back tires fell into the ditch, or before it rolled. And, stopped before it his a building where a group of people were standing. It was like the car threaded a needle, and miraculously nobody was hurt (including the bull).  One man walking by shouted, "That bull should be arrested!" which made us all laugh. We stopped, and backed up our car so we could see if the driver was hurt, or if we could somehow help get the car back on the road. It was amazing to see the teamwork of everyone who was there. The men all lifted the front of the car so that it could pull forward. Then there was the problem of the back of the car. If it just went forward, it would drop about 5 feet into the ditch and be really stuck. The men decided to cross the road and pick up a bunch of boulders. They would fill up the ditch enough for the car to just drive across the ditch without falling into it. It took a while for all of them to bring enough boulders, but once they did, IT WORKED! We all cheered as the car cleared the ditch. The men all stood together so I could get a picture. It was so great seeing them all work together, and to see that nobody was injured, including the car! With that, we were on our way again to Gulu, and only made it about 10 minutes late to zone conference.

Zoom in closely to see the rock pile beneath the car.

All the men working to put rocks in the ditch.

The group of Good Samaritans. The man in the striped shirt was the driver.

The feeling in Gulu with our missionaries was amazing. They really came prepared, and the teachings and the feelings there were spot on. I keep saying that the missionaries in each of the areas are the best... I guess we just have the best missionaries in the UKM, because they really are all amazing.  


As I previously said, after the Zone Conference and Interviews, we had a joint branch Priesthood and Auxiliary Leadership meeting. President Collings, President Okello, and Elder Wittwer all trained the Priesthood. Sister Wittwer and I did the Auxiliary training for the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary. I felt so bad that I forgot to take any pictures, but Sister Wittwer snapped a picture of me at the beginning of our training. We planned to have our meeting in the Relief Society room, but it was so hot, and the sun was shining right in the windows, and there was no power, so the fans didn't work. We decided to do what is done here in Uganda all the time, and moved our meeting outside under the Mango Tree. It was cool and breezy, and just felt appropriate as we talked about being good shepherds like Jesus Christ. 

We had a very good turn out at the leadership meetings. Sister Wittwer and I thought 10 chairs would be plenty, but it turned out that we had more like 15 women there, and lots of CUTE babies! Haha. President  Collings did a demonstration in the Priesthood meeting. He whispered something to one of the men, that told about himself and our family. That brother whispered to the person next to him and so on and so on until the last person, who then told the group what he had heard. It ended up being a statement about a completely different person altogether. It was an example of how things can get confused and blown out of proportion when we spread rumors and gossip. I think it was a perfect object lesson. President Okello talked about the statistics of the branches. He wanted to help them understand that they are not just responsible for the people who come to church every week, but for the many who have been baptized, and have stopped coming to church. Helping them understand how to reach out to them. Many of the leaders said they really appreciated the training we did.

Selfie with Patrick Kumaketch and the Wittwers

After the auxiliary training, we met with returned missionaries from both branches. It was such an amazing meeting. We were talking about the difficulties they face after returning from their missions. It takes them at least 6 years to get established, and keeping the faith for those 6 years can be very difficult. A lot of people think these return missionaries should come home wealthy, as if they went away to work and make lots of money. It's really a challenge for them. President Collings talked with them about the bigger picture. They are here on this earth for such a short while compared to eternity. We rejoiced in Heaven as we were told we would go to Earth and be tested. This is a difficult test, but in the eternal perspective, it's a relatively short time. President Okello told of his own experiences as he returned home from his mission, and started his own life. It is nice to have the experience of another Ugandan who they can see has been through it, and understands, and can give advice.

As they were talking to President Collings and President Okello, I had this thought, almost like a vision come to my mind. I could see these return missionaries as foundation stones. I talked to them about the Salt Lake Temple, how the foundation had been laid, and then it was covered up with dirt to protect it when an army was coming into the Salt Lake Valley. When it was uncovered, the stones were cracked, and they realized the foundation was not strong enough. They pulled it all out and instead made the foundation out of very strong granite. I told them that the church is just starting to grow in Gulu, and eventually it will become a district and even a stake. We need strong return missionaries to be Branch Presidents, District Presidents, and even Bishops and Stake Presidents. I felt like I was looking at those future leaders, the foundation of the future Gulu Stake. Everyone in the room understood that these return missionaries are going through a difficult time, but this will make them even stronger if they will remain faithful. They will be able to help the church to grow, and some day they will be able to send their own children on missions, and will be able to be that strength that right now they feel they are missing. It was such a wonderful meeting. I could see a renewed effort to help and lift each other as returned missionaries of Gulu town.

On Sunday, we had branch conference in both of the branches. President Collings and I went to Bardege Branch, while President Okello and Elder and Sister Wittwer went to Gulu Branch. We had a great turn out. President Okeny of the Bardege Branch talked about having "Super Faith". President Collings focused on building Zion in the Savior's way. He talked about using all members of the Godhead when you are seeking for guidance.

 Bardege Branch. There were 95 people at Branch Conference.

Gulu Branch, there were 74 people at Branch Conference. 

In the Gulu Branch, President Opar spoke to the members about paying an honest tithing and generous fast offerings, and the blessings that can come to them because of it. President Okello spoke about developing unity and also helped them to understand what to do to become self reliant.

We really enjoyed our experiences in Gulu. On Saturday evening, I was given a gift by Elder Pratt. I tried grasshoppers a few months ago, but have never tried white ants, which is another favorite snack of the Ugandan people. He was so sweet to buy me a package of white ants to try... very thoughtful... indeed, very... thoughtful... yum...

Our missionaries are so great. They are thoughtful and helpful, and are bringing so much happiness to the people in Gulu! We enjoyed our time spent with Elder and Sister Wittwer and President Okello, and are really looking forward to the upcoming conferences in all the other branches.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Trapped, Lost, and a District Conference

Every day in the mission field is an adventure, however, some are more adventurous than others! We had Mission Leadership Council this week. I love it because the zone leaders from the outer branches and other countries come and stay at the mission home. We had interviews with the local missionaries at the mission office at the beginning of the week, and then on Wednesday night welcomed 8 zone leaders to spend the night at the mission home. It was a pretty good evening. I had dinner prepared for them, and they were able to still do missionary work around the area of the mission home. By about 10:20, I was finishing up the dishes and preparing a breakfast casserole for morning, when one of the missionaries came down and said that Elder Trippe was locked in the bathroom... really?

I went upstairs to the bunk room, and sure enough, he was locked in the bathroom. There is a knob inside of the bathroom that you twist to lock the dead bolt, and then on the outside, you use a key. He had turned the knob, and taken a shower. When he turned the knob the other direction to unlock it, the knob turned, but the bolt didn't move. I have about 100 keys in the mission home, but I only know what a handful of them are used for. I brought up my bucket of keys, and one by one, we tried all of them. There were a couple that seemed like they might work, but ultimately, we were out of luck. The missionaries were all so helpful. They tried to remove the door handle, which came off, but still did not move the bolt from it's locked position. They were worried about how Elder Trippe was holding up, and so a few of them started singing hymns to him through the door. At one point, they all stood together and said a prayer that we would be able to get the door open. There is a small window over the door, and we thought about breaking the glass and having him climb out over the door, but there is also a metal bar that runs right through the middle, and the space would have been too narrow to fit him through. There is almost no space between the bottom of the door and the floor. You could only fit a piece of paper of a small card through the crack.

Missionaries doing what they can to help and comfort their brother. 

After using all the options we could think of, President Collings made a phone call the the Church FM Manager. He sent Edward over to take care of this for us. I felt so bad. By the time he came Elder Trippe had been in there for an hour. It was 11:30 at night. We went through all the options we had tried, and even looked at cutting the bar at the top of the door... no luck. We decided to try to pass tools to him through the window. This room is on the second floor of the mission home. All the windows have bars welded to them. The missionaries took a long PVC pipe and attached a hammer to it. They raised the pipe up to the open window where Elder Trippe could reach it. They did that again with a screwdriver, and pliers. Then Edward instructed Elder Trippe on how to remove the pins from the hinges on the door. The pins were very stiff, and we weren't sure if it was even possible to get them out. After a lot of hammering, twisting, and pulling, the pins were removed. All the missionaries pushed on the door, and it came open!! We were all so happy. He had been stuck in there for two hours.

Edward, taking the time to come at 11:30 PM.

He's out!!
During the process I somehow promised Elder Trippe that if he could get himself out, I would make him some homemade brownies. He did it, and wouldn't let me forget my promise. This was 12:30 at night, but because of other things going on, I wasn't ready to sleep anyway. I went ahead and made a pan of brownies to celebrate.

In the meantime, we had other issues we were dealing with. As I said earlier, President Collings had been doing interviews of some of the zones. Earlier that day he interviewed Masaka Zone. They finished interviews at around 3:00. The Zone Leaders stayed at the mission home to attend MLC the next day, but the other missionaries went back to Masaka. There were not enough vehicles for all of them to drive back to Masaka, so some of them took a bus. Five of them took a truck and started the trip back to Masaka. The driver had never driven that route before, but two of the elders riding with him had been in Masaka for a few transfers and knew the way. There is one important turn that you need to take to get to Masaka. It's one that if you miss it, you will end up in Fort Portal, which is directly West, and near the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. (President Collings and I accidentally took the wrong turn at the beginning of our mission. you can follow this LINK to read about that adventure) Well, apparently the right road was blocked, and the missionaries thought they could just go another route and would make it back to the right road.

Fast forward a few hours. I know they had been communicating with their zone leaders all along, but these missionaries finally called President Collings. It was 10:00 pm, and they were lost. President asked them if they could tell him what town they were near so he could look it up on GPS. They said they were on a dirt road, there were no towns or villages around, and no people to ask. He told them to stop the first person they saw and get some answers. Well, throughout the next couple of hours we found out that they had taken the route that leads to Fort Portal. I don't think they realized they were on the wrong road for a couple of hours. They decided that instead of turning around and retracing their steps, they would just turn off the road and hopefully find a dirt road that connected to the road they needed. The road they needed was going directly South, and they were going directly West. When we figured out where they were, they were 50 kilometers northwest of Masaka on a dirt road. They had a good two hours drive before they would make it to Masaka. We made sure their level of gas was okay and spoke with them on the phone several times an hour just to make sure everything was okay. President Collings and I finally went to bed at 2:15 am, after the missionaries were safe and sound in their own apartments. We decided that this was going to be an extra special Mission Leadership Council because of all the weird distractions we had leading up to it.

6:30 came too soon the next morning. It was the day of Mission Leadership Council, and it was a great day. President Collings focused his training on the October 2014 Conference talk by Elder Lynn G Robbins, titled Which Way do You Face? Follow this LINK to read it for yourself. He taught the leaders how to help those they lead and do it the Lord's way. Not fearing man more than God. He showed examples of how to correct with love. Then he spoke about the importance of obeying the mission rules. Any time we choose to do our own will over the will of God, we are boasting. We must be willing to accept the counsel from our leaders and be willing to repent and change. If we are doing it ourselves, those we have stewardship over will see by our example and will begin to change as well.

Our Sister Training Leader, Sister Mutamburigwa taught on Setting Prayerful Goals, and introduced a new Standard of Excellence for the mission. She said as we set our goals in harmony with the Savior's command, we are helping to bring to pass Heavenly Father's Goal which is stated in Moses 1:39. She talked about relying on the Spirit, and focusing goals on our Key Indicators.

Elder Yemoh, one of our Assistants to the President talked about Relying on the Spirit. He said that having the right to the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost must always be our ultimate quest. As the Lord's servant, missionaries are to do His work in His way and by His power. Then he talked about being equally yoked with the Spirit. Size and strength are not enough, we need to have unity between the companionship and the Spirit.

Elder Barrington, our other Assistant to the President talked about Using Time Wisely. He asked each of the missionaries to ponder these questions and write down their answer to keep with them until the end of their mission: What do you want to say you have done as a missionary? What do you want to have become? What differences do you want others to notice in you? Then he asked how using time wisely relates to what we want to become as missionaries. This is the time to choose and work towards becoming who we want to become.

We had a lot of great input from all the missionaries, and we felt like they were all edified and uplifted.
Mission Leadership Council February 2018

That night at the mission home, we still had missionaries staying in the bunk room, but we all got a lot more sleep. No more crazy issues, thank goodness. The next morning we took a van to the airport and dropped off those missionaries who were going back to Rwanda. Then we went with the other missionaries to Ethiopia. We had a District Conference over the weekend as well as interviews, zone conference, and a special fireside. The speakers at the fireside were my mom and dad, Elder and Sister Wright! It was fun to have them come to Ethiopia and experience the wonderful feeling of the Latter Day Saints in this part of our mission!

We  arrived Friday evening, with just enough time to get some sleep.  Saturday morning we went to the church in preparation for the meetings. I was able to introduce my parents to the missionaries, and show them around the compound. My mom took this picture of me standing in front of the mission office in Addis Ababa.

Elder Wright meeting the missionaries

On Saturday we had three sessions of District Conference. There was a Priesthood Leadership session, and at the same time a Women's Auxiliary Session. During the Auxiliary session, we heard from the District Relief Society President, the District Young Women President, and then I got to speak. There were women representing every branch and every organization, which was wonderful to see. The priesthood session was well attended, and the men had a very good discussion. The spirit of the meeting was very good. That afternoon we had the Adult Session, and then Sunday morning was the General Session. The main focus of the meetings were preparing ourselves spiritually to attend the temple, and reading the Book of Mormon. There were about 175 people in attendance, and the Spirit was wonderful. There are really strong members of the church in Ethiopia!

A wonderful experience I wanted to share. A few weeks ago we were in Debre Zeit. I have previously told this story, but we found out there is more to it. While sitting in sacrament meeting, President Collings said a silent prayer, asking that they could have a miracle in that branch on that day. His prayer was answered as 4 people just came in off the street and asked to know more about the church. Each of them said that they just felt impressed to come into that building, and didn't know why. He felt like that experience alone was the miracle that he had prayed for, as several of them were baptized. After the meetings that day, there was a woman who requested that he give her a priesthood blessing. She had had some serious abdominal pain, and it had caused her issues for quite some time. The doctors were unable to help her. We went together into a room where President Collings was able to give her a blessing. He didn't hear from her anymore until District Conference. She was there at the meeting, and told him that she had been completely healed.  President Collings didn't realize it until Sunday, but that day in Debre Zeit, there were two miracles! Heavenly Father really does answer our prayers, when we pray in faith.

After the General session, we went out and took a District Photograph. We took it on the side of the church building and had to do a panoramic photo because there were so many people there. I stood back as far as I could, and still had to stand on a chair to get everyone in the picture.

It was pretty funny, President Desta, the Bekulobet Branch President, took this picture of me trying to get the shot! I had to laugh when I saw it.

After the General Session and the picture (and some refreshments), we went back in the church for a temple fireside. My dad, Elder Wright, has worked in temples every day for about 30 years, mostly as the temple recorder. He and my mom spoke to the members about the importance of temple attendance, and families. I spoke with several of our missionaries afterwards, and they said they took so many notes their hands were tired. One said he wished he could have a copy of the talk. Many of the members approached us and thanked us for bringing my parents to Ethiopia to talk to them. It was a very memorable experience for everyone.

Elder and Sister Wright

On Saturday, we wanted to let my parents experience a little of the Ethiopian culture. We took them to dinner at a cultural center where they were able to eat injera with all the wot (or sauces/stews) that goes with it, and they were able to watch musicians, singers, and dancers perform different pieces from the tribes all over Ethiopia.

 Funny thing about my parents. It seems like everywhere I try to take them, they end up on stage, dancing! Not sure how that works, but it's pretty fun to see.

Our experience in Ethiopia was amazing. We really felt like the District Conference was a success. The members were uplifted and edified. We were able to see so many wonderful members and enjoyed spending time talking with them and enjoying their hospitality.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Life in the mission field is the GREATEST!

The week began and ended with a visit from a member of the Area Presidency.

On 21 January, the Kampala North Stake had a stake conference. Elder Hamilton, the Southeast Area President came and reorganized the Stake Presidency. President Okot, the previous stake president has been called as a mission president, and will travel with his family to Zimbabwe in June. It has been such a wonderful opportunity to get to know him and his family better. We are happy because we will still get to spend time with him and his wife when we go to mission presidents seminars for the next year.

The new stake president that was called is President Oketta. We are so thrilled to get to know him better. He has been the bishop of the Kololo ward, where the mission home is. When we are not traveling to the mission branches, that would be considered our home ward. So our bishop has been called as our stake president. So fun.

It was also nice to spend a little time with Elder Hamilton and Elder Chatora, the area authority for Uganda. They both stayed very busy with interviews, setting the men apart, and training. But we did get to spend a few minutes to say hello and talk about a few things. I love seeing how the Lord works. These church leaders come in for just a couple of days, and are able to know who He wants to have lead the church in the stake. It’s been a blessing to watch it unfold, and to see the members accept the changes here in Uganda.

I borrowed a few pictures from Mormon Newsroom Uganda. These are some of the members who were at the conference. 

We had the opportunity to have our son, Steve and his wife Sarah, come and visit this great country of Uganda. We were able to show them all of the wonderful things we have come to enjoy here. It was a real treat. They spent time at the zoo. The zoo here is so fun because you can pay extra for a behind the scenes tour. The zoo keeper will take you to see some of the animals up close. You can even feed and pet some of them. We did it once while Conner was here, and decided it would be something special to do with Steve and Sarah as well. My parents flew in from Rwanda to spend some time with us, and we all had a wonderful time. It was a great preparation day. 

We had a working/ playing week. I was able to really spend time with the family, while President Collings did a lot of work on the phone, and computer. He didn't have a lot of free time, but did enjoy some time with the family. He was able to take care of business over conference calls and Skype, which was nice. We went to Murchison Falls National Park. At the park the family was able to go on a game drive, a boat, and hike to the falls. Uganda has so many wonderful things to offer! We were so happy with how many animals Steve and Sarah were able to see while they were here. I think they really enjoyed it. We were so surprised that we were able to witness 3 lions catch their dinner,  right in front of us. I felt so bad that President Collings missed it because he was on a conference call. We also saw 3 Hyenas.

Murchison Falls from the bottom

Murchison Falls from the top

By Friday, we were back in Kampala and we were able to meet with Elder Koch and Elder Chatora. They came into Uganda to do some training in the Jinja Stake. Elder Koch is the second counselor in the Area Presidency, and Elder Chatora is our Area Authority in the Uganda Kampala Mission. They asked President Collings to participate with them in the training. They took about 3 hours and taught the Stake Leadership, then spent the night and went to church in one of the wards in the Jinja Stake the next morning. We had to leave right after sacrament meeting to get them back to the airport on time. But it was a very nice weekend that we were able to spend with them.

Monday was my birthday. I didn't really tell any of the missionaries, but some of them knew. I felt like I celebrated the whole week just having my family here, and didn't really expect anything on my actual birthday. It was really a nice day. I had to say goodbye to my family. My sweet husband made us all an amazing breakfast, and took us all out to dinner and had the people at the restaurant sing to me. It was kind of embarrassing, all the workers came out with drums and shakers and sang "Happy Birthday Dear Tracy..." over and over to an African beat.  Steve and Sarah brought me gifts from the United States. I haven't had Bath and Body Works for 1 1/2 years! My parents brought me a beautiful basket from Rwanda and also bought me flowers. I had some of the sister missionaries buy me a single rose each, and several of the elders texted me. I share a birthday with Elder Khoriyo, so he knew and let some of the other missionaries know. All in all, it was a great birthday. Who would have thought I'd be in Africa for 3 birthdays!!

The day after my birthday was the day our new missionaries came to Uganda from the Johannesburg MTC, followed by the missionaries from the Ghana MTC. Transfer week is always so busy, but I love it. I love having the missionaries come to the mission home and getting to know them better. I love making them food and helping them feel welcome in this new place they will call home for two years.

We have orientation on Wednesday and they go with their new companions.

 On Thursday and Friday we send our veterans home, depending on where home is. This transfer we had 9 new missionaries come and 5 going home. We really enjoyed the time we spent with each of them. President Collings likes to get his running in with the missionaries. He is getting pretty fast, and the missionaries look forward to a little bit of competition.

These missionaries were being transferred to other countries or distant areas and needed to spend the night. They enjoyed a good morning workout. 

We will miss our missionaries who went home. We lost some of our best! It's been a  great week.

One more fun bit of information. This weekend President Collings attended a coordinating council. It was presided over by Elder Chatora. We were able to spend church with him in the Entebbe Ward. That makes three weekends in a row that we have been able to spend with Elder Chatora. It has been so neat seeing his leadership here in Uganda. President Collings has enjoyed spending time together with him teaching the people of Uganda. He is the Temple Recorder of the Johannesburg Temple, which is the same job my dad, Elder Wright, had for almost 30 years before he retired. It has been so nice to get to know him better. I told him that I will see him next week... but I doubt it. He has had a very busy few weeks, and deserves to spend some time with his family.