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.
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.