Several months ago the Government changed the expectations for what a church building should be like. Even though our buildings had been in compliance, and we even had all the proper permits, they did not meet the new standard, and were shut down. The first week that these new standards had been set, inspectors went out and put signs on all of the churches that were not in compliance, and immediately shut them down. If anyone tired to worship in the buildings that had been shut down, they would be arrested. The first week over 700 churches were closed. There was one building of ours in Kigali that was not shut down the first or second week, so all the members were traveling to that branch to worship. By the third week, that building was closed too, but we had found a temporary place to rent until we could get a permanent building for each of the three branches. The branches have all met together in this building for several months while the church has tried to find buildings to rent or buy. The problem we have had is that there are so many churches looking for buildings that are the right size, with all the qualifications, that the people who own those buildings are asking a very high price to sell or rent them, and there is a lot of competition between all the churches to get them. Once a building is found, a request is sent to the government to come and inspect it to be sure it will be approved as a church building.
What was very exciting for us, was that the Area President, Director of Temporal Affairs, Real Estate manager, and our regional facilities manager all were in Kigali at the same time as President Collings and myself. We were able to talk face to face with them and get an idea of what needs to happen, and what they are doing to make it happen. We were so happy to be able to spend time with all of them, and are anxious to see these buildings open for the Rwandan Saints very soon.
We attended church and were so impressed with the faithfulness of the members. They struggle to travel so far to church, but many of them are making the sacrifice to come. Those who can’t make it are receiving phone calls and visits from their branch members, so they don’t lose their enthusiasm or excitement for the Gospel. They are patiently waiting for a building to be a little bit closer to them. The miracle is that we are still seeing so many people getting baptized, even with the difficulties getting to the church building. The church is true! They can still feel the spirit when they come.
On Monday we had an activity with the zone. We asked them to plan it, and we just went to a park and enjoyed the activity with them. The elders started out playing frisbee football, while the sisters played DONKEY. After about an hour, we all came together as a zone. Each of the three districts had planned a game for everyone to play. One played a type of dodgeball/ tag. It was really fun, and we kind of made up the rules while we went, but everyone liked it. The second district played a type of African jump rope. A lot of the African missionaries knew exactly what to do, while the rest of us tried to figure it out. It was fun. Then the last district brought raw eggs for an egg toss. Of course we’re not competitive at all, but President Collings and I had the last uncracked egg... just saying...
On Tuesday we had zone conference. We held it at the couple’s apartment. It is very empty now without our senior couple there, but because we don’t have any church buildings to meet in, it is a great place for us all to meet. A young woman who just received her mission call, made us lunch, and we had a very good meeting. Things are a little bit different in Rwanda, but we are still doing okay. We have missionaries who can handle it, and they are pressing forward with faith. We know this is the Lord’s work and he is helping us and them!
We returned back to Uganda that afternoon, and went straight to Jinja the next morning. We had a combined zone conference with Jinja and East Zones. It was really great to see the amazing elders we have serving in Jinja Stake, and Mbale and Busia branches. They are diligent, faithful, and dedicated missionaries and we are so blessed to have them in Uganda!
The Jinja Stake President's wife owns a catering business, and recently I have asked her to provide food for the missionaries during zone conference when we are in Jinja. She does a really good job, and the missionaries always have plenty of food to eat. They love it!
President Collings and I both went out and worked with the missionaries after zone conference. He stayed in the Jinja area and proselyted with one companionship, studied with another companionship, attended lessons with a companionship, and even did the morning schedule and exercised with a companionship. There are a lot more Elders in our mission than Sisters, so he needs to spread his time over several companionships.
I worked with just one companionship. We did some street contacting, taught a lesson, studied together, and did our morning schedule which included exercising as well. Nothing better than sleeping on a mattress on the floor like our missionaries do when they are on exchanges. It was great.
It's really good for us to see how well our missionaries work and teach, and then see what advice we can give them to do to be a little better. We have really enjoyed our time spent working with them.
Sunday was a very special day for us. We attended church in one of the Wards in Kampala North Stake, and President Collings received an answer to a question he has been pondering for many months. He has been without a counselor in the mission presidency for a long time, and has struggled to find someone to fill that position. While we were attending church on Sunday, he received an answer who should be his new counselor. He received approval very quickly, and this week on July 12, he set apart Jimmy Ondoga as the second counselor in the Mission Presidency, with President Richard Okello as the first counselor. It's so exciting to have two Ugandans serving in the mission presidency. They are both very knowledgeable, and will be such a great support and blessing to the Mission!
The reason we went to that particular ward on Sunday was because President Collings had shared about the Gospel with a young woman online. She was very interested to hear more. He gave her contact information to the missionaries, and we found out which ward she was closest to. It was such a great experience to go to church and see her there. The members of the ward just welcomed her and she really seemed to enjoy it. President Collings is always telling members to share online. He has had so many wonderful experiences, and seen lives changed as he has done this. Sunday evening we invited the missionaries serving in that ward, over for dinner. It was so fun! The Americans loved the pot roast with potatoes and carrots, they said it reminded them of home. The Africans enjoyed it, and one even took a picture to show his mom that he actually ate "American" food. It was fun to have them in the home to end our Sabbath Day.
The Sister Training Leaders contacted us a couple of weeks ago and asked if all the sisters in Uganda could get together for an activity. They are spread out in two main areas of Uganda, Kampala and Masaka. Masaka is 3 hours to the South, but right in the middle of the two cities is the Equator, and just near the Equator is the Uganda Croc Farm. They wanted permission to meet at the crock farm for preparation day. President Collings and I thought it was a fun idea and decided to go with them. We met the other sisters at the Equator and of course had to take a few pictures!
We drove with the Kampala Sisters in a van while the Masaka Sisters rode in a taxi to the Equator.
Then we all got together in the van to go to the Croc Farm.
We had to pay the Foreigner price, which came up to about $2.70, but all of the sisters had to pay the local price, about $1.35 because they look local. They were all laughing about it, because we told them the sisters are all from other countries, Ghana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia... the only country that counted as "foreigner" was us Americans. Haha. It happens a lot here, we are used to it, and can't complain about an entrance fee of less than $3. Just glad we didn't get "eaten!"
There are brick pens which hold the crocodiles. There are probably 10-12 pens, and each of them have LOTS of crocs, all of the same age in them. Different ages in each pen.
President Collings wasn't scared at all!
The sisters wanted to be sure we all know that they are STRONG, POWERFUL, and FEARLESS! They are that way with crocodiles, and also in serving the MASTER. We love our sisters!
As we were traveling back, we passed a small village and decided to get out and sing for the people in the area. We sang "I am a Child of God", and "Called to Serve". Not 100% sure what the people thought, but we were happy to sing, and hopefully help them feel the Spirit.
To finish up, we stopped again at the Equator. There is a restaurant that is located right on the Equator. You can choose if you want to sit on the Northern Hemisphere, or the Southern Hemisphere. We didn't actually get a choice, we were seated on the Northern side. I pre-ordered about 7 pizzas. I think they brought out closer to 9 or 10, but the sisters were able to eat all of them. It was a very fun day. The sisters enjoyed time with each other, and we enjoyed our time with them.
Every year we bring in all of the Branch Presidents from the mission branches. These are the branches that are away from the Stakes. President Collings acts as their priesthood leader, like their stake president. We invite them and their wives, if they can come, for two days of training. This is our third training since we started our mission. The numbers have grown since we got here! The first year there were 7 branch presidents, and two of them brought their wives. This year there were 9 branch presidents, a group leader, a district president, the two mission president counselors, and 8 of them brought their wives. The training is always great. President Collings and his counselors take time, and they also bring in others to train. This year they brought people to train on audits, mission histories, and family history.
I always try to have a fun activity with the ladies. We participate in most of the training, but then we take a break and go do something as sisters. The last two years I took them to the mall, had ice cream, rode on the escalator and elevator which some of them didn't like at all, haha. The group of women was much larger this year, and I wanted it to be more meaningful for them. We ended up doing a service project, where we assembled some humanitarian kits that I will be taking to a school in Uganda in just a few weeks. It was a wonderful experience because the women all got to talk with each other. They are all having some of the same experiences as their husbands serve and they were able to give each other advice, and empathize with each other. It was fun getting to know them all a little bit better. Several of them don't speak English, but there were women there who could speak both English and the tribal languages of these other women. Because of this, everyone felt included, everyone contributed to the conversation, and we really felt a sense of unity with each other. After finishing the humanitarian kits, we watched a couple of DVD's. The Mountain of the Lord, which focuses on the building of the Salt Lake Temple, and The Windows of Heaven, which tells the story of Lorenzo Snow and the importance of tithing. A couple of the women brought their babies, and it was nice to be where they could play and it didn't distract from the training that the men were doing. I really love these women!
As the men met together, they felt the same way. It was fun to see the friendships build, the contact information exchanged, the photos shared, as well as best practices shared. There was a very strong spirit in the room as they were being trained, and they were able to receive revelation for their individual branches. Those who are single, or who were not able to bring their wives, stayed in a bunk room at the mission home. It was fun to hear them talking until late into the night. Some of the older men said that they felt young like a missionary again.
I have said before how nice it is to live right across the street from a catering center. I was able to call and have dinner prepared for this large group very easily, which left me time to enjoy our guests, and attend to their needs. Dinner that night was really good, and everyone ate until they were filled. President Collings said, "We fed you spiritually today, now it's time to feed you physically."
There was a lot more spiritual feeding than physical feeding, but it's not easy to take pictures of the meetings. Needless to say, everyone absolutely enjoyed the training. I think the leaders will return to their individual branches with a renewed excitement to press forward in the work and do a little better each day. I think they know that the mission presidency loves them and is there to support them in any way they can, and that they have other branch presidents who they can mentor and be mentored by. The sisters too talked about their willingness to support their spouses, and even go with them to visit the members of the branches. This was an absolutely amazing experience, and we look forward with faith and confidence that this, the work of the Lord. will continue to progress until it reaches every corner of his vineyard.
Our last evening we went to Ndere Cultural Center where we were served a buffet, and watched traditional dances from all over the region. I love going there with Ugandans! The performers tell about some of the traditions of the tribes throughout Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, then they will do a dance from that particular region. As I sit by these people who are native to the area, they will say, "that's right!" "that's exactly what they do!" or even "that's where I'm from!" Some of them will go up and dance with the group because it's a dance they know. None of our branch presidents did that, but I was thoroughly entertained by THEIR excitement for the show.
Front row: President SSekitto, Masaka Branch; President Etiang, Mbale Branch; President Opar, Gulu Branch; President Okello, 1st Counselor Mission Presidency; President Collings, Mission President; President Ondoga, 2nd Counselro Mission Presidency; President Imende, Busia 1 Branch; President Ojiambo, Busia 2 Branch
Back row: President Opar, Kigali District; President Atiyang, Lira Branch, President Okenny, Bardege Branch; Brother Mpande, Kabwangassi Group; President Kirabo, Kijjabwemi Branch; President Wafula, Busia 3 Branch, President Oyet, Adyel Branch