Sunday, September 11, 2016

Our first Baptism

We had some missionaries returning home to Ethiopia from their missions, that President Collings needed to release. There were also some documents that needed to be started for us, which meant we needed to travel to Ethiopia again. This time we would be staying for a week. We have one district in Addis Ababa, consisting of 3 branches; Meganagna, Bekulobet, and Debre Zeit. We also have one mission branch, which is about a 4-5 hour drive outside of Addis Ababa, which is called Hawassa. This is our 3rd trip to Ethiopia, but our first time traveling outside of the city. We decided to take a drive to the Hawassa branch, and meet some of the members living there.

Our first day was spent at the mission office. President Collings had some interviews to do with some of the members and missionaries. During a break between interviews, we looked outside of the mission office, and right next to it on the church grounds, there is a basketball court. There were a group of at least 20 Sudanese young men, along with a few Ethiopians, playing basketball. Those of you that know Steve, know that he won't pass up a good game of basketball. So he went out in his missionary attire, along with one of our missionaries, and played a game of basketball. These young men are VERY TALL. But he played a good game, and really enjoyed it. Afterwards he told his missionaries, he doesn't mind them playing if they will actively teach the gospel to them as well. The missionaries said that one of the young men, who is 7 feet tall, is being baptized this weekend. My son would like this, sharing the gospel through sports.

The next day we drove to Hawassa. The landscape of Ethiopia is breathtaking! It's absolutely beautiful. This is what I have always pictured Africa to look like in my mind.

There's such a stark contrast between the growth of the city, and the simplicity of life on the outskirts of the city. There are apartment buildings going up everywhere, and a freeway system that is very efficient. Then right off the median of the freeway is someone tending their herd of cows or goats, and a few miles down the road someone plowing a field with a plow pulled by two oxen.

There are small horses pulling carts, donkeys pulling carts or carrying loads on their back, and herds of goats and cows being led across the highway.

On the drive, we stopped in Debre Zeit and saw the Church building located there. I believe it is about 4 years old. I love passing by that sign... The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Makes me so happy. It is such a nice little town.

The hotel where we stayed was right on Hawassa Lake, and was very nice. We were able to meet with some of the branch members of the Hawassa Branch. We had a good meeting with them, and are trying to build their foundation of strength in this area. We spoke with members of the branch council, along with several return missionaries. There are very good people here.

Habtu is a member of the church here in Ethiopia, and works for the church. He has been the one to help with our tickets, visas, driving, and just about everything we could ask for. He has been amazing! While driving back from Hawassa, he told us that he wanted to buy a goat. Ethiopian New Year is September 11th, I assume that's what it was for. Sounds like a feast! He said he would just tie it to the top of the van we were driving to get it home. There were people on the side of the highway selling live goats and chickens, and you see them tied to the top of vehicles or in the back of trucks, or on carts all the time. We stopped several times, and he haggled with them, but ultimately did not buy one. I was waiting to snap THAT picture! Haha.

My favorite picture of the whole trip. This woman saw me taking pictures, and motioned that she'd like her picture taken. Beautiful!

After arriving back to Addis, I actually came down with a migraine... Boo! But President Collings had work to do. He released a sister missionary who had served a mission in England, and then went on some visits. The first time we came to Ethiopia, we met with Zergy. She wasn't able to communicate with us, and made us promise that we would come back when someone could translate for her, because she wanted to tell us her conversion story. When President Collings showed up, she said she was glad to see he keeps his commitments. She told him that she was walking down the road one day and saw a pamphlet that had been discarded. She picked it up and it told about Joseph Smith. She took it home with her and read it over and over that night. She believed what was written in that pamphlet, and decided to call the number on the back. She attended church the next Sunday. She said that she had a dream that she should be baptized. It was such an amazing story. She has a son serving a mission now in Ghana. Her younger son, Melaku is trying to figure out his feelings about the church. President Collings challenged him to work on gaining a testimony, and said he would contact him in a few weeks to see how he was doing.

It made him very happy to receive this picture from Habtu of Melaku and his mom and sister at church on Sunday. 

That evening, I had gotten over my headache, and was really hungry. Habtu had arranged for us to have an authentic Ethiopian dinner. We invited the District President, President Eyob, and his wife Mesi, and also our friends from Russia, Andre and his wife. We were hoping Habtu's wife would come too, but they were unable to find anyone to watch the kids. (I told him they should bring the kids!)  Steve has had this before, but I tried enjeru for the first time. I really liked it, and Steve LOVED it!! The food is placed on top of enjeru, which is a spongy type of flat bread, and you tear off pieces of it and use them to pick up the rest of the food. No forks or spoons.

A lot of it was very spicy. I stuck with the more mild, while Steve tried the hottest. I think they were waiting for his reaction to what they said was VERY spicy food, but he just said it tasted like ice cream. They don't know he's spent the last few years eating with his employees from Mexico. The enjeru is topped with cabbage, beans, chicken, beef, cheese, etc. The true Ethiopians ate raw meat, ground beef, but I didn't think it would be a good idea to try it, since I'm always scolding the missionaries for their choices in food that seem to make them sick. President Eyob compared it to the scripture in the Book of Mormon, where the Lord made the raw meat sweet to them. Haha. Habtu promised me that the next time we come, he'll take us to dinner and a show, where we will see authentic dancing. I can't wait!

We had one more missionary to release on Friday morning, who had returned from Indonesia. He's an American and his family is living in Ethiopia. Funny story, he was living with his family in Indonesia when he received his call there. They were surprised, but happy. After the meeting with this missionary  it was off to the airport.

We arrived home late Friday night, and then got up and were on the road to Masaka at 6:00am Saturday morning. There are times in life when everything goes wrong... I mean everything!! I love that scripture in Helaman 5 that says, "When the devil shall send forth his mighty wind, yea his shafts in the whirlwind, yea when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you..." We had a "mighty  storm"  type of a day on Saturday. We have come to see that when we have "mighty storm" days, it's because there is something amazing that is going to happen, and Satan wants to get us to stay away, or become discouraged. The rest of that scripture says "it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is  a sure foundation,  a foundation whereon if men build, they cannot not fall." Our "mighty storm" morning, turned into an amazing day.

We left at 6:00am to drive to Masaka. We should have reached there by 8:00am. We had the Masaka chapel in our GPS, and this is the first time going back there since our first Sunday in Uganda, when we rode with the senior couple. As we were driving along, we were about an hour into our drive when Steve was stopped by a police officer. He started to tell us that he had passed a car illegally. Then he saw his badge, and said, "Are you a preacher?" Steve replied that he was, and was on his way to meet with people of our church in Masaka. The man acted quite shocked, and said, "You're going to Masaka?"  "Yes..." Then he said, "You are on the wrong road!! You are at least 40KM off course." The good news was, we didn't get a ticket for an illegal pass, that he doesn't remember doing. The bad news is, he said we would have to turn around, go all the way back to Kampala, and take the correct exit at the round about.  Needless to say we were quite frustrated. We put the city of Masaka in our GPS, instead of coordinates to the chapel, and it showed a road between the two highways that we could take instead of going back to Kampala. We were worried about trusting the GPS again, but it was really our only option. This road we took to get to the correct highway was a dirt road, over the mountains. As we turned on the dirt road, we stopped and asked a man if this dirt road would take us to Masaka. We got the look again... "You're going to MASAKA?"  "Yes..." He said it would, but we would need to stop along the way and ask for directions. This road was dirt, it passed by little huts, and all along the road, people would stop and watch us. It got pretty narrow and rutted from where the rain had washed out parts of the road. The GPS led us pretty well, but at one point as we followed the road, the GPS showed us floating off the path. Usually it re-calculates, but it didn't this time. There was a lady just outside of her hut who was watching us. We asked her if this was the right road to Masaka. We again got the shocked look, and the usual question. Then the  lady shook her head. She told us where to turn, and that would get us back to the correct dirt trail to Masaka. I think it was so funny because many of them seemed so shocked to see a vehicle on their road, but then to look inside the vehicle and see a muzungu (white person) was REALLY shocking! As we got to where it looked like we would soon merge with the highway, we came into a village that was a little more modern. We could see that in the path ahead of us was a huge group of people with a police vehicle parked in the middle. There was no way around this crowd. We rolled the window down, and asked what was going on. A man said that there was a boy in a crevasse. Not sure exactly what they meant by that, but we could see that we would be waiting a while. Pretty soon there was movement ahead of us, and the police were helping a 10-12 year old boy into the back of the police vehicle. Again, we asked another person what was happening. This man said, there was a boy in a crevasse, they thought he might be dead, but I guess he was sleeping.  Everything was okay, and  we were able to pass the crowd and get to the ACTUAL road to Masaka. This road is a very busy highway. We thought it would finally be smooth sailing to get there, but this was not the case. We were stopped in traffic on this road as well. When we finally started to move, we saw the reason for the back up. A diesel had rolled and was on the side of the road in a ditch.  At this point it was almost comical. Do you think we'll EVER get there???

We know why there were so many obstacles on the way to Masaka. This is a mission branch about two hours outside of Kampala. They don't have a senior missionary couple, and are under the leadership of a very good Branch President. We have 4 missionaries serving in that branch, and they are staying SO busy!! They bring  people to church, and the people are welcomed in, and are taught the gospel. They are a VERY strong branch. Last Sunday there were 16 investigators visiting this branch. The congregation had 169 people in it. The church is really growing there, and  it's truly an amazing place. President Collings did 5 interviews for priesthood advancements. And then we had a training of the branch council.  Our training went very well, the Spirit was so strong! You can tell that these people are doing what they should, and are being blessed for it.

After the training, we were invited to another room for refreshments. We had soda pop, samosas, and chapatas. YUM!! Now that  the situation was a little bit more informal, we had so many people who wanted to have their picture taken with us. It was so fun. We really love these people.

Afterwards, we drove over to  the missionaries home and visited with them for just a bit. These missionaries have worked very hard, and are really reaping the blessings for their efforts. We are so pleased with them.

Driving home was a little less stressful, however, once we got into Kampala, our GPS led us on ONLY dirt roads! Almost all the way home! I think the GPS hates us. When we actually got to Masaka, I looked at where it said the Masaka Church was, and it was marked at 75KM away from Masaka. We are sure grateful we were pulled over by a police officer that day.

Sunday was another very special day. Several weeks ago, we decided that we need to set an example for the missionaries. If they have baptismal goals for themselves, we should have them for us as well. We are trying to practice what we preach. We set a goal to have 12 baptisms by the end of the year. All of our missionaries laughed at us. When we go to their zones, different missionaries kind of mock us and ask how our 12 baptisms are going. We take every opportunity we can to share the gospel with everyone. We spoke with Kassan, who is our security guard. We could tell from the first time we met him that he was special. We gave him a pamphlet that talks about the Plan of Salvation. He read it, and started asking questions about it. We asked if he would like to learn more about the gospel from our missionaries. He said yes. Our NEW missionaries taught him the first discussion here at the mission home on their first night in Uganda. It was a very spiritual meeting, and he said he wanted to be baptized after the first lesson. The second lesson was taught here at the mission home too, and this time he brought his cousin Alex. Both of them had read all of the scriptures they were asked to read. Kassan had been teaching the things he had learned to Alex. After the second lesson, Alex's first lesson, Alex said he'd like to be baptized too. On the third lesson, Kassan and Alex brought their cousin Silas. Again, the lesson went very well, and they had really been studying, and teaching Silas the things they had learned. Silas is very interested in the gospel too. They set a date to be baptized on September 11th. Kassan asked if the Mission President was allowed to baptize people. Of course he is, and was thrilled that they asked him to perform the ordinance. Alex and Kassan had been attending church every week. In the mean time, Silas became ill and has had to go back and stay with other family members until he gets better.

Today was their baptism day! They called President Collings, and said that they are so happy to be baptized. They were also happy to tell us that each of them have a sister, and their sisters were going to come and watch the baptism. They came to all of the church meetings, and then came to the baptismal service. They were able to sit on the front row where they could watch their brothers being baptized. There was a talk given on baptism, and another one given on the Holy Ghost. There was a large number of Ward members who attended the baptism, and really gathered around them to support them. The Stake president was in attendance, and spoke at the baptism as well. He is such an amazing man. He really gave them great advice, and the whole meeting was absolutely incredible.  Alex and Kassan said they had been teaching their sisters about the gospel, and as they spent time in church today, they both said they are interested in finding out more, and would like to be baptized like their brothers. Our missionaries had joked about us sharing the gospel with one security guard, but the fruits of teaching that one young man have been wonderful. We were promised by Elder Holland that leaving Uganda at the end of this mission would be ten times harder than leaving our family at the beginning of our mission. I didn't see how that could be possible, but in just 2 short months, the love we feel for these Saints in the Uganda Kampala Mission is astonishing. We are so blessed!!!

1 comment:

  1. Oh Tracy!! What amazing people you and Steve are!! We are in awe of the love our Father in Heaven has for you and the people in the Uganda Kampala Mission!!
    Living with exactness is paying off for you and your missionaries! We love you so much!!