Wednesday was training day. All the new missionaries were brought to the mission home at 9:00 am. They had interviews with President Collings, wrote letters home, filled out paperwork, took care of passports, yellow fever cards, and all of the other odds and ends that we need to do. Then we had breakfast. We had breakfast casserole, and french toast casserole, fresh fruits, and juice. They were all able to just relax and talk with each other. After breakfast, the trainers were brought in, and the missionaries were introduced to their trainers, and told which area they would be serving in. It's always so fun to see the excitement in these new missionaries. One by one, they bore their testimony, and then we trained the trainers. President Collings had some remarks for them, setting the expectations high. The spirit was felt very strong, and we are really excited to see how these new missionaries progress. We keep being so amazed at the caliper of missionaries we receive here in the UKM. They are so prepared, and are such great young men and women. After a full day of training, they were off to their new areas with their new companions. Oh, the last Elder had one bag that was sent to an airline office in Kampala, and the other bag that was kept at the airport. So he had a little bit of driving with his zone leaders to finally get his bags... but he got them, and made it to his new area as well.
Thursday is our farewell dinner for our missionaries who are being released. President always dresses in his best suit when we have missionaries going home. He says it's a sign of respect for the people that they have become, and for the sacrifices they have made to come on their mission. We had nine missionaries returning home, and one by one as they arrived at the mission home, they were dressed in their suits as well. I have been here six months, and have never seen any of them wear a suit. We were so touched! It brought tears to my eyes as they came in. We always have a testimony meeting, and the power with which they bear testimony is so strong. Elder Hamilton said that 2 years in missionary life is like dog years. You have about 14 years worth of growth in 2 years of missionary service. These men and women are AMAZING! After a dinner, a few thoughts shared, and testimonies borne, they were all off to their homes. Several left in tears, which was really touching. I'm always in tears on these days. What a blessing each of them are to us!
As the last vehicle drove away, President Collings and I sat on the couch in tears. My emotions have really been close to the surface with missionaries going home, and being away from family during this Christmas season. I was more feeling sorry for myself, saying goodbye to 9 more missionaries, and missing my family. President, I think was more touched by their goodness (He's always thinking on a higher level than I am.). But as we were both sitting there on the couch, I got a FaceTime call from our daughter, Kaylea. When we answered it, there was our precious little Harvey, just grinning at us! He's only three months old, but as we would make noises to him, he would laugh at us. It brightened our whole day! He lightened our spirits, and helped me get through a rough night.
Several weeks ago, we met with several pastors from other churches. They toured several cities in the United States, including Salt Lake City. When they came back to Uganda, we took them out to lunch, and took them on a tour of one of our churches. We were able to become good friends with them. Well, one of the Bishops invited President Collings to come to his church and preach to his congregation. On Friday we made our way to their church, the Divine Liberty Church, and brought the Assistants to the President, and Richard and Sarah, who both work in the mission office. Richard is also a Branch President in the Stake, and Sarah is the Stake Primary president. It was a celebration of Thanksgiving that lasted several hours. When we arrived, there were people up front singing, dancing, and praying.
After the first hour of singing, the Bishop showed up. He was invited to the front, where he sang, and spoke. Even as he spoke, there was a man playing music in the background. He invited people to come up and "minister". And one by one, people would come up and sing, or a group would dance while someone was singing. With all of this music going on, the people in the congregation were dancing as well, and several of them had whistles and horns that they would blow. It was a pretty loud church service. Then it came time for President Collings to speak. The Bishop introduced him, and really got the congregation into a frenzy. By the time he was done introducing him, everyone was cheering and clapping.
He came up to the front and explained that his talk was going to be a little bit different. That when he speaks, he does not sing or dance because the Holy Ghost speaks with a still small voice, and he likes to speak through the Holy Ghost. (All the while, the keyboard is playing a background music, haha). But then he invited those of us who were with him to come up and sing for them. We sang, I am a Child of God, and the keyboard player, played along as best as he could. He spoke about the love Heavenly Father has for all of his children, and then presented a Book of Mormon to the Bishop. He asked Elder Malaza, one of his assistants, to tell the congregation about the Book of Mormon.
He told them about the Book of Mormon, and then bore testimony of it's truthfulness. He read passages about Jesus Christ, and testified that he visited people on the other side of the world after he was resurrected. Then President Collings read a few other scriptures to them, and talked about how we all need to strive to be like Jesus Christ by serving others, and lifting their burdens. He also bore testimony of the Book of Mormon.
After this, we were all invited outside where lunch was being served. We had a truly Ugandan meal of Matoke, rice, pasta, chicken, beef, g-nut sauce, vegetables, and watermelon. It was SO good! We were able to really talk with the Bishop and find out more about his life and what led him to be a bishop of this congregation. He is married with four children, but has adopted 105 orphans that he cares for too. He is actually on his second generation of orphans. His older ones are now adults, and some are married with kids of their own. He cares for them like his own kids. It was really fun to get to know him better.
As we were getting ready to leave, we said goodbye to all of the kids. We shook hands, gave high fives, and knuckles. Then as I was shaking hands with one little girl, she rubbed my arm. I laughed and rubbed my arm too, and said, "See, it doesn't come off!" (My skin really is white) Suddenly about 15 kids were all rubbing my arm, I was worried it would come off, haha. It was really a sweet experience. While I was greeting the children, I looked over at the Assistants. They were talking with two of the young adults. They had a Book of Mormon open and were pointing out things to them in it. I was so proud of them for not forgetting their missionary purpose. As we left, they said that they were very interested in learning more about the church. If we only planted one or two seeds, this day was worth it.
We drove back to Kampala, and made it in time to catch a midnight flight to Rwanda. We are having Zone Conference/ Christmas parties this month. Rwanda is first on the list, this was the only time we would be able to make it to Rwanda before Christmas. We asked the Zone Leaders to plan the things they wanted to do for the party. It was so fun. We started with lunch, and watched a DVD of the UKM in 2016 while eating lunch. The missionaries all submitted six pictures each, and then Suzan in our office put them to music. We will be giving a copy of the DVD to each of the missionaries. She did such a great job. The missionaries LOVED watching it.
Then we talked with them about having gratitude during this Christmas season. We talked about President Eyring's talk from 2007 on gratitude. He spoke about how each day he would write down how he had seen the hand of the Lord touch his life. As he pondered his day, the would remember different things that had happened, and as he wrote them down, his heart would be full of such gratitude. I encourage you to read this talk again. It really had an impact on us. We decided to make a "gratitude journal" for each of our missionaries, and encouraged them to take just a bit of time each evening, and write down how they saw the Lord touch their lives that day. President spoke with them for a bit about how they can accomplish their goal for the year, and about how they can reach the standards of excellence. This is not something that will end in December, but he is trying to teach them how setting goals, and trusting Heavenly Father to help you accomplish those goals will help them for the rest of their lives.
Later we had some skits, well, technically it was only one skit on the word of wisdom, which was pretty funny. One of the other groups told about their most memorable Christmas. It was very touching. The final group had everyone stand together, with me ready to take their picture. They had everyone open a VERY sour warhead and while they put it in their mouths, I was supposed to take pictures of it. We got some pretty funny pictures.
The sisters had been practicing a few songs to sing to us. They did such a great job. And then we had a white elephant gift exchange. There were some pretty creative gifts, haha.
We ended the day by going outside, and standing in front of the church. There are so many people who walk by throughout the day. We sang Christmas carols to people who were walking by. You would be surprised how many crossed the road and came up to us and shook our hands. The missionaries would talk with them, and tell them a little bit about the church, and invite them to come. We sang for about 30 minutes, and probably had 10 or 12 people stop and talk to us about the church.
All in all, it was a very fun day. The members of this zone are such great missionaries. They are really unified, and are seeing such success.
On Sunday, President Collings had some interviews, so I found a room upstairs at the church, and was trying to get some work done before church. I had some children come upstairs and ask me all kinds of questions. Then they asked if we could take some pictures. How can I say no to that? They were very sweet. It was a fun memory.
|The girl is Angel, but I couldn't understand her brothers' names.|
I really felt the Christmas Spirit during our trip to Rwanda, and although I'm far from home, I think this Christmas will be extra special. People in Africa don't buy gifts, they spend time with family and friends, and have feasts. They are very focused on Jesus Christ. I feel like people here really get it. Christmas isn't about presents at all, it's about family, friends, Christ, and LOVE. It's going to be a great Christmas.