I've decided to tell some of the wonderful experiences we have had here. I may have written about some in previous blog postings, but there have been so many lately, that I'm afraid I haven't written them down. We are constantly seeing Tender Mercies, Blessings, and even Miracles.
We went to a branch the other day, Steve had to do some interviews, and one of the young men in the branch asked if we would be willing to meet with his mom. We were able to go to their home that evening after the interviews. This woman is single, she was introduced to the church several years ago. She said that when she went to church, her life was immediately blessed. She could feel the spirit in her home, and was filled with joy. As she paid her tithing, she could see the blessings being poured out upon her family, she could see that they always had enough money to take care of the things they needed. Her son served a faithful mission, but while he was gone a member of the branch did some things that really hurt her. He was so sad to see that she had stopped going to church while he was on his mission. She said she will always believe the church is true, but for several years decided to just listen to music and read scriptures in her home. She said until that person who hurt her was gone, she couldn't go back. Because she chose to stop attending church, all of her children stopped coming too, except for her return missionary son. As she described what had happened, we could understand her feelings. President Collings spoke with her about forgiveness. He told her not to let someone else's imperfections rob her of the blessings of attending sacrament meeting. He promised her that if she would go back to church she would see the hand of the Lord in her life again. Then, with the help of President Collings, and Elder Phelps, her son gave her a Priesthood blessing. After the blessing she committed to go to church the next day. She ended up going to church and bringing 3 of her children including a married daughter. After church, she said she will never leave the church again. Her son was so happy to have his family come back into activity.
One day after a zone conference in Rwanda, the missionaries were packing up things and talking a bit, getting ready to leave the building. President Collings has challenged the entire mission to be constantly finding. He is one that likes to lead by example, so once the meeting was over, while the missionaries were chatting in the parking lot out front, President Collings was out on the street talking with everyone that walked by. He would ask them what they know about the church, and would ask them if they would like to come inside and learn more. Then he would bring the person up to a group of missionaries and introduce them. Then he would go back out and talk to more people. On this occasion, he brought about 5 different people in to speak with the missionaries. The missionaries told him that one of "his" investigators was progressing, and was just baptized last week. It never hurts to open your mouth.
After church one day, a man approached President Collings and asked what he could do to join this church. He had been working in Dubai, and somehow had lost his passport. He was put in jail for 4 months. He met an American who was a Latter Day Saint, who also had been put in jail. This young man helped the American, and they built a friendship. The American taught him about the Gospel, and when he was released, he told this young man to find the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints when he goes home to Uganda. He went home, looked up where the church was located, and then came to our sacrament meeting. President Collings was able to teach him with the help of the missionaries serving in that ward. A few weeks later, President Collings was able to baptize this man. He also introduced President Collings to his grandmother, sister, and brother, who are all interested in joining the church. During the baptismal service, there was a woman in the congregation. She said she felt the spirit so strong and knew she needed to be baptized into this church. She and her family approached the missionaries, and were taught the gospel. A month later, she and her sister and 5 other family members were all baptized. After she was baptized she stood up and spoke about how happy she was. She thanked God that she had found this church, and was just so full of joy.
There are missionaries in one area that have really struggled to find people, and the branches didn't have very many members coming. We decided to have this area just focus on reading the Book of Mormon, and even told the elders to focus on reading the Book of Mormon with the members. After doing this for a few weeks, there were 6 less active members in that branch who just decided to come to church, but there were also 6 investigators, who just came to church, asking to learn more. One branch was so full they had to bring in extra chairs and were completely squished. This zone says they really feel like reading the Book of Mormon is what is bringing people back.
One missionary was serving in Rwanda. He had just started teaching a family and they seemed to be progressing nicely, but they ended up moving away and he lost contact with them. A few months later he was in Uganda and had a thought that he should stop and order pizza from Pizza Hut (We actually have Pizza Hut here!). While he was ordering, somebody called him by name. When he turned around, he was so surprised to see the family from Rwanda that he had been teaching. He was able to get all of their contact information, and introduce the family to the missionaries in the area where they are now living. We believe there are no coincidences when we are doing the Lord's work, and what a tender mercy!
There was a man who walked past the church every day as he would go to and from work. He said he would always see the sign on the gate that said "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints". He decided if it said Saints, that meant that there were very good people in this church. He was nervous to go inside, but after several weeks, he decided he wanted to go to church there. He didn't know what time the meetings started, so he got up early and dressed for church. He arrived at the church at 7:30 am. He waited there until the meetings started at 10:00am. He said he felt the Spirit so strong, and knew this was the church he needed to join. He was baptized a few weeks later and has been actively attending since that day.
One man was a security guard in Uganda. They are moved around from building to building when they have this job, and this young man ended up providing security for one of the missionary apartments. The missionaries taught him, but then he was moved to a different location. He was moved to another missionary apartment, and another set of missionaries taught him. This happened three times, and each time he was taught by missionaries living in the apartments he was providing security for. During this time, he had 3 siblings who joined the church, and they kept asking him why he didn't join. He said he had to be sure. Then he moved 5 hours away from Kampala. There is only a senior couple living there and none of the young elders and sisters. But the senior couple started to speak with him about the gospel. They were surprised to know that he had been taught and had family members attending different wards throughout Uganda. He had more time to listen to the lessons, and was really able to receive an answer for himself. He finally decided to be baptized, and expressed how happy he is to finally join his family in the Gospel.
There was a prominent member of the church who passed away in Rwanda a few weeks ago. The funeral was held in the church building, and it was the first funeral held in that branch. There was a group of around 500 people who came to the funeral, and from that group, 100 visitors came to church the next Sunday. It was a wonderful opportunity for branch members to show love and teach what we as Latter Day Saints believe. They decided to teach the Plan of Salvation for the Gospel Essentials class, and from that, there are 24 new investigators who are taking the discussions.
President Collings and I have had an aggressive goal of 12 baptisms in 6 months. We have been trying to teach our missionaries that if they are humble, and ask Heavenly Father to help them with the goals they have set, he truly will help them. We like to lead by example, so although we are very busy, we really hoped that we would have some diving help with this. As we were coming into the month of December, we were only half way to our goal. We encouraged our missionaries to have a mission wide fast to thank Heavenly Father for the way he has so richly blessed this mission in the last few months. Along with that, Steve and I decided to fast about our goal. The very next day, we received the message that a family who we had introduced the gospel to was being baptized and wanted President Collings to baptize them. He was able to convince them to let the other missionaries help with the baptisms, but in one fail swoop, we flew past our goal of 12 and have reached 13 with one or two more scheduled before the end of the year. Heavenly Father really does hear and answer our prayers.
Okay, a couple of fun stories... We went to Mbale over the weekend, and while President Collings took care of some business with the Branch, I went with Sister Phelps to do a little bit of sight seeing. She showed me the way up the hill to an incredible view of the mountain that is right outside of the city. The roads are a little bit steep, and you go through villages to get there. As we were making our way up this small dirt road, there was a HUGE group of people coming down the road, so large that I thought maybe we should turn back, but Sister Phelps said we could continue and they would move out of the way for us. It ended up being a celebration before a circumcision ceremony. The boys, around 16, dress up and are paraded through the town with everyone dancing and singing and playing drums. Many of them have their faces painted white, or red, and are dressed in traditional clothing. As they passed by us, I REALLY felt like I was in Africa!! Later some of the return missionaries were telling me that the boys don't usually wear any clothes, and they are circumcised in front of the whole group. If they flinch at all, they are shunned by their tribe. Sounds absolutely awful. I think they were embarrassed when I asked about it. The ones I asked said they are not in that particular tribe.
We got up the hill and there was a stunning view of a waterfall. We actually saw 4 or 5 waterfalls. It is so lush and green here, it's like we are in the Garden of Eden, just a tropical paradise. We took a few pictures, and gave some sweets to the children along the side of the road, and then made our way back to town. Again passing the huge celebration, who had made their way to the paved roads now.
We decided to try and get a pedicure in town. Neither of us have tried it before... As we went in, we asked them about the cost of a pedicure. We decided that it would be quicker to just paint our toenails, so we could get back to the church without our husbands having to wait for us. They started on Sister Phelps, and again we just said to paint them. He trimmed and filed and put oils and lotions on her feet and calves, and soaked them in water. We asked if there was someone else who could work on mine at the same time, because this was really taking a long time. They said no, just one person. When they finally finished with her, I decided there was not enough time to do mine. Sister Phelps pulled out enough money to pay for the full pedicure, but they said she did not get the full pedicure, just the nails painted! Wow, it sure seemed like a full pedicure!
We really enjoyed spending the afternoon together and sharing these fun experiences. While we were in the salon, the circumsision celebration paraded past twice, and a procession of cars from a wedding, covered with crepe paper and flowers, all honking their horns. It was quite a day of celebration in Mbale. We had our own special celebration that morning as we witnessed two baptisms. It was pretty funny, we had to wait for a marching band to pass by before we did the baptisms. Who would have thought, a marching band in Mbale, Uganda, Africa!