As many people know there have been many challenges in Ethiopia for the past few months. We arrived in the Uganda Kampala Mission about 7 months ago. At that time, we had 10 missionaries serving in Ethiopia. Over the months, several things happened that caused us to send missionaries away from Ethiopia, including health issues that caused our senior couple to return home for several weeks, and other issues where we needed to bring missionaries back to Uganda. We had some political unrest outside of Addis, and then the government declared a State of Emergency, and a travel ban for foreigners. Our missionaries who were serving in the areas outside of the city were brought back in to Addis. President Collings spent a lot of time in fasting and prayer trying to figure out the Lord's will for this area of our mission. By December we were down to 4 missionaries in all of Ethiopia. There is a core group of Ethiopian members in Addis who are so strong, and so solid. They really stepped it up during this time, and were amazing. President Collings changed the focus of the missionaries to strengthening the members of the church who were inactive in the two branches in Addis Ababa, and helping the branches to build a firm foundation so that the church would grow. In November, we encouraged every member of the church in Ethiopia to focus on reading the Book of Mormon by the end of the year. What happened has been truly miraculous!
Two weeks ago, we sent in a fresh group of missionaries to Ethiopia. They are all VERY excited to be serving in this area of the Lord's vineyard. The travel ban for foreigners has been lifted, and the missionaries have been able to go back to Debre Zeit, and Hawassa.
This weekend we had District Conference. The feeling in the District is AMAZING! People are returning to church who haven't been in years. The members are sharing the gospel with their friends, families, and neighbors. But even more amazing, people are walking in off the streets, asking to know more about our church. This is something that we haven't seen in the seven months that we have been here, but in the past month it has happened over and over. President Collings has reminded the members throughout all three countries of our mission that when the members are ready, God will send people who are prepared to learn about the gospel. What this latest trend in Ethiopia is showing us, is that the people are ready. They have testimonies, and are willing to share. The feeling is wonderful. The District Conference was wonderful. The feeling was one of reverence and love. The Spirit was felt throughout all of the meetings. It is truly an amazing place to be.
The number of people who attended District Conference was more than double what it was only 6 months ago.
We even had a District choir sing for us.
After the General session on Sunday, we invited all of the young single adults to a special meeting. We have MANY return missionaries in Ethiopia. Many have returned home and then felt lost. It is difficult to find jobs, and to find ways to afford school after your mission. We brought them together, and talked about their knowledge of the Gospel, how it can bless them and others. President Collings talked to them about supporting each other, and inviting their friends to learn more about the church. The meeting was very spiritual, and the group was motivated to do more. They talked about magnifying their callings in the church, and being more actively involved in the church. Many have seen how, although it is hard, the Lord has blessed them, and they will be able to accomplish great things. We promised to have a meeting like this after every District Conference. I believe they will start getting together for activities on a more regular basis, and really support each other. I was surprised to see that there are over 400 young single adults, age 18 to 30 in this district. There is much we can do with this group.
President Collings got out of the vehicle to meet the new investigators.
The family we went to meet are working to try and go to the temple together. President Collings went with the missionaries, and wanted to help them to understand what they need to do to be able to attend the temple. This family is wonderful. They have children who are wise beyond their years. They will be wonderful missionaries and leaders of the church in Ethiopia some day. And hopefully sooner than that, whey will be sealed as a family for Eternity.
They told us that they try to spend an hour together as a family every night. They start with a hymn and prayer, and then read from the Book of Mormon. Then they end with a closing song and prayer. They have read through the Book of Mormon together as a family twice since November. The Spirit of the Lord is powerful in their home. Their daughters are learning the importance of Jesus Christ, and they are sharing this with members of their branch and friends. They made us a wonderful meal, and we just enjoyed spending time with them.
As we were about to leave, President Desta and his wife brought out gifts for President Collings and myself. We were so touched. He brought a scarf that says Ethiopia on it for Steve, and his wife gave me a gorgeous shawl. It's truly a treasure! This branch is in good hands. Their branch president is leading by example, and you can feel the love in their home. This weekend will be one we will never forget.
Another fun story, our missionaries have been teaching a man who was in the military for most of his life. He lives in some type of barracks, and is very excited to get baptized. He has a Book of Mormon that he has been sharing with his neighbors and friends. He has been teaching them the things he has learned about the gospel. He says it's very difficult because all of his friends want to read from the Book of Mormon, and he only has one. He told the missionaries that his friends are also interested in learning more about the gospel, and wondered if the missionaries can come and teach them and bring more copies of the Book of Mormon. We were pretty surprised to hear that he has 140 friends who want to learn more. The missionaries are happy to help!
Rewind to our first month in the mission field. President Collings needed a haircut, and had been told about a man named Max who knows how to cut muzungu's hair. We made our way to this salon where he worked, and while Steve was getting his hair cut for the first time in Uganda, I was sitting on a bench looking through magazines. The most amazing sight walked through the door. There was a man who came in to get his hair cut with his wife. She came and sat next to me, and we talked. They are both from the United States. He grew up in Oregon, and she grew up in UTAH. Remember we were very new to Uganda, and it was so fun to talk to another American. She told me that her mom and dad are serving a mission in Salt Lake City, and that her mom had been wanting to do a service project. She wanted to gather together reading glasses and send them to her daughter in Uganda. Her daughter said she wasn't sure what to do with them, and wondered if we would know how to get reading glasses to people who may need them. I assured her we would love to do this.
We have ended up becoming very good friends with this American couple, and her mother started her service project. She wanted to gather 500 pair of glasses before Christmas. All of the sister missionaries that are serving with her helped out, and one by one she sent us eight boxes of glasses! They went over their goal by quite a bit. The one request she had was that she could see pictures of people receiving the glasses.
We received all the glasses last Thursday, and on Friday we had to travel to Ethiopia for District Conference. I brought one of the boxes containing over 90 pair of glasses. We got the word out that after conference we would be able to give glasses to those who needed them for reading. The members were very excited. I don't have a count of how many needed them, but we were able to give glasses to many people. We had a trial pair with the different power of lenses, and they would put one on and then read a card. Once they were able to see clearly, we would tell them the power they needed, and they would pick out the pair that they liked best. It was such a wonderful sight to see their excitement. Many were not able to read the scriptures on their own because they couldn't see. This is such a blessing.
We have been told that this sister missionary's grandson wants to gather up glasses as well for his eagle scout project. We are so excited to be able to share these with the people of Uganda, Rwanda, and Ethiopia. I will be posting more pictures in the future as we continue to distribute these glasses.
Monday we enjoyed preparation day in Ethiopia. President Collings and President Harline played basketball with the missionaries. President Collings plays at least once a month in Kampala, and will play for about two hours. Addis Ababa has an altitude of about 7,800 feet, and I think ALL of the missionaries felt it. They were completely exhausted after about an hour, and were all coughing because they had worked their lungs so hard. But they had a good time.
After basketball, President Harline dropped us off at the hotel to get cleaned up, and was going to pick us up in about an hour for lunch. We received a phone call shortly thereafter that he had been in a car accident. He kept saying he was fine, but needed to wait for the police to come and make an accident report, which takes a long time. He ended up going to the hospital for an x-ray of his neck, because he was hit pretty hard from behind. They said he is okay, but will be sore for a while. We are so grateful he wasn't hurt worse.
We met the missionaries for lunch at a deli where we ordered 9 Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches and one Hamburger (for me).