Thursday, March 30, 2017

Opposition in all things

This week we have reached our nine month mark on our mission. I can honestly say that time seems to be flying by. We have been stretched, and strengthened in ways I don't think we imagined. It's interesting as we are driving to the different areas in our mission, how normal everything seems.

I remember when we first arrived, we struggled very much to understand the people. They speak English, it shouldn't have been that hard. On our first day, President Collings received a phone call from one of the branch presidents. He said he didn't understand a word that was said, and both of us were concerned. He told the branch president that he would call him right back, and then went and said a prayer. From that moment on, he has been able to understand those who are speaking English (for the most part). I remember being in the airport, and as they would announce things over the speaker, it sounded like a foreign language to me. Now, I wonder why it was so hard.

On our first Sunday, we rode in the car with our senior couple to go to a mission branch that was about 2 1/2 hours away. I remember going in the round-abouts, and I was terrified! We just went to that same area of the mission today, but it doesn't seem quite so bad. And although President Collings was driving today, I'm happy to say that I drive in it now, and it isn't that bad. Although I do believe we are blessed with safety as missionaries.

We had a wonderful experience. Elder and Sister Tower have been here in Uganda for 6 months. He has been training and giving suggestions to the Judiciary here in Uganda, helping them to be more efficient. We were invited to a special dinner in honor of Judge Tower, as he was preparing to leave Uganda, and return to the United States. The dinner was hosted by Chief Justice Katureebe in Uganda, and the Supreme court justices and other officials were all invited. We were joined by President Kamya of the Uganda Kampala South Stake, and Suzan Apondi, the National Director for Public Affairs for the church in Uganda. I don't know the politics of this country very well, but we were definitely with important people. Suzan said she felt like a peasant with this group of individuals. She said she has only seen them in pictures, and on TV.  They were so gracious, and you could tell they really appreciated the work that Judge Tower had done. They served us dinner, and then presented him with a special gift and cake. The Chief Justice spoke, and then asked Judge Tower to speak. I loved what he said. He talked about how the people of this country believe in Jesus Christ. Then he bore his testimony to them, and said this country would be blessed as they kept the commandments, and followed Jesus Christ. Truly a night we want to remember. Unfortunately, it was not appropriate to take any pictures. There was an official photographer there... hopefully he will share some of the pictures he took later.

Later that week, we invited the Towers to a final farewell dinner of our own. We took them, Elder and Sister Phelps, and Suzan and Sarah from the office to Ndere. It's a special place where there is singing and dancing that represents tribes all over Uganda and other countries like Rwanda and Burundi. So, so fun!

We decided to keep this night casual. We would not be able to be in town as the Towers left, so we wanted this evening to be fun for them. I think it was! We will truly miss the Towers! They have been such a wonderful couple to get to know and work with here! We wish them all the best as they return home and enjoy their family.

This will be a two week posting. I've been too busy to post this, and want to continue to share the wonderful miracles that have happened!

This week was spent doing zone conferences. We have been focusing on Unity with our missionaries, members, and church leadership. We also focused on helping investigators progress, and having more spiritual meetings.  As we give these topics for the Assistants and the Zone Leaders to teach on, it's amazing to see how they take the topic and really teach things that are specific to their zones. I have learned so much! And absolutely LOVE going to these meetings.

A couple of days before one of the zone conferences, we received a phone call at 3:00 in the morning. One of the Branch Presidents was very sick, and his son was very concerned. President Collings called the nearby missionaries to see if they could go help him out, but when he called them, they were already there, and had given the Branch President a blessing, and were preparing to take him to the hospital. When we went to that area for zone conference, the Branch President was still in the hospital. The zone leaders led us to the hospital where we were able to visit with him. He turned to the missionaries, and told President Collings, "These young men saved my life!" It was so good to see him up and around. He was released the next day. He still has a long road to recovery, but we were glad he was well enough to leave the hospital. I'm so impressed with the goodness of our missionaries!

Masaka Hospital (online image)

This has been an interesting round of zone conferences. Each conference has been amazing. The spirit has been very strong in each of them. But we have seen some crazy opposition. It makes me think of 2 Nephi 2:11, and appreciate the opposition, because it helps me to enjoy the good things more completely.  I just thought I'd share a couple of interesting experiences that happened during these wonderful meetings.

As we were having a zone conference in Mukono, it was my turn to do a training. I was startled as a bird came flying into the chapel. It was a pretty decent sized, deep blue/black bird. It had come in the front door, and down the hall until it got to the chapel. Crazy... I continued my training as the bird continued to fly all around the chapel, trying to find a way out. It was extremely distracting. Luckily, it was towards the end of my remarks. President Collings used a tablecloth, and was able to capture the bird and set it free outside. We were able to get right back on track and enjoy the rest of the zone conference.
Leaving Zone Conference Mukono
Elder Ward and Elder Sibeko

Later, we were having a zone conference in Jinja, and it sounded like there was a lot of people right near the church. We couldn't tell if there was some sort of celebration, or what. It reminded me of sitting next door to a stadium while a football game is being played. This was really an unusual thing to be happening outside of this chapel. It continued for quite a long time. We just made sure that we talked a little bit louder, and ignored it. The noise was next to the church on the West side of the building, and you could see a group of people walking down the road in front of the church, and then there was also noise right across the street from the church. There is a wall around the church, and another wall that was recently built across the street, so we couldn't see what was going on. Suddenly there was a loud boom! And then another, and another. We wondered if they were having fireworks? Or some sort of parade? But then you could see people running down the road in front of the church. I think there were 6 or 8 booms, and we could see clouds of white smoke rising up. There were three young women who came running into the church compound crying. I ran outside and invited them into the chapel while President Collings went out to see what was going on. The young women told me that there was a disagreement between two schools (they didn't attend either, just happened to be passing by). I don't know if it had something to do with a sporting event or what, but it sounded like a rivalry that got out of hand and became more like a riot. One school had kidnapped someone from the other school. Then the other school went to "take revenge". The loud booms we heard ended up being tear gas that was used by police to break up the rioting. We let the girls stay in the chapel until they felt safe. They ended up staying with us for about 20 minutes and listened to our training. We continued with our zone conference. President Collings said, later, it was so interesting that while all this chaos was going on outside, we were completely safe and having a spiritual feast. In fact, the missionaries didn't even know what the noise was until after the zone conference. By the time the zone conference had ended, you would never guess anything had happened. Life was back to normal outside. We talked with the missionaries about avoiding crowds, and helped them remember what to do if this situation happens again. We stayed the night in Jinja, and didn't see any other evidence of the situation that night or the next day. We never felt that we were in any danger. Truly, this was an amazing zone conference. Such a contrast with what had happened outside.

Jinja Zone after Zone Conference

During the weekend we had scheduled to go to Rwanda. We have been planning to create a district in Rwanda for several months, but needed to wait for all the proper paperwork and approvals to come about. March 26th was the day that all of us had been waiting for. Just a side note, March 26th was also the day the Book of Mormon was published in 1830. I think it's neat that the Rwanda saints get to share that historic day with their own special day of becoming a district.

Again, we were faced with opposition, but we were also truly blessed.

We were supposed to fly to Rwanda on Saturday morning. We woke up at 6:00, and would leave for the airport at 8:30am. When he woke up, President Collings said something was not right. He was in a lot of pain, and had broken a sweat. He felt like he was going to pass out. I immediately called the area doctor, and we felt like we needed to have him checked for kidney stones. We called and postponed our flight. The next one available was at 1:00am, Sunday morning, so we booked it. When we got to the doctor, he was feeling better. He tested positive for a kidney stone, but they said that since he wasn't in any pain, it probably passed. They gave him some pain medication and sent him home. He was fine for the rest of the day. That evening as we were getting on the flight to Rwanda, he started to feel pain again.

Sunday was an absolutely AMAZING day. We rented a conference room at the Marriott in Kigali. It was very private, and absolutely beautiful. We had a priesthood meeting at 8:00 in the morning. There are 3 branches in Kigali, with a total of about 450 members. We were so happy to see around 120 men attend the priesthood session.

Priesthood Session

Then as the General session was about to begin, we couldn't believe the number of people who came! We counted 408! The spirit of the meeting was incredible! This was truly one of the highlights of our mission up to this point.
Panorama of General Session

We even had a choir. They sang beautifully!

This area is truly ready to become a district. President Collings created the Kigali District of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He called Joshua Opar as the District President. This man is humble, and powerful. He will continue to lead the church in this District in the way the Lord would have him do.

President Opar with his wife and other district members

President Collings said that this was his favorite experience he has had on his mission so far. With that being said... he was still dealing with kidney stones. Haha.

During the meeting, the pain came back. He was very uncomfortable. At one point I leaned over and asked if he was okay. He said he felt like he was going to pass out. I said I could go get him something to eat, and he said no, he felt like he was going to throw up. All I could think of to do was to pray. Apparently the other missionaries could see that he was struggling, and texted each other to "Pray for President Collings". I don't think that members of the congregation knew, he hid it well. Finally towards the end of the meeting he stood up and walked out to try and get some relief. The zone leaders stood up in the congregation and followed him out. They ended up finding a private place and gave him a priesthood blessing. When they came back in the room, the pain was gone, and he was able to give his remarks at the end of the meeting.

Afterwards, he set apart the new District President and had him help to set apart the two counselors. It was such a special day!

On Monday we had decided we would take him in for a CT scan to see how many kidney stones he had, and how large they were. In the morning he wasn't feeling too bad, and the missionaries had planned to spend the morning with us at the Genocide Memorial. We decided to go to the Memorial with the missionaries and then go to the Hospital for the CT scan in the afternoon.

Wow! What an incredibly sad and sacred place. The Genocide Memorial helped us to understand what the people of this country went through. What is so interesting to me, is that when this took place, I was married with 3 children. These people are my age! The children who were killed or traumatized were the same ages as my children! It just really put things into perspective for me. It also helped us to understand that the people of Kigali need to be taught the Plan of Salvation. They need to be able to do the temple work for their families. Everyone in this city has been affected in one way or another by the Genocide. But what is most amazing is how they are dealing with it. They are teaching repentance and forgiveness. There is no separation between the tribes, but unity with all Rwandans. It's amazing to see the healing in such a short period of time.

Kigali Zone at the Genocide Memorial

Kigali Zone Leaders who gave President a blessing during district conference
Elder Owen and Elder Long

After our experience at the Memorial, we decided to take Steve in to get a CT scan. In Uganda, you can go to a hospital or clinic and tell them what you need, and you get it. We assumed it would be the same way here. We stopped at the receptionist, and asked to get a CT scan, and she asked us where the doctor's order was. We explained that our doctor was in Johannesburg and the United States, and that they just requested we get a CT scan... she looked at us like we were crazy. (I would too in the United States, haha) She told us that we needed to meet with a doctor who would do an examination, and if he felt like we needed to get that test, then we could get that test. There was a man standing just behind us, and he stepped forward and asked us if there was a problem. We just explained our situation and he looked at our nametags. He introduced himself as Doctor............... and said, "I see you are Latter-Day Saints". We said that we were, and he said that he had previously been the area doctor for our church in Kiev Ukraine. He was a new doctor in this hospital. He asked if we would follow him. He took us to a private waiting room and said that he would help us. A few minutes later, a woman walked in and asked us to follow her. She took us to a cashier, where we paid for the services we were going to get. Then she took us to a doctor's office. He immediately let us in, talked with Steve about his situation, filled out an order for blood work, urinalysis, and a CT scan. Then we followed the lady to the lab to get the tests done, and finally to the radiology department. When we got to each of these areas, you could see that there were a lot of people waiting, and yet she went behind the scenes, and helped us through the entire process. She said that the results of the tests would be ready tomorrow, and said if we would come in at 10:00, she would meet us at reception and help us again. It was such a tender mercy! We would not have been able to get ANYTHING done without the help of the doctor, and then this sweet lady, Beatrice,  who took us wherever we needed to go. Truly humbling. We felt like the Lord was watching over us.

Well, he did have a kidney stone. It did pass, from what we can tell. The radiology report shows that he has multiple small stones in each kidney, but none that are too large to be concerned about. Just a few things to look forward to in the future.... :/ 

We had zone conference in Kigali, and quickly went to the airport. This was a very interesting trip. Opposition in all things.... The best of times, the worst of times.... etc. Humbling to see the hand of the Lord in our life.

One final stop. As we returned to the airport in Entebbe, we got our luggage and put it in the mission van, and then returned to the terminal to wait for our new office couple. Elder and Sister Wittwer came from the Provo MTC, and are starting their 18 month mission here. We are so thrilled to have them. Our previous office couple returned home for medical reasons, and we wish them a speedy recovery, and want them to know of our love for them. Elder and Sister Phelps stepped in and kept things running for a few weeks while we waited for the Wittwers to get here, and we are so thankful for them. We are so grateful for all of our senior couples. We appreciate the sacrifices they have made to come serve in this mission. We are so blessed to know each of them, and we love each of them.
Phelps, Wittwers, and Collings

Welcome Elder and Sister Wittwer

This mission is in the midst of amazing things. The Unity with the missionaries is wonderful. The blessings they are seeing because of hard work, obedience, and faith is incredible. We can't help but think that some of this opposition is taking place as an attempt to distract us from what is most important. But how can we be distracted from such amazing miracles?!

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