Friday, April 28, 2017

Greetings from Uganda

We have had such an amazing couple of weeks. After picking up Elder and Sister Wright (my parents) and spending a few days with them in Uganda, we packed our bags and took them to Rwanda. They will be replacing the Gilletts, who are returning home very soon. I am so happy to have them here, and really feel like they will enjoy the work, and be an asset to the members of the church in Rwanda.

We didn't get to spend a lot of time with them while we were in Rwanda. We had interviews and zone conference, which as always, was wonderful. They will be taught everything they need to know by Elder and Sister Gillett, and if they can't remember it all, the Lord will help them. I have no doubt.

On Saturday night we had Elder Ellis of the Southeast Africa Area Presidency in town. We went to dinner with Elder Ellis, his family, the Gilletts, and the Wrights. It was just nice to be able to spend quality time together. Elder and Sister Ellis are wonderful, and always make us feel so comfortable around them. We had such a pleasant evening.

Sunday was Easter, and Elder Ellis and his family were going to be in the Kigali 2nd branch. President Collings and I decided to join them. We also had the District President, President Opar there. Because there were so many visitors, the senior couples decided they would go to a different branch so they didn't overwhelm the Kigali 2nd branch. Our Easter meeting was wonderful. The spirit was so strong, and it was so nice to hear from Elder Ellis. The speakers for sacrament meeting were, the branch president, myself, the district president, President Collings, Sister Ellis, and then Elder Ellis. The biggest surprise was the number of people who attended the branch. There were about 125! The missionaries have said that they have never had more than about 90 people. They weren't told that Elder Ellis or President Collings would be there, they just came. There were 17 people who were investigating the church that day. It was so amazing to see. I think it was nice hearing from all of the amazing leaders, but what I liked best about the meeting was the focus on the Savior's life, atonement, and resurrection.

After church we had 3 women who were baptized. What a special experience to be baptized on Easter! It was a special day.

The theme for zone conference this transfer is focused on Jesus Christ, it's perfect timing with Easter so near. In Rwanda, zone conference was one of the most spiritual we have had on our mission. I guess that's what happens when you focus on the Savior. Our missionaries are trying to be more Christ-like, and it's making a huge impact on our mission.

We returned home from Kigali, and had to say our goodbyes to Elder and Sister Phelps. They have served in the Uganda Kampala Mission for 6 months, and have been such a great help to us. This is my least favorite part of our mission. I feel like I'm always saying goodbye. We have been so blessed to have them serve, but we are excited that they get to go home to their children and grandchildren.

At the same time, our missionaries in Ethiopia were having a wonderful time helping with a Youth and Young Single Adult conference in Addis Ababa. There were t-shirts, CTR rings and bracelets donated to the district. They had lessons on family history, and self reliance. They had pretty good attendance with almost 40 youth and young adults involved. The missionaries, district leadership, and youth leadership all came together and really made it a wonderful day.

Meanwhile, back in Uganda... I have a rat. Jackie came to clean my house and said, "MY SHOES!" We have noticed a few mice from time to time, and have put out a few traps. The regular mouse traps that snap down on them were not working. In fact, the bait would disappear every night, and it would never snap. We decided to put down glue traps. Still, we never caught anything. On the day that Jackie noticed the problem with her shoes, we definitely had something happen with the trap.

The trap was covered in hair and feces, the sides and corners of it were all chewed up, and Jackies shoes were chewed up so bad that she wouldn't be able to wear them again. Apparently, the rat got stuck on the trap, and fought his way off of it. He was very mad, and chewed up a few things for revenge. (That's my version of the story...haha)  Well, we talked with John, who helps us deal with these same issues in the missionaries apartments, and he was great. He went right over to the mission home and put out poison. The next day, there were 3 mice outside the house that had died, and 2 others were found later... but no sign of the rat. Jackie says that he's a smart one, and he won't eat the poisonous bait. I'm not very excited to see or catch him... I'm kind of freaked out. I told my family and they were so sweet, they sent me these pictures and told me to sleep well.

I don't go to the kitchen alone at night anymore. Haha.

We are at an interesting point in our mission. In the next couple of months, we will be losing almost half of our missionaries. There was a huge group that came almost two years ago. They are such a great group of young men. They have been such great leaders in the mission, and now they are setting the example for and training a new force of missionaries. We keep wondering how we receive the very best missionaries in the world. We have been so blessed. Each time missionaries go home, my heart breaks a little bit. I'm not sure how I will handle the next few months. It really feels like I have 120 children, and when I send them home, it's like they are leaving the nest, and will start their lives. I just don't know if I'll see them again. It's such a blessing to get to know them, and so, so hard to say goodbye.

This week we have been having interviews with each of the zones. I just love the feeling we have in each of the areas of our mission. We have missionaries who are truly trying their hardest to be their best. Our mission scripture is Omni 1:26 Come unto Christ and offer your whole souls. It's been amazing to see missionaries take this to heart, and really do all they can... offering their whole souls to Christ as an offering. As missionaries catch that vision, repent, and do everything they can, they are learning that the Savior's Grace will make up the difference for them. They may work so hard and not have anyone interested, and then they will have someone just approach them on the street and say they want to know more about the church, or coming into the church on Sunday, asking to be taught. We are seeing this all over the mission.

We have been focusing on obedience, unity, and this month developing Christ like attributes. We have noticed more obedience, joy in service, and a new level of teaching from our missionaries. It's been a blessing.

I have a from our missionaries that I'd like to share:

This is in the words of one of our missionaries, used with permission:
We had a very nice opportunity this week. We were invited to a meeting of a group of people who worshiped Christ. It was kind of  like a church but with no paid leadership they just invite people to come teach the group. It is held at a university in our area. We planned to take an return missionary  named Billy who is a student from that university. On our way to pick him up we found two other missionaries,  and invited them to come with us. When we first got there they started by singing and then baring testimony. During that time I was praying and felt peace about what would happen when we shared. After 30 min we were invited to come up and share something . When we began to teach the restoration to this group of ten. The spirt of the Lord filled that room. There was a huge difference  from before to after. We saw the spirt touch the hearts of many of them. After we shared, Billy bore his testimony and shared his conversion. Then the other Elders bore their testimony. It was one of the most memorable experiences on my mission. The leader of the group came up and told everyone what we shared had a different spirt than what people have shared before. He wanted to learn more and invited the others to look into this more. One of the main ladies came up and asked something  like how we taught with so much power. I told her because we teach truth. We set some appointments with some of the members.

We hear so many wonderful experiences from our missionaries every week. They are such fine young men and women. The people of Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia are so ready for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are just happy to be a part of this wonderful work of the Lord.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

General Conference, Transfers, and Much More

Six months ago we wanted to go to General Conference in the mission branches, Gulu and Lira. We were only able to watch one session out of the 4 general sessions because of some logistical problems. We did watch them on our own over the following weeks. This time we heard that all of the branches were able to watch it on the weekend after conference, which made us so happy. We decided that this time we wanted to actually experience General Conference in the Stake. Because our day starts so much earlier than it does in Utah, we wouldn't be able to watch the first session until about 7:00PM on the actual day of conference. This is pretty difficult, so conference is recorded and we watch it the following weekend. We did get a few spoilers over the past week, the most exciting was that a temple was announced in Nairobi, Kenya. We went online and watched a few talks here and there, but there's something special about just sitting down and watching the entire block of conference sessions.

We were able to watch the Saturday sessions on Saturday, the 8th of April, in the mission home. Then on Sunday we spent the time at the chapel. Each of the wards have a DVD of the conference broadcast, so each shows it in place of their usual Sacrament Meeting. We were at the Kololo Ward. I was surprised with the number of people who attended. The chapel was full for the first session, and a little more sparse for the final session. They showed the priesthood session at 8:00AM. We had actually watched it on Saturday night. Then they showed the morning session at 10:00, followed by the afternoon session at 12:30.  The things that were said are so relevant here in Uganda, and I'm sure that is the case all over the world. It was wonderful to hear from President Monson. I loved that he spoke about reading the Book of Mormon daily. That is something that we see the importance of here as missionaries, but it's also so important in our individual lives. It helps us gain such a strong understanding and testimony of Jesus Christ and this gospel.  Then his talk on kindness and charity to the priesthood brethren was perfect. Such simple doctrines that make such a big difference!

I loved hearing Elder Holland talk about singing in the choir, and that "Jesus listening can hear the song I cannot sing". That has always been a special verse to me. Many of the talks were centered on the doctrine of Christ: Faith, Repentance, Baptism, the Holy Ghost, and Enduring to the End. I especially loved the talks about the Holy Ghost and the Godhead. It's something that I have understood, but I realize that this is a new concept for so many in the world. It's a wonderful blessing to understand the role of the Holy Ghost in our lives. Also the thought that "It's not about us." We have been trying to teach this to our missionaries, and to hear President Uchtdorf teach about this was wonderful. Obviously, I could go on and on. What a blessing to be able to listen to a prophet's voice and hear the word of God. The knowledge that this is his church, with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone should give us so much comfort. There is a lot going on in the world, but we have the peace of knowing that we are being led and guided by the Savior himself as we listen to and obey the prophets and apostles.

After church, we invited Elder and Sister Wittwer over for dinner, along with a return missionary and a young woman who he is teaching about the church. We had such a lovely time talking with them, and really enjoyed bearing testimony of the Book of Mormon and this church to her. She knows it's true, and says she is planning to be baptized. It's so wonderful to see the faith of the people in our mission. When they hear about the restoration, they believe it, and are anxious to join the church.

This has also been a week of anticipation. When we were first called on this mission, my parents were serving a two year mission in Baltimore Maryland. We approached them about serving here in this mission, and they said how excited they were about possibly serving in Africa. They wanted to, but didn't want to impose on us. We assured them that we would love to have them, and it was no imposition. While still serving their mission, they put in their papers again, and requested to serve in the Uganda Kampala Mission after their Baltimore Maryland mission was over. I thought this would be a neat thing, but was not very confident that they would actually be called here. In the time we have served here, we have had many couples put in their papers requesting to come, and all of them have had health problems that caused them to be re-assigned to other missions. This mission is very safe, but I don't think they want to take any chances. When my parent's call finally came, it was to this mission! We were so happy! They finished their mission at the end of January, and then took their time traveling to visit each of their kids and some other family members and friends. On April 3rd they went to the Provo MTC, and they will be arriving in Uganda tomorrow! I can't believe it's here, and they are actually coming!

Tuesday we were able to pick up our missionaries at the airport. We had 4 come in from the Johannesburg MTC. One from the United States, two from Zambia, and one from Zimbabwe. We had such a great group of missionaries come! The two sister missionaries said that while they were at the Johannesburg Airport, they gave out a lot of pass along cards, and a few pamphlets. I was really impressed that they already started missionary work on their way to the mission. The missionaries all came back to Kampala, and went out knocking on doors with the missionaries in Ntinda. I was told that the new elders are POWERFUL! Haha. That's good news!

We went back to the airport to pick up our new missionary couple coming from the Provo MTC. My Parents! It was such a fun reunion. This is the first time I was able to hug and kiss my new missionaries as they come into the mission. I was getting restless waiting for them go get through immigration and the baggage claim. When they finally came out, both President Collings and I were so happy and excited! I'm considered the "mission mom" here. Suzan from the office thinks it's so funny that I'm the mission mom to my own mom. She keeps laughing about it which makes me laugh.

We had orientation on Wednesday with the new missionaries, new senior couple, and it was the Wittwer's first time training. They did a great job, and I think the missionaries were given a good boost before they go into their new areas.

Thursday was farewell dinner and testimonies for our departing missionaries. We had 12 going home this transfer. One from the United States, and the rest from Africa. Suzan and Jackie made an authentic Ugandan dinner, which they all loved! Then we had a wonderful testimony meeting. These missionaries have the potential to be great leaders in the church some day. It's such a blessing to know them all, and very hard to say goodbye.

Friday was Mission Leadership Council. This transfer we changed things up a bit. We consolidated a few of the zones so that they coincide with the stake that they are located in. This meant that two of the zones that were strattling two different stakes were divided,  and merged into the zone which coincided with the stake they are in. We went from 10 zones in the mission to 8. Things look very different here. Mission Leadership Council (MLC) was smaller because of the two zones missing, but wow, what an amazing group of leaders!! We ended up focusing most of MLC on Jesus Christ and his atonement and attributes. It felt very appropriate being so close to Easter, and the spirit was very strong. We have such strong leaders in this mission.

After the meeting, we took the missionaries out to dinner. We ate at a Chinese restaurant named Nanjings. We have been there a few times before, but this time they put us in a VIP room We all sat around a huge table that had a water fountain in the middle. There was also a giant lazy susan that they put the food on, and it would spin aroun the outside of the water fountain. The food was wonderful and the missionaries were wonderful as well.

Life is good.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Busia II

What a wonderful weekend we had in Busia! This mission branch sits on the border of Kenya and Uganda. There is a branch on each side of the border. We are responsible for the Busia Uganda branch. This branch was struggling when we first came on our mission. We were able to go there and do some training about 6 months ago. At that point there were only about 35 people attending Sacrament meeting.  Since that time, the branch is doing amazing. In fact, we call it our first miracle while on our mission. The branch leadership goes out and invites less active members to come back. The branch members welcome people with love. There is a feeling of love and unity in the branch as people do whatever they can to be more Christ-like. The change is truly miraculous.

We decided to spend the weekend in Busia. On Saturday evening we would have a fireside, and then on Sunday, we would attend church with them. What a great experience it was! We did have a few issues with our drive to Busia. The drive usually takes 4 hours. We had a couple of setbacks, like locking our car keys in the house... It took almost an hour to get another set of keys to get in. We sat in the worst traffic jam we have ever been in, between Kampala and Jinja. I think it ate up another 1 1/2 to 2 hours. All in all, we made it to the fireside at 5:10pm. It was scheduled to start at 5:00. We left at 10:00 am...we were just grateful that we made it!

It was so fun to see the many people who came for the fireside. There were 108 people there. Usually on a Sunday they have around 90-100 people come to church. To have 108 at a fireside on Saturday night was amazing! The next day when we came for church, we were surprised that 130 people came. That's the highest number we have seen in Busia since we came on our mission! We were really able to enjoy fast and testimony meeting in the branch, the spirit was very strong. There are quite a few return missionaries, and quite a few who are preparing to go on missions. I think President Collings did about 24 interviews, between prospective missionaries, priesthood advancements, and temple recommends. 

After the fireside

During sacrament. These girls were braiding the tassels on this scarf so quietly. All the kids are so reverent here during church meetings. The one on the left looked like she was about 3 or 4 years old.

After sacrament meeting, I was able to spend time in the primary. The primary president has been in for about two years. She is a young woman who is preparing to go on a mission. The primary teacher is new, but was right there supporting the primary president. You could tell that they really love the children. They both did a wonderful job. I was able to meet with them after the block of meetings and do a little bit of training on primary. I guess 20 years in different primary callings really helped me to be prepared for these experiences on my mission.  There were probably 35-40 primary children in this branch. They were so sweet, and obedient. I absolutely love the faith of children.

President Collings taught a joint priesthood and relief society lesson. He does such a wonderful job of lifting people, and helping them to see what they truly are capable of. There is a wonderful spirit of unity in this branch, and we can only see even more wonderful things in their future.

Sister Wittwer and some of the ladies in the branch with me.

Our wonderful Busia missionaries! They had 3 confirmations today!

It was quite ironic, as we were driving home from this small branch that sits on the border of Kenya, we heard the news that the Prophet announced a new temple to be built in Nairobi, Kenya. The news of this new temple spread like wildfire. There is so much excitement! People can easily cross the border into Kenya, and it's just an 8 hour bus ride to get there from Kampala. It's easily accessible to Ethiopia and Rwanda as well. There will be so many people who will be blessed to be able to attend this temple. It is something we have tried to prepare the saints for since we arrived, but we had no idea it would be a reality so soon!

In our mission, we are able to watch General Conference online, but most people can't afford to stream it. We had satellite dishes placed in many of our buildings right before conference (maybe all of them, but I saw them in 3 of the outer buildings). If you want to watch conference live, it starts at about 7:00pm. So the stakes and branches will show conference on the weekend after it was first broadcast. I have been able so see a few things here and there (my kids have given me a few spoilers), but I'm looking forward to going to the stake center and watching all of conference this Saturday and Sunday. 

Life is good! Uganda Kampala Mission is growing! A temple is coming! So, so exciting!