Friday, January 27, 2017

New Missionaries and a New Stake

During our mission there are continuous cycles... every six weeks we send missionaries home, and every six weeks we gain new missionaries. We have around 130-140 missionaries at any given time in the Uganda Kampala Mission, and we are blessed to have the best missionaries in the world.

Recently, we received word from the Missionary department, that there will be a change in the missionaries schedules. Along with those changes, they announced a change in our schedule as mission president and wife. We are excited for the new changes, but have come to realize that we will be a little busier than we have been up to this point.

The previous cycle of our work was that we would have transfers, and then we would have missionary interviews, where President Collings interviews each missionary one by one. Then we would have transfers again, and then we would make our rounds doing zone conferences with every zone in the mission. The change will be that we have transfers, then missionary interviews, then zone conferences, then transfers again. Instead of interviews and zone conferences every 12 weeks, we will be having them both every six weeks. This will be a blessing because President Collings will get to speak with each missionary one on one every six weeks. We will also be able to train our zones every six weeks on the things that they should be working on. I hope the missionaries don't get sick of us!

So this transfer we had 8 new missionaries come. Five came from the Johannesburg MTC, including one American, and three came from the Ghana MTC. We had 5 elders and 3 sisters join our ranks. This group of missionaries are very excited to be here. There is a lot of energy within the group. They are anxious to work hard, and give their very best.

We have training of the new missionaries on Wednesday, and then we say goodbye to our departing missionaries on Thursday. During both meetings we listen to the testimonies of our missionaries. They are all wonderful, but you can definitely see a difference in the missionaries going home. They have been through the refiner's fire. They have a testimony because they have lived it for 18 months or two years. It's such a blessing to see how Heavenly Father shapes and molds people who serve him 24/7.

We said goodbye to nine missionaries. These young men and women have been such great leaders here in the Uganda Kampala Mission. It's hard to see them leave. I know there are great things in their future, and they have the potential to continue to lead this church in the various areas of the world where they live. We had one from South Africa, two from Malawi, two from Zimbabwe, one from Madagascar, and three from the United States.

With our new schedule, we have started having mission leadership council meeting (MLC) on the same week as transfers. We have it on Friday after transfers so that any newly called leaders will understand the direction we want to take the mission for the next six weeks. The things that are taught in MLC will be the same things that are touched upon during zone conferences, zone development meetings, and district development meetings. Then we start with transfers and MLC again. Having MLC on Friday afternoon was much different than we have had it before, but it was a very good meeting. We brought in our zone leaders and sister training leaders from Rwanda and Ethiopia to be a part of the meeting as well. After the meeting with the group, we had a separate meeting with our Sister Training Leaders. Most of them are new leaders, and were worried about how to lead the other sisters. The spirit was very strong in this meeting, and I believe the sisters were motivated, and will do a wonderful job.

I ended up getting sick this week. On Wednesday after eating some fruit, my throat started to itch. I actually thought I was having an allergic reaction. The itching turned to pain, and I had a pretty sore throat. I took some benadryl because I was worried about an allergic reaction. By Thursday it was doing a bit better, but I forgot and had another bite of the fruit, and immediately my throat burned again. But then it turned into a pretty terrible cold. By Friday my nose was like a leaky faucet. It didn't matter what I took, I literally had to keep a tissue right with me the entire day. By Friday, everything hurt. My whole body just ached. It was still just a bad cold, but then everything hurt (even my teeth! haha). Saturday was spent in bed, which was really disappointing.

Saturday and Sunday were very special days for the Kampala Stake. Elder Makasi one of our area authorities, and Elder Palmer of the Africa Southeast Area presidency came into town to divide the stake. Here is a link to follow that talks about the new stake. But on Saturday they had a priesthood leadership session, and then an adult session. We had been asked to speak in the adult session, but I really didn't think I could make it. I might be able to hide in the back corner of the conference and listen, but speaking wasn't going to work. President Collings ended up covering for me, and spoke alone at the adult session. By Sunday I made my way to the conference, and was met by Elder Palmer who said he still wanted us to speak together. We had an experience with finding our own converts, and he wanted us to share it.

First, they divided the stake, and renamed the old one. The new stake is the Kampala South Stake, and the old one changed from the Kampala Stake, to the Kampala North Stake. They had all of the members of the new Kampala South Stake stand, and as they named the new stake presidency, only the members of the new stake were asked to sustain him, which they did unanimously. The new stake presidency joined us on the stand, and they and their wives were asked to speak. It was very fun to see the excitement of the congregation as they heard from the new stake presidency.

After a rest hymn, it was our turn to speak. This is the message that Elder Palmer asked us to share: When we first came on our mission, we had decided that we wanted to find our own investigators to teach and baptize. We came up with the number of 12 baptisms in the 6 months before the year ended. We wanted to be an example to our missionaries and others, that they can do missionary work. The first two we taught and baptized, but quickly realized that we are extremely busy and will not be able to go out and find. Our prayers changed, and we asked that Heavenly Father would allow those who are ready to come to us. Again, we saw success with a couple more baptisms. Some we shared the message of the restoration or the plan of salvation with, and then put them in contact with our missionaries. By November, we had reached 6 baptisms, halfway to our goal. The whole mission was in the same situation, we were almost all short of the  mission goal that had been set, and it seemed like our missionaries had given up on the goal and were just going through the motions until the start of 2017. We decided we needed to put our faith in Heavenly Father, and asked our missionaries to hold a fast, that they would see the hand of the Lord in this work, and that they would have an added measure of gratitude for what he has blessed our mission with up to this point. The results were incredible. We received a call that a family of seven who had attended one of the baptisms that President Collings had performed, they had felt a witness from the Holy Ghost that they should be baptized, and requested that President Collings perform their baptisms as well. He asked that the missionaries be able to join with him in baptizing this large family, but we felt that the Lord had intervened in our behalf, and had made up the difference. We were able to count 13 baptisms by December. But what was really exciting was that our missionaries were filled with hope that they too could accomplish the goal that had been set. We had a total of 200 baptisms in two months in our mission! We did not reach the goal, but all of us could see that if we put our trust in Heavenly Father, and have a little more faith, and work a little bit harder, this is His work, and he will help us to accomplish it. We always say that it isn't about the numbers, it's about the people, but we were able to see 200 people enter the waters of baptism! It was truly a blessing to our mission.

Stake Conference was wonderful! We had around 1300 saints in attendance, and there was such a feeling of love and fellowship. We see so much potential for growth in this country! The people are ready! They are good people who have a strong faith! They love the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

New Starts

We had a couple of special experiences over the past two weekends. We have several branch presidencies that have been serving for a long time and it is time for a change. This makes for some pretty intense days for President Collings, because he interviews potential leaders, and has to try to understand what Heavenly Father wants in each branch.

We traveled to Rwanda to change out the leadership in the Kigali First Branch. Saturday was spent interviewing our missionaries, and then interviewing the men in the branch. On Sunday during church, the branch presidency was changed out, and the branch members were taught about how these men are called, and how to sustain the new leaders. It was a wonderful meeting, and the members were very supportive of the new Branch Presidency.

New Branch Presidency Kigali 1
Muyango Jimmy Mwesigye (1st councilor) Johan Tunwine (Branch President) Dady Paul Hakizimana (2nd councilor)

Branch members and investigators

After our work was done in Rwanda, we flew directly to Ethiopia. We had an opportunity to visit some of the Southern tribes, we felt like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is amazing the diversity of cultures in our mission.

We were able to see several tribes in a very short period of time, which was really nice. They are all unique, but many have similar looks and traditions. We learned about the traditions that they have had for centuries, and it was very interesting. None of them believe in God. They believe in nature and have their own customs and rituals.

We stayed in huts overlooking two lakes. It was a beautiful view.

We were able to see the  Dorze tribe.

They live in huts that are shaped like the head of an elephant. 

They make bread from false banana trees. Basically they are banana trees that don't bear any fruit. They use the trunk of the tree and leaves to make food. 

This woman is spinning cotton into thread by hand. I tried it... it was NOT easy. 

The men use the thread to weave amazing fabrics.

We stopped at a market where people from three separate tribes gather to trade, visit, and enjoy homemade beer before traveling back home. They walk at least 15 kilometers to the market each week. We saw people from the Hamar, Bena, and Tsemay tribes.

At the market. Look at the tiny chair the man with the striped shirt is sitting on in the bottom left of the picture. Most men carry a chair like this and use it wherever they go. I thought it would be interesting to see Americans using these at soccer games instead of camp chairs.

This is the village of the Hamar tribe.

The hut is two stories, with 5 people sleeping on the main, and a low platform above where two or three more sleep. 

The women use clay and butter to make their hair look this way. It feels like clay and butter... It doesn't harden, just remains greasy. 

The large necklace on top with the metal thing sticking out (don't you love how I describe it?) shows that she is a first wife. This does not come off. 

The two necklaces on the woman below show that she is a wife, but NOT the first. 

The women drape a goat skin over them that is decorated with beads and shells. 

We saw the Kara tribe (which means fish in their language). This tribe lives on the banks of a river.
They also drape a goat skin over them... sometimes.

Kara are well known for their body painting.

This young Kara man is holding a chair in his right hand, like the man in the market was sitting on. All of the tribesmen from most of the tribes we met have a tiny chair like this that they carry with them, and use throughout the day. They also put it under their neck to sleep on at night.

We bought one of our own to remind us of how blessed we are to have pillows to sleep on, and soft things to sit on. 

Then we saw the Dassnche tribe.
The ladies and children of the Dassnche tribe gathered around and danced for us. All the men were out tending the cattle (this was the case in most of the tribes).

We had to cross the Omo river to get to the Dassanech Tribe. President Collings and Elder Phelps decided to ride in a traditional boat to cross to the other side. 

This is a view of the Dassanech village.

And this is inside one of the huts. Those are dried pumpkins that they use for bowls and drinking. They sleep on the hide of cattle. 

One of the most well known of the tribes we visited was the Mursi tribe. They are known for the clay plate placed in the bottom lip of the women. There are several stories about why they do this. The first story I heard was that this was done to protect the women. Other tribes would come kidnap their women, and this would deter them from wanting to take them. Another source says that they do this for beauty. But at this point it has been a tradition for so many generations, they just continue the tradition. The larger the plate, the more respected the woman is. 

Young men from the Mursi tribe.

A woman with her lip plate out. They take them out to eat, and sleep. They remove the four bottom teeth and slowly over many years place larger and larger plates in their lip. They have no way to close their mouth completely, and have to tilt their head back and just pour water in when they want a drink. 

I have to say, one of my favorite tribes to visit was the Ari Tribe. It reminded me of the people I have grown to love in Uganda. They dress in western clothing, and live in humble homes. We were able to go to the homes of several and see how things are done.
We watched this woman make a clay pot with a lid from start to finish. Actually, it needs to bake in the sun for a couple of days and then she buries it in coals in the ground for a few more days, but she was amazing! 

I got to try my hand at making enjeru (After watching an expert do it). It tasted so good! 

Then we watched a blacksmith make a knife out of a piece of re-bar. He kept putting his bare hand in the hot coals and lifting them to the top of the pile of coals. I don't know how he didn't burn his hands! 

He carved the handle and burned a design into it. President Collings was the lucky recipient of the knife. 

Pretty stop on our way to the last tribe. 

They call this place New York. 

The last tribe we saw was the Konso tribe. They took us to an ancient village surrounded by a wall for protection. As the village would grow, they would build another wall around it. So the wall in the center of the village was about 800 years old, while some of the ones further out, were closer to 600 years old. It was such a fun, quaint village!

Each of the huts had what looked like a terracotta pot on top to hold it all in place.

We took a boat out on Lake Chamo, and we were able to see hippos. We weren't too excited about that because we have seen so many here in Africa, but then they took us to an island, and all along the shoreline were the biggest crocodiles I have ever seen! 

Our travelling companions.

We counted at least 17 all out sunning on the beach. It was incredible. 

My favorite person.

After seeing all the crocodiles, I don't think I would want to be on his boat. We actually saw many men in boats like this. 

Our reason for going to Ethiopia was to make a change in the Branch Presidency of one of our mission branches, which is 5 hours South of Addis Ababa. We have had so many issues getting to this branch, it's incredible. Sometimes it feels like the Adversary is trying to stop us from doing our work there. We had planned to make the changes in November, but they had the political unrest in Debre Zeit, and issued a state of emergency, which wouldn't allow us to travel outside of Addis Ababa.

Things are finally settling down, and we had scheduled to fly from Arbraminch to Hawassa, and then the airplane would continue on to Addis Ababa. The first leg of the flight was only about 25 minutes. But as we were making our way to the airport, we received word that they did not plan to stop at Hawassa because there were only 5 people planning to get off. (We were those five) This meant that we would have to drive to Hawassa (a four hour drive) for President Collings to conduct the interviews for the perspective Branch Presidents. It was our only option. We started driving right away, and ended up making it just in time for the interviews.

These are pictures of the previous branch presidency members and their families.

All I can say is that we truly witnessed a miracle in this tiny branch. A new branch presidency was called, and the will of the Lord was revealed. The Spirit was very strong. I will post pictures of the new branch presidency later. We are praying that the saints in Hawassa will continue to grow and be a strong branch of the church.

I got to spend time with the relief society, and really have grown to love these women! We took turns reading from the book of Mormon and talking about what we read. Three different languages were spoken, but the Spirit was there as we talked about how the Savior atoned for each of us, and how Heavenly Father loves his children wherever they are. In this group we have one return missionary, and one, possibly two who are preparing for a mission. All these women have been baptized, and are converted to the church.

With the reorganization of the Hawassa Branch Presidency, this makes 3 new branch presidencies in three countries, in three weeks. It's been amazing to see that Heavenly Father is preparing righteous men to lead his church here in our mission, and throughout the world.