Thursday, February 9, 2017

Glasses and District Conference

I don't know where to begin with the blessings we have had this weekend. The things that happened this weekend are a culmination of many months of prayer, work, and sacrifice by many people.

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.

We have been trying to spend time in the homes of members and investigators with our missionaries, so after District Conference we traveled to the home of a sweet family. We stopped to pick up our missionaries, and they were busy telling people about the gospel, getting contact information, and setting up teaching appointments. I was so proud of them. Incidentally, these two elders had to step out of District Conference several times during the meetings because people called them who were coming to the meetings and have never attended church before. They were needing directions to the building. They said that during the two days of meetings, they had 11 investigators come. That's just one companionship.

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.

After this visit, we were invited to the home of President Desta. He is one of the Branch Presidents in Addis Ababa. This family is incredible. Our missionaries have told us that they invite other members over to their house and have family home evening with them. They teach them how. While we were there we sang a hymn, and had an opening prayer. His oldest daughter read a scripture from the Book of Mormon.

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).

It has truly been a blessing to spend this time in Ethiopia. We are excited to see how the work progresses here. I have no doubt we will see many miracles in this area of our mission.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Worldwide training and interviews

This week was filled with wonderful experiences with our missionaries. We had Tuesday morning that we planned to go out on teaching visits with some of our zone leaders. It's always so fun to be able to meet with them in their apartment in the morning, and then to go into the homes of people that they are teaching. In this case, we were able to go strengthen a member. The Spirit was so strong as we testified of the blessings that come from paying tithing. We were also able to give a blessing to one of his children who had been hurt. They are a wonderful family, who I am excited to see progress in the gospel.

We had interviews this week, and in the past we have had the whole zone come in and had some training and lunch, etc. However, with the new schedule, we will also be having zone conferences in just a couple of weeks. We decided to set it up where each district will come in for their interviews, so they will just have one hour out of their day instead of four or five. I enjoyed the smaller groups of missionaries. We had a steady stream of them coming in a few at a time throughout the day, and then they would go back to their areas, and get a full days work.

On Thursday, we had all of the zones that are around the Kampala area come in for a special Missionary Worldwide Training broadcast. It was very uplifting to hear from the heads of the missionary department, including 3 Apostles, and see that they really care about each of the missionaries throughout the world. They helped our missionaries understand the direction they want them to go in teaching people. It's not new, just reinforced what they have been taught since their missions began. Then they presented a new schedule for all the missionaries. It just gives them an outline, and gives them the flexibility to plan their day around their own schedule. It says what needs to be accomplished, and gives the missionary the autonomy to work out how they want to accomplish everything throughout the day. It also gives them more time to sleep, and more time on preparation day to accomplish all the requirements and activities of the day. Then they told the missionaries that they will no longer have nine key indicators. They have changed it to 4 key indicators that they will have to report each week. I think the missionaries are excited about the changes.

After the broadcast, President Collings and I met with 3 return missionaries. They left from a branch in Juba, and after their missions, they came to Kampala because of all the political unrest. President Collings receives phone calls all the time from people in South Sudan, or from there. They are all anxious for the church to come back and start up a branch there again. During Fast Sunday in January, we requested that our missionaries, as part of their fast, ask that we might be able to start the work in South Sudan again. Of course, many of the missionaries are asking President Collings if they can be the missionaries that go to South Sudan. Well, the answer came back that, no, we can't start it yet. We need to continue to wait on the Lord's timing. We know it will happen, but need to wait for a little more stability in the region. We met with these return missionaries and told them our thoughts on the church in Juba, and they were all so positive. They said that they thought this would be the answer, and are willing to wait on the Lord's timing. When it does open up, wow! There will be some young men who will be fantastic leaders in that area of the church.

We continued our interviews for the rest of the week. When we went to Entebbe, after meeting with the missionaries, I had to snap a picture of them preparing the font for a baptism the next day. There has been some rain storms, so they were using the mops to clean out the dirty water in the bottom of the font. Good, hard working elders.

On Sunday we visited the Seeta Branch, and had been asked to speak. The Branch President is the office manager of our employees in the Mission Office. We know him very well and truly appreciate all he does for us and our missionaries. We  were so excited to see him in his leadership role in this wonderful branch. I spoke on the blessings of reading the Book of Mormon as a family, along with daily family prayer. President Collings spoke on the blessings of the temple, and encouraged those who haven't already gone, to prepare to go to the temple. We really enjoyed the spirit that was there. The people were so kind to us. After the meeting, President Okello had us all gather together outside of the church for a picture with the entire branch.

These are our missionaries serving in the Seeta Branch.

After sacrament meeting, our missionaries asked if we would come with them to visit a couple who have been investigating the church. The wife has been baptized,, and the husband is being taught now. They hadn't made it to church, and the missionaries wondered if we would try to uplift them, and help them with any questions they might have. It was such a wonderful visit. They are a great couple, and have two children. When we first walked up to the house, their daughter, who is just over a year old, saw us and immediately ran over to her mom and started crying. Every time we would look her way or say anything in her direction, she would bury her face in her mother's chest or just cry. Her mom said it's the first time she has ever seen a muzungu (white person).

During our meeting with this family, we focused on unity. We talked about how all couples have challenges and need to just learn to be flexible, and humble, and if we focus on the same goals, we will be able to face any challenges that come our way. They were very gracious, and I think they were very happy we came.

Later that evening, we had some missionaries coming over to the house. They were bringing a woman and her friend with  them who was interested in the church, and they wanted us to talk with her, and again answer any questions she might have.  They say she is a minister, she has studied the Bible a lot and could see that the different churches didn't have all of the correct truths. She was reading in the Bible one day, and said she turned to Matthew 28:19-20. She believes that God called her to be a missionary. She started going door to door and preaching from the Bible. People started to believe the things she was saying, so they came and worshipped with her. She now has 3 congregations. She still goes door to door, and has been doing so for 13 years, and still searching for the true church. She had a dream about a foundation, and there were churches built around this foundation, but the corner of the church only touched where the foundation was, which told her that none of the churches are on the correct foundation. 

One day as she was going door to door, a member of one of our bishoprics answered. As she was talking to him about the teachings from the Bible, he said he agreed with her, and invited her to hear more from the missionaries. She taught herself to speak English, and is very well read in the Bible. The things the missionaries have told her, she believes. 

When she came to our home, we were able to teach her about the Restoration. She said that people think we worship Joseph Smith, but she said, "He has the same story as me! He was just searching for the truth." The only problem she is having with joining the church is that she has 3 full congregations of people, and she feels like a mother to them. She wants them all to come to our church. We told her that she first needs to gain her own testimony, and that we would teach them all one by one so that they each can gain their own testimony as well. We read from the Doctrine and Covenants 11:21 where it says to "Seek not to declare my word, but first seek to obtain my word, and then shall your tongue be loosed." She understood, and said she would come to our church. I know it was a very hard decision for her. If it's true that she has that much influence on 3 congregations of people, it will be amazing to see what she will do, if she is baptized. 

One funny story about this meeting. We invited them to have dinner with us before the lesson. They were happy to join us. I made roast, potatoes, carrots, a salad, and green beans. It tasted pretty decent. Everyone around the table ate it, but the two ladies dished up just a very small amount. When we asked if we could give them anything more they said no, they had enough. At the end of the meeting as we were saying goodbye, one of them said, "I have never had muzungu food! This is my first time EVER."  I told her that I hope she enjoyed it. She just kept saying it was her first time. Haha. Oh well

We had a group of dentists come from the United States, and offer to fix the teeth of any of our African missionaries. What a blessing that they would offer this service. They said that this is their 8th year coming to do this. I asked the Assistants to the President if they would call and see which of our missionaries might have pain and need to see a dentist. They came up with 13 names. When we gave these names to the dentists, they were disappointed. I guess in the past there have been 50 or 60 that they helped. So we decided to bring in the African missionaries who were the closest to Kampala, and have them checked. Many of them were quite new, and have only been here for a few months, so I was pretty sure they didn't need any dental care. Boy was I surprised. I came in at the end of the first day, and each missionary that I approached, I would ask how many cavities they had. One that just came this last transfer had 9, another who was quite new had 8. There was one who was older on mission who had 11. But to my surprise, the most I have heard was a missionary who had 22 cavities.  These were missionaries who were new, and didn't say they had any pain. A lesson learned for me. I hope they continue to come each year. What a blessing for our missionaries. 

We had another worldwide training in Jinja. I really think the missionaries are excited about the changes. We also had a few more days of interviews. And ended the week with a trip to Ethiopia for our final interviews and training. We are blessed to have such wonderful missionaries in the Uganda Kampala Mission. I say it a lot, but I continue to be amazed at all the good they do. 

Jinja training

Ethiopia interviews