Wednesday, February 28, 2018

This is the work of the Lord

"The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught."

It's so interesting how things work out when you are serving the Lord. This transfer has been very unique. For zone conferences, President Collings has been talking about the conference talk given in October 2014 by Elder Lynn G Robbins: Which Way Do You Face? (you can follow the link to watch the conference talk). He has talked a lot about how the missionaries need to trust God, and not fear man  more than God. During his teaching, he directs the missionaries in a discussion, focused on D&C 3. This was a revelation given to Joseph Smith relating to the loss of 116 pages of manuscript translated from the first part of the Book of Mormon. Helping the missionaries understand that God is in charge. My favorite verse is verse 8 which says, "Yet you should have been faithful; and he would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary; and he would have been with you in every time of trouble."

What is so unique and interesting to me about this transfer is that I find myself focused on this chapter of scripture over and over as different obstacles seem to arise.

As we were having zone conferences in Ethiopia last week, there were rumblings of some civil unrest going on. None of our missionaries were ever in danger, but it did pose some inconvenience for the missionaries. They all had  to stay in the apartments in Addis Ababa, and were even in lock down one day because we heard there were some street protests going on. Here is a LINK to the situation in Ethiopia. Our biggest concern is that there has been some changes in the documentation that missionaries need in order to get a work permit. Because of the changes, there were 3 missionaries who we just sent to Ethiopia that had to return to Uganda. They just won't qualify for a work permit, and thus will not be able to do missionary work in Ethiopia. We are hoping that hearts will be softened, and we can find a way to send more missionaries. Right now, there is a lot of prayers, and hope that the members will remain strong until we can get a larger force of missionaries in Ethiopia. The missionaries who are serving there now are amazing, and are so positive. It continues to come to my mind, and I'm so grateful to know that He is in charge: The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught. 

The zone conferences have all been so amazing. I really feel like the missionaries are taking it to heart. As they discuss "which way they face", and talk about different situations where they were afraid to do the right thing, or say the right thing, something amazing has happened. Several missionaries have come to President Collings and have made a renewed commitment to be more obedient, to use their time more wisely, and be more diligent as a missionary, and to even repent and make things right between them and God. Many missionaries are raising their hand in the discussion and testifying how their life has changed because they decided to focus on being exactly obedient to the mission rules, and trusted in God. They have seen the blessings come into their missionary work, their personal lives, and even their loved ones back home. The spirit has been so strong in each zone conference, and I am humbled to be a part of it.

When things are going so good, Satan is always there in the background trying to distract us from working hard and doing our best. Not only was there a difficult situation in Ethiopia, but also there were some unique challenges in Rwanda.

We went there this last weekend for zone conferences and interviews, and just as we were traveling there, we received a message that someone from the government had shut down one of our churches. By the time we arrived in Rwanda, two of our 3 churches had been shut down. This was on Friday, and our District Presidency and Senior Couple Missionaries were working tirelessly to figure out how we could hold church service on Sunday. Here is a LINK to an article that talks about how churches in Kigali were shut down.  One of the churches we rent is owned by a lawyer. She was able to prove that our building met all the criteria that a church needed, and so we were able to open that church for Sunday service. But the Kigali Third branch did not meet the criteria, and we were not able to have services there. The members of the Kigali Third branch went to church in either Kigali First or Second Branches on Sunday. We had church in the Second Branch, and it was bursting at the seams because of the members who came from the closed branch, but also because there were so many people who were not members of the church, whose churches had been closed, and they were searching for a place to worship. I've never seen so many people in that branch. It was really an amazing and wonderful Sunday, and everyone who came was able to feel the spirit and enjoy the worship services. We were blessed to have 3 baptisms after church, one from the second branch and two from the third branch.

On Monday, the Kigali First branch was closed down as well. So now there is only one church building in Rwanda that the members are able to worship in. I have a feeling I know what everyone in Kigali will be fasting for this coming fast Sunday. President Collings and I believe that this is a blessing in disguise. There are close to 700 churches that have been closed. We will find appropriate buildings that will meet the government criteria, and invite those who are searching for a place to worship God. I believe there will be many who will come to know the truthfulness of the Gospel in Rwanda. "...he (will be) with you in every time of trouble."

Although we are facing unique challenges in Ethiopia and Rwanda, I feel completely at peace. We are doing God's work, and his work will not be frustrated by man. We need to continue to work, and he will prepare a way for us to accomplish all he asks us to do.

Along with all the fun zone conferences and experiences in Ethiopia and Rwanda, I also had a visit from my SISTERS! They came to stay with my mom and dad, who are the senior couple serving in Rwanda. When we came into town to have zone conference and interviews with the missionaries, I was able to spend a couple of days visiting and having fun with my mom and sisters. It was so nice!

On Saturday, we went to a small village and basically got to live the life of a Rwandan woman for a day. We hiked to the village, and met the women we would spend the day with. They helped us to dress in their traditional clothes. Apparently, I'm not easy to dress. They re-tied the cloth on my head probably 3 times, and kind of laughed each time they finished, I guess it looked pretty funny to them. Haha.

We went outside and peeled sweet potatoes for a lunch that would be prepared later. They also showed us where they were cooking the beans and greens. My sister, Tera, is a very good photographer. I got some of these pictures from her! Here is a LINK to more of her amazing photos!

On the last Saturday of the month, all of the communities in Rwanda get together for Umaganda. The members of the community work together to build unity, friendship, and to make their communities nicer. We were invited to join these women for Umaganda, and of course, said yes! We walked about 10 minutes down a trail to where they were clearing grass from the trail, and widening it to make a road. It was hard work, but with so many people working together, it went really fast.

Walking to the job site with our tools. This is what the trail looked like before the work. 

This is what the trail (road) looked like when we were done. 

We walked back to the house, and it was time for us to haul some water. We kind of laughed when they brought out our water buckets. This is the size the children carry. But we didn't complain. The 45 pound container would be difficult when we've never hauled water before.

We went back to the home, and sat down and talked with the women. They had lots of questions about our life, and we had lots of questions about theirs. We pulled out our phones and showed them pictures of our families, and snow. It was pretty fun.

Then we all went inside to enjoy lunch together. We had the sweet potatoes that we had peeled earlier that morning, along with beans and greens, and fresh avocados. Everything tasted wonderful. We continued our conversation about the differences in our culture. They asked what foods we like to eat, and what the vegetation and climate is like where we live. I have a sister in Georgia, one in Illinois, one in Utah, I live in Kampala, and my mom is in Kigali. We couldn't live in more different places. It was fun to explain to them how we were all able to meet in Rwanda from our homes all over the world.

They took us outside and showed us how they get fibers from the sisal plant and make crafts with it. They let us help, to scrape the meat off the fibers, but it was not as easy as it looked.

We spent the rest of the afternoon making either earrings or bracelets out of the sisal. I had a wonderful helper, which made the work go so much easier. She is a young girl who is deaf, and unable to speak. We saw a sign language book that she is learning from. She was very sweet, and loved helping me to tie the knots for my bracelet.

I think the finished project was nice! But mostly, the friendship we built was the best part of the whole day.

As we ended our day, the women sang and danced for us, and then they had us dance with them while they sang. They sang a few songs, and then requested that we sing for them. It was a fun way to end the day, with hugs all around.

Here is the company who put this experience together for us. It was amazing! Azizi means "precious".

We also got to visit a school that is run by the District President. It was so fun to see them in their rooms eating their breakfast, which was provided for them free of charge. The young children are learning French and  English.  President Opar has done a lot of work, and made this school so nice. for the children. He is able to employ 5 people, and will soon hire a recently returned missionary. It was so fun to see the children, and even their teachers, who seem to be doing an amazing job.

I enjoyed SO MUCH spending time with my sisters, and felt rejuvenated and ready to go back to work!  My husband has been amazing. While I was out enjoying time with my sisters, he was taking care of all the issues going on with the church buildings, interviewing all the missionaries, and dealing with the returning missionaries from Ethiopia. His work never seems to end, but he loves it. He is right where the Lord wants him to be right now. He handles everything so well, and is just calm and confident as others seem to be stressed. I'm so blessed to have his strength, and steadying influence here in the countries where we serve. Life is good, and serving the Lord is a blessing. I can't imagine being anywhere else right now!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Our First Branch Conference of the Year

The final day of our trip to Ethiopia was Zone Conference. We enjoyed our time in Ethiopia so much with District Conference, interviews, and Zone Conference. These missionaries have been wonderful, and it is so great to know that, although they are far away from us, and do not have a senior couple there right now, we really don't have to worry. They are strong, and obedient, and willing to do all that the Lord requires of them. The spirit at the zone conference was strong, and positive, and was really a blessing to be a part of.

Ethiopia Zone!

Upon returning back to Uganda, we immediately went to Jinja and Iganga for our final interviews. While sitting at the Bugembe Chapel with the missionaries, we had a car pull into the parking lot. We were so happy to see our friends and previous senior couple, the Howards! They have been doing some service here in Uganda with Sister Howard's brother. It was so fun to get a hug from them and to visit with them for a while. It's hard to believe they have been gone for over a year, but we were so blessed to be able to see them. I'm so glad they stopped.

By Friday, we made our way to Gulu. We pulled out missionaries from most of the outer branches about a year ago, and were working with the missionaries more in the Stakes. While doing this, President Collings would have a monthly conference call with all the Branch Presidents, and would bring them into Kampala yearly for several days of training. This was to help the Branches to understand that they can do missionary work on their own, and  to help them to become more spiritually self reliant. Before we did this, we found that when we would go to the outer branches, they were relying on the missionaries to do almost everything. We went to watch General Conference once, and there were no members of the branch presidency in the building on that day. The missionaries had set up the projector and were preparing everything for the meeting. The missionaries were always the ones to prepare the sacrament table, and play the music, and even give the talks, lessons, etc.

With the missionaries gone, and these monthly training meetings with the Branch Presidents, we were able to see some amazing changes in the branches. If the branch mission leader has somebody who is interested in learning about the gospel, he and the branch missionaries can teach that person. When that person is ready for baptism, they would call the mission, and we would send a zone leader to their branch to interview that person for baptism. Pretty soon, some of the branches were having investigators that needed to be interviewed every month. The Zone Leaders were being asked very often to leave their area to go interview in the outer branches. One branch in Gulu, Bardege Branch really stepped it up. The branch president was heavily involved in missionary work. He was a return missionary. He would also go visit the less active members of the church, and would invite them back. The attendance in Bardege went from about 25 at sacrament meeting to about 120 at the highest. This took place over the period of just a few months. This branch was calling all the time to request missionaries come and give baptismal interviews. President Collings said, because we were sending missionaries to the branch so often, it only made sense to bring back the missionaries. When they arrived back in Gulu Town, there were about 30 people lined up to be baptized. The missionaries have so many to teach, they barely have time to do any finding on their own. Because of the work of the Bardege Branch, we now have 8 missionaries back in Gulu Town. 

This weekend we went to Gulu Town for Zone Conference and interviews of the missionaries. We also had Branch Conferences for the two branches, Gulu and Bardege. On Saturday after Zone Conference and Interviews, we had a Priesthood Leadership and Auxiliary Leadership meeting.

On our way to Gulu on Saturday morning, President Okello was with me and President Collings in the car. We had to slow the car down as some cattle was crossing the road. There was a car coming the other direction very fast, and one of the cows (bulls actually) crossed into his lane. We saw the car almost hit the bull, and swerve to avoid it. It was so close, I think it actually side swiped the bull, as the car drove off the road in a cloud of dust. The roads here have these deep ditches to catch the water when they have the thunderstorms here. It was actually miraculous how it all worked out. The car went off the road in a place where the ditch wasn't that deep, it missed a huge boulder on the right side. It somehow crossed over a VERY deep ditch with it's front tires (probably had a little bit of air as it was going so fast). Stopped before it's back tires fell into the ditch, or before it rolled. And, stopped before it his a building where a group of people were standing. It was like the car threaded a needle, and miraculously nobody was hurt (including the bull).  One man walking by shouted, "That bull should be arrested!" which made us all laugh. We stopped, and backed up our car so we could see if the driver was hurt, or if we could somehow help get the car back on the road. It was amazing to see the teamwork of everyone who was there. The men all lifted the front of the car so that it could pull forward. Then there was the problem of the back of the car. If it just went forward, it would drop about 5 feet into the ditch and be really stuck. The men decided to cross the road and pick up a bunch of boulders. They would fill up the ditch enough for the car to just drive across the ditch without falling into it. It took a while for all of them to bring enough boulders, but once they did, IT WORKED! We all cheered as the car cleared the ditch. The men all stood together so I could get a picture. It was so great seeing them all work together, and to see that nobody was injured, including the car! With that, we were on our way again to Gulu, and only made it about 10 minutes late to zone conference.

Zoom in closely to see the rock pile beneath the car.

All the men working to put rocks in the ditch.

The group of Good Samaritans. The man in the striped shirt was the driver.

The feeling in Gulu with our missionaries was amazing. They really came prepared, and the teachings and the feelings there were spot on. I keep saying that the missionaries in each of the areas are the best... I guess we just have the best missionaries in the UKM, because they really are all amazing.  


As I previously said, after the Zone Conference and Interviews, we had a joint branch Priesthood and Auxiliary Leadership meeting. President Collings, President Okello, and Elder Wittwer all trained the Priesthood. Sister Wittwer and I did the Auxiliary training for the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary. I felt so bad that I forgot to take any pictures, but Sister Wittwer snapped a picture of me at the beginning of our training. We planned to have our meeting in the Relief Society room, but it was so hot, and the sun was shining right in the windows, and there was no power, so the fans didn't work. We decided to do what is done here in Uganda all the time, and moved our meeting outside under the Mango Tree. It was cool and breezy, and just felt appropriate as we talked about being good shepherds like Jesus Christ. 

We had a very good turn out at the leadership meetings. Sister Wittwer and I thought 10 chairs would be plenty, but it turned out that we had more like 15 women there, and lots of CUTE babies! Haha. President  Collings did a demonstration in the Priesthood meeting. He whispered something to one of the men, that told about himself and our family. That brother whispered to the person next to him and so on and so on until the last person, who then told the group what he had heard. It ended up being a statement about a completely different person altogether. It was an example of how things can get confused and blown out of proportion when we spread rumors and gossip. I think it was a perfect object lesson. President Okello talked about the statistics of the branches. He wanted to help them understand that they are not just responsible for the people who come to church every week, but for the many who have been baptized, and have stopped coming to church. Helping them understand how to reach out to them. Many of the leaders said they really appreciated the training we did.

Selfie with Patrick Kumaketch and the Wittwers

After the auxiliary training, we met with returned missionaries from both branches. It was such an amazing meeting. We were talking about the difficulties they face after returning from their missions. It takes them at least 6 years to get established, and keeping the faith for those 6 years can be very difficult. A lot of people think these return missionaries should come home wealthy, as if they went away to work and make lots of money. It's really a challenge for them. President Collings talked with them about the bigger picture. They are here on this earth for such a short while compared to eternity. We rejoiced in Heaven as we were told we would go to Earth and be tested. This is a difficult test, but in the eternal perspective, it's a relatively short time. President Okello told of his own experiences as he returned home from his mission, and started his own life. It is nice to have the experience of another Ugandan who they can see has been through it, and understands, and can give advice.

As they were talking to President Collings and President Okello, I had this thought, almost like a vision come to my mind. I could see these return missionaries as foundation stones. I talked to them about the Salt Lake Temple, how the foundation had been laid, and then it was covered up with dirt to protect it when an army was coming into the Salt Lake Valley. When it was uncovered, the stones were cracked, and they realized the foundation was not strong enough. They pulled it all out and instead made the foundation out of very strong granite. I told them that the church is just starting to grow in Gulu, and eventually it will become a district and even a stake. We need strong return missionaries to be Branch Presidents, District Presidents, and even Bishops and Stake Presidents. I felt like I was looking at those future leaders, the foundation of the future Gulu Stake. Everyone in the room understood that these return missionaries are going through a difficult time, but this will make them even stronger if they will remain faithful. They will be able to help the church to grow, and some day they will be able to send their own children on missions, and will be able to be that strength that right now they feel they are missing. It was such a wonderful meeting. I could see a renewed effort to help and lift each other as returned missionaries of Gulu town.

On Sunday, we had branch conference in both of the branches. President Collings and I went to Bardege Branch, while President Okello and Elder and Sister Wittwer went to Gulu Branch. We had a great turn out. President Okeny of the Bardege Branch talked about having "Super Faith". President Collings focused on building Zion in the Savior's way. He talked about using all members of the Godhead when you are seeking for guidance.

 Bardege Branch. There were 95 people at Branch Conference.

Gulu Branch, there were 74 people at Branch Conference. 

In the Gulu Branch, President Opar spoke to the members about paying an honest tithing and generous fast offerings, and the blessings that can come to them because of it. President Okello spoke about developing unity and also helped them to understand what to do to become self reliant.

We really enjoyed our experiences in Gulu. On Saturday evening, I was given a gift by Elder Pratt. I tried grasshoppers a few months ago, but have never tried white ants, which is another favorite snack of the Ugandan people. He was so sweet to buy me a package of white ants to try... very thoughtful... indeed, very... thoughtful... yum...

Our missionaries are so great. They are thoughtful and helpful, and are bringing so much happiness to the people in Gulu! We enjoyed our time spent with Elder and Sister Wittwer and President Okello, and are really looking forward to the upcoming conferences in all the other branches.