Sunday, April 29, 2018

A transfer for the Mission President and Wife

What can I say? Life on a mission is full of a lot of excitement. It seems like we always have one thing or another going on. The past couple of months, we have had a little more on our plates than we expected. President Collings and I have moved MANY times during our 29 years of marriage. We are getting pretty good at it. Haha. So when we were told we would be moving to a new mission home, we said...”Bring it on!” Haha. But, I’ll write about that in just a bit.

First of all, I have been preoccupied with some amazing news in our family. Our son, Conner, who returned from his mission in October, is getting married in June! He and Taylor, his fiancé have sent us some wonderful photos, and have been working out the details of their wedding. She is so sweet, and organized, and has just been able to take charge, and hopefully have the wedding of her dreams. We have just enjoyed hearing the details of what they are doing. We are so thrilled to have her join the family. She is perfect for Conner!

One of the miracles we have seen while serving a mission is how much President Collings has been blessed physically. When he was a young man, before he was married, he loved running. He would compete in track and cross country in high school, and would spend hours each week running. It was really a passion for him. After marriage, his life got busy, and he wasn’t always able to run. He then developed tendinitis, and it seemed like every time he tried to start a routine of running every day, he would run for a few days, or weeks, and then would have so much pain from the tendonitis that he would have to stop. He tried every year for about 15 years, and was always disappointed. Once we arrived in Uganda, he decided he wanted to try running again. We are encouraged to exercise for 30 minutes every day as part of our missionary schedule, so he tried running again. This time, he was able to do it with no pain at all. He has progressed with his distance and speed, and even had some missionaries say that they wanted to run with him when they were staying at the mission home, or when he was staying in their zone for interviews or work with the branches. It has been so fun to see him out there with the missionaries, and the missionaries enjoying a run with their mission president. I thought I would share a couple of pictures of recent runs he has had out in the mission branches with our missionaries.

We received 7 new missionaries this transfer. Two from Congo, one from Liberia, two from the United States, one from Zimbabwe, and one from South Africa. They are amazing young men and women. Some have had a lot of experience in sharing the gospel already. We also had a missionary come mid-transfer to join our mission. He is from Benin. Another amazing missionary that we are so excited to work with.

We continue to be amazed with the caliper of missionaries the Lord is sending to the Uganda Kampala Mission. I believe he has amazing things in store for the church here in this great mission.

Always, the week of transfers ends with us sending our seasoned  veterans home. This week was no different. We said goodbye to 8 missionaries, 5 elders and 3 sisters. We were here to receive the sisters, and I can’t believe how fast time flies! They are already done with their missions and going home!! The elders have been with us for almost two years as well. They were only with their previous mission president for two transfers.  As I contemplate the time we have spent with these missionaries, I have seen so much growth from each of them. It’s hard to imagine these are the same young men and young women we met 2 years or 18 months ago. Chokes me up to have to let them go. All 8 are from African countries, and will be such a blessing to the church in their own country, and their own families as well. They have great confidence in their Savior, and great testimonies of the things they have been teaching. Some have families in the church, and others are the first or only members in their families, and have missionary work of their own to do. They will be returning to South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Ghana, Kenya, and Namibia.  We love them so much, and will miss them!!

Elder Khoriyo, Elder Fiagbedzi, Elder Dhlamini, Elder Lukhele, Elder Sakala, 
Sister Shabalala, Sister Ngulu, and Sister Ramson 

The last group left for the airport at 4:30 am on Friday morning. At 8:00 am that same day, we had moving trucks and workers here to start moving us to our new mission home.

So, an explanation on the mission home. First of all, for moms of missionaries who are reading this, the address to send letters and packages to your missionaries has not changed. Those are sent to the mission office, which has not changed.  We have had a mission president and wife in this mission home since 2005. It was a rental, and the landlord approached the church several times to see if we wanted to purchase it. However, the the price he was asking for the home was very inflated, and it didn’t make sense for us to pay so much for it. About 3 months ago, we were given notice that the landlord did find a buyer for the home, and we would need to leave. We went with some people in real estate and after they had looked at about 10 properties, and weeded out the ones that for sure wouldn’t work, they took us to see some of the homes that would work. We walked through 4 or 5 homes, and immediately fell in love with the one we are moving to. The best news is that the price was less than what we were paying. Not only do we have a newer home, but we are saving money, and we are situated in a better place. All around it has been very positive. We are always asking our missionaries to transfer to new apartments, it seems fitting that we have our own transfer.  There are a lot of memories here, not only for us, but for the missionaries. This is where they come for their first meeting with the mission president. Many zone conferences are held here. Many interviews have been held here along with dinners, and testimony meetings. Hopefully we will be able to have the same feelings for the new home we are moving into.

Moving is a bit different than it is in the United States. I was given a stack of boxes, and told that they would be coming on Friday to take everything to the new home. I spent the week boxing up everything I could, except for the things we needed for transfers. We had 7-8 missionaries staying at the mission home for 3 nights in a row. On Friday morning, I was packing up the bedding for the bunk beds, pots, pans, and food we used for feeding the missionaries, and the rest of our clothes, etc. The missionaries did notice while they were staying with us, that every shelf and cabinet was empty. The house looked pretty bare.

The moving van was a large open truck, which took all the furniture and boxes in 4 loads. I wish I had been able to get a picture, when they were done packing the trucks, the workers just sat on top of the furniture in the back of the truck and rode over to the new place. Sitting on a nice overstuffed chair is my kind of a ride! Haha.

I think we all thought that the move would be done very quickly. We decided to get a room at a hotel for one night so everything could be moved in before we stayed there. We didn’t really think about all the extra things that needed to be done. Things that take quite a bit of time to do. I spent Saturday showing the workers where to put the large furniture, and where to hang the pictures. We have all cement walls here, so it’s not easy for us to hang pictures on our own. There are air conditioners in each room hanging on the wall. I didn’t realize that when we move, the air conditioning company would be moving each air conditioner from the old mission home to the new one. Which means drilling holes in the walls, and running wires, etc. That process alone has taken two days, and will take at least one more day to complete. It causes so much dust and dirt, that we really can’t unpack and set up things until they are done. They also are hanging fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, and changing out all the locks in the house. As I said, lots of things that I hadn’t thought of. So, we will be spending a few more nights away from the house while it’s bustling with workers. It’s been an amazing experience so far. I am posting a picture of the outside of the new home. As things start to come together, I will post pictures of the inside of the home. It’s really a blessing to be here.

See that cute person on the front porch? That’s Jackie. I couldn’t have done it without her help. She has been amazing, helping me every step of the way with this move. She is right there, packing, and cleaning, and helping me to stay sane. 

She is easier to see in this picture. A very sweet young woman! 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Warning... LONG POST!

Several months ago, I shared an experience we had when we went to meet with a group of members outside of Mbale. You can read the post by clicking on this LINK. These members live 1 1/2 hours walk to church, but many of them go every Sunday, and even arrive before the branch president. Well, President Collings got permission to create an official group for these saints, which means they can have church in their own village, and will only have to walk a few minutes to get to church.  We decided to go meet with them on a Friday afternoon to call a new group leader, and help get everything ready to go. It was more like a fireside, and the members of the church who will belong to the new group, invited their neighbors, friends, and family members to come to the fireside for the announcement.

We planned to meet in the area, which is called Mile 5, at 4:00 pm. As we were traveling to get there, President Collings kept getting phone calls asking us when we would arrive. There were people there at 11:00 am. By 1:00 pm there were more than 70 people waiting for us. These members pooled their money and rented a tent, and a sound system so that they would be able to sit comfortably in the shade, and they would all be able to hear. We were so touched at the sacrifice they made! They had not been asked to do this. We found out after the meeting that they had also made food to share as well. By the time we arrived, at 4:00 pm, there were 250 people waiting for the meeting to start.

Starting on Sunday, April 15, the Mile 5 group will be able to hold sacrament meeting, and church services each week. For now, they will have a tent and chairs put up each week, with a sound system.

The group leader is on the right in this picture. His name is Lekebia Mpande. There is also the LC1 on the left, President Collings, and the LC5.

Others in attendance were the Mbale Branch President and his counselor, Jimmy Okot who is the FM manager, and of course our missionaries, Elder Gwatidzo and Elder Rawlings

President Etiang conducted the meeting. He conducted the business as the congregation sustained the new group leader. We had the missionaries share the story of the Restoration, and teach about the Book of Mormon. Then I was given the opportunity to speak to them. It was the day before General Conference, but my talk was about how we need to minister to those around us. President Collings also talked about how to minister to those around us, and talked about how Jesus Christ was the perfect example of this. He then invited those who have not been baptized to talk to the missionaries, learn of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, and invited them to be baptized. We heard the testimony of the new group leader. Brother Lebekia Mpande will be a great support to the members in Mile 5.

The LC1 and LC5 (pictured above) were invited to witness this historic event. The LC5 spoke after the meeting was over, and offered his support of the church in this area, which was really nice.

There was a group of school children who had prepared a few songs to sing to us. It was very sweet.

Here are other pictures of the people in the village while food was being shared. There was a lot of excitement in the air.

It was really wonderful to witness the growth of the church in this area. As I said before, there were about 250 people at the meeting. There are about 70 members of the church in this area. Everyone wrote down their name and phone number for the missionaries. There are MANY who are being taught by the missionaries right now, and around 30 with a scheduled baptismal date. I have the feeling this group will qualify to become a branch in a very short time.

This round of zone conferences was different. We combined almost all of the zones in Uganda, which was really great. President Collings and I taught our portions of the training, we took a break for lunch, then the missionaries separated into their own zones and had training by the zone leaders. Each zone then decided on an activity that had to do with the Book of Mormon. They did role plays, scripture chases, or went out street contacting using the Book of Mormon. It was such a great experience! Only problem was, I kept forgetting to take pictures. I'm sorry there are not very many, but the zone conferences were GREAT!
North, South, and Masaka Zones

Jinja and East Zones

Gulu Zone (they asked me at the end if I was going to take a picture...)

 Ethiopia Zone

Street Contacting as a Zone Conference Activity

Every year we have a senior couples conference. It usually takes place in December, but in December our schedule was so busy we decided to push it off until February. We thought it would be a nice activity for the senior couples to do over Valentine's day. Well, in November our senior couple serving in Ethiopia went home. We found out that a new couple would be coming, but not until March. We decided to push the senior couple's conference off until the new couple could be here to enjoy it with us... so this last week we had our senior couple's conference (retreat!). We have a total of three senior couples. One serving in each country, and then us and President Okello, the counselor in the mission presidency. We thought it would be a good experience to explore Northern Ethiopia, and it was AMAZING!!

Easter in Ethiopia was celebrated this year on April 8th. Habtu invited us to have Easter Dinner with his family. His wife made a wonderful Ethiopian dinner.

It was so fun to meet Habtu's whole family. They were so kind, thoughtful, and fun to talk to and get to know. We really loved their generosity and hospitality. 

The food was amazing, and after the meal, they brought out this beautiful cake. I said He is Risen in English and in Amharic. It's tradition to let the oldest person cut the cake, which meant that Elder Wright (my dad) had the honors. He started to, but then delegated to my mom. It was so fun.

This means we celebrated Christmas twice, and now Easter twice. It's been so fun to enjoy the Ethiopian culture!

On Monday morning we were off. We went to Bahir Dar first. We first went to see the source of the Blue Nile. The waterfall was beautiful! It was so fun to get a few group photos in front of it.

Airport picture

Later we took a boat out to a peninsula on the lake where there are two ancient churches. We were able to hike to the churches, and learn more about them. It was so funny, as we were taking the boat across the lake, the water was really choppy and the wind was blowing. We kept getting hit by the spray of the water as the boat would hit the waves. Although it was a beautiful, warm sunshiny day, we were getting DRENCHED! I finally got out my umbrella, which worked really well. Others were protecting themselves with the life jackets that  were provided. 

There is so much symbolism in the churches. It was interesting to learn about them. It was something that was consistent with all the churches we saw on this trip. I really enjoyed learning about the Ethiopian Orthodox religion.

The drum represents the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the body of Christ. 

The wind chimes on the top of the church represent the cries of the children that King Herod had put to death. 

People were not able to read the Bible, so pictures were painted on the walls of the church, representing the different stories. You can see Peter losing faith as he walked to Jesus Christ on the water. Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, etc. We learned a few new stories that we hadn't heard out of other books considered scripture. 

That evening we went to dinner. Their "special" was like a foil dinner. It was fish with rice and vegetables. We all ordered it. It came out FLAMING which was so fun!

On the next day we traveled to Gonder, which is also called the "Camelot of Africa".  It did not disappoint. There were castles built by different kings over the years, all in one large complex. It was absolutely amazing. We were surprised how large the area was!

The Sisters with a young woman in traditional dress

Where Steve is happiest, in front of the horse stalls. The one nearest the fireplace, is the warmest, for the favorite or most important horse. 

The roots growing over this wall are amazing!

Sitting in front of the pool where the Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates Timket, or the baptism of Jesus Christ. Follow this LINK to an article by Ethiopian Airlines that talks more about the holiday. 

This picture was taken from the internet, because I forgot to turn around and take a picture of the actual pool. It was empty. 

Off to my favorite part of the trip... Lalibella!!

Lalibella has 11 churches that have been carved right out of the rock, from the top down. It's hard to imagine all the work they went through to carve these beautiful buildings. It took 23 years and 46,000 people to carve out all 11 churches. They are absolutely amazing!

Here we are in front of one of the churches. This is just a solid piece of stone that has been cut out. They have a covering over it to protect it from the weather now. 

Another amazing church. This one is called Emmanuel.

This one represents Noah's ark. This is what it looks like when you walk up to it. 

Then you walk down a path

that gets deeper and deeper

When you come out at the bottom, this is the same building standing 3 stories tall. 

We  are sitting on the steps of the same building

Inside you can see the intricate carving of the stone that is even painted.

These are graves that have been cut into the stone floor representing Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

A little nervous sitting right next to the 3 story hole.

Inside each church is a priest. He is sitting by the curtain which hides the "Holy of Holies", each church has a replica of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. Only the priests and deacons are allowed inside the Holy of Holies. 

That evening we ate at a fun restaurant. It is supposed to look like wine glasses and a bottle. It was set up on a hill with 360 degree views. We ate dinner while watching the sunset. It threatened to rain, which only made the sunset more beautiful, and never got us wet. 

Restaurant from a distance

Closer view of the restaurant

Our fun group

Panoramic view from the top of the restaurant

On our way to Axum. I have to say this was the most thorough security I have been through since before my mission started. Almost every one of us were thoroughly searched. My poor dad took everything out of his pockets, no belt, no shoes, no glasses, no hat, and still they had to pat him down. It was pretty funny. I also had to take almost everything out of my purse. The man looking at the x-ray asked if I had an umbrella, which I took out. Then he asked if I had keys, which I took out. Then he asked if I had coins, which I took out. It started to feel like he was just trying to guess what he saw on the screen, and then would be excited to see he guessed right. We all had a good laugh, once we made it to the other side... Haha. 

Look who got put at the back of the plane. The poor man in the back didn't know what he got himself into. 

Axum was pretty cool. There are many obelisks that mark the tombs of ancient kings, and other important people. We were able to go into some of the tombs that have been excavated. They say only about 5% of the city has been excavated, and there is a large amount of artifacts that have not been discovered yet. 

Inside one of the tombs

This is the church where they say the real Ark of the Covenant is kept. It is guarded in the church on the right by a priest, who stays there guarding it for the rest of his life. Nobody ever sees it. They have built the church on the left as a future home for the Ark of the Covenant. They aren't sure when it will be moved over there. I'm sure that will be a big event. I asked when it was moved last, and they said never. It was brought by the Queen of Sheba, and has never been seen or moved since.  

A church built in the 1960's right by the Ark of the Covenant.

 This Bible is 500 years old. This monk read out of it for us. 

That evening, we went from our hotel to dinner in a Bajaj. It was a lot of fun. We had Ethiopian food, and watched traditional dancing, and just enjoyed the evening.

On our last day we drove to where the Ethiopians defeated the Italians for their independence in the 1930's. It was such a beautiful area. It reminded us of driving through Southern Utah or Arizona. I think it might have made a few of us homesick. But a wonderful drive.

We drove to one final church. This was built in 500 BC. A second floor was added after Christ, so a window was made in the shape of a cross. I loved seeing where an alter once stood, and what looked like a baptismal font.

Beams have been placed to stabilize the walls and prevent future damage.

It probably took 5 tries to get a selfie that worked out! Haha. 

Now to end with just a few fun pictures. This should help every couple out there want to come to the Uganda Kampala Mission to serve! It's an amazing mission!

An amazing week with wonderful people that we get to work with in the greatest mission in the world! Can't ask for anything better!