Sunday, September 30, 2018

Stretched and molded and loving it... mostly!

We had another District Conference in Rwanda! With all the difficulties we have had getting the new church buildings up and running, we have seen a decline in the amount of people who are coming on Sundays. This was very evident during this District Conference. We bring all three branches together for District Conference, and usually rent out a conference room at one of the hotels in town. Last year at this time it was at the Marriott Hotel and there were almost 500 people in attendance. Now a year later, and after some struggles with church buildings to meet in for the last 6 months, we had it at the Marriott again, and about 250 people attended. The good news is that we have a new building for the Kigali 2nd Branch! It’s finished and the members have been able to worship there for a few weeks. We held the adult session of conference there on Saturday afternoon, and President Collings and I got to see the building for the first time. It’s really nice!! They extended the front out a bit so there would be more room in the Chapel. The inside is completely finished, and the outside just needs a coat of paint. The members are really happy to be in a building!

President Collings at the new K2 Building with Elder Rawlings and Elder Barber

Inside the chapel

The General Session of Conference on Sunday morning at the Marriott was very nice. We were able to hear testimonies of some new members of the church, and then President Opar, President Collings, and I all spoke. They even had a special musical number by the District Choir. It was really good!

The missionaries were all so happy. They had invited some of the people they are teaching to come to the conference, and we had many come! After the meeting, they introduced us to some of the people they are teaching.  It’s so fun to see the excitement of people when they are learning about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing better!

A family who is preparing to get baptized next month. 

We have had a few changes in our mission lately. Our office couple, Elder and Sister Wittwer, returned home and we do not have another senior couple to replace them. This has been okay, but it means that President Collings and I have to “divide and conquer!” He went to Jinja to interview missionaries from the Jinja and East Zones, while I worked in the office last week. Thankfully, we also have our office elders trained, and they probably do a better job than I do, but we also want them to be able to proselyte as much as they can.

While in Jinja, President Collings had a great day with one of our missionaries,  Elder Oppong,  and Dallin Emmanuelz and his family. Dallin is preparing to go on a mission. He attends church in Jinja, but his family lives quite far and are not able to attend church. President Collings was able to visit with them, and help build their faith. He had a very good experience, and topped it off with a wonderful meal provided by the family.

There are perks to having a complete mission presidency. There are now 3 members of the mission presidency, which works out really well when we have three branches in the same city that all need to have a branch conference! Each member of the branch presidency presided over one of the branch conferences in Busia today, and we were able to really help them feel the love we have for each of them! President Okello and President Ondoga went on Saturday to Busia to help with some interviews that needed to be done. President Collings had a meeting in Kampala, so we left on Sunday morning for our Branch Conference. Busia 2 starts at 9:00am, so President Okello was able to preside over that conference. Busia 1 in Kenya, starts at 10:00am and President Ondoga presided over that Conference. Busia 3 starts at 11:30, so we left at 6:00am from Kampala and President Collings presided over that Conference. All in all it was a wonderful day! We love spending time in the branches! We focused a lot on ministering, and trained on how they can do it in their own branch. There were 7 men given the Melchizedek Priesthood in Busia 3, so President Collings focused some training on Priesthood Power. It was an amazing teaching, and we all benefited from it.

*Saving a spot for Busia 1 Branch Picture.*

Busia 2 Branch

Busia 3 Branch

After the meetings, the sisters of the Busia 3 Relief Society wanted to show me what they had been working on. They are trying to help the sisters in their branch to be self reliant, so they are teaching them skills that the women can use to make crafts to sell or other skills that would be useful in becoming self reliant. They showed me how they have been teaching them how to make a rug out of yarn and a piece of burlap. As they visit the women in their branch, they are sharing these skills and hoping that they can use the skills to earn more money for their families. We talked about how they can save the money they earn from one of the rugs and buy supplies to make more. I love that they are doing what they can to help each other. These women are wonderful examples of love and service!

Busia 3 Relief Society 

I just had two of the most contrasting drives I have ever had, in the same day.

President Collings' driving experience...This morning we needed to go to Busia for the Branch Conference. Busia is about 120 miles away which takes 4 to 4 1/2 hours from Kampala. The other two members of the mission presidency went on Saturday, but President Collings had a meeting in Kampala, so we delayed leaving until Sunday morning. We left the mission home at 6:00 for an 11:30 meeting, just to be sure we had plenty of time to get there. We were thrilled that the drive only took 3 1/2 hours! The roads were clear with almost no traffic. It was amazing! We made it early enough that we were able to sit in on one of the Branch Conferences that started earlier than the one we were attending.

Coming home was another story...
My driving experience... It was mostly just the usual crazy traffic that we deal with all the time. There are always a few times that you see drivers making dangerous passes. They seemed to be doing a few more of them than usual today. There are always the usual pockets of traffic that slow us down, and we sit in traffic for 10 or 15 minutes. We are just used to them. But I want to write about one situation that I had. It’s probably going to be difficult to understand, but this blog is like my journal. It’s my memories of this mission, and this is one traffic jam I need to remember.  😁

In one town the traffic was stopped. There was a taxi (15 passenger van) that pulled into the lane in front of me. It was a two lane road with just one lane going my direction, so I let him in. I couldn’t tell if he was going to pull back over to let other passengers into his taxi. He kind of hovered over to the side a bit and I stayed right in the middle of my lane. My left light lined up with his right tail light. And then there was another vehicle in front of him that was in the same position as I was. We were completely stopped and when that happens, cars from behind try to move up in line by creating another lane of traffic. What I should have done is pulled up along side of the taxi, and just pushed my way forward, but I couldn't tell if he wanted to be in the lane, or if he wanted to pull over... All of a sudden there were two cars on my right that pulled up. One pulled in right next to the taxi in front of me cutting my lane right off. There was two other cars behind that one which became a lane of their own. I was a little bit frustrated by this, but just had to sit there because the traffic wasn’t moving. Pretty soon another taxi van pulled up on the left  side of me, directly behind the taxi that I was behind, and another row of cars lined up behind him. Again we all sat there (now three lanes going the same direction)and the one lane was merging together in front of me and totally pinning me in to a point where I couldn’t move (Not that the traffic was moving yet). Throughout all this sitting, there are motorcycles with passengers on them (boda boda’s) making their way between the rows of cars. They don’t just go along side of you, they go along side of you and then turn right in front of you and then turn another direction in front of another car, just weaving their way forward slowly. That’s completely normal in Kampala traffic. Then there was a group of young men who had roller blades on. As slowly as the boda boda’s were making their way through the traffic, the men on roller blades were weaving through traffic very fast. I’ve never seen so many of them before in traffic, it was like a game. There seemed to be around 20 or so of them. As they went zipping by, one of them hit my side mirror, which folded forward. Pretty soon the traffic on my right side started to pull forward. But I couldn’t see to pull into that lane because my mirror was folded forward. As the traffic was moving on one side, I could see that it was sitting still on the other side. There was a truck trying to cross the traffic, and had completely blocked the taxi in front of me. Another roller blader zoomed by on the right side and pulled on my mirror as he went, which popped it back into place. As I tried to push my way into the one lane that was moving... that lane stopped. The truck crossing in front of us had pushed his way into traffic enough to now stop the right lane, and now the left lane started to move. I quickly nosed my way back into the left lane and slowly, slowly started to move through this horrible intersection. (It is not sounding as bad as it felt! I can’t believe I don’t have scratches on both sides of my vehicle because they were cramming into me so tightly!) As the traffic opened up and we all started to move forward back into one lane, I noticed the roller bladers in a large group on the side of the road. Four of them grabbed on to the car in front of me and I was horrified to watch them now being pulled very fast by the car in front of me. At one point one of them actually leaned on the trunk of the car and lifted up both of his feet and was just riding on the back of this car. I kept telling Steve how scared I was for these young men because they were being so dumb. He chimed in, “You realize we have one on the back of our car too, right?”  I was so shocked. I looked in the rear view mirror, and sure enough, we had one of them holding on to the back of our vehicle! I was so scared I was going to go over a big pot hole, or that I would need to swerve to miss a boda boda. It was dark outside and I was having a hard time seeing because of all the lights coming from the other direction, and of course, boda boda’s coming up the middle of the two lane road. Luckily I had to turn off that road only a couple of kilometers later. He let go as I was turning, and we were free of him! It was just about the most intense drive I have had my entire mission! (and that's saying something...) I was so relieved to finally pull into the mission home! 😬

Well there you have it, another week down! Life is good. We are being stretched and molded and mostly loving it! Hahaha.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Sweet memories

One of the perks of living in an exotic place is having family and friends come and visit so they can see the amazing sites in our mission. My cousins Shayla and Lisa, along with four of their friends made the long trip over here to see Rwanda and Uganda. They have talked about coming since we received our mission call, and contacted us several months ago as they planned their trip. It turned out really nice because they organized everything they wanted to do while they were here, and worked with some of our local friends to set it all up. All I did was let them sleep at the mission home a couple of times during their vacation, and enjoy their company. 

My cousins, Lisa and Shayla

So fun sharing Uganda and Rwanda with these ladies!

On their first day here, Sussie, who is the National Public Affairs Director for Uganda, worked it out with the Kampala North Stake President to have a musical fireside. They are all so talented with singing, playing the piano, and even an amazing photographer. We were all really excited to see them share their talents! On the day of the fireside they were supposed to fly to Uganda from Rwanda when there was a problem with their flight. The plane was changed to a smaller one, which meant there were not enough seats for all the passengers. Two of the six ladies had to stay in Rwanda until the next flight which was at 7:00pm. The fireside was set for 4:00pm. So two of the six ladies did not make it in time for the fireside. 

The musical fireside was still very good. Shayla, Allison, and Christine all have amazing voices and sang many beautiful and fun songs, while Linda played the piano. They sang together as a group, and each had individual solos as well. They sang church hymns as well as some songs from popular movies and musicals. It was so GREAT! Lisa had prepared a special video showcasing a lot of her photographs set to music. She was one of the two who was stuck in Rwanda, unfortunately there was a problem with the projector and they were unable to show the video.  I saw it posted on YouTube and loved it so much, I am posting a link to it HERE, if anyone wants to watch it. It's totally worth your time. 

The day of the fireside was probably the most I saw of them their whole trip. I'm so glad they came. Our mission is an amazing place! I really think they enjoyed it.

Here in the Uganda Kampala Mission there is quite a large group of members who have come from South Sudan. They are strong and wonderful members of the church. South Sudan is part of our mission, however, due to civil unrest there are no functioning branches there at this time. We have grown very close to our South Sudanese brothers and sisters, and are often asked when the church will open a branch in Juba again. President Collings decided to invite some of our South Sudanese members over to the mission home for Sunday dinner, where we could talk with them about the situation in their country, and hopefully lift and bless them. It turned out to be just a wonderful night.

We had seven of them who were able to come over and spend the evening with us. Some are return missionaries, and some are recent converts to the church. All of them have family members who live in Juba. We were able to enjoy Sunday dinner, and then President Collings shared a spiritual message with them. He then opened it up for questions.  Everyone was edified and really enjoyed our time spent together. We continue to pray that the civil unrest can stop in South Sudan. When the church does start a branch in Juba, we are sure it will grow very fast. They  are amazing people, and we are so grateful to just serve among them. 

I have said this every six weeks since I arrived in the mission field, saying goodbye is the most difficult thing I have to do. We have had our office couple, the Wittwer's here for 18 months. It  has been an absolute joy to serve with them. Elder and Sister Wittwer came into this mission and just went to work. Everything that they did was to make the mission better. They followed our mission scripture to the best of their ability, which is Omni 1:26. The shortened version is "Come unto Christ and offer your whole soul."

During the last week of their mission, we all went together to eat local food. They asked the Assistants to take them to the place where they usually go for lunch. We were each able to get a very large plate of food for 2,500 Uganda Shillings which is about 66 US cents! I could only eat about half of mine!

Elders Mambou, Colvin, Gilbert, Appiah-Kubi, and Gwatidzo

I wish I took a picture of the food we ate. I guess I was just focused on eating. Mine was called Kikomando, which is rice, beans, and chapati (like a tortilla), with cabbage and other vegetables cooked in it. VERY good. 

This picture off the internet looks like it, but add rice and cooked cabbage to it, and double the portion. 

On the day of the Wittwer's return home, we got together with Richard, Godfrey, the Assistants, a couple of our zone leaders and the Wittwers. We had a final testimony meeting, and gave them a gift. We had t-shirts made that said Uganda Kampala Mission. Then we took the t-shirts around to all the missionaries and had them sign the shirts and write a few thoughts on them. It was fun to present it to them and give them some reading material for the long flight home. 

After the meeting we went to an amazing restaurant in Entebbe called Thai Gardens. This is the Wittwer's favorite restaurant in Uganda. We have gone with them a couple of times as we went to pick up missionaries at the airport, and it's really a wonderful place! The owner is from Thailand, and her daughter works with her as well. Their customer service is excellent.

The Wittwers previously went to Thailand and had a dessert called "sticky rice with mangoes", which they said we had to try. In the past when they asked if this restaurant had the dessert, they said that they could make it for us, but would need at least a day's notice because you have to soak the rice.  Well the day before our farewell dinner, I called the restaurant and asked if they would make the sticky rice with mangoes for us. They hesitated and said that it's not mango season and they weren't sure if they would be able to get it. On the day of the dinner, I received a text message that they would be able to make the dessert for us. We were so excited to try it!

Sticky Rice with Mango

So we went, enjoyed a wonderful Thai dinner, and then we topped it off with a wonderful dessert. 

Afterwards, we took them to the airport for our final goodbye. We will miss them. But want to say WELL DONE! We are so grateful for your service!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The First of Many "Lasts"

Now that we are in the final year of our mission, we are experiencing some "lasts". This week was one of those lasts. Once each year we have a member of the Area Presidency come and visit our mission for a mission tour. We travel with them to all the different areas and we have a zone conference with all of our missionaries. Previous years they came in November, but this year it was in September. So for a three year mission, we had our third mission tour. It did not disappoint! We had Elder Joni L. Koch and his wife, Michelle, come and spend the week traveling with us. 

We met them in Rwanda. They came early enough that we were able to attend church together. We attended at the K-1/ K-3 building and enjoyed testimony meeting, followed by a combined class that was taught by Elder Koch. What a great opportunity to be taught by a General Authority! I know the members were very happy and uplifted as they were taught by him. He then met with the District Presidency of the Kigali Rwanda District. 

Zone Conference was held at the senior couples house and lunch was prepared for us by Sister Opar, the District Relief Society President. She did such a great job! There was plenty of yummy food, and we were able to quickly enjoy it and then go back to our meeting. We really enjoyed the local Rwandan food. 

The training in each zone conference by Elder Koch was focused on finding those who are ready, and teaching the Doctrines of Christ, with an emphasis on teaching Repentance. He compared a mission to a car, with our final destination of having JOY. We talked about points along the journey. I really learned a lot form his teaching. 

Sister Koch taught about obedience, and compared us to sheep who follow, shepherds who lead, and wolves who can be a bad example to others. She said we could choose to be any of the three. The missionaries were told to guess what she was drawing on the board. During one conference they guessed that the sheep was a bunny. At another conference they guessed that the wolf was a crocodile. It was funny. English is a second language for both of them, but they really taught with power. The missionaries really loved it, and really gained a lot from it. 

President Collings and I taught about doing companionship study, and did a role play so they could see some things we were hoping they could accomplish, and even receive their own inspiration on what to do. We ended the meeting with a question and answer session. The missionaries were free to ask all four of us any questions they wanted. Each zone was very appropriate in the amazing questions they asked, and were really able to be taught. I was so proud of them all. 

Rwanda Zone

Because we no longer have a senior couple in Rwanda, the Zone Leaders and Office Missionaries taxied us to church, the meetings, and even to the airport. They really helped us to accomplish all we needed to in Rwanda, and we felt blessed to spend the time with all of our missionaries in this area. 

Our next zone conference was in Jinja. We combined the Jinja and East Zones, which includes all the Jinja Stake Wards and Branches as well as Mbale and Busia Branches. The missionaries were all very prepared to be taught, and to share what they had learned from the reading they had done to prepare for the meeting. We were so impressed with how well they were dressed, and their reverence before the meeting even started. Because they were so prepared, the Spirit was felt, and the missionaries received inspiration for their own specific areas.

The lunch was prepared by Sister Mbiro. Again, it was wonderful and all the missionaries were filled. It was a very special day.

Jinja and East Zones

The following day was our largest conference. We had a combined meeting with Kampala North, Kampala South, Gulu, and Masaka Zones. This included all of the missionaries serving in the North and South Stakes with all the wards and branches included, as well as two branches in Gulu and two branches in Masaka. The missionaries all came into the Kololo Chapel. As we pulled into the parking lot with Elder and Sister Koch, every one of the missionaries were lined up to greet them. The line went from outside of the church all the way down a breezeway and into the chapel. The missionaries were so respectful and reverent. It gave us a good feeling even before we sat down. We had been concerned that they wouldn't gain quite so much out of the meeting because of the high number of missionaries, but the feeling was really wonderful, and we were all edified. 

Lunch in Kampala was provided by Sister Christine. There was a lot to eat, which always makes the missionaries so happy. Sister Koch really enjoyed the chapatti that was served in the first three zone conferences, and even asked if they would show her how to make it! 

At each zone conference, Elder Koch interviewed a few of the missionaries individually. It was a really neat experience for the missionaries who were asked to meet with him.

Kampala North, Kampala South, Gulu, and Masaka Zones

After the meeting in Kampala, we quickly left for the airport, and traveled to Ethiopia for our final zone conference. One week before this meeting, we sent a brand new batch of missionaries to serve in Ethiopia. It was so nice to see a zone of 14 missionaries when we arrived!  They were all dressed in suits, and again, very prepared to receive Elder and Sister Koch. As I walked in the room, I got tears in my eyes. Throughout this mission tour, I have been so impressed with these good young men and women! It just makes my heart swell with joy! 

The senior couple worked it out that the branch president's wife would make lunch for us. I love that at each zone conference we were able to eat local food. This was the Koch's first time in Ethiopia and Rwanda, and Sister Koch's first time in Uganda. I really felt like they were able to experience the local food in each of the three countries. This Ethiopian food was wonderful!

Ethiopia Zone

Now our final mission tour is over. We enjoyed our time spent with Elder and Sister Koch so much! They were serving as a mission president and companion 14 months ago in Mozambique, which is in the Southeast Africa Area. We had met them at the Mission President Seminars and had gotten to know them a bit. Then he was released after serving as a Mission President for two years, and was called as a General Authority to serve in the Southeast Africa Area Presidency. Because of having some of these experiences together before the mission tour, it felt like we were spending time with friends. They were so kind and positive, they really helped us feel at ease. 

These experiences with our missionaries and time spent with good people are times we will never forget.