Saturday, February 23, 2019

A week with an Apostle

What a week we have had! Every year we have a mission tour with a member of the Area Presidency. It's such an amazing time to travel with a General Authority and get to know them a little bit better. They spend time with our missionaries having zone conferences, and then visit some of the members of the church in our mission. At the very beginning of our mission, we were able to spend a day with Elder Bednar. We really felt like it was such a rare opportunity to spend time with an Apostle, and to see how he interacted with the members of the branches in that area of our mission. But when we found out Elder Stevenson was coming to our mission, and was going to spend time in each of the countries we were completely surprised, and thrilled.

Elder Stevenson and his wife arrived in Uganda, and started the tour with a leadership meeting in Uganda. He was accompanied by Elder Palmer and his wife. Elder Palmer is the Area President of the Southeast Africa Area. Elder Walter Chatora was also with them. Elder Chatora is the Area Authority Seventy in Uganda, but he has also been called as the Mission President of the Uganda Kampala Mission. He and his wife will replace us in July of this year.

The leadership who were invited to the first meeting with Elder Stevenson included; Members of the Stake Council in all three stakes, all Bishops, and District Presidents. The proceedings were transmitted via internet to the leadership in the Districts in Busia, Ethiopia, Masaka, and Rwanda.

Elder Stevenson read D&C 1:17 Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments;

Then he asked us to think about the changes in the church within the last few years, and re-worded that scripture.

...called upon my servant Russell M Nelson, and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; these commandments are... home centered, church supported gospel learning, combining Elders Quorum, changing Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching to Ministering...a higher and holier way, etc.

He bore a powerful testimony of the living Prophet, and of Jesus Christ.

Elder Gary E Stevenson and his wife Lesa Stevenson, 
President Collings and Elder Chatora behind them.

Elder Palmer spoke about ministering. He said that our ministers need to keep the first two commandments; love God, and love our neighbors as ourselves. As they minister they should have two goals. The family they minister to should feel the love of others, and they should feel the love of Jesus Christ. As we minister to others we need to assess, what are the needs of these families, and how are they doing?

The Stevenson's and Palmer's shook hands with all of the 
people in the Leadership Meeting

Elder Chatora also spoke about ministering. He taught that ministering companions should seek the spirit to find the needs of those they minister to. He told the story of Ammon in Alma 17. Alma cared for the kings sheep. He searched for the lost sheep with swiftness, and then circled the flock to protect them. He related that to how we should minister to others.

The room was set up with a lot of lights and cameras so that the 
outer Districts could watch the meeting as well via internet.

At the end, Elder and Sister Stevenson and Elder and Sister Palmer shook hands with everyone who had come to the meeting. It was a very sweet experience.

After the Leadership Meeting, we had a small lunch/meeting with the Stake Presidents, Mission President, and the visiting authorities. This was an opportunity for the local leaders to ask Elder Stevenson or Elder Palmer any questions they might have. 

We left directly after the lunch, and went to a special Missionary Meeting held at the Kololo Chapel. All 105 of our missionaries who are serving in Uganda were present at the meeting. Elder Stevenson talked with the missionaries about their divine and sacred call. Which includes their purpose as missionaries, "To invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel, through faith in His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end."

We found out that Elder Stevenson is a Preach My Gospel Apostle! He would ask the missionaries what their favorite chapter of Preach My Gospel is, and then he would elaborate on that chapter. He didn't even need to look at his book. He'd say to turn to this page or that page and read the second paragraph, or the quote by this person or that. I think it really surprised the missionaries how well he knows Preach My Gospel. 

Elder Stevenson talked about the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 11. Neither of them realized that the Lord was preparing them to meet each other. As our missionaries are just being obedient, and doing their day to day schedule, the Lord is preparing people for them. He can trust them with the elect who are prepared to hear his voice, if they are keeping their missionary purpose. It was a very wonderful and motivating message. 

The Elders in the Uganda North Zone, which includes Gulu and Lira, sang a special musical number that literally brought me to tears. "Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy" was stuck in my head for days afterward. Which I really enjoyed. 

At one point during the meeting, Elder Stevenson told the missionaries to stand up and do the missionary stretch.

We made an "O" for OPEN

Then a "Y" for YOUR

And an "M" for MOUTH

One by one, he invited the missionaries to shake his hand along with his wife, Elder and Sister Palmer, Elder Chatora, and us. Then we all went out and took a picture together. It was really such a wonderful experience for all the missionaries. They could really feel the love of an Apostle of Jesus Christ. 

On Sunday we had a special combined Stake Conference with the Kampala North and South Stakes. It was held at the Africana Hotel which is just down the road from the Kololo Chapel. There were 2,000 chairs set up, and we almost filled them all. It's so wonderful to see the growth of the Church in Uganda. We have 3 stakes, 2 districts, and 6 mission branches. 

When Elder and Sister Stevenson arrived at the meeting, we all met for a few minutes just outside of the conference hall. We were able to just talk with them and answer any questions they might have about Uganda, or the Uganda Kampala Mission. All throughout our time spent together with him, we could just see the love and genuine concern for the members of the church. He was so personable and kind. It's a great blessing to feel that from our church leaders. 

When it was time to go into the Conference Hall, we all entered from the back of the room. Elder and Sister Stevenson, and Elder and Sister Palmer wanted to shake hands with as many people as possible. Those who were there 15 minutes early, most likely were able to shake hands with them.

There was a choir who prepared absolutely beautiful songs for the meeting. It was really incredible to listen to them, and really brought the spirit. 

We were blessed to hear from Elder Chatora, Elder and Sister Palmer, and then Elder and Sister Stevenson. Each of the meetings we have attended with them has been uplifting. He really spoke to the needs of the people. As we talked with different people, they said that their questions had been answered, or they learned something that was very specific to them.

At the end of the meeting, Elder Stevenson left a blessing on the people of Uganda, both church members and others. It left me feeling that this country will continue to grow in the Gospel. They are such good and faithful people. The foundation here is strong, and it was great to see how converted the people of Uganda are to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. 

I want to thank the Public Affairs team and Uganda Mormon Newsroom for the pictures I have borrowed. They are an amazing group of people. Follow this LINK to their Facebook page where you can read more about our experience with Elder Stevenson in Uganda. There are some fun videos of interviews with a few of our missionaries there as well. 

This was only half of the meetings that were held on Sunday. Right after the Conference at the Africana Hotel, we quickly went to the airport and flew to Kigali Rwanda. We had just enough time to get to the Marriott Hotel for another Member Meeting with the Saints in Rwanda.

As we arrived, everyone was already waiting for us in the Conference Hall. Everyone in the room stood as an Apostle walked into the room. You could feel the excitement and joy in the room as we entered. There was a choir who sang, and there was an energy about them as they lifted up their voices. 

At one point during the meeting, Elder Stevenson asked all of our missionaries to stand up. As they did, my heart just swelled with love for every one of them. When you become a mission mom, you find a new place in your heart, and a love you never expected to have. It was full to bursting as I looked out at each one of our missionaries serving. 

He spent time teaching about how the gospel is home centered and church supported, and how the people of Africa are an example to the world in the way they care for each other. They take care of their family members and friends already. He left a blessing on the members, and then bore a powerful testimony of Jesus Christ.

At the end of the meeting, he asked us, and the Palmer's to stand in front of the stand with him and his wife, and we all shook hands with everyone in the room. We counted 414 people who attended this meeting. It was so sweet that he took the time to greet each one of them. 

Monday morning was spent in a meeting with the Missionaries. There are 20 missionaries serving in Rwanda, and it was a special experience for them to spend two hours just learning from and talking with an Apostle. 

He asked us to arrange the room in a way that all of the missionaries would have a table in front of them for their books, and so he could walk around in the middle of them. 

He was able to get up close and really talk to each of them individually. He taught to the needs of the missionaries in the room. One of the missionaries said that they could feel that the First Presidency trusts them with missionary work. It was comforting for them to feel that. The introduction to Preach My Gospel by the First Presidency starts off with a letter to the missionaries. It addresses them as "Fellow Missionaries", meaning the young men and young women who are serving missions are fellow missionaries to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. 

Elder Stevenson pointed out how unique this zone is. There are 20 missionaries serving in Rwanda from 13 different countries. He doesn't think there is another group of missionaries that size in the world with that much diversity. I'll try to name all of the countries: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya,  United States, Ghana, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, Liberia, Uganda, DR Congo, Swaziland, and Zambia!

The meeting was such a special and spiritual experience. When it was over, the Stevenson's and Palmer's went out to leave, while President Collings just wanted to say a few words to the missionaries. Apparently, as they went outside, Elder Stevenson and Elder Palmer talked about what a special experience it had been with this group of missionaries, and said they would feel really bad if they didn't have a picture to remember this occasion. They came back in and invited all the missionaries out for a group photo. We are all really grateful they did!

We left the missionaries, and drove with the Stevenson's and Palmer's to some of the sites that the church is looking at for the Kigali 3rd Branch Chapel. That is the one branch that still does not have a chapel of their own. They share the building with the Kigali 1st Branch, but it is far for them to travel each Sunday. It was fun to see Elder Stevenson's interest in these buildings and building sites because of his previous role as the Presiding Bishop of the church. He had a lot of wisdom and insight, and it was really comforting to talk with him, and know that the Brethren understand the plight of even this small branch of the church. 

From there we met with President and Sister Opar, the Rwanda District President and his wife, and together with them, we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial. 

This is never an easy place to visit. It is such a difficult history to learn about and to take in. As we walked through the memorial and were taught by our guide what happened during that time, there was a feeling of deep reverence for those who have been laid to rest there. 

Sister Stevenson, Elder and Sister Palmer, and Sister and President Opar

All of us were affected by the things we learned, and were even brought to tears. 

You can follow this LINK to a news article about Elder Stevenson's visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. I copied these pictures with permission from there. 

The next day, the men all had meetings in the morning. In each of the countries he visited, Elder Stevenson met with dignitaries, and helped them understand more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In Rwanda, he met with the Minister of Local Government.

He taught him about how the important the role of families is in the church. The importance of Family History and Temples. He even sat down and showed him the Family Search Application on his mobile phone. Then explained that this church is Family Centered and Church Supported.

He told him about how we believe the Bible to be the word of God, and how we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.  He explained that no matter where you go in the world, the people are reading and studying the same thing each Sunday.

President Collings and I didn't attend these meetings, but I know his visits had a positive impact on each of the countries he visited.

While the men were in meetings, Sister Maughan, who with her husband is our MLS Couple in Rwanda, invited the women to go with her to Kimmironko Market for a taste of the local life, and some souvenirs. We had a blast!

Sister Stevenson, Sister Palmer, Sister Maughan, and ME

You can choose fabric and a pattern, and these ladies will sew you a skirt or a dress in just an hour. Or if you have time, they will have it ready for you in a few days. I actually found a VERY cute dress in one of the shops. It was just my size and the colors were really nice. I hadn't planned to buy anything during this visit to the market, but it was perfect! The woman told me that I could pick any fabric I wanted and she would make it for me. I tried on the dress over my clothes, and it fit perfectly. I said that I didn't need to pick any other fabric, this one was exactly what I wanted. After an exchange for a few minutes, and her trying to convince me to pick something else, the ladies in the shop all started laughing and talking in Kenyarwandan. Finally, she told me that the dress had been made for another client, and they weren't sure how to tell me. The client had brought the fabric in from somewhere else, so they didn't know where they could get anything similar for me. I told her I would be back to order a dress from her, but it would be in a few weeks. It was pretty funny. 

Tree tomatoes, passion fruit, watermelon, mangoes, oranges, lemons, and avocados. Don't they all look amazing?? (Here lemons, limes, and oranges are all green...)


Mukene! A favorite of our missionaries (not)

I love all the bright colors of the fruits and vegetables. The people are all so nice, and very welcoming. Sister Stevenson took most of these pictures, and the people didn't mind at all. It was such a great day!

Final pictures of the group in Rwanda

We said goodbye to Elder and Sister Maughan, and Elder and Sister Palmer, and flew to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where we met Elder and Sister Sitati. 

The first meeting in Ethiopia with us was a final Missionary Meeting. There are only 11 missionaries serving in Ethiopia. Elder Stevenson told us before the meeting started that he wanted to take an individual picture with each missionary in that zone. 

They were sitting in a semi-circle, and as the Stevenson's and Sitati's came in, they went around the circle and greeted them one by one. Then he asked me to take a picture with each of them. 

When he taught the missionaries, it ended up being completely different than what he taught in any of the other missionary meetings. Another example of him teaching to their specific needs. He just opened up the scriptures with them, and read with them, and taught them. After a while, he pulled up a chair and sat down with them, and continued to expound the scriptures to them. He took the time to memorize each of their names, and continued to call them by their names for the rest of the time they were together.

There was a meeting planned with the members of the Ethiopia District following the missionary meeting. As Elder Stevenson was teaching, he casually turned to Sister Stevenson and asked her how much time he had left. He said he was now going to start teaching what he had taught the other missionaries in the other meetings, and figured he had another hour. When she looked at the time, he only had 5 minutes before the meeting was supposed to end. He was shocked. This meeting is one that everyone who was there will remember. It was a very special, spiritual time to spend with an Apostle. None of us wanted it to end. As Elder Stevenson was ending his teaching, he testified of Jesus Christ, and there was not a dry eye in the room. I'm so grateful to have been one to witness this.

By the time we got into the chapel for the Member Meeting, the room was full. Everyone stood to show respect for the Apostle. It was a beautiful, cool evening, and we all felt so blessed to be in this last meeting with the Stevenson's and Sitati's. 

There was a relief society choir who sang a beautiful hymn in Amharic. It really added to the spirit of the meeting. We heard from Sister Sitati, Elder Sitati, then Sister Stevenson and finally Elder Stevenson. There is such strength from the members in Ethiopia. This meeting was held on a week night, and it was a sacrifice for them to make it to the meeting, but they filled the room. 

Sister Stevenson spoke to the children, and told them a story about how her prayer was answered as a child. Elder Stevenson taught about what we believe as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He spoke about how the Holy Ghost helps us, and told a story of how he was protected as a boy when his father followed the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

I spoke with the missionaries the next day about what stood out to them in the meeting. They said that they knew the country of Ethiopia was dedicated for missionary work by Russell M Nelson, who at the time was an Apostle. He is now the prophet. As both Elder Sitati and Elder Stevenson spoke, they re-affirmed the blessings that President Nelson had already stated. The missionaries talked about the significance they saw of having three witnesses promise that these blessings would come to pass, two Apostles and one General Authority. 

Sister Stevenson with one of our sweet primary girls

Sister Sitati, Sister Mesi, President Eyob, and their son.

 The experience we had as we spent time traveling with Elder Stevenson and his wife, and members of the Area Presidency and their wives, is one I will always treasure. I witnessed them testify with power and authority that God lives, Jesus is the Christ, and that this is the true church on the earth today. I will never forget the feelings I have had. I feel like we have been with friends, but also with mentors. I continue to feel blessed to be serving a mission for the Lord here in Africa, in the countries of Uganda, Rwanda, and Ethiopia.