Saturday, June 22, 2019

A new District in Gulu

About two years ago we had to bring the missionaries from the outer branches to Kampala, and Gulu was left with no missionaries. The members in the two Gulu Branches started doing their own missionary work. As people would progress and were ready for baptism, they would call and we would have to send the Assistants to the President or Zone Leaders to Gulu for their baptismal interviews. It got to the point where we were sending missionaries so often, it didn't make sense to keep them in Kampala, so missionaries returned to Gulu. Missionary work in Gulu has continued to progress and it has grown to a point where the Gulu Branch needed to be divided.

This weekend was very special for the members of the church in Gulu. There has been a branch of the church in Gulu since 2007, and after many years of growth, there are now enough members and leaders to create the Gulu Uganda District of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Sunday Morning, 16 September 2019 at the Bomah Hotel in Gulu, we had a combined meeting with all of the church members. It was a very rainy morning. As people arrived at the hotel, they were greeted by the mission presidency, missionaries, and a couple of members.

The meeting was held in a conference room that was around the side of the building and on the second floor. It was a little bit confusing to find, but we had several missionaries stationed at different locations to guide the people to the right room. 

It was nice to get a picture of the mission presidency again. They have worked so well together. It's been amazing to see the wonderful things happening in the Uganda Kampala Mission with President Collings, Okello, and Ondoga. They are so unified and ambitious to do good. It has taken a huge weight off of President Collings shoulders having such strong counselors. 

Because of the rain, the numbers who attended were smaller than we hoped they would be, but we were still happy that so many were able to come even with the poor weather.  There was a lovely choir that had prepared some songs for the meeting, and they did a very beautiful job. 

President Richard Okello conducted the meeting and also spoke to the congregation. 

President Collings also spoke to the congregation. He talked to them about being an example so that the church will continue to grow in Gulu. He also talked about sustaining our leaders. That it doesn't matter how old or young you are, if a leader is called of God, we need to sustain him. He gave examples like the prophet Samuel, king David, and even Joseph Smith who was called in his youth. 

They then created the Gulu Uganda District, which was unanimously sustained by everyone present. Along with that, the Gulu Branch was divided and the Pece Branch was created. All three branches in the Gulu District had a new Branch President called. Each of them were sustained unanimously. There was a lot of excitement in the room.

We heard a sweet testimony from the new District President's wife, followed by a testimony from President Mike Okello, the new District President. 

President Ondoga shared his thoughts with the congregation, and the I gave a short testimony. President Collings spoke once more and the meeting ended. 

Pictures of our missionaries who were in the back. They would help people find the meeting room and even usher them to their seats. 

This was really an historic day in Gulu Town. One of the members brought a picture to share of the first sacrament meeting in Gulu Branch. This picture was taken in April 2007. The first branch meeting had just over ten people in attendance. 

We took this picture after the District was created. There were 258 people in attendance at this meeting. It was on a rainy day, so there were some who couldn't make it. It's such a huge blessing to see the growth of the church in this area of the Lord's vineyard.

District Presidency
President Mike Okello (right)
1st Counselor Reagan Opar (left)

Gulu Branch Presidency
President Collins Odong (right)
1st Counselor Dwoka Justine (left)

Bardege Branch Presidency
President Patrick Orombi (center)
1st Counselor Oyuk Olebbe Ignatius(left)
2nd Counselor Olobo Patrick Opiyo (right)

Pece Branch President
President Joel Lubangakene

All of the priesthood leadership at the District Creation

As is always the case in mission life, we had transfers again. This transfer was a little bit different. We have been asked to leave the mission home so the Facility Management for the Church can prepare it for the new mission president and wife. Normally our transfer day is on Thursday, and we have many of the transferring missionaries stay at the mission home. We needed to leave the mission home by Tuesday, so we had transfers this week on Monday instead. I asked the missionaries the week before to please let their parents know that they would not be having preparation day until Thursday, so their parents weren't worried when they didn't receive an email on Monday. Some remembered to say something, some did not. But the transfer went pretty smoothly, all things considered.

We did receive some concerning news last week. The Ebola Virus has been hanging out on the border of Uganda in DR Congo. We have probably been watching it's progress for almost a year now. We have had an evacuation plan in place just in case it crosses the border into Uganda. Last week we saw that one young boy died of Ebola in a hospital at Kasese. Kasese is still very far from where any of our missionaries or branches are located, but knowing that it had actually crossed the border gave us a heightened concern for what would happen next. On the same day we heard "rumors" that 4 people had mysteriously died in Masaka with Ebola-like symptoms. We talked with our church leaders in Salt Lake as well as our Area Presidency, and Area Medical Advisor, and ultimately made the decision to be super-cautious, and remove 11 missionaries from Masaka Town while we wait for the results of tests. As far as we have seen the people did not die from Ebola, but we are relieved that we don't need to worry about the missionaries at this time.

We have sent Ebola Safety information to all of our missionaries as well as the members of the church in Masaka. Hopefully this will just be a temporary transfer of our Masaka missionaries and they can return in just a few weeks, but we feel good about the choice that was made at this time.

We received 11 new missionaries this transfer. I'm always amazed at all of the different countries these missionaries are called from. Usually it's from America and places in Africa. More recently we have received missionaries from the Pacific Islands as well.

This transfer we received missionaries from America, Zambia, Dominican Republic, Kiribati, DR Congo, Ecuador, and Tonga. I had to look on a map when we received some of their notifications to see where these countries are.

As has been the case for the last three years, we have been sent very strong missionaries! They are full of faith and excitement. The will do very well in Uganda, Rwanda, and Ethiopia. 

While picking up the new missionaries, we also got to pick up Sister Natocho from Busia. She just completed her mission in Harare Zimbabwe. It seems like we just sent her out, but she has returned so strong and will be such a blessing to her branch! 

We also had to say goodbye to 10 missionaries who have finished their work and are ready to start their lives at home. 

These missionaries have done amazing things in the Uganda Kampala Mission. They will now return to America, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Liberia, and I believe they will continue to serve the Master because of the things they have learned while serving their missions. 

Finally, we had a dinner with the Mission Presidency and their wives. Hard to believe this is the last presidency meeting they will have. But these are friendships that I believe will last for Eternity. 

During our time in the Uganda Kampala Mission we have seen the creation of the Kampala Uganda South Stake in 2017. We have created 4 Mission Districts: Kigali, Masaka, Busia, and Gulu. We have realigned the mission boundaries to include Busia 1 Branch in Kenya so they could be part of the Busia Uganda-Kenya District. And we have created 7 Mission Branches: Kijjabweme, Nyendo, Busia 3rd, Mugiti, Tororo, Kigali 4th, and Pece Branches. We have been responsible for 310 young missionaries, 12 senior couples, and have had 83 young missionaries leave to serve missions from the Uganda Kampala Mission Branches with 23 still serving. 

We are left with one week before we return to our family in Utah, and it's hard to believe three years has passed by so quickly. We have absolutely loved our time in Uganda, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. We have made so many wonderful friends that we will never forget. We plan to come back to Africa in the future. There are missionaries we would like to see from so many African countries. We consider ourselves truly blessed to have been able to experience three years here!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


As you have probably read over the last year in my blog, we have had issues with the church buildings in Rwanda. In January 2018, the Kigali 3 branch was large enough that President Collings was starting to work on dividing the branch. We were surprised when the church buildings were shut down in February 2018, and instead needed to turn our attention to getting the members buildings where they could worship each Sunday. Little did we know that it would take almost a year for Kigali 1 and 2 branch to get their building, but most unfortunate was that Kigali 3 branch is still without a building a year and 4 months later. They are still worshiping in a building, but they have to travel to the Kigali 1 branch building, which is quite a long distance. The good news is that there is a building ready for the Kigali 3 branch and they will be meeting there in the VERY near future.

The first building that was reopened was the Kigali 2 Branch. Since the branch moved into their new building, they have seen significant growth, and because of this, President Collings requested that we divide the Kigali 2 Branch. He received permission from church headquarters, and on 9 June 2019 he divided the Kigali 2 Branch and created the Kigali 4 Branch. It was a very exciting day for the members of the church in Rwanda. 

 The new Kigali 4 Branch President is President Ndara. He is in the center with his counselors on each side. He is a very strong leader and I believe we will see a lot of amazing things happening in this branch.

 The new Branch President for the Kigali 2 branch is President Pascal. He will get his counselors very soon. It's very exciting to see his growth and we know this branch is in good hands. The District Presidency and District Council will help train the leaders of these two branches as the church continues to grow in Rwanda.

Elder Palmer, the Area President, was also in Rwanda. Because we were having this meeting with the 2nd Branch, he decided to spend time in the 3rd Branch and then have a fireside after church for the 1st and 3rd branches. It didn't matter what branch you were in on Sunday, Kigali was a very special place to be. It was fun for us to meet with him one more time before we leave.

Our final Zone Conference of our mission took place in the Rwanda Zone. When we talked with the Zone Leaders about the meeting, they suggested an outline. President Collings said that their idea would be fine. We thought the entire conference would take about two hours. We were wrong! The Zone Leaders asked President Collings and I to speak, then they opened up the meeting for testimonies. Every one of the missionaries in the zone stood and bore their testimony and shared a tender mercy that they had seen on their mission. Then we invited the missionaries to ask us questions. I was so impressed with their questions. They really made us think, and we were able to teach them some amazing things because of the questions they asked.  We then ended with thoughts from myself and President Collings. It doesn't sound long, that's why we thought we would be done in a short time, but with the testimonies and the questions, we were really able to spend our time just teaching and sharing. It was a very special time.

We ended with everyone's favorite, Meze Fresh burritos! Then instead of standing for a formal photo, we asked Elder Hall to use his extremely long arms and take a group selfie. I think it turned out REALLY good! It was a wonderful way to end three years of Zone Conferences. Wow, I LOVE these missionaries!!

What can I say? We have really grown to love our amazing senior couple, Elder and Sister Maughan. They go out of their way to help and to organize and to accomplish the vision that President Collings has had for Rwanda as well as helping with the other districts in our mission. I've said it before, they do the work of 4 Senior Couples. We love them! It's hard to think that this is the last time we will see them until their mission is over in about a year. They will be a great blessing to the new mission president.

Goodbye at the airport as they stood behind "Black Beauty" everyone's favorite mission truck.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Ethiopia and Kampala Zone Conference

 On 2 June 2019, President Collings set apart our newest missionary from Ethiopia. Elroe Woldemichael was called to serve in the Salt Lake City South Mission. He and his family are so excited for him to be able to share the Gospel with the people they have grown to love since Elroe was a young boy. They have many friends who came to Ethiopia as Senior Missionary Couples or Young Missionaries, that are from Utah. He was thrilled to receive his mission call, and will be an amazing missionary. He reported to the Provo MTC on 5th June.

Our final Zone Conference in Ethiopia was really wonderful. We got to spend time with the missionaries answering their questions, sharing testimonies, and giving them some final advice. The missionaries are doing really well, and will be a huge blessing for the new mission president and wife.

 I finally bought an Ethiopian Dress. I wore it to Church on our final Sunday. Saying a few goodbyes.

I love making Eternal Friends
Our Zone Conference in Kampala consisted of four zones. Kampala North, Kampala South, Masaka, and Uganda North Zones. The first half was combined. We have many new missionaries who shared their testimony, and then we heard from the departing missionaries. Some of the missionaries then shared musical numbers they had prepared which was really nice. One group of missionaries actually wrote a song that went to the tune Beautiful Zion, which was very sweet. We then divided into zones and President Collings and I observed some of the training in each of the zones. We ended with our thoughts and testimony to the missionaries. There is so much that we want to say to these young men and women. Mostly just a huge thank you for the great individuals that they are. It's been such a blessing getting to know each one of them. This was followed a yummy lunch, and of course, pictures. 

We had so many missionaries who wanted to take pictures with us, it reminded me of a wedding day, where you smile for so many pictures your cheeks get sore. But it was worth it!

One of our returned missionaries has come back to Uganda  for a quick visit. It was so fun to visit with Matthew Anderson again. We can't believe it's been two years since he left this mission. It seems like just a couple of months ago. He is visiting Uganda and then will go to Tanzania and hike Mt. Kilimanjaro. I think President Collings is a little bit jealous. That's going on our bucket list in the coming years!