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!