Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Sun Sets on our First Week in Africa

Sunday September 21, 2013

 It was an awesome, bright orange sun that set out beyond the sparsely tree-lined horizon to the west. It was brilliant, just as Hollywood had prepared us for in our expectation of the sunsets in Dark Continent. Dark as it might have been in the days past, this past week we saw the light in the eyes of so many young first-generation African Saints. Their lives are hard by our standards. They have little of what we take so much for granted and assume to be absolute necessities for life and happiness. They are a living reminder of the truth that those things are neither required for survival and certainly not for happiness. The light of truth is here and it will never set, nor will darkness again define this continent or people.

A new week and we are anxious to get all the remaining supports and understanding in place to fully engage in the work and support of the S&I program. They are finishing their 2nd semester and we need to coordinate a review and update of attendance and assignment records to verify those who can graduate from seminary. The Institute program only issues completion certificates for courses, they do not graduate. We are waiting to get confirmation to use the church web- based record system (WISE) to get the updated information. But we also need to coordinate with all the teachers to verify who they are and to get updated on their records.

Monday is P-day for the young missionaries. It is supposed to be Saturday for the couples, but our assignment often includes travel and meetings on Saturday so it is not so for us. We visited the local military animal preserve with the Gaborone Elders and Sisters. It was a 15-minute drive and was basically a military barracks and a few roughly constructed holding sheds and compounds. They are charged with the removal and care for animals that invade private homes and yards. There are largely snakes. They also have four crocodiles, two or three hyenas, a leopard, three cheetas, a wild African dog, a few baboons and some very interesting lions and lionesses.

This is Sister Cloward’s P.S. to my encounter with the placid crocs…
The mud-plastered lifeless mannequin-like crocs looked like they were sleeping and totally unaware of us as they laid in the green and yellow slimy sludgy pond water. We were all quiet and bored with the disinterested crocs as we stood around the cemented pond enclosure. Suddenly, their eyes opened wide. No movement, just large round black eyes peering at us. An eerie feeling came over me. The croc was very aware of us and looking right at us with its all-seeing eye. Their heads are so large and wide that you can only view one eye at a time.

The uniformed attendant walked to the opposite side of the crocs and began disrupting the still water by striking it with a stick. As he continued, the crock instantly opened his mouth wide at us as he leaped into the air towards us, flailing his tail up in the air as he did a 180 and dove in the water towards the attendant. Within two seconds the croc was on the other side of the pond. We all stood frozen as the attendant stood still and then with slow and silent steps walked around the pond as the crocs looked at him. He then told us that if we were to jump in the pond, he would refuse to rescue us because he valued his life too much. I pondered on his words. Life is precious. Don’t flirt with danger and give Satan the advantage. Our Savior gave his life for each of us if we will be submissive and humble and follow in His footsteps. A powerful visual for this Mama. I hope I will always remember the crocs’ eye daring me to make a fatal mistake…

Sister Cloward got up close and personal with a cobra and a python. [I learned that you don’t hold a python on the opposite end of his head!] We had a chain link fence between us and a particularly nervous and anxious Lioness who had two 6-week old cubs (or is it kits?). At one point she leaped up against the fence in front of us and was within inches of our faces with teeth and claws ready to tear us apart.

It was a bit of an intense moment. [As Krys would say, her “mama bear” came out to protect her babies. You go girl!]

A couple of the yearly cubs were more used to people and preferred to wrestle with the elders. One particularly hungry looking 4 ft hyena was anxious to kiss [lick with a very rough tongue and very long sharp I-teeth] Sister Cloward’s hand – again from behind the chainlink fence. 
The crocs were placidly laying in their pond and offered no interaction. The baboon, all I suspect, are looking for handouts. The Lions lay under the thorn bushes and watch us with little care.

And so it was that we were introduced to a few of Africa’s other citizens. I am sure we will meet more of the larger residents in time. Jensens, Brownings and Dave and Bonnie Sorensen have indicated potential interest in those visits toward the end of our mission. We are hoping our friend the Frandsens and John Ward may join in that Safari. We don’t know if any of the kids will be able to make the journey, but we have hopes that there may be a chance for a couple of them. IF we get any closer to a Lion, they may have to come rescue (or retrieve) us.

We are getting more used to the time change and the driving process. The area is sprawling and it is taking time to get oriented to the two church buildings, shopping resources and general directions. The Mission Office is only a few minutes away. The Mission Home (President and Sister Wilson’s home – a very nice upscale home in a gated community) is about 30 minutes away. Pretty much everything we need close in is 15-20 minutes away. The longer drives will be to the S & I meetings in Francis Town (5.5 hours north), Mafeking – of Baden Powell notoriety is about 2 hours south in South Africa, Machudi is 30-45 minutes and has a tent for a meeting house. That is where the “Band of Brothers” are from. We will be telling you more about that in the future. It is a group of young men who are supporting each other on missions. I think they currently have seven out from this tiny branch. Each Sunday they fill the tent and have an overflow and many, many members and guests. Reminds us of Scofield in the olden days. Then there is Kanye and Labotse which are within an hour of us. These are the major locations where there are organized members, Branches and Wards.

In Namibia there are units in Windhoek and another small community to the North. We will likely be going there after the first of the year, but that is about a 10-12 hr drive and we’ll have to fly into that location. The couple there will be leaving in February. That will leave yet another hole in the Sr. Couples serving here. With over 3,000 requests for couples from the missions across the world, President Wilson is mounting a campaign to get couples here.

I must speak a bit to this campaign and some learning and impressions it has caused me to receive and understand. Back home we had a certain returned missionary couple who came to our Branch and reported on their mission. The Sister spoke about how different the mission was by comparison to the young Elders’ and Sisters’ assignment to preach the gospel. I was somewhat put off by the report and a bit frustrated that it seemed to be in line with other reports from Sr. Couples who had visited and reported to the Branch in Scofield. I must now confess that I was wrong, short sighed and did not understand the evolution and needs of missionary work and service now, as compared to my days as a missionary in Texas in 1970.

What we have come to understand is that the primary role of Sr. Couples in what is now called MLS [Member Leader Support] assignments, is that their role, which is vital and so very, very valuable,  is to help nurture and support the budding leadership in the rapidly growing church. They are needed not to be, nor to supplant the leadership, but to encourage strengthen and assist them in THEIR callings, in essence, to help to grow the leadership and support the missionaries. Their role is to assist the Mission President in supporting and helping the missionaries be successful. It is to help and encourage the Stake Presidents, Bishops, Branch Presidents and all called leaders. Ours is truly a shadow leadership approach. Learning to hold back comments and suggestions is not easy, at least I find myself biting my tongue in anxious desire to contribute. It is an important lesson for us to learn how to support from the side, not from the front or the center. Their growth must come from their experience and THEIR callings.

That said, one of the first things our Mission President asked us was about possible friends whom he might call and express the needs for couple leadership and service in the mission. At first it might appear that that recruiting request was a bit like network marketing, sort of a referral system of “who do you know” who we might plant the seeds of service in Africa. I have thought much about that this past few days. We have discussed those whom we love and who may be at, or soon coming to that point, where they could answer a call. Our minds locked on to two or three of our dear friends whom we believe would find the service significant and share our bidding love for the land and people of Africa and the new generation of church leaders who are emerging here.

What we believe happens is that we give them a call and see if they might be willing to speak with President Wilson about the needs and opportunity of service here in Botswana and Namibia. If they feel the spirit of interest and indicate some willingness to consider such a call, the President can then encourage them to start the process and indicate their interest in the Mission. He can pass that word onto the Missionary Department (I am a little vague on how that works). The general process of application, review, consideration and the intervening and confirming influence of the Holy Ghost then enters the process that ends in a call to where the Lord wants that couple to serve.

Now here is the revelation to us. Knowing the end from the beginning, the Lord works in small ways to perform His miracles in all of our lives. We may think that we can, or worry that we might “mess things up” if we allow our own will and interests to enter into the process of a call to serve. Yah, right, as if we can put out our puny arms and alter the course of the mighty Missouri river. If our will is to do His will, is it any wonder that He can plant in the hearts of servants to be where he needs and wants them to serve? When is a call determined, after the paperwork is sent in? Is it when it is circulated among the various parties who oversee the coordination of the seventeen different mission types couples can apply to serve in? Is it not until the papers reach the desk of the brethren?

Clearly, He knows already and may be putting the desire in your hearts even now. That desire could be general, or it could be very specific – even to  Botswana, Africa, because a mission president followed counsel to ask incoming Sr. Missionaries the question – who do you know?

So we have and we will contact those we feel directed to do so and invite them to consider joining us in the exciting surge of missionary work as the lord hastens his work, here and everywhere. We encourage you to let the spirit guide.  Let us know if you would be amenable to a phone call from President Wilson.

I must also share our experience in meeting and counseling with President Matswogothata. This young 32-year-old stake president has clearly been prepared by the hand of the Lord and his own obedience to the laws, ordinances and spirit of the gospel.  He was basically disowned when he joined the church as a young man. He joined, served a mission in Cape Town. He returned, found the young lady he would marry and rejected the “buy your bride tradition of his culture” called labola. They married and he became very successful in business and in his callings in the church. He became the first Stake President in the newly formed Botswana Stake (a little over a year ago). He is an inspiration. His vision and understanding of what needs to be done to hasten the work and growth among these mostly first-generation members of the church is clear and decisive.

We listened, as he explained why he is not supportive of encouraging his young adults to use the PEF (Perpetual Education Fund). He explained that there are ample programs and plenty of money for the youth to get an education in Botswana if they are willing to work – even a little. He is fighting a growing tradition of entitlement that he sees and damaging and damning to his people. As we listened, we were amazed that this self–made man and church leader was speaking from experience and vision. He is concerned not just for their education but for their growth in personal responsibility and confidence in their ability to succeed in life. We were impressed.

He told of one young man who came to him wanting and believing that he was ready to serve a mission. When they talked about his finance he said, “Oh President I can only pay P600, that is the best I can do.” That is he equivalent of about $75. The President was shocked and felt that he could do much better, that he needed to sacrifice more to be prepared to serve. He told the young man that he felt that that was not his “very best” and that he could “do more.” He told him he could not recommend him at that time, but that if he would take six months and work, doing something toward payment for his mission, that they would meet again and then if he had truly done all he could, that the President could recommend him. The young man left dejected and the President worried that maybe he had been to hard, yet he was following the spirit’s promptings. He worried that the young man may not come back.

After only a few weeks, the boy called and asked to meet with him. When he came he handed the President P6,000 and told him, “We had four cows, I sold three, the other one was so poor that no one would buy it.” As he told the story, tears flowed from all of us. He told the young man, “Now this is your very best. Now I can recommend you to serve a mission.” He is now serving and the President and his Bishop are certain the experience will magnify him in his service and in his life. Oh that more would see that the harder road and sacrifice builds the character and foundations of a new legacy of self-reliance and confidence.

Having listened to a lesson taught to the YSA ward by their bishop, Bishop Kaloobhai ( about “Aiming High” we found this same spirit of inspired leadership and clarity of vision for what his members, young single adults need to do and to become. It is evident that God is working with his leaders here and building other young leaders to take their places besides the likes of President Matswagothata and Bishop Kaloobai. It is exciting and humbling to feel responsible to be here and to be a support in how the Lord is working with and through these young, but oh so converted and committed leaders.

Now on the other hand, there are far too many inactive saints here, as with all places in the church. There are those, including returned missionaries, who have drifted or run away. Many because they didn’t have a full conversion, many who have been offended, many who have issues with the example or administration of their called leaders. This is the same in Africa and all over the church. Thereby the critical need for missionaries, young and Senior to strengthen the members and where possible, to help them see their way back to activity and the nurturing of the spirit and the covenants they have made and laid aside. Now is a time not for just new convert baptisms, but for rebaptisms of the spirit among those who have forgotten what they knew and felt before they left. That too is a most worthy aspect of missionary work, just as finding the families and young adults who so eagerly respond to the truth and fellowship of the gospel.

Again, this week Sister Cloward and I have been moved to tears by the prayers in the meetings of these mostly very young members. Oh that every member back in Utah could hear and feel what we hear and feel from these humble supplications so full of gratitude and pleading for support to live righteously. They are having an effect on how we think, feel and pray.

On Saturday we held an In-service training and get acquainted meeting for the Seminary and Institute teachers and was arranged by Brother Watson Rwada, the high councilman over these programs in the stake. He too is a very young convert, returned missionary and faithful steward. What we didn’t know is that this was Botswana’s “4th of July,” their national Independence-day celebration, a long 4-day holiday weekend. We won’t make that mistake again! On holidays the people leave the cities and travel back to their ancestral villages to be and work with family and relatives. We were told to expect between 15 and 18. Seven showed up, but how good was it to be with those seven who sacrificed to come.

We had prepared (of a sorts) spaghetti, garlic bread and coleslaw for the luncheon after the meeting. Sister Gubler made two cakes (no cake mixes here). The first challenge was finding tomato sauce. Forget finding something like spaghetti sauce. Plus, the kitchens at the churches have nothing to work with. We did have the small stove and the refrigerator actually worked. We were told that it usually doesn’t. But it all worked out, we just had too much. Now the four sister missionaries are coming over for dinner of left over spaghetti, garlic bread and slaw. [We just had the two APs over for more of it yesterday, Tues Oct 1…]

We learned a lot from the meeting and not just about when not to hold training. The teachers were wonderful. They helped us in our ongoing efforts to learn how to hear and say their names. That is a challenge as some of the letters and combinations of letters are pronounced very differently. Their real focus now is getting the attendance and potential graduation records up to date. Sister Cloward will focus on that aspect of our assignment

Monday, 23 – Planted about half of the garden area (24x20). Went with Zone for P-day activity to visit Animals at Military compound- (Crocs, python, Black Mamba, Adders, Cobra, Lions, Leopards, Hyenas, Baboons – Botswana military).
Tuesday, 24 – Planted the rest of the garden, went with Bro. Gubler to find bed and drawers, and to visit the Dr. to get immigration medical forms signed and Police station to get certified copies of Passports and Drivers Licenses. Met with Stake presidency and President Wilson for introductions and coordination – Pres. Mokweni (2nd Counselor) will work with the S & I programs and us. Again very impressed with President Matswagothata’s vision and grasp of the issues facing the youth of his stake, country and generation – young, but dynamic, very prepared by the Lord for his calling and service.
Wednesday, 25 – We got a water cooler in and the AP’s (who have the mission truck) brought over a bed and a dresser. We had them stay for Lunch (Grilled Cheese and Slaw, followed by a Bots [Botswana] ice cream cone).
Thursday, 26We went to the stores looking for more items we needed in the flat – basics, towels, plastic storage containers for leftovers and rugs for the bathrooms and bed sides. We are still shy on a few items, but will get by for now. Then in the evening we went to Lobatse (65 miles away) with the Gublers to participate in a missionary-sponsored home evening. They are assigned to that Branch even though they serve in the Mission Office. It was sparsely attended, but those that came had a good time. Elder Fackerell will go home the first of the week. He was an AP and requested to finish out in Lobatse. He had worked there earlier and it was his favorite location. There were a couple of newer ‘greenies’ their maturity (lack) was pretty evident. Time and some coaching will help.
Friday, 27 – We accompanied the Gublers mid-morning to do missionary flat inspections in Broadhurst area. They had just shuffled them around to accommodate moving the sisters after a couple of break-ins occurred in their apartment complex. Needless to say there is serious need to improve the apartments. Elder Gubler cut them some slack because of the move and uncertainty of the Inspection time. Sister Gubler brought them her homemade cinnamon rolls.
We spent the evening working on the In-service Training outline and materials. Then we fixed a big batch of spaghetti sauce, as best as resources would allow and a big coleslaw to feed the expected 16-18.
Saturday 28, - We gathered up the supplies and lunch items and went to Broadhurst Chapel. Bro. Rwada was going to meet us there at 9AM. At 9:30 one teacher arrived by taxi, but the building was still locked. At 9:45 Gublers came and delivered tablecloths and a couple of cakes for their dessert. Finally Bro. Rwada came just before 10 AM. It was the national independence celebration weekend (we didn’t know that when he scheduled the training meeting). Only six teachers of the 18 came. We learned a lot from what went less-than-planned in the meeting – that will be valuable as we go forward with future trainings, meetings and service. It really was wonderful to meet the teachers and learn about their assignments, conversation and testimonies. By the time we had finished and cleaned up and returned to our flat we were pretty tired and spent the evening recuperating and trying to get the computer and Internet figured out. That remains a work in progress and patience.
Sunday, 29– We attended church at the G West building 9AM for the SYA [Single Young Adult] Ward, and later we got the last of the family ward. Again, we were amazed at the prayers and the depth of understanding and faith of some of the members. Yet, it is becoming clear that these young saints face many of the same issues, challenges and needs as other YSA members in the church – education, employment, dating and getting serious about eternal marriage. The bishop of the YSA ward did a great job expressing his concern and led a joint lesson discussion around “Aiming High” – for celestial marriage and Exaltation. We had the sister missionaries over for dinner (left over spaghetti, slaw and cake). Sister Vea comes from Hawaii, Sister Clifford from Bountiful, Sister Gillis from Sandy and Sister Wiscombe from Orem. They seemed genuinely glad for the meal and the visit.

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