Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Where are You From?

February 16, 2014

“Where are you from?” he asked. Trying to be a little philosophical to get a discussion going I answered, “Heaven, and you?” The answer to that question and the ensuing conversation proved to be insightful. It has become the cause of some reflection.

When asking the question back home it would usually be “Where do you live?” The response might be Utah, Colorado, California, or another state, or even a country. Here in Africa there is another dimension to the conversation of where do you live. We never hear that question. Rather, we hear “Where are you from?” and “Where do you stay?”

You see so many of the people here are “from” an ancestral village, or where they were born. However, very often, they are not raised by their parents, they are often raised by their grandmother, or by other relatives. Their family is more of an extended family and the idea of “Where is home?” is not as meaningful as “where are you from?” meaning what village or area were you raised or connected to.

Often (more so than not) the mother is very young, out of wedlock. The father is off before or soon after the baby is born. The mother cannot by maturity or resource raise the baby so the grandmother takes the child, very nearly as her own and raises it (often several) in her older age. The mother may be around for a while or may go off to school or to work. The child then has a family of uncles and aunts and grandparents who have significant influence in the child’s life and choices.

Our experience is that the children thus raised are often very grateful and that there is a “familial” relationship, but not a nuclear family of birth mother and father and “home.” This difference in how they see themselves as to where they belong or are “from” creates some very interesting and challenging issues regarding the principle and doctrine of eternal family.

They may be from a certain village, but where they “stay” right “now” is more their focus than where they “live.” This challenge affects how the person sees marriage and family and home. For most of them, the notion of an “eternal marriage” is incomprehensible. One member reported that a coworker had met a member in a previous work assignment and became acquainted with the idea of “eternal marriage.”  When he found out that this new co-worker was also LDS he asked, somewhat incredulously “Were you married in one of the temples for eternity?” The member responded “yes,” whereupon the co-work shook his head and asked “How could you make any decision about eternity, let alone whom you would be married to?”

He was not antagonistic or disbelieving for that matter. He simply could not fathom how anyone could consider or make a commitment that had such extensive assumptions. Again, in a life that seems so very transient with so many issues of here and now, how could someone be so certain as to how he would feel about anything, or anyone in the next year, let alone the next life.

We were told at the MTC and again several times by church leaders here how important just being here as a living example of a long-term married couple with eternal commitments is. Just seeing and observing and hearing such an example, so foreign to the rest of their world was a worthy mission in itself. Holding hands, opening doors and loving looks and words or “old people” becomes short-term proof of that long-term commitment, priority and aspiration.

So where am I from? Well, being less glib about the answer “I am from Heaven” and what am I doing? “Trying to get back – added upon with blessing of understanding good from evil and the difference between true joy and earthly pleasure.”

Having now fully moved into Johannesburg we find ourselves answering the question “Where are you from?” with “Oh, we are from Botswana. Before that we were from Utah, in the United States. Now we are living in South Africa, Johannesburg and we are staying in Randburg and working in Soweto.” And we are trying to help members of the church generally and young adults specifically understand that we are all from Heaven with a loving Father and an Elder Brother that want us to become like them. That is to learn about how they live and to learn to make the choices about how they live so that they are in line with what Jesus taught us to be and to do.

That being true, we have also come to realize that where home is, is where family is. It goes without saying that where Heaven is must also be where family is – both our Heavenly family and our own eternal family.

We are finding ourselves engaged often in discussions in church and with those we work with about marriage. Here, as elsewhere throughout the world, marriage is being put off for reasons of school, finance, job, home, car, and personal freedom. In a more and more permissive society marriage seems to be, for many, simply not necessary or simply not as important as other pursuits. Living together, or just being together seems to be enough for a growing number of young adults.

Today perhaps the single best High Counselor talk I have ever witnessed came from a fellow who seemed to me to be perhaps sixteen years old. So many of the great members here appear very young. Yet he is a returned missionary, married has one child. He spoke of the challenge he and his wife had with pressure from family trying to convince them not to marry now. They should wait until she finished school, until he had a better job, a car, a house and…

Yet they loved each other and felt strongly that they were to marry, and now.  They took the issue to the Lord and had an undeniable confirmation that yes, now was the time. His talk about family, eternity and marriage in the temple was a powerful and spirit-filled conversation that moved everyone who listened to his talk and testimony.

Then in the YSA class we attended the conversation about the Abrahamic Covenant brought the discussion up again. After one young man again stated how important it was to be sure about the girl and spent enough time and not rush into the relationship and to take plenty of time to decide – for sure, I spoke. I told him about Sister Cloward’s and my experience with a 24-hour engagement commitment. I suggested that if you are trying to be the right one rather than find the right one, that the right one will come into your life in a miraculous way and in God’s good timing.

I suggested that long engagements or even dating processes were not as valuable or necessary for a couple who were fully committed to making an eternal covenant with the Father to become a family unit in His Kingdom.  Knowing that the other person knows and understands the eternal nature of families as God’s building block for his Kingdom and that they are truly committed to that life is the foundation of a relationship that can be forever.  The response and conversation was telling. As you might guess, several of the girls gave looks and comments suggesting that the boys needed to get off their behinds and traditions and get on with eternal-based courtship.

I am certain that these conversations and discussions will increase as we continue to interact with the young single adult members of the church here in the Johannesburg area, and there are hundreds of them.

So, yes we are here, staying here, we believe, to continue the work for the next 19 months. We moved five times in two weeks and had our belongings strung out between members’ storage sheds, missionaries car trunks, the CES office, our one trunk, patron housing at the Temple and… oh yes, in Botswana. We still aren’t sure how that part of our baggage is going to catch up to us. Oh, well…

So, here we are, healthy, happy and anxious to contribute. The people are, what can I say, great first generation African Mormons who are striving to live the teachings of the Master and to carry out the great commission to stand as witnesses for His name and the Father’s plan. They, as do we, feel the hastening of the work and the urgency of striving for personal righteousness and enduring testimonies of Jesus Christ and His restored Church, priesthood, ordinances and salvation.

We are now settled into a new flat (apartment) that is very nice, although very different than the “place we stayed” in Botswana. There it was a large ¼ acre plot surrounded by mangos, lemons, pomegranates and flowering trees in an old block house that we loved for its relative privacy and security. Here we have a much newer place, about the same house size that is the back side of a home owned by a lovely couple of Indian decent. It is in an upscale area with beautiful green trees and shrubs. The temperature is more like San Diego than the southern Utah desert-like climate and surroundings of Botswana. This is a large, perhaps 8-10 million person sprawling city, rather than the smaller 1.5 of Gaborone. There is a “bigger city” feel here and the feeling of “watch your back and be aware.” People are less friendly, in a measure generally, although the members are the same – gregarious, happy, intelligent and engaging.

We have many more couples here to meet and interact with. There are the Area couples, Temple couples, Mission couples and best of all, we have the Davies right across the street living in the cottage behind Dian and Michelle, the member family we stayed with the first week here (actually in the cottage where Davies now live.) The area is beautiful. We also have new good friends in Ann and Wally, the couple we stayed with the next week. We have had some wonderful times with all of them and look forward to many more.

We have clothes in the closet. (No more washing the shirt or socks or… out each night and hanging them near the fan to dry :) ) We have food in the cupboards, no more eating out (although Mike’s House is such a good feed!). We have water – EVERY DAY! And we can drink from the tap, no more filtering. We can have a warm shower every day. We have the Temple to be open after the two-week maintenance closing the last two weeks. We hope to have a new SIM card in my iPhone and Internet coverage soon and we will get caught up with some delinquent finance coordination regarding the car and the credit card.

There are countless things to see and do on P (preparation) Days. This week it was a short drive to the Lion Park with some up close views and interaction with Lions, Cheetas, Wild Dogs, Leopards, Zebras, Impalas, and Sister Cloward even got a kiss from a Giraffe.

We are twisting a few arms of dear friends back home to come and join in the work and the fun. So we don’t want to take in much more until we see if they find themselves called to South Africa to keep tabs on us.

The Stake we are assigned to serve is the hometown of Nelson Mandela (Soweto, Dobsonville to the west of Roodepoort and Randburg). We’ll be blogging more about the people and experiences there in the weeks ahead.

So to all our family and friends, we extend our love and prayers. Especially we send our love to our grandkids and only wish that they could come over for a night with grandma and grandpa in Africa! I guess that will have to wait until we return to the cabin. So Kaiden, first to join us somewhere in the world of missionary service, Nicolas, my buddy and hard-working pal who will set his own missionary journey, Taylor, whom we hope will feel the excitement and call of a missionary adventure, Luke who will hold down the family fort until we are back and Afton who will also make a great missionary, and Kensi, Ireland, Brynlee, Douglas, Garret, Mia, Cade, Judy Sue and Abri, keep on with your scriptures, prayers, school and love of life and the gospel. Your turn is coming…J!!

Now I know that Grandma, I mean Sister Cloward, is not about to let my minimal description of the flat and the area stand without her added detail, as well as the facts about that Valentine Kiss from a Giraffe and the other Lion Park encounters. So,…

Sister Cloward you are on.

Sweetie, you simply amaze me! I love to read what you write and love to hold your hand and walk by your side and look into your beautiful blue eyes and hug you and dance with you on our “flat” floor while we dream of eternity…together…forever…
I am amazed at your ability to speak to large gatherings and I really do need to journal what’s in my heart and mind. So much has happened since our one day notice to pack up and leave our beloved Bots. So much has happened since our last Blog…but trying to remember all of the tender mercies is a might tricky for me between all of the packing and unpacking.

It was amazing to touch the mama giraffe and her baby. Her hair felt like a tightly-woven smooth short-hair carpet, a bit like what you’d feel rubbing a fake looking giraffe at the toy store. Her eyelashes were longer than my fingers and curved so gracefully around her BIG inviting round eyes. Her nubs (the two black stubby protrusions on her forehead) were fun to hold – kind of like holding onto a joy stick, only giraffe-fur covered! The Lion Park had an above ground metal platform to step up to  so that our bodies could be level with the mama giraffe’s neck and head. She had a very long tongue and huge mouth and seemed very proud and protective of her prodigy. I felt a motherly connection to both of them and could sense their spirit and love for one another. I was truly in my element….nature….up close and personal.
I loved every minute of those encounters!

Elder C forgot to mention the meer cats. They were fun to watch climb into and out of mounds and mounds of dirt.  They ran and darted into their dirt tunnels so fast I couldn’t click fast enough on my camera to catch them. I was able to whistle to one that responded by standing up straight and tall for me. What a sight! So cute and playful and FAST as they scurried from one mound hole and popped up through another one.

The white lion is the heaviest and largest of the lions. They are nocturnal so our late morning drive found them sleeping on the ground underneath the trees. So I whistled and made clicking sounds and weird noises that seemed to arouse their curiosity at this granny who was trying to win a Kodak shot. The wild dogs were far off but I was able to take pics of them through the fence. They reminded me of the hyenas a bit.

I picked out a number of items I thought were keepsakeable at their craft shop. I made sure I showed some of them to Elder C and ended up taking pictures of the bathroom entrances (cute), a fur-covered African clock, great sculptures, books, ties made out of beading (so cool!), metal sculpture and all of the large signs telling more information about the animals we were seeing. (I figured I could print out those “pages” and read them and learn more about what I was told and can’t remember… It makes for a cheap “book” for me…:) I love to learn more about what I am seeing and so appreciate the dedication and talent it takes to create beautiful works of art!!

Our morning excursion was a good get-away to enjoy what is here in this beautiful part of our world.  Elder and Sister D were great companions to have along. They have been such a blessing in our lives as we wait to see what’s going to change or happen with each new day. Sister B crocheted a beautiful delicate ecru doily and placed it on our kitchen counter with some yummy mints. It made us feel so welcome to finally have a place we hope to call “home” for the next 19 months…time will tell.

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