Saturday, May 9, 2015

Catching Up – Nov. ’14 – March ‘15

Hello, again…
I took a hiatus from the blogging from November through February 2015. Why? Well it was because I began wrestling with the ‘why’ of my blogging in the first place. The blog has had a double purpose. First it was an effort to allow me to show and tell the people and places of the mission experience.  Second, it was a platform for me to explore and share some of the thoughts I was encountering in the process.

The result was very long blogs – too long. As I came to realize, in looking at other missionary and family blogs, the general purpose of a blog is a quick update on something of interest.  As I thought about it, I became more convinced that I was really blogging for me, not for you – the reader, whoever you may be. I became convinced that there was so little interest or time available to the audience I thought may have some interest in our experiences and thoughts, that the blog was a bit like shouting out in the desert. Or perhaps a better analogy is shouting out on a crowded street in downtown New York City at rush hour.

I have long been an adversary to any form of perfunctory process or function. I concluded that in large measure I had become perfunctory in the blogging.  In a revelatory reality to me and for no fault or diminishment of normal interest to them, I determined that what I had to say or show was largely irrelevant.

Now, after nearly six months of withdrawal from the exercise of logging and blogging my musings and our mission, I feel the need to catch up with at least the key points, for me, not for you, whoever you are – NOW. In this way there will be a record for whoever, myself included, may have future interest in what we did and how we thought.  So, this is just catching up…

First, our shifts in assignment and a hindsight of our services in the Soweto Stake. Then, I’ll relate a couple of our P-day travels and sights and points of interest – pics. And finally, I will reminisce some of the more clear musings about the mission, life and us. This will likely be the next to the last blog from our mission as we leave for Scofield on May 14th. About 6 weeks short of the planned 23-month sojourn here.

Change – Again - Goodbye Soweto, Hello Bedfordview

We completed the Marriage class and Pathway course for 2014 and had some wonderful experiences with the students and classes.  We held a dinner/date activity for the graduates and had President Lebethoa speak after the dinner.  The Davies helped us with the Spaghetti and meatball meal. They enjoyed it and shared their feelings about the class and their testimonies of the gospel. It was a wonderful way to say goodbye to our friends in the Soweto Stake.
We feel like we gave the assignment our all, and sometimes even more. We saw wonderful changes and growth in a few. Yet, we wept over the general disconnect of Stake and Ward leadership and commitment to the S & I program – actually to the youth programs generally. This assignment was an incredible contrast to our work with the Botswana Stake – especially President Matsowathatha. We clearly see how as the head turns, so follows the body in the work of the church. We miss the members, especially the students, of Soweto, but have embraced our new assignment with the Bedfordview Stake.

From our flat (that did not change when we were re-assigned to Bedfordview) it was from 40-60 minutes (without traffic). The spread of Wards and Branches in Bedfordview takes from 45 minutes to over 2 hours in the Vereeniging and Sharpeville units – depending on traffic. That means we spend a lot of time behind the wheel looking through the windshield.

Generally, the Bedfordview Stake has been far more committed to the S & I effort and has taken it on fully.  What a contrast to the Soweto Stake! We have a great High Council member, Brother Wayne Herbert, who takes on the record-gathering and is just a joy to work with.  The member of the Stake presidency, Brother Vetten, an early-morning Seminary grad and former teacher himself, is also committed and responsive.

There are a couple of early morning classes, but most of the classes are held Friday evenings and Saturday mid-day. That causes quite a challenge in terms of class visits. However, our experience is that, with little exception, these teachers are capable and committed and need only one visit per term. That too makes for an interesting challenge in terms of the use of our time.  …More about that in my reflective “Musings” at the end of this blog.

Johannesburg Temple Workers

 When we first got to Johannesburg, in January 2014, we spoke with the Temple President about the possibility of serving in the Temple either as Ordinance or Veil workers, but were told that church missionary policy is to not allow Missionaries (couples) to serve. 
The fear is that they might neglect their primary missionary service assignment. We left it at that and continued our faithful 5am excursion to the temple every week with the Davies to do temple work as patrons.

But the Temple's need was too great and became very difficult as more U.S.  As couple Temple workers returned home and local workers continued to be undependable, in October President Eppel pulled me aside and asked if we would allow him to approach the Missionary department for an exception, because they were in such grave need for help.

I explained that our S & I assignment was heaviest on Friday and Saturday, with other days and mornings pretty open to assist them. He made the contact with President Dunn and then Salt Lake and was given permission to extend the call to us, and the Davies.

We immediately began serving each Friday morning from 5AM to 12:30P and usually serve one or two other shifts during the week.  In the Provo Temple, we were just 2 of nearly 5,000 shift ordinance workers.  Here they try to survive with 3 or 4 couples and a few local workers.  The President and Counselors often have to work the Veil. It is really a feast or famine situation in the Temple here, both for patrons and workers. The workers all live in the Dukes Court apartment complex which is just minutes from the Temple. Ours is a 30-40 minute drive from Randburg.

When first-time members come in from other countries, it can be a challenge. They have patron housing at the Area offices behind the Temple. (It’s a paradisiacal setting!) So, these first-timers and their families can come and stay a few days to do their own and family work in what is clearly to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most of them. We get to see the results of those Temple Patron donations we are asked to give. Oh my goodness, What a worthy donation and wonderful investment in the endowments and sealings of couples and families in this land! 

We love it! Working in the Temple, in large measure, has been the salvation of our mission in terms of feeling like we make a difference and that the investment of time and resources means something. I sincerely hope if they replace us after we are gone with another Senior Couple from the States, that they too will have this opportunity. Frankly I hope that they don’t replace us except with a local couple to handle the S & I calling. (More on that in Musings as well.)

Cullinan Diamond Mine

 On one P-day we went with the Davies to visit the Cullinan Diamond mine. THe location was about 45 minutes away from Johannesburg. This is the mine where they found the largest diamond in South Africa. Here Judy is holding a replica. They are also showing the end of a mine shaft descending car cable. Get a load of the size of it. We learned a lot about diamonds and mining for these precious stones. 

We wish Carsonand Nyk could have been with us on that trip. I think they would have been interested in the technology and the mines unique story.  We loved the Jackaranda-lined streets and shops. 

 As the mine continues to reduce its gem quality production and rely more on industrial quality results, the owners are trying to turn the small mine-owned community into somewhat of a tourist attraction. The shops were interesting and the lunch was good, but the mine is obviously evolving into something that is not what it was – hmmm…me too.Oh, you can still buy stones and jewelry there under very tight security. I have to tell you, while interesting to look at and with what they said, was significant value, we were not tempted to buy – diamonds or any of the interesting old signs and antique dishes (some of which we are sure were probably mined from the local landfill?), although Krysti would have found them interesting and laughable.

Magalie’s Park at Hartbeestpoort Dam

Our relationship with Ann and Wally Krambeck, the Sr. couple we stayed with when we first came to Johannesburg, continues to deepen the longer we are here and the more we spend time with them. This is the couple that we met just by ringing their gate bell looking for a bed and breakfast that was in the area. Actually we are quite certain that the Lord had a hand in that meeting and the relationship that has become one of the two most meaningful of our mission.

They have a timeshare at a beautiful golf course retirement and vacation community called Magalies Park, about an hour away from Joberg. They invited the Davies and us to join them for an overnight get-away there. 

 It was a beautiful location and we had a wonderful time walking through the lush edges of the golf course where we encountered weaver birds building their nests, hartebeests wandering through fairways and over the greens. 

I don't golf but I saw several balls off in teh bush and thought about retrieving a few until I came across this sign.

We had a wonderful braai and played some Mexican Train. We really love this couple and their family and feel their genuine reciprocal feelings. They are like Verl and MarJean for us here. We hope our time with them will be preparatory to their children and grandchildren receiving the gospel.  We just wish we could have them as our guests in the states.

Return to Pilanesberg 

We made a return visit to Pilanesberg to do a little more camera hunting of the big and little African wildlife. This time we saw more of the same and enjoyed it every bit as much as the first time.  The long drive and visit with the Davies is as enjoyable as the sharing in the adventure of what we encounter on these outings. Here are some of the sights of that visit.

This is a casino in the middle of nowhere with a wildlife preserve close by. We preferred visiting the four legged wildlife and left the two legged type to the casino exploring.

 There were times that I could have opened a window and slapped a zebra or two on the behind.

The sharing of the water hole by animals and birds and all but two legged critters was amazing. However, we did not see any carnivores only larger natives. The vulture on teh left is fully four feet tall to give you some perspective to the eland.  

The giraffes were always amazing. Their size and motion added to the sheer wonder of their structure.

There were a lot of elephants. These two young bulls were sparing with each other when we first came upon them

Mission Flats and Movings

With the natural reduction of missionaries from the returning of the 18-yr-old and
Couple-old bulge of 2013, the Mission is seeing some shift in numbers and the make up of the missionaries. In the past, Sr. Couples have helped with the monthly Missionary Flat inspections. In my opinion this has been largely perfunctory. They know you are coming and they quickly spruce up just before we are to arrive. The Mission President asked us to help revamp the system and set in motion meaningful changes.

We started with the suggestion that the inspections go to once just before transfers, every six weeks, rather than monthly. Then we revamped the map of assignments for couples to get better contiguity to their locations. As we were doing this, the changes evolved as it became obvious that there would soon not be enough Sr. Couples to cover the large number of Flats in the mission.

The result was the determination to put the Zone Leaders in charge of the inspections.  They were to do them periodically and unannounced. We then developed a system of either a Green, Yellow or Red card, to rate the Flat’s cleanliness. President Dunn called it the CING program (Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness). The focus was to get the Elders to take more responsibility with keeping their Flats clean and orderly, all the time.

We havs been involved in hauling furniture to and from Flats and in some case shutting them down. Oh for the cockroaches in some locations! Really, there are only a few that are “abominations.” Most are like young men’s apartments – cluttered and semi-clean. The unannounced visits motivate the Elders to be on top of the Flat and not wait for a scheduled visit to clean-up.

As sort of a last Sr. visit to the Flats to get a good baseline on the status and potential longevity of the Flats, we were asked to make a final visit in February. These were to be unannounced visits. When we started, we thought we had 22 Flats. In the process of visiting them found out that the records were behind and we had a couple more that were not even on the list.

Our focus was to teach the Elders how to prevent and deal with the Roach problem as well as to encourage them and help them get a vision of how it “should be.”  Generally the Flats were “Yellow.” There were a few Green and a couple, definitely “Red” locations.

It was an incredible amount of time and travel.  I figured that it was 24-30 hours and
6800 K  of travel. We enjoyed seeing missionaries and have come to know many of them over the past year from times they were serving in Soweto and the Office.

Now our duties are responding to needs the Mission Office has for urgent fixes, deliveries and closures. We enjoy the variety and additional service. Even though this is a bit like painting the outhouses at Martin’s Cove, it is service that is needed and so much better than down time. (More on that too in Musings.)

Dinners with Davies, Krambecks and Vontonders

Some of our most favorite activities of the last several months have been our weekly dinners and card games with our friends.

Here is just a glance at a few of these gatherings and dishes.



Doug’s Musings

I say Doug’s musings, although I suspect Judy can say amen to most of my thoughts here, but she can add her own.

Unexpected curve balls have come our way a couple times in our mission. The first major one was when we discovered that what we thought we would be doing was not at all what we would do. We thought we would be working more with the youth themselves.

Our predecessors in Botswana did a lot of that. They had YSA activity gatherings at their Flat and taught classes themselves. That changed just before we got into the Mission. In an effort to shift youth program and activity to Priesthood and local leadership, the couples were pulled back from that work…hmmm. Okay, we understand the need and the effort. The result was and continues to sputter, but will eventually be understood and implemented – we hope (but I doubt).  The difficulty with money, budget, experience, transport, dependability etc. is a far different animal here than in at least the center of Zion.

Curve ball #2 was the leap immediately into the fire of the Botswana Stake S & I graduation for 2013. Finding the records and getting the ball rolling for that took yeoman effort and combined with the difficulty of super slow internet access created frustration that was the most difficult days of our lives and marriage (no fault of Judy). But we got through that and started out the 2014 year with a great foundation and Pre-school training…only to have another curve thrown our way.

We went to Namibia to train teachers there in the middle of January and returned to the message that we essentially had 24 hours to get out of town – country. So we packed what we could, said goodbye to the Flat and hoped that the immigration and residency issues could be solved in a week or two. But, this Botswana curve turned out to be way outside and a return was not to be.

So, we drove to Johannesburg and they put us up in a new Flat (small cottage behind some wonderful members) where we would stay for one week until we would pick up a new CES couple who would take over that flat and work in the Johannesburg Stake…enter the Davies.

Little did we realize just how important and close we would become to this wonderful couple. We have spent most every day the last year walking 3 miles in the early morning with them, going to meetings, adventures and eating and playing with them. They have been one of only a couple of straight balls we have had thrown our way here.

Curve over the plate and we hit a home run. With Davies in their Flat, where would we stay?  The Office said, ‘just find a Bed and Breakfast.’ So… We tried and that is what lead us to the chance meeting of the Krambecks mentioned above. We stayed with them for a few nights and then were able to get into the Temple housing for a few days while the Temple was closed.   

An apartment became available behind the house directly across from the Davies location and on my Birthday, we moved in. The place is great, or so we thought, except for a very narrow entry gate that I have to navigate with the car.

We did not realize that there was absolutely no security to the rear side of the Flat until One morning after working late into the night at the computers we retired and arose early to finish the work only to find that while we slept, the place was broken into and Judy’s computer, my iPhone and new iPad were stolen. The police came, took fingerprints and recommended that the owners get razor wire and electronics in place, like virtually every other house in the area, city, and country. (The effects of the 1950 Appartheid are still apparent on nearly every street…)

They were going to see to it, but didn’t. Well the next week the guy (at the time we didn’t know if it was a one-man or more break-in, as you will read, he determined it was one guy) came back and tried to pry open the same window he had jimmied the week before. After all, he couldn’t have carried out my computer and the other items he might pawn for cash. This time the lock on the window held and we only discovered the attempt when we were showing someone where he had come in the week before. Still, no added security was out in, only the promise that they were working on it. It wasn’t just idle words. The landlords were very concerned for us and access by the thief to their own property.

But wait, Week #3. The member across the street had borrowed me his taser pistol which I had around my hand every night after the second attempt. It was very hard for either of us to sleep soundly after the first break in, but after the second attempt, it was nearly impossible. Then on Wednesday that week I had dozed off about 2AM when Judy jabbed me. I woke with a start and immediately heard what she was hearing. He was trying to get in again. (After the second time trying to get through the window, we had rigged a bottle-balanced alarm so that if he tried again the bottle would fall on the tile floor, shatter and we would be alerted.)

He was deterred from trying that access, but that night he actually was using a piece of metal to scrape away the caulking around the window at the dinner table wall. He was making plenty of noise as he had walked out across the roof and back to the window. I ran to the window, still covered by the drape and was standing less than a couple of feet from where he was scraping when he, accidently I think, broke the glass. I jerked back the drapes and pointed the taser at his head and yelled at him.  In a quick bound he was up on the brick wall and running down to the back alley.

We tripped the security alarm and called the landlord and police and spent the rest of the night filling out forms. This time though I saw the guy, in the dark, but with a distinctive grey wool sock hat. It was only two weeks later that I recognized the same hat on the head of a vagrant who was staying in the corner of a small overgrown playground—there isn’t any play equipment or was there then? It’s a large empty lot and is 3 blocks from our Flat and we pass by the lot every day) around the corner from us. He was the guy!

Obviously it was too late to retrieve our computer, phone and iPad and how could I prove it was him? That week, razor wire and wall spiking was put in place and we soon were back to sleeping soundly with the taser back with its owner. What about the thief?

Well, a few months later, he was, is still staying under the trees behind the playground. So we made up a pot of hot chicken noodle soup, put it in a disposable canister with a plastic spoon and homemade sourdough bread, gathered up clothes and goodies we had been given at an early Mission Christmas party and put it all in a box.

Then Judy and I walked over to his “hide out” and walked up to him, said ‘Merry Christmas’ and handed him the box, that included the very piece of metal he had dropped when the glass broke when he was using it to scrape out the caulk around the window. We turned and walked away, and as we did he said “I see you again soon!” Now we see him regularly, at a distance, as he goes about his scrounging to survive the jungle of houses of the community. Oh yes, I could belabor the thoughts feelings and possibilities of that curve for pages – but I won’t. 

Just one thing that became another interesting curve. As we pulled out of our flat a short time after giving the thief our Christmas package we saw another homeless man, young, walking in front of our flat wearing some of the clothing and hats that we had given the thief in the package. Maybe there is no honor among thieves, but in this case there certainly was Christmas spirit. That left me with a lot to think about in terms of basic humanity.

Another curve comes our way. Because Elder Khumbulani the CES Coordinator employee we work with had been called as new Area 70, he determined that it would work better for his situation if he took over Soweto Stake S & I and moved our assignment to the Bedfordview Stake. It did make sense for his convenience, given his heavy ‘70’ travel schedule. So we stepped up to the plate and hit what I believe will be another sold hit in that assignment, even though it comes with its own challenges.

Now as we look forward with less-than three-months-of-time left here in South Africa, our minds naturally look to “what is next.” There are potentially more and new curve balls on the way that we will need to step-up to in the short future. There are challenges with finance, home, work, health and service. China, cancer, memory and other game-changing curve balls could be thrown our way any day now.

So we wind up and watch and hope and pray that we can yet swing the bat and play the game. The most important thing we know is that we are on the winning team and that we are playing together and that our family and friends are cheering and praying for us. So let the curves fly!

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