Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas & No Place Like Home....-gfh

If one cannot be with family at Christmas the next best thing is to spend Christmas on a mission….and maybe even better is to be on a mission in South Africa Johannesburg! We have about a hundred sons with whom to share Christmas and we’ve loved being a part of that.
Christmas morning we enjoyed a quiet time of opening gifts alone at our flat. Some from family and many from other missionaries. A gift of a good book, a family calendar, a chocolate bar and a thank you for serving in the office, a homemade Christmas ornament made by a sweet sister who has very little, a jar of peanut butter & gourmet jam from someone who noticed that is our regular lunch faire, fun novelty pencils for mission secretary and a toy pop gun for Elder H! What a fun Christmas morning! I really do believe it’s the thought that counts.

We had saved haircuts until this time. President Poulsen says that the best time to get a haircut is BEFORE one needs one. In our case it was when Elder H had the time to sit still long enough and that was Christmas morning.

We then went over to the Mission Home at 10:00 to help prepare for the open house which was from 11:00-3:00. It was really fun sharing Christmas Day with the elders, watching them enjoy each other relaxing playing ping pong, chess, foss ball and enjoying the delicious food Sister Poulsen had prepared. We were there until about 4:00.

Went to the mission office to help Elders make phone calls home and then returned to our flat to do our Christmas family calls. It’s tough getting twelve family visits in with the time difference and wanting to chat with each one. Between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and new baby phone call (Chris & Jill had baby Alexander 22 Dec) we were able to connect with eight of the twelve. We’ll be sure to reach the other four families sometime during the holidays.

There’s no place like home for the holidays unless it’s being on a mission!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas from South Africa -gfh

Santa came early to the South Africa Johannesburg Mission! Monday, 20 December, was our Mission Christmas Devotional/Celebration (as President called it).
The missionaries came fasting to the devotional which started at 1:00. After a brief message from President Poulsen the time was turned over for testimonies. I'm sure there were angels on the roof top as elder after elder bore testimony of their Saviour Jesus Christ, of the Restoration of the Gospel and shared inspiring missionary experiences. There was no lull as the elders filled the pews at the front of the chapel to wait their 2 minute turn. Three hours later the closing prayer was said. Those were the sweetest and shortest three hours I have ever experienced!

After the devotional the missionaries were fed an absolutely delicious meal of sloppy joes, corn on the cob, watermelon, chips, soda, ice cream and Texas sheet cake! Remember, it is summer here! Elder & Sister Watts were in charge of the food and that is a serious assignment when you think of feeding 160 fasting young men! There was plenty and to spare. The Watts had done a fantastic job and all of the other senior couples helped with food assignments and serving.

Now for the celebration!!! Elder Henrichsen and I were in charge of the program. There was a great program used last year that we tweaked and added special musical numbers. The Spirit was again poured out as we heard readings of the testimonies of the prophets proclaiming the birth of our Savior and tender stories of Christmas and the singing of special numbers and Christmas hymns.

I asked our new senior couple, Elder 7 Sister Porter, who have great musical talents to be in charge of the group singing and the now traditional chime choir which originated, I believe, with last year's program. Sister Porter had used the "transposing key" on the organ (I didn't know there was such a thing) to transpose to match the key of the chimes. The chime choir played "Silent Night" at key moments in the program and then was part of the accompaniment for a couple of other Christmas carols. The music was indeed heavenly and with a sprinkle of humor. The very last chime for "Silent Night" was being held too tightly or maybe was just off key because each time it was played the hymn ended with kind of a "thud" instead of a chime. The elder holding the chime would smile and shrug his shoulders. He was a good sport. Each time it brought a gentle chuckle from the congregation.
( I think it was the way the chime was held because Sister Porter has a great musical ear and had rehearsed those elders prior)

Sister Wittwer added a nice touch with tasteful decorations outside of the chapel and on the pulpit.This picture was taken as she was gathering things up to put them away...probably doesn't look so "tasteful" but the actual finished arrangement was lovely.

At almost the last minute president had wanted a little Christmasy touch for the elders to wear. I looked around the office and had a great idea that the garland we had strung around the cupboards would make great boutonnieres, kind of like what we made for Krista and Ron's wedding. At first it seemed like too much to ask at the last minute but many hands made it happen.

And the elders looked so handsome in their suits with that extra touch of Christmas on their lapels.

It was one of those special days when my smile muscles were sore at end of the day and my eyes were wet with tears from the special moments.
The program lasted about two hours. Okay, add that up: 3+2=5 hours of sitting with an hour break to eat.

Everyone had such a wonderful experience. And lingered and visited afterward taking pictures and not wanting to go back to their areas.

But of course it helped alot to have Santa Claus (aka Elder Watts) waiting to greet them as they filed into the cultural hall to receive their Christmas gift from President and Sister Poulsen. Santa was over powered by those big kids sitting on his lap but everyone loved every minute of it.
The next day we had several elders come to the office and they were still smiling from the day before! They even asked if there were any sloppy joes left over.

This is a picture of one of my heroes! His name is Elder Lawrence. He is from Western Australia and has a twin brother who was in the SAF MTC with him. His brother is now serving in the South Africa Durban Mission. Our Elder Lawrence has cerebral palsy and is very hard of hearing. He has a slight speech defect because of this. HE IS A GIANT OF MISSIONARY! In the three weeks he has been here he has already touched so many lives and hearts of both investigators and other missionaries. We are so blessed to have him serving here!

Elder Henrichsen and I have had a difficult time "wrapping our minds" around Christmas here with 80 deg weather and very very little recognition of this glorious event except the decorations in the malls and grocery stores ( and I understand a whole lot of drinking). The other night while out we did spot one house with Christmas lights!
We are far far way on South Africa's plains but it is wonderful to be a part of this great work! There is no more glorious gift to the world than our Savior Jesus Christ and his Atonement. There is nothing greater that we could give to those we love than our testimony of Him, that he lives! That his Gospel is restored in these, the latter days and that because of our Heavenly Father's Great Plan of Happiness we have been given the one and only way to return to Him. May we all see this blessing in our lives and share it with others!
Merry Christmas from South Africa!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Shhhhhh..It’s a Secret! ……gfh

December 8th the senior couples of the mission sneaked out of town and had a Couples Conference in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. We had been asked to keep it “hush hush” because we were going out of the mission even though President had gotten permission from President Koelliker, Arica Southeast Area President. We each paid our own way. It was strictly a voluntary trip but who would want to miss it! So we mortgaged the farm and joined in.

This picture was taken from a helicopter a year ago by one of our senior couples when they had come as tourists to Africa.

We flew to Kasane Botswana on Wednesday morning, drove to the Chobe Safari Lodge, a five star accommodation with monkeys swinging from the rafters, wart hogs roaming the hotel grounds and Kudu, Impala and Eland on the menu.

We had a three hour game cruise on the Chobe river that evening with what got affectionately called a “waterside” (instead of a fireside) where we briefly shared uplifting mission experiences. However it was cut short as we lost our focus and our attention was drawn to four “teenage boy” elephants scuffling on the banks of the river. There were also pods of hippo, large flock of maribou stork, water monitor lizard and enough crocodile to keep one nervous and alert. This is a malaria area so we were all prophylaticated (is that a word?) with doxycyline to ensure only happy memories from the experience.

Thursday morning we departed for Zimbabwe to see one of the Seven Wonders of the world! At this time of the year the Zambezi River feeding Victoria Falls is still low so the flow is not as magnificent BUT we were told that it is better because then the mist is not so thick that one cannot see the falls. The mist from the Falls rises high in to the air as the water plummets “smashing! Crashing!Pounding!Pulverizing!” to the canyon below! It was fun getting wet in such breathtaking atmosphere!

This picture is not of the main falls(see picture at top of post). We didn't get a good picture of the main falls with the thick mist but this is still pretty amazing even tho it looks like a drizzle!(one of the other sister's got some great pictures. I'll try to get some from her.)

We enjoyed the day and returned exhausted to the lodge. The next morning we departed at 5:30AM for a morning game drive in the Chobe Game Reserve . No lions or giraffes or zebras this time but plenty of gorgeous birds. We saw a Marshal Eagle (an endangered species) with a baby impala kill up in the tree. There were wart hogs,impalas, other DLA and a pack of endangered wild dogs, …………….. It was so relaxing to bump along in the safari jeep and enjoy the beautiful scenery and the peaceful surroundings. Compared to the Midekwe Game Reserve in October this was much greener and therefore the animals were harder to spot because they had gone into the bush.

If you look closely right at the fork of the tree you can see the leg of a baby impala that this Marshal Eagle had caught and flown up to his perch.

Made a stop at the market in the town of Victoria Falls to allow the local artists to practice their "charming" sales techniques on us. One fellow was telling us such a pathethic story with such great pathos totally dramatized that Elder H started to laugh. The other artists/merchants who had clustered around hoping to catch us at a weak moment, started to laugh as well. The fellow stopped, glanced at all of us and burst out laughing! He reached out a shook Elder Henrichsen's hand. It was a great moment. We had made new friend.

We flew home that afternoon happy and relaxed and ready to “go get’em” for another seven months. This will likely be our last Couples Conference since both President & Sister Poulsen and the Henrichsens are running out of time. Shhhhh…that’s a secret too!

(check back later if you'd like to see more pictures that I'll get from some of the other couples)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's Back ...rh

Winter, that is. This weekend, it began raining and got much cooler. Sunday night the wind was blowing and we closed up all the windows in the flat and put an extra comforter on the bed. We slept cozy, but the flat was still cold in the morning.
Two differences between right now and the REAL winter –

1. During winter there was NO rain. Dry for 5 months.
2. It’s not really as cold, just a contrast from what we have been having.

We’re having a hard time getting our minds to believe that Christmas is here. The weather and our insulation from the world are the factors.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sister Poulsen "Takes Over" the office -gfh

Sister Poulsen took things into her own hands and took charge of the office!
Today was Zone Leader Council and after the meeting we had missionaries coming into the office for their "office fix". One of the elders brought in a toy semi automatic that looked real to me and made me gasp! The Zone Leader had gotten it from one of his elders and was bringing it in to President Poulsen for safe keeping.
The elders got a kick out Sister Poulsen as she took charge!

Thanksgiving Day -gfh


The mission office closed at noon on Thanksgiving Day and 20 of us had Thanksgiving dinner at the mission home. Elder H baked his famous pumpkin chiffon pies which turned out delicious in spite of having to adapt his recipe using butternut squash and "baking margarine".(he swears by lard for his pie crust). The dinner consisted of all the favorites and of course there was plenty and to spare.

When it came time to start cleaning up I found Sister Poulsen in the back kitchen rinsing dishes and starting the clean up process. I mentioned to her that we had a tradtion in our family that the women baked and prepared and served the meal and the men took over the kitchen for the clean up. She said "I wish you could get my husband to start that tradition." I whispered in Elder H's ear and it didn't take much before the brethren were on their feet and almost stumbling in to each other to do their part. Even President Poulsen put on an apron.

While the brethren cleaned up the sisters enjoyed the chatting time and were very thankful for their helpful husbands.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Spiritually Fed & Frustrated -gfh

This weekend gave us an interesting combination of being spiritually fed and being frustrated.
Saturday was our turn for the Worldwide Leadership broadcast on the new church handbooks. We loved it! I am so grateful for the inspiration and leadership of our prophet and apostles! There is always a focus on love and the individual and helping the individual and families received exaltation. Even tho I'm not really in a leadership capacity our branch president gave me one of the new handbooks. It is very inspiring to read through it.
Almost immediately following the broadcast was our Saturday evening session of Stake Conference. Speakers on the family and withstanding the temptations of the world and strengthening individual testimonies cemented the purpose of the church and those things learned in the Leadership Broadcast.
Sunday morning was Salt Lake broadcast of stake conference for 17 countries in Africa including 52 stakes and 53 districts!This was the BIG ONE that I really look forward to. It's kind of like General Conference all over again but with counsel very specific for Africa.
HOWEVER this is where the frustration comes in. For the last couple of weeks there has been a flyer posted on the bulletin board at the stake building about a big bike race scheduled for the Sunday of Stake Conference. Elder H and I chatted about it. Thought what great fun that would be ...never mind that we don't race and that we don't ride on Sundays...but we're all for bike events! And we noticed that a large part of the route was in the area of the stake center.
We left plenty early for conference Sunday Morning...but not early enough as it turned out and we should have done some pre planning. After two hours of maneuvering and strategizing and map consulting and a determined GoGo (our GPS) insisting that she knew the way and continually finding ourselves facing orange cones with fast and flashy cyclists whizzing past, we realised we couldn't get there from anywhere! We could see the black and white checkered flag on the GPS map but we couldn't maneuver ourselves in anyway to get past that main bike route. It was like being on the wrong side of the river with the bridge out! We thought about parking the car and walking the 2kms left to our destination but one doesn't just abandon one's car in an unknown neighborhood here in South Africa. We thought later that our journey would have made a great video with an aerial view showing us trying to conquer the maze but constantly finding a dead end. We knew we were sooo close. We started out certain that we could overcome...but finally realized that the bike race had won and we would be spiritually frustrated instead of spiritually fed that day.
We returned home and watched the DVD "Joseph Smith, Prophet of The Restoration" to try to satisfy our appetite.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Kiss Your Church Librarian

The next time you waltz up to your church building library to pick up pencils, paper, white board markers,chalk, pictures or even sign out the TV/DVD player give you librarian a big kiss! Our Ennerdale Branch has no such thing. No colored paper!no paper! no chalk! no pictures! no DVDs! and certainly no TV/DVD players! There is too great a risk of things being stolen. Our branch does have a TV/DVD player BUT it is not kept on the premises and it is used only for showing the Conference DVDs. The young missionaries assigned to the branch keep it in their flat so it certainly is not available for use in classes. Just think of the wonderful resources you have available just by "signing up" for them and then try to understand what is not available to a good deal of the church in South Africa and in other parts of the world.
Sunday night we were at a "REAL" church building for the rebroadcast of Elder Ballard's CES talk and the young man in charge went to what looked like a huge vault, put in the key and turned the lever to reveal the building library. It was seriously fortified! Elder H and I went over to check out the library at the stake building next door to the mission office and found the same thing. The picture above might not give you a true picture of how extraordinary that library door is. Probably designed to withstand a blast of dynamite. Well, there certainly are treasures inside!!

Primary Program -gfh

Two Sundays ago was the Primary Sacrament meeting program in Ennerdale. Susan is the Primary President and she has been very stressed about it. She went to the temple on Saturday to find some peace and reassurance. Susan also plays the keyboard for our sacrament meetings. She has been taught by two or three previous senior couple sisters and is now on her own as she can play better than I can.
The program was beautiful! Whenever children sing the hymns and primary songs The Spirit is so sweet. About ten minutes into the program Sister Norma's boy, Gift, started throwing up right there on the stand. Very smoothly and discreetly his mother went up and got him, then Sister Grace went up and removed the chair that had vomit all over it and soon returned with a bucket of water and a towel and started scrubbing the floor. Alicia, Sister Nomvula's little girl, was sitting right next to Gift and was scooting over as far as she could to the child next to her and glancing cautiously at the mess on the floor. NOW the AMAZING part was that the program continued on without a hiccup! Every child knew his/her lines and most of them had several parts. The children knew the hymns and sang so beautifully! One would never have known that there had been a "distraction". I have heard the primary songs sung for years BUT NEVER have I been so impressed with the sweet messages for ALL of our Heavenly Father's children as I listened to these beautiful black African children singing with their enchanting accents.
Sister Norma took her little family home and since she is the Gospel Doctrine teacher someone had to teach her lesson. The manual was passed back to Elder Henrichsen and he took it with a smile.
So, that's the latest exciting news about our branch in Ennerdale.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Guess What's In The Box! -gfh

This is one of two large boxes that came with our warehouse order this week. Can you guess what is in it?
This ONE box contains ONE copy of The Book Of Mormon in braille! There are six volumes like the one showing in the picture that make up the complete Book of Mormon. These two copies(two large boxes) were ordered by two different missionaries who each have a blind investigator. How cool is this!!

Curious about the price? Nothing to the mission or the investigator but the price on the invoice is R10. That equals about $1.50. Isn't that the cost of a soft copy of the Book of Mormon? By the way, the braille copy only comes in English.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Standing Tall -gfh

I am so far behind on posting on our blog but this is something that just occurred yesterday and I wanted to share this story.
Elder Oketa is a giant of a missionary in so many ways! He is kind, spiritual and gracious. He is a great teacher and trainer. He is obedient and humble.. And he stands about 6ft 5inches with a disarming smile that is so sincere you just want to hug him...well, at least, I do.
Here is his story:
When he was a seven year old in Uganda he was playing outside with his little cousin. It started to rain but they ignored it. The rain came down harder and harder so they went into an abandoned mine for shelter and found a little cave to play in and wait out the storm. The rains continued until there was so much moisture that the cave collapsed and they were buried alive. Elder Oketa and his little cousin were totally trapped and packed in the heavy wet dirt. They were trapped for two days. Elder Oketa held on to his little cousins hand and knew somehow that he had died. It was a miracle that the searchers knew where to dig and finally uncovered Elder Oketa and his little cousin.
Because of the way Elder Oketa's foot and leg had been packed by the heavy wet dirt his foot was twisted and he could not walk. He spent three months in the hospital and there were plans to amputate his leg. We might say that if he had lived in a more medically advanced country surgery could have been done for him that would have corrected his problem.
Elder Oketa is now 27 years old and stands about 6 ft 5 inches. He is a very handsome young man but has deformed leg, a grotesquely twisted foot and his body twists and tips as he walks with a severe limp. If you look closely at his left foot & leg in one of the pictures you will notice the deformity.
Our President has the biggest heart in the world and when he met Elder Oketa and heard the story he said "Let's do what we can to help". At this time surgery is not an option but orthopedics are. So after seven months waiting for the construction of his new orthopedic pair of shoes they arrived yesterday. Now he stands even taller, his smile is even bigger and if he focuses on his walk no one will notice his limp. I expect that there will be some aches and pains as his body adjusts to this after so many years but I think it will be worth it.
This moment when he put the shoes on for the first time brought tears to all of our eyes...even his young companion Elder Alder.I captured the moment in pictures with his permission.
Sister Watts works with the missionary medical concerns so she and Elder Oketa have become very close.