Sunday, February 28, 2010

Africa Is Not For Sissies .....gfh

We saw that saying on the back of a T-shirt yesterday. That says so much. I don’t know that sissies aren’t welcome here however, which I am glad of. Living in Johannesburg South Africa is not as comfortable as we’ve been used to. But Hey! That’s okay,too. It’s part of our mission adventure. Rusty did say the other day that it makes him think that another 2,000 mile cross country bike ride would be an easy thing compared. He’s already making plans.
There seems to be quite a mixture of modern and tribal. There are so many things that I want to get pictures of but we are usually zooming by in the car and I miss my photo opp. I love the way the mothers wrap their children up on their backs. No just little babies but toddlers maybe three and four years old. They use a large rectangular blanket/towel/sheet type of thing and cover the child with it and then the mother ties two ends together under her arms and around her chest and the bottem two ends around her waist. Can you picture that? The child is very secure, snug and cozy. They don’t wiggle around…probably no wiggle room. Sometimes a little head is barely peeking out. The last week that little head usually has a stocking cap on it because the weather has cooled down quite a bit especially in the mornings.
Speaking of little children, today in church the front row was just little children the oldest couldn’t have been more than six. I’m not sure yet who belongs to whom but there were no parents with them. They sat so quietly throughout the entire sacrament meeting and with hymn books in their laps sang every song. There are quite a number of children in the Branch enough to cause quite a ruckus but the only child you hear might be a tiny baby fussing or cooing. I think it is amazing as I compare it to what I am used to in the States.
Also occasionally people are carrying things on their heads while walking through town. Not just the women but men also young or old. I have seen shopping bags, what looks like bundles of clothing and also a bundle of sticks balancing on heads. I think it is a great way to carry and I’m sure it is very good for the posture.
The people wear bright colors, the men more so here than in the states. People carry umbrellas more than they do in Oregon. Umbrellas are used for the BIG splashy rain storms and for the bright sunshine. Some women wear their hair wrapped in turbin type scarves and some women actually shave their heads.

As we are getting more and more comfortable driving on the left we are able to notice the scenery around us more. Have you seen the movie “Out of Africa” ? On some of our drives the country side looks just like that…miles of grasslands. But also there are gorgeous bright flowers and trees with lush vegetation. The birds are also amazing. Every once in a while we’ll catch a glimpse of a bird that looks like it came off of the glossy pages of a "Birds of South Africa" book! And we have a real coo coo bird that lives close by and sings “coo coo” to us in the mornings.
Johannesburg is a bustling city. The traffic lights are called robots and seem to not be very dependable. IF the traffic is really tied up we have come to figure it is usually because a robot is out up a head. Friday evening during rush hour traffic we hit an intersection that would have been crazy even with the lights working. It was a bumper to bumper tangled mess with cars trying to work their way through no matter what. There were two times when a young man jumped out in the middle of all that and tried to direct the traffic a bit. It helped. I was certain that our church car would end up with a bump or dent and we’re trying really hard to make it through our mission without that happening. One senior Elder in charge of cars for the mission said that in a year and a half there will be enough fender benders to equal one per mission car and that is about 70 mission cars. Some of that is due to the crazy traffic because we often see accidents along the road BUT I’m surprised there are not many many more accidents with the South African style of driving.
We’ve mentioned before that there are vendors at the busy intersections. The same ones are there every time. It must be their “place of business”. As we drive to the office in the mornings one of the main intersections we pass through gives us the opportunity to buy a morning paper. There are several “paper boys” walking among the cars showing the headlines into your car window. I have a favorite paper boy who is dressed in bright red overalls and many mornings is dancing in the middle of the cars. He is very fun to watch. Maybe it helps him sell papers or just makes his job more fun!
As we shop for groceries I want to try all the new things I see. Rusks or biscuit cookies are very popular here. They are a shortbread that is dry and crunchy. Must go with the tea they drink a lot of. I’ve really taken a liking to them. There are wonderful smells coming out of the flats as we come home from the office. There are a number of East Indians in Johannesburg and some living in our building. The smell of curry is very dominant. I’m looking to try that.
Another thing that is different is there are no electrical outlets in the bathrooms. I guess it’s because they use such high voltage electricity…I don’t know. But no place to plug in one’s blow dryer or electric razor or whatever. We’re finding we can live quite nicely without that convenience. I believe we mention the no air conditioning or central heating in the flats? We’re told we’ll get one space heater per person and the mode of use is to hang on to it and take it with you wherever you go in the flat. We’re not home that much so we’re going to be fine. At least we think so.
Now one thing that is sad is the crime. Anyone with any kind of nice home has a fence or big block wall around it. Sometimes those fences have pokey, jabby things on top and are wired with electrical wire. The windows have bars on them and most businesses have gates with a gate keeper. One of the sisters we Home Teach said that about every December she is robbed and cleaned out of all her appliances and anything of value. She said “that’s South Africa”. She has a high fence around her place but they dug under the fence to come in while she was gone. She’s grateful that they come when she and her family are not home. She has never been harmed but knows people who have been.
Then on the other hand we are surrounded by young men and women who are serving the Lord in this great country. There are people accepting the Gospel here by the thousands each year and lives are changing. One of my jobs is to answer the phone and take information from people who want to be taught about the Gospel. Last week a man called and said “I have just met two servants of God who gave me this number to call.” What a sweet experience!
Africa may not be for sissies but it is filled with wonderful people who are seeking the truth and we hope to be able to help them find it.

Some notes....rh

Georgia is now teaching the 4th week in Relief Society. I have not been called to do anything in the branch, even though the president has said and the previous missionary indicated that I would be called as the membership clerk in the branch. Nothing has happened, even though the Stake President was at our meetings one week and a high councilor was there another time. Don’t know when something might happen.

Last Sunday, we spoke in Sacrament meeting – Georgia got the easy subject, covenants. I got Chastity. I was very direct, using the pamphlet that the missionaries use when they teach the law of chastity. I likened myself to Jacob in the Book of Mormon when he told the people that he would like to give them “the pleasing word of God” but needed to address a serious situation among the Nephites.

Our trainers and predecessors in the office have been gone for nearly two weeks. The work is still difficult, but we are doing it. We are thankful for the training we received, but even more grateful for the help of the Lord each day as we perform the various duties required of us. This is a tough job, MUCH tougher than being a temple coordinator. We come home exhausted most nights, eat and fall into bed. We brought several favorite DVDs with us but have only watched about 1/3 of one of them. Hopefully this fatigue thing will dissipate and we can have some real recreation time. Today, we went shopping at about 9 o’clock and didn’t return until about 4 pm. Almost all shopping has to be done on Saturday since nearly every store closes at 6 pm on weekdays. So Saturday is occupied with shopping and cleaning with little time for real relaxation.

Found something interesting – the way to the temple/area office/church distribution is lined for about three miles with used car dealers. One of those dealers is called Americana Motors. It seems to deal largely in classic American cars. Imagine that in Johannesburg!

Our flat is roomy, almost cavernous. There is no heat or A/C. We have been fine with that – only a couple of nights where the temp was a bit warm for sleeping. And the last two nights have been rather chilly. We got out the comforter that they gave us with our flat. The washer is tiny, about half size and the dryer sits on our back porch since there is no way to vent it. Oh, by the way, the washer sits in one of the bathrooms draining into the tub. But, and that’s a big but, they don’t require any quarters.

Friday night we went to the temple – during rush hour. There’s a lot of construction due to the upcoming World Cup but that’s not the only problem. Many robots (traffic lights) are out, even in areas with no construction. Well, we hit one of those non-operating robots about three kilometers from the temple – it has three lanes of traffic in all four directions. It was pretty well jammed up, for us anyway, since one stream of traffic was proceeding as if they had a green light causing most everyone else to sit and wait and wait and wait. I finally saw an opening and rushed into it, but then everything came to a standstill as all four ways were just sitting there facing someone who was facing someone else who was facing someone else. We sat there for 2-3 minutes with the thing totally tied up, then someone jumped out of a car behind us and took charge, like a traffic cop. His action finally allowed us to squeeze through the intersection. When we came through there on the way home, of course it was quiet with little problem. People were waiting their turn and allowing others to proceed - what a difference.

That temple session was nearly full, quite unlike the one we went to a few weeks ago. That earlier session had only seven people in it. The one last night had more than 20 – I estimate the room only holds 26. Three of our missionaries were in that session – it was good to see familiar faces in a faraway land.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Delightful Weather,,,rh

The weather here has been delightful. This boy is used to hot, sometimes humid summers in Arizona. The summers in Washington, DC were not as hot, but much more humid. Of course, in Oregon, they were neither hot, nor humid. I had been expecting more warm, muggy days here in Johannesburg, but such has not been the case. We have had warm days and cool nights for the most part. On only two nights when the weather dried out was it uncomfortable for sleeping. This past week, even though the rains were generally gone, the nights have been quite cool.

All in all, it has been great summer weather. If it were like this every summer, it would be a great place for snowbirds. We’ll see what lies ahead, weather-wise.

On Our Own -gfh

The office couple we are replacing, Elder and Sister Gunther, went home on Wednesday. We are on our own. I was scared to death, certain that I would forget to do some vital item like getting a visa renewed and the missionary would be hauled off to jail or deported. I was very nervous about Thursday morning.
Surprisingly Thursday morning came and the day went smoothly. In fact, it seems to be easier without my “trainer” nearby to notice what I do wrong or forget to do. Sister Gunther has been a very sweet and patient woman. She is a computer whiz and a fantastic organizer. I know I have caused the work to slow down while she has been training me and I know I have added stress to her life. I’m thinking she was more than ready to go home. She probably needs to go on a cruise to de-stress from the last three weeks. She certainly deserves it.
So now we are trying to remember all we have learned and sort through the things we need to do that we’ve forgotten how to. We’ve made it through the week with no major goof ups, at least that we know about so far. I remind myself that there are office couples out there serving who have had no training and the work goes forth. Thank goodness. I also remind myself that we are not alone. This is the Lord’s work. He is mindful of our desire to serve and of our inadequacies. He will magnify us. “No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Transfer Day....rh

Last week, we experienced our first transfer. We were at the office early for the new missionaries coming from MTC, which adjoins the mission office. There were ten new missionaries, nine from various parts of Africa and one from the USA. After greeting them, we went to the adjoining stake center for the first of many meetings of the day. It was a quick orientation to the mission – each of the senior missionaries took a little time to acquaint them with various aspects of the mission and President and Sister Poulsen gave them a spiritual pep-talk. The Spirit was strong and I was touched by the eagerness of these young men to begin working.

We call them young elders but even so some of these elders are not so young. It seems that many of the missionaries coming from Africa are already in their mid twenties. One Elder when introducing himself at transfer meeting told that he had been teaching physics four years in his country before deciding to serve a mission. One elder from Cape Town is a chartered accountant, equivalent to a CPA in the United States. I’m sure they all have similar stories. I’m finding as I am writing letters to parents/contact persons that many of their parents are both deceased or many parents are not members of the church. It is not uncommon for the contact person to be the Branch President or Bishop or a grandmother. (gfh)

As the day progressed, we had lunch with the new missionaries and their trainers and then on to the transfer meeting. This meeting is quite large, all who are affected by transfers as well as the new missionaries and departing missionaries were there, probably about 120 in all. Each of the new missionaries (including the Henrichsens) were able to give a short intro of themselves and a testimony. President Poulsen then assigned each of them to their trainer and companion. Then the departing missionaries were given a chance to speak .

The departing missionaries included some who were not going home, but were being transferred to the Durban Mission. It seems that our mission had grown to the point that we had twice the number of missionaries as did Durban. The decision was made to take two of our zones and make them part of the other mission. So now we only operate in two countries instead of three. It was a bittersweet experience for all – realizing that we have been succeeding in our work but saying goodbye to 26 elders and 2 missionary couples.

I was impressed throughout the day with the power of the Spirit as we met with the missionaries. The Lord is indeed in charge of the work here. He has chosen a great man, President Poulsen, to be his leader here in this part of South Africa and Botswana. I am continually amazed at his ability to listen to those around him, make decisions, and go forward in a quiet confident way to do the Lord’s work. I am also amazed at his stamina. His schedule is amazingly full and I doubt that he ever gets a full night’s sleep, yet he goes on not showing the least sign of strain or fatigue.

The capper of the day was when the missionaries stood and sang the mission song. The power of scores of young men was evident as they raised their voices in joy and humility. My body is no longer young, but my spirit soared with youthful fervor as we listened to them.

It is good for us to be here!!!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Our Branch....rh

The Ennerdale branch meets in a group of modular buildings in one of the many townships surrounding Johannesburg. These townships are not the prosperous suburbs we think of in the USA, they are more like the inner city neighborhoods at home. Here things are just reversed, the cities are where the more wealthy folks live and the suburbs (townships) are where the poor and really poor people stay. Ennerdale itself is a fairly nice township, but the branch spreads out several kilometers in all directions. It includes lots of the countryside - rolling hills with occasional groups of trees but mainly grassland. We are told that during apartheid days, this area was mainly full of farms of Afrikaners. The farms have been mostly abandoned. Even though the majority now rules the nation, most do not have the resources available to pick up where the Afrikaners left off, so the farmland sits idle.

The people of the branch are enthusiastic and grounded in the gospel. Of course there are the newer members and investigators in the group. I saw the quarterly report of the branch this week and they obviously have a large group of less active folks, just like our branch in Waldport. The chapel will hold about 80 and most of the seats were filled last Sunday. I could see that they were mostly filled since Georgia and I were asked to speak on our first time in the branch. By the time the first two speakers were finished, there was about 35 minutes left before the scheduled end of the meeting time. Georgia took about 15 minutes to touch on the power of God’s love in our lives. I was able to speak for about 15 minutes by tying the love theme of the first three speakers into how the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon, show God’s love by giving us guidance. I challenged everyone to read from the Book of Mormon each day, even if it is only for a minute or two. Since it was a fifth Sunday, the branch president taught the combined Priesthood/Relief Society meeting. His topic was a challenge from the stake to read the Book of Mormon this year. How about that?

There are few with musical ability in the branch, but the congregation sings with gusto. It was good to hear them sing out songs that are familiar to all Latter-day Saints. The speakers and teachers were very good and class participation was excellent as well. We had a good experience throughout the meetings. Afterward we went with the Gunthers (our trainers) to visit the families they home teach. It is assumed that we will be teaching these same families, so it was a good introduction for them and us. Some of them live in nicer places, but one of them lives in a tiny little house surrounded by other tiny houses in a situation that can only be described as squalor. The contrast in living conditions was quite evident in our visits to these families.

On Fast Sunday, I was greatly impressed by the testimonies offered to the congregation. As I said above, they seem to be generally well grounded in the gospel. The Spirit was strong. The testimonies were direct and appropriate – no long stories or travelogues. Georgia said that she hopes the missionaries do not mess up the doctrinal purity that we find here.

It is good to be here. We are having a good time in South Africa. We are working hard and long at the office each day. We are thankful to be serving God and our brothers and sisters in this capacity.


Well, I'm making new friends as I'm climbing these hills learning the office. This is one of the hardest things I think I have ever done. Rusty and I were talking tonight on the way home after having spent 11 hours in the office that I'm going to be a computer whiz by the time this calling is complete! I know my kids would be amazed at me even now with all the new things I've learned. It is wonderful working so closely with the President and getting to know the missionaries as they call in or wander in to the office. We're still spending most of our time either in the office or going to and from. No adventures, except we did buy a wardrobe mirror, you know the kind that you put up so you can see if your shoes match your outfit :-). We bought it from a man selling mirrors at the intersection. There seems to be some enterprising merchant at almost every intersection. The mirror was marked R60 but Rusty could just quickly pull out of his pocket a R50 and the man took it. Translated that means that this really tinny cheapo mirror cost about $7 US. Amazing how some things are really expensive here. The same mirror would have cost two bucks in the states. We've noticed and have been told that plastics and glass are expensive here. Things like baggies or garbage bags, plastic wrap etc. ouch! Also cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
So I know this isn't the type of thing you want to read about South Africa. Where are the Lions and tigers and crocodile stories. They're down the road aways in our journey but it seems like we're having a different kind of adventure right now. Adding a few pictures of our flat..that's what appartments are called here. Four elders used to live here. There are two bedrooms, two bathrooms, lots of windows and very high ceilings. Sounds fancy, but maybe a look at the pictures will give you a better idea. We are very comfortable but we adjust easily.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Well, my answer to that is “as much as we’ve seen so far we like it”. However, we haven’t been “out” much to get a good look at some of the other parts of So. Africa other than Jo'burg. We are absolutely locked in to the office where we spend a good ten hours a day and that is with about a 15 min lunch to gobble down a PB&J. There is so much to learn.
We were told we wouldn’t have to speak a foreign language but something should have been said about “Listening in a foreign language” Yes, when people speak to us they speak English even at that there are many, many different languages spoken among the people and the accents are beautiful and difficult to filter out the English. One of my responsibilities is to take the referral phone calls that originate from “pass along cards” that someone, usually a missionary, has given out. I know I’m in trouble as soon as I hear the person on the other end of the line say “Allo”. I’ve heard of missionaries saying that the language they hear is not the language they were taught in the MTC. That is exactly how I feel. This is truly a matter of prayer for me. I figure if the missionaries who have to learn to speak a foreign language pray for help, I certainly fall into that category. For now I have Sister Gunther whom I am replacing. I struggle along for a while with the caller and then quite often I hand it over to her. She is going home in a week and has mastered the art of listening but once she’s gone I’ll be on my own except for divine intervention which I will sorely need.
Another one of my responsibilities is making sure the missionary’s visa is good for the duration of his mission. This is a real problem with almost all of our missionaries from countries other than the USA and South Africa. And about 80% of our missionaries fall in to the category. We have missionaries from the Netherlands, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Madagascar,Congo,Germany, Australia, England,…well, anyway, you get the idea. Some missionaries even come into the mission with only a one month visa and have to have several extensions. This involves many steps: papers, appointments,fingerprints,signatures, etc for every time. So, that is my job. It’s a big responsibility because you know what will happen if one of our missionaries is in the country illegally. Yup.
Let’s see, what else do I do? I make all the travel arrangements for departing missionaries, send letters out to parents, stake presidents, bishops for things like new leadership positions for missionaries, departing, welcoming, etc. I’m pretty much in charge of all of the Presidents travel arrangements and communications, plus keeping all the records for the missionaries up todate . There ten, maybe more, districts/branches directly under the President and I see that all the info is current and communications go pretty much through me. Today I got a phone call from one of the District Presidents to whom I had sent information about the CES broadcast coming on Mar 7 being rebroadcast Mar14. The time was given MDTime and he wanted to know what time it would be here in South Africa. He didn’t want to calculate it and didn’t want his people to have to calculate it and asked me to do it and get it back to him and to be sure it was correct. AND in the future please be sure that that is already taken care of. I told him I’d be glad to. (I guess that's part of my job, too).
There seem to be a bazillion other things in my job description. It will be fun to read this in nine months and see how easy it seems from that perspective. Right now I’m praying for help and doing my best. When DiDi heard I was called to be the Mission President's Secretary, she said "WHO YOU, MOM?!! Yup, that's me.
I love seeing the young missionaries coming in and out of the office and trying to be of help to them. I love watching them group around the mail closet, sort through the mail and come out with mail in hand and big smiles on their faces. Others gather round and share in the news or the goodies! It makes me want to send each one letters and care packages. Many of our African missionaries are so poor they might never even have had shoes before. Now they are outfitted and looking very handsome in their suits, white shirts and ties. They actually have money in their missionary fund, more than they have ever had to spend before. They are being blessed while they are blessing the lives of others. If an American missionary has an African companion,he is cautioned to hold down his style of living. Most of the American missionaries, if not all, have a person account with extra money coming from home, other than their missionary funds. They are to use only that money for extra things not pertaining to the work of a missionary. Of course the African missionary has no such fund.
The driving is coming great! Fun to get adjusted so it isn’t so stressful. We can actually chat now while we drive whereas when we first started out it was all serious and focused. We don’t even need to use our GPS, which we have renamed “GoGO” (which means Grandma in Zulu) all the time…well, we just mostly don’t use it around the mission home and office and close by areas. But still very grateful to have it!! One thing I’ve noticed is that not only does one stay to the left when driving but also when walking down hallways, etc. Well, I guess that makes sense.
We went to the SO Africa MTC today for a security meeting for all the new missionaries. There was talk about “smash & Grab” crimes showing videos of actual incidents. Seeing the thieves working in teams scoping out the cars and then smashing the window with a spark plug in their hand, grabbing the purse, camera or other item almost instantly and being gone. There’s no way to catch them. They hit at stop lights, which are called robots, and during busy traffic. There was talk of being careful about possible kidnapping, theft at ATMs, etc. One of our missionaries said that if he lived in South Africa he would live far away from Johannesburg because of the crime. Now, after having said all that I must tell you that we were told not to write home to our families about the crime or any dangerous incidents that we might find ourselves in. Our families are already praying for us and we mustn’t give them extra things to worry about. So don’t worry!
We are still in the mission home and have five star accommodations! We think we’ll be moving into a flat this weekend but that will only be for about a month until the one the president wants for us is available.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Early observations of South Africa....rh

It has been very rainy this summer (I know, it’s winter where you are) and so things are verrrry green.

Taxi drivers run lights and especially anticipate when a red light will turn green – many times well into the intersection before the light changes.

Street vendors and/or beggars on almost every busy street corner.

Amazing rainstorms.

Many species of birds that I have never seen.

Beautiful flowers everywhere. Great diversity in living conditions – of course the mission home is in one of the nicest areas. But in the townships, living conditions range from decent to deplorable. If anyone has ever been to Guadalupe, Arizona – that is about mid-range in the townships. The worst are tin shacks about 10’ x 10’. Many have no power or water to the “houses”.

Fences around most of the businesses and residences with very sharp things on the top. Everyone in the nicer areas have alarm company signs on their fences and most of those signs say “ARMED RESPONSE”. These alarm companies are a private police force in South Africa.

Very friendly and knowledgeable people in the branch where we are assigned.

Driving on the left is not too bad, but shifting with my left hand is crazy. And, I feel like I’m driving without a rear-view mirror, it’s just in the wrong place. Every once in a while, I look up and to the left and I’m amazed every time that there is a mirror there.

Traffic lights are called robots.

Hard working, dedicated missionaries in the mission.

Lots of things to learn in the mission office.

Groceries seem to be just a bit more expensive than at home, but most things we have at home are also available here – even peanut butter. Good thing that we sent that three pound jar home before we left.

Gorgeous red stone steps leading into the temple from the underground garage.