Friday, October 29, 2010

Office Seranade -gfh

This morning without any notice two of our favorite elders, Elder Bakker from Idaho and Elder Howard from Minnesota, walked in and seranaded us with a very moving rendition of "Rock of Ages". I was surprised how sweet the spirit was and how it touched me. It really meant a lot to us to have them do that simple act of kindness. More sweet frosting on the "office" cake!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shoe Shine Time! -gfh

When we have General Authorities visit President makes a point of telling the elders to look their very best! Clean suits, fresh hair cuts and shined shoes! We feel that advice applies to us as well. In the last two weeks we have had the great opportunity to have TWO visits from GA's: One of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Jeffrey R Holland, and one of the 2nd Quorum of the Seventy, Elder Lowell (Rusty) Snow.

There were myriads of details to take care of for Elder and Sister Holland's visit! The schedule seemed to be planned right down to the minute. He came 15 October just five days before October Transfer which made things even more hectic because there are always so many things to do to finish up transfers. But What A Welcome Interruption!

I've never seen the young elders look finer or behave more reverently and respectfully. Well, of course! They were meeting and Apostle of The Lord! A "hand shaking" line was formed from the mission office to the chapel doors and each missionary had his hand shook by Elder Holland and his wife, Patricia, by Elder and Sister Steven E Snow of the Presidency of the Seventy and Elder F Michael Watson of the Presidency of the Africa South East Area and his wife. There was no chit chat among the elders and no fooling around (that happens often however). After shaking hands the elders turned and filed back into the chapel and remained standing until the visiting authorities were seated on the stand. I know President Poulsen could not have been more pleased! I know I was very impressed! To confirm the wonderful impression that the elders made Elder Holland started his remarks by sharing an experience he had about 30 years earlier when he had visited this mission and found "squirrly, irreverent, poorly groomed missionaries." He said our elders had redeemed him because he had "been angry" about that visit "but today this is the BEST meeting of missionaries ever"..."most reverent, and well groomed."
Earlier in the meeting Sister Snow commented that "there is nothing like a room full of missionaries to bring The Spirit". I have felt that over and over again every time I have joined a gathering of missionaries. I am reminded of the authority and the commission they have been given and I thrill to be in their midst!
Sister Holland shared her testimony of the Book of Mormon and how much she loves it! She held it to her breast, gave it a big hug and said "The Book of Mormon has become my most beloved possession." She really touched our hearts.
Elder Holland impressed on my mind that far more than serving a mission we are witnesses of Jesus Christ in word and deed. I have come on a mission to declare myself a disciple! I have come to convert myself. He said "You are lucky to be here at this day at this time." As he ended his comments he pledged to stand shoulder to should with the missionaries....with me....til this is over. Somehow I knew this was a pledge he would keep and that my Savior has made the same pledge to me.

I didn't get any pictures of this never to be forgotten visit from an Apostle of The Lord but I have it locked in my heart.

Just yesterday, 28 October, we had a sort of surprise visit from Elder Lowell (Rusty) Snow and his wife. This visit was not on such a large scale. The mission had only about a week's notice. There was some email communication between our office and the Area Office and Elder H mentioned that he knew Elder Snow as Rusty and had gone to high school at Granite High with him. One email came back "I can't believe there were two Rustys in the same high school."
As we were literally getting ready to walk out of the office Thursday evening in comes President Christensen and his wife from next door at the MTC with Elder Snow and his wife. He was walking in and chatting a little when Elder H walked out of his office. Elder Snow saw him and declared so enthusiastically and excitedly "RUSTY HENRICHSEN!!!" He threw his arms around him and gave him a huge hug! They hugged and chatted about days at Granite High! I wish I could have captured that moment!! I did run for my camera and got a posed picture. Elder Snow was concerned because he was out of uniform (no white shirt or tie).
Elder Snow said he had about two hours that he could spend anyway the President would like. A Zone Leader/Distric Leader meeting was organized and the office couples were invited. The office was closed and everything came to a stand still while we were given another very special experience to be instructed by one of The Lord's servants. I guess I would have to say that the message I got was how important and precious The Gift of The Holy Ghost is in our lives! He shared that The Holy Ghost will not teach anyone who will not authorize Him to do so....that is done by worthiness and desire! Do I give Him permission to guide me and teach me? Elder Snow asked "How much faith do we need?" "Just faith enough to repent".

I know I am not doing justice to these two rare and wonderful visits we have had in the last two weeks! There are many more notes in my journal and the really important messages are in my heart!
What a privilege to be part of this "Shoe Shined Team" here in South Africa Johannesburg Mission!

The Brown Suit Tradition Continues.... gfh

Elder Henrichsen showed up in the three piece brown striped suit for transfers Oct 20. He was a hit! He stood at the entrance to the chapel for transfer meeting and shook all the elders hands as they entered. He got great comments like" Where'd you get that suit?" "You look really good in brown!" "Nice suit Elder H " He had great fun! And now he'll sign his name on the inside of the jacket and be a part of mission history. Elder Paunoswiswa wore the brown suit the previous transfer.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Future Elders -gfh

Elder Henrichsen and I had a great surprise at the end of our day! Two of our YSA young men from Ennerdale Branch came in with the Ennerdale elders dressed in their white shirts and ties looking very much like "real" elders with member missionary badges on their chests. Pride has been a member 6 months and Ntokozo has been a member only 3 months. They are both planning on serving a mission as soon as they've been members a year.

Elder Mawejje and Elder Ndlovu are great missionaries and are wonderful examples to these young men.

A Tender Mercy -gfh

This afternoon I had a visit with the South Africa MTC President's wife. She said "Have I ever told you about our mission secretary when we were mission president before?" She said that the job was too difficult for the secretary but she didn't tell anyone. The secretary just didn't do the work. No one knew how difficult it was for her. She was just shuffling papers until about six months later. She said "It was a disaster!" Then she said "President and I know what your job involves and it's BIG". I guess The Lord knew that I needed that extra reassurance today. It was a "tender mercy". I'm overwhelmed most of the time but there is no backlog! I don't think....but I'm always discovering something else I should be doing. And my job is nothing compared to the other couple who deal with medical and cars and Elder H who handles all the mission $$$$! There always seems to be a 'crisis' that has to be dealt with. We take turns holding each other up.

Later today one of the elders who is one of the Assistants to the President was searching for some papers. I asked him if he had given them to me because I have a file called "publish" where I put papers they want to distribute to the missionaries. He said "No, but I should have. You have all the answers". Then he said "WOW Sister Henrichsen, you're THE secretary of THE WHOLE mission. That will look really good on your resume." I laughed and said "As if I'd ever want to go looking for another job like this one." The pay wouldn't be as good!

Aarrghh! -gfh renewals are the "bane of my existence" here in the office! I've mentioned the stress involved before but it continues. With each transfer there seems to be an elder who is right on the verge needing perhaps as few as three extra days to complete his mission and catch his departing flight. Of course I keep up with all the visas and work with the Area Office who are really the experts. But because TISA (This is South Africa) the rules change regularly. What worked well last week no longer works and new hassles are involved. The "easy" renewals I guess are the ones where the missionary needs another year on his visa. With this the missionary needs a medical exam, a chest X-ray to determine he/she is free of TB, finger prints taken at the local police station with a signed declaration that a police clearance with be obtained within six months. This is plenty of hassle because the missionaries need to take time out from missionary work to get this accomplished and then the police clearance is needed from their home country (a whole other story). It is not like in the states where these facilities are conveniently located. Some of the missionaries have to travel 2 or 3 hours to get them and usually it all cannot be accomplished on the same day. So, we deal with that.
But my latest frustration is the very, very short extensions needed. First we were told the missionaries could get a Holiday Visa for 90 extra days. No med or X-ray or police clearance needed. Just proof of departure i.e. itinerary. Then it was changed to proof of financial ability to be able to stay for the extra days which required a bank statement. You've got to be kidding! The bank statement for our missionaries shows about $30 remaining..if they are lucky. So that wasn't acceptable. We tried to get Home Affairs to accept a letter from The Mission stating that all financial responsibility will be covered by The Church. No deal! Another option was to have the missionary cross the border into another country i.e. Botswana or Swaziland and get a stamp on reentry giving 30 extra days. Sounds simple. But no longer possible unless done on the very last day of the Visa (and that involves hassle and timing and travel). Well, there are all kinds of complications and issues to deal with. And additional ones for our missionaries who might be serving for three months in Botswana because that is a different country with different rules.
(You know what...this is making me feel better just typing this out. :-)

Our latest is a missionary who needs ten days to complete his mission but with only three weeks left. (The paper work for visa renewals takes at least three months) President had me call him and ask him how he felt about going across the border in to Swaziland (his home country) and back the next day to get his visa stamped for extra days. He was really worried about that. He did not want to see his family or didn't want them to know that he was back in Swaziland. He wanted to serve every last day as a missionary and not have the distraction. Very awesome BUT!!! He decided to take things in to his own hands and went to the Home Affairs to see what he could do to get his visa extended and he wouldn't have to go "home" to do it. He called me back all excited with a plan that he was given. Well, when I contacted the Area Office that this had happened the missionary was in big trouble and the Visa Boss wanted to know who had told him to do that!! Evidently there have been cases in the past when a missionary has done this and there were bribes and alterations made to visas, etc etc. MISSIONARIES ABSOLUTELY ARE NOT ALLOWED TO GO TO THE DEPARTMENT OF HOME AFFAIRS! Now we know..but we hadn't told the missionary to do it. He did it all on his own.
So now, our Visa Boss from Area Office is going to take this elder and his companion across the border to Swaziland on the last day of his visa. They will spend the night and be brought back. No fines. No bribes. No penalties. No seeing family. He said he will see that all is accomplished with no problems. sigh. Until the next time. I have to admit that there are times when I vote to just send them home early to avoid all of this.