Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pray For Botswana -gfh

We are experiencing first hand why the prophet has asked us to pray for governments to allow missionaries to come in to their countries. The Church has had a good relationship in the country of Botswana for the past 20 years. Botswana is part of our mission. When we got here there was one zone of missionaries and now there are three. The missionaries are having tremendous success there! There are many Sundays with 10, 20, 30 baptisms taking place. Because Botswana is a different country it has different visa requirements than South Africa. When a missionary is transferred to Botswana he needs to have a visa to stay in that country. In the past it has been a little bit of a hassle and inconvenience but now it has become a very difficult thing. We’ve had missionaries visas denied, and they have had to leave the country and new ones sent in and visas denied again. Documents not requested before are now being required. In fact the government of Botswana is investigating all churches in their country or those requesting to come in. This process should be completed by the end of March and then a decision will be made. In the meantime we are trying to get our missionaries in on 90 day visas. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. The Visa Czar at the Area Office is very much involved. He has personally escorted missionaries across the border trying to get them as many extra days stamped on their visas as possible. This last group got three days. The church has hired an attorney in Botswana to handle the hassle. We needed a local man who understands the customs and traditions, not a white American. Even the missionary name tag can be offensive. It says Elder. These are basically young kids that are expecting to be called “elders”! Can you picture this and how it can go against tribal customs.
I had a ‘melt down’ when this all hit the fan. I am the person who gathers up all of these documents from our missionaries’ parents who are in far off countries. I was receiving urgent requests from Botswana for documents needed “now now” and missionaries needing to sign forms and get medicals and…and…
It just so happened that our quarterly interview was scheduled the Friday of that week. After chit chat and smiling faces he asked how things were really going. I wasn’t going to say but Elder H told on me. Oh my goodness…please pass the Kleenex! I finished with saying “President, don’t let these tears bother you. The dust will settle and I’ll be fine”. Poor guy!
Well, the dust has settled. least the stress and pressure of the initial frantic few days. Now I am fine and the work will go forth in Botswana with much fasting and prayer. I may have said this before but I believe that the governments and bureaucracy of countries do not realize it but the adversary is using them to slow the work. I love this scripture Moroni 9:6, “And now…not withstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness…” Please pray for Botswana.

"It Feels Good In Here" -gfh

Friday a small group of elders came in to the office to do a little “shopping” and check their mail. We’re a very popular place for that. After they’d been there a while one of the elders said in a very pleasant and quiet way “it feels good in here”. Sister Watts and I looked at each other and smiled. I said to the elder, “that is what we pray for every morning. That it will feel good in here when you come”. Each morning we have a devotional to start the day. We take turns presenting a scripture and spiritual thought and offering a prayer for the day. That prayer usually always includes a request that there will be a spirit of love and peace in the office for all those who come and we dedicate ourselves to the Lord and his work that day. This was a sweet way of confirming to us that indeed this was happening.
As I have served in the office this past year, I’ve had my testimony strengthened that “all things are spiritual unto the Lord”(Doc & Cov 29) I sometimes feel uncomfortable blogging because so much of what I write is about the out of the office activities because the office is so “daily”. We pretty much do the same things in a six week cycle and it can seem pretty much just like office work. Not much to blog about there.
But I do know that this work is important…this letter writing, phoning, filing, visa applying and reapplying, getting passports copied, answering the phones, assigning out referrals, helping the elders with their requests, assisting the president and his wife in any way we can. This all is part of the work of The Kingdom and we are so grateful to be a small part of it. And I am glad that when the elders come to the office they can say “It feels good in here “.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Magnificent Lunch Break -gfh

Yesterday we closed the office and all took our lunches to the Walter Susilu National Botanical Gardens about 2o minutes away. We've been here a year and none of us had been there yet. President said "Let's close the office and go!" This is the rainy season so we weren't sure the weather would cooperate but we were all equipted with umbrellas....that's rain insurance, neh? So of course, no rain.

The website for the garden reads: "Against the backdrop of the magnificent Witpoortjie waterfall, the Walter Susilu National Botanical Gardens covers almost 300 hectares and consists of both landscaped and natural veld areas. This Botanical Garden was founded in 1982, but has been a popular venue for outings since the 1800's. The Garden has been voted the best picnic spot in Gauteng for 5 years in a row.

The natural vegetation of the area is known as the 'Rocky Highveld Grassland' and consists of a mosaic of grassland and savanna, with dense bush in kloofs and along streams. The variety of habitats accommodates over 600 naturally occurring plant species.

A breeding pair of majestic Verreaux's Eagles nest on the cliffs alongside the waterfall. The Garden is home to an abundance of wildlife with over 220 birds species recorded on site. There are also a number of reptiles and small mammals, including small antelope and jackals, which occur naturally in the Nature Reserve."
(and some large beautifully colored grasshoppers seemed to thrive in the gardens as well)

Look closely. There are about a dozen grasshoppers on this bush.

Elder Green, one of the President's Assistants whom we worked closely with is going home parents came three weeks ago to pick him up and tour his mission areas and visit South Africa. They joined us on this picnic the day before they flew out to return to Renton WA.

We each brought our own lunch and the Green's had to try out something that South Africa is famous for - A Kota! It is a quarter of an unsliced loaf of bread, some of the innards taken out and then stuffed with french fries, cheese, bologny, chakalaka, and anything else that sounds good especially if it's unhealthy!

More radom pictures of the Botanical Gardens:

Come see us in South Africa and we'll "do lunch" at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Once a Dental Hygienist always... -gfh

One of our elders reported to Sister Watts, who is in charge of medical, that his jaw was sore and he wanted to go to the dentist. My ears perked up and after he left I asked Sister Watts about it. He said he was having trouble with a wisdom tooth and that his gums were really sore. Thinking it might be a tissue flap with debris under it, I told her I'd like to take a look. She brought him back in, I donned the latex gloves, found a tooth pick and did an easy debridement. Recommended gentle brushing and swishing with H2O2 and all should be well. It was fun "putting on the gloves again". Sometimes I wish I could really get my hands into it more BUT that's not my call. Anyway, it was fun helping in a dental way.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hillbrow ... rh

I had a new experience yesterday – some folks might call it dangerous, but I prefer to call it an adventure. After each transfer, there is a zone leader training the following day. President Poulsen decided to try something different for this particular training meeting and have it at the Area Office – about 20 kilometers across town. No problem for me except that one of my jobs is to get those elders fed at lunch time. We have been buying chicken (at KFC) and potato salad with Sister Poulsen bringing fruit and sometimes bags of chips. Well, with this meeting being so far away, I didn’t want to buy the chicken on this side of town and transport it and have it cold by the time lunch rolled around. I decided to check for a KFC closer to the location. I found one only 2.5 kilometers from the Area office in Hillbrow and ordered the chicken by phone for take-away.

Now, Hillbrow is one of the dicier (in ZA-speak it is called dodgier) areas of central Johannesburg. When I told Sister Poulsen where I was getting the lunch, she said, “You had better take someone with you.” She knows the reputation of that part of town. I told her that I would be there in broad daylight and that so far no missionaries have been bothered during the day even in that section of the city.

I did decide with some trepidation that I would take R800 (approximately $120) with me in case the church credit card would not work at that particular KFC. I put the address into the GPS, as well as that of the Carlton Tower (more about this below), and set off for the adventure in Hillbrow. I had been in some parts of Central Joburg before and so was not surprised by the traffic, both foot and vehicle, as I neared the spot. The GPS led me right to the store. I parked and went in. One of the indications of the kind of neighborhood was that the counter was completely encased in bulletproof glass. As I had feared, the credit card did not work and the cash I had was my lifesaver.

I loaded the chicken into the van (combi) that I was driving and plugged TEMPLE into the GPS – the temple is right next to the Area Office. I arrived and got the elders fed and then President Poulsen wanted to take them to The Top of Africa on the top floor of Carlton Tower. Well, I had been there before, but someone else was driving. So now to downtown Joburg with its special brand of foot and vehicle traffic as well as dodging bus lanes and being wary of the ever present taxi drivers and their unique driving habits. Again, the GPS did the job and I unloaded my group of eight missionaries right across the street from the Carlton Tower. Elder Watts, who was driving the other combi, and I drove about three blocks away and found a place to park and wait until the Poulsens and the missionaries were through.

Again, plugging TEMPLE into the GPS took us back with only one small glitch and the elders were able to get their cars and go on their way. On the way to the Carlton Tower, I told the missionaries that I had been to Hillbrow that morning. They responded by saying, “Did you have a gun?” They know the reputation, too.
It was a good day – going two places I had not been before, getting myself back to the Area Office both times and experiencing a little bit of Hillbrow. The Lord watches out for his missionaries, even the old ones.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Adversity -rh

I have been pondering for some time the adversity that comes into people’s lives despite the fact that they have chosen to serve God as full time missionaries. Elders and sisters are sent home for health situations. Missionaries struggle with broken appointments and unfulfilled commitments. Family difficulties come up.

Some months ago, two of the missionaries here were informed that their mothers had been diagnosed with breast cancer. This was in the same week. I wondered at the time, and am still wondering, how one deals with such a thing from afar. How does one remain focused on the work we are sent here to do? Does one cry him/herself to sleep at night thinking of the suffering of the far away mother? Does one begin to pity him/herself for the possible loss of a parent? The two missionaries in question seemed to go on with no hesitation. One has now returned home but the other still has several months before release.

When I was originally thinking on this situation, my thoughts then went to my own grandson. On a Sunday morning last May, he was informed that his father had died suddenly. What a total shock this must have been – it surely was to us. To suddenly find out that the man you have looked up to for the past 19 years is no longer around must be overwhelming. This missionary paused only momentarily and then went forward with the work he has been assigned to do. His mother reports that his mission president gives him high praise for his work and dedication. I think that maybe he is trying to be the missionary his Dad (and all who love him) wants him to be. We are proud to be his grandparents and be associated with him.

The early church leaders faced adversity after adversity and carried on. That is probably the reason they were the leaders. We read little or nothing about those that crumbled under the weight of adversity. I must be willing to deal with problems on this mission and life in general – that is what this life is all about – going forward when it would be simpler to just give up.

I am thankful to be associated with my grandson and the two missionaries of which I spoke. They are an example to me of how we should deal with the inevitable reverses that come to us in this life. May we all carry on as they have.

Amazing day in the temple ... rh

We had the most amazing day in the temple this past week. First, it was a real adventure getting there as we drove across town in a driving rainstorm. Because of the rain, traffic was light, but visibility and dodging large puddles that could hide giant potholes made life a bit tense.

We finally arrived. The first person I met after the recommend desk was a Sister Fox. The reason I knew her name is that she had on a missionary name tag. I assumed she was from Durban or Capetown mission, or maybe even Zimbabwe. I was way wrong – she and her husband were from the Kenya mission and had brought 17 people with them to be endowed and sealed as families. I told her that I was very impressed and that we were working on getting five folks from our branch to the temple soon.

I got ready for the next session and went to wait in the chapel. When it came time to go to the ordinance room, I noticed Elder and Sister Fox and what I guessed were the adults from the group they had come from Kenya with. It turned out that there were four couples from their group in that session. All of them had been endowed and sealed the day before and were back to be proxies for some of their relatives that had passed away. As I sat in the session and later on in the Celestial room, I marveled that I had been part of this experience.

Four things came to mind:
1. How wonderful it is that these folks had been able to take advantage of the temple and receive the crowning ordinances of the gospel.
2. What a great sacrifice they had made to be there – both time and money.
3. That the gospel light in Africa is a bit brighter now
4. The leadership these members can provide in their branches back in Kenya.

On another, but just as exciting note, President Poulsen told us yesterday that our missionaries in the Northeast zone are teaching an entire congregation. It is only about 30 souls, but the pastor has already been converted and he told his people to listen to the missionaries. There is no branch or even a group nearby, but maybe this will be the nucleus of a new group out in the bush of South Africa.

I am thankful to be in a place where the church is exploding and see things such as this. I am thankful to have been entrusted with the duties that I have so that I may be of assistance to the missionaries of our mission and to President and Sister Poulsen. I am thankful that God is smiling on Africa and leading our missionaries to those that are ready to listen and change their lives.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cloudy New Year's Day in ZA ... rh

We have had rain (mostly thunderstorms) off and on for about two months now. A few days it has been cloudy and rainy all day. New Year’s Day has been one of those days – cloudy when we got up and raining off and on all day. Our rainy season is October through April – we have some amazing thunderstorms but not many days like today with it cloudy all day.

People told us that August & September were the windiest months. Even though they were windy this past year, October and November were much more blustery. I guess it’s like my uncle told me, “Anyone who tries to predict [South Africa] weather is a fool and a greenhorn.”

But, weather aside, this past year has been marvelous. We left Oregon on January 7, 2010 with a crowd of family to see us off from the Eugene airport. We surely felt loved. We spent a few days with family before being delivered to the MTC. In the MTC, we were fortunate enough to meet some of the people we would serve with in ZA. We rubbed shoulders with Aubrey, one of our grandsons, who had entered the MTC just a few days before us and is now serving in Germany. We received intense training in both proselyting and office procedures and software.

We arrived in ZA and immediately went to work trying to replace the Gunthers, who are now serving another mission in Argentina. We have struggled with office procedures and mountains of paperwork, but are now feeling just a bit more comfortable with all of it. We went to Ennerdale, a small branch about 45 minutes from our flat and spoke the first Sunday we arrived. We have felt at home there from the very first. The people are friendly and quite well grounded in the gospel despite their short time in the church. We both teach classes and help out with the Young Single Adults. Two of the YSA have been baptized since we have been here and are pointing toward a mission when they have been members for one year.

We have met an apostle and several of the Seventy during our stay here. That is something unlikely to happen anywhere in the USA, unless one works in the church office building. What a blessing this has been. We have been here while the South Africa Johannesburg Mission set a new high in baptisms – 1,957 for the year. With the other two South Africa missions, there have been enough baptisms to make an entire new stake in ZA. In fact, the six stakes in Gauteng (I’ll tell you how to pronounce this when we meet face to face) will probably be made seven in 2011. And the branches in Botswana may become their own stake in this shuffle. There are several branches and groups in Botswana that have been part of the Roodeport Stake headquartered right next to our mission office. That puts the stake center for most of the Botswana saints a minimum of four hours from their homes. The growth here is amazing – people are so open to the gospel message. Most days at the office, we receive several referrals.

We have enjoyed being part of the great army of missionaries serving in the church today. We are happy to do our little part to help the work move forward. Being part of that stone “cut out of the mountain without hands” is very exciting. There is no way to describe our feelings as we go about our daily tasks.

We have grown due to the challenges given us. Hopefully, we have grown enough to take care of the things that come up. In short, this year has been amazing. We love the missionaries. We love President and Sister Poulsen. We love the other couples with whom we work. We love the folks of the Ennerdale Branch and Johannesburg Stake. If this sounds like a recruiting post, it probably is. Come and join us in beautiful South Africa, or wherever the Lord may send you. President Monson said it very succinctly in his opening remarks in October Conference, “We need many, many more senior couples.”