Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Home Again - Last Mission Letter

November, 2013
Dear family,
One more letter, this time from the U.S.A. 
We might have mentioned that they sent a couple from Kinshasa to replace us.  Elder and Sister Bybee from Provo, Utah.  They are serving a “Public Relations” mission and are concerned about managing both missions.  They are hoping a couple will soon be found to fill the vacancy we have left and they can then return to Kinshasa.  We spent ten days with the Bybees: showing them around town; what was expected of them by the Elders; how to pay the bills; how to meet the needs of the branches, etc.  We never received a lot of instruction or information from our mission president about what was expected of us, we just learned from the previous couple and did our best.  Hopefully what we shared with the Bybees will not be to far afield..
We continued to feel of our Saviors “tender mercies’ to the very end and even on the way home felt him meeting our needs.  The last few days all seemed to run together.  We were able to fulfill one of Sister Wheatley’s dreams and take a tour of the “Africa Mercy Ship”(Sister Wheatley posted a little about the visit on her blog).  The Africa Mercy ship is a huge ocean freighter converted into a hospital.  It travels to underdeveloped nations in Western Africa.  There is a crew of 400 volunteers who give freely of their service.  They specialize in removing facial tumors, taking care of cleft pallets  and re-constructing bones in the legs of children under the age of 16, and doing reconstructive surgery on women who have suffered extreme physical trauma during long and difficult childbirth.  They must pay for their room and board or obtain sponsorship from individuals or corporations to pay their expenses.  One man told us that among his sponsors were a couple of members of our Church. The ship was to be docked in Pointe Noire for at least six months.
Sunday found us bearing our testimonies in two of the branches.  The members were very kind to us and showered us with gifts, such as brightly colored dresses for Sister Wheatley, a bright red ‘pajama’ set for Elder Wheatley, and and several pieces of African fabric to bring home.  A youth choir in the Mpaka Branch had us stay after Church so they could sing to us.  We got very teary eyed listening to them reailzing it was to the last time.
Monday finally arrived.  While Sister Wheatley finished packing, Elder Wheatley took Elder and Sister Bybee on one last tour of the city.  Elder Bybee still didn’t have a valid driver’s license but felt he would never understand the town unless he was behind the wheel.  We had tried to get him a license - and so far had been waiting for 10 days for the paperwork to be finished at the government office. Sure enough a policeman waived us over.  I wondered how we would get out of this one if he wanted to see Elder Bybee's license.  I was riding shotgun and he came to my window.  I told him I was a missionary and didn’t speak French.  He was amused and Elder Bybee, who speaks French but didn’t admit it, said  he asked if I had to use an interpreter to give sermons.  Anyway he laughed and waved us on.
We finally headed to the airport about 7:00P.M. to catch a 9:00 P.M.flight.  They made us check a bag that we wanted to carry-on but as we toted the bags they let us carry on through the airports I came to appreciate the fact that we were dragging one less piece of luggage.  It is against the law for us to take their currency out of the country, so it is always interesting that when you have no money that they still want bribe money.  It happened twice before we got to the waiting area.  
The first leg of the flight was from Pointe Noire to Frankfurt.  Enroute we stopped in Libreville , Gabon, where passengers deplaned and other passengers came on board.  A young professor of music from Newark, New Jersey sat with us.  He had come to Gabon to watch a total lunar eclipse of the sun.   We so enjoyed his company.  It was especially interesting to hear him talk about the places he had gone in the world to watch lunar eclipses.  In Frankfurt we crossed paths with members of the Church returning from a trip to Israel.  Once again what could have been a boring lay over turned into a time of sharing and learning.
The long flight from Frankfurt to Chicago was made easier as we shared our seat assignments with a young medical student returning from doing an internship in Zambia.  A long layover in Chicago was made easier as we happened on to an old friend of Colin and Karl's (Billy Griffeth who they attended school with and ran track with). We also connected with Elder Graham, one of our missionaries whom we served with in Pointe Noire, in Chicago.   I was so grateful for these people who made a long 30 hour flight into an interesting experience.
We were greeted by Justin and Camille, Sophie and Wren, Liz, Jackson and Kai at the Salt Lake airport.  It was so exciting to see them!  They had posters and balloons and smiling faces to greet us and make us feel welcomed back home. 
We found our home clean and in good repair.  We were so blessed to have the help of family and friends to take care of our home and yard while we were gone.
Today we sang, “Count Your Many Blessings” as the opening song in Sacrament meeting.  As we sang I thought about blessings.  I wondered about what we think about when thinking about blessings.  Do we think about the material or spiritual blessings, or maybe both?  I thought about what we have.  Once again I was reminded that we had just come from a country where people are happy because they “have so much of what matters most,” and “so little of what matters least,” to a country where we have “so much of what matters least’ and so “little of what matters most.”  We will be eternally indebted to the African people for teaching us that happiness is not rooted in obtaining the material things of life.  Happiness seems to be rooted  in praising God and acknowledging our dependence on Him who gave us life.  Happiness seems to be rooted in accepting everyone as a Child of God . 
Thanks once again by participating in our mission, without  your faith and prayers, and  your encouragement, we never would have made it.
Love Mom and Dad

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Elders Fix African Dinner

Start with ingredients......fish, fresh veggies, flour for fou fou, etc.

The other elders said that Elder Mukadi  was a great cook, so we asked him to show us how to cook an African meal.  He is just getting started here.  He had gutted most of the fish in advance, but wanted to show me how to do it, so he saved one for me!

Elder Mukadi is showing Sister Bybee and I how to stir the corn flour into boiling water.  Fou fou can be made from different types of flour - manioc, rice, corn, or a combination.  We decided to just use corn flour this time.

Elder Brockbank and Heritier, who is a branche missionary and had worked with the elders this day, came to help.
YUM YUM - smells delicious!

Heretier and Elder Brockbank busy making....I am not sure, but it was sure good!

This fish was extraordinary - it came off the bones easily and if you didn't want to have it watch you eat it, you could make sure you didn't get a piece that included the head.

Our cooks:   Heritier, Elder Mukadi, Sister Bybee and Elder Brockbank.
From the left:  Elder Wheatley, Elder Johnson, Elder Lundberg, Elder Lavering, Elder Brockbank (standing) and Sister Bybee.

Starting on the right, Elder VanAusdal, Elder Mukadi, Heritier, Sister Bybee, Elder Ntambwe and Elder Lavering.

Visit to the African Mercy Ship

Three days before we left Pointe Noire, we were able to visit the African Mercy Ship, which was docked in Pointe Noire for at least 6 months.  We wanted to see it because of the wonderful medical care the staff on the ship are able to provide for people living in Africa.  Their website tells about their mission to help:  http://www.mercyships.org/home/
The staff of 400, including doctors, nurses, cooks, teachers, etc., either pay their own way or find sponsors to support them.

I had started watching a blog belonging to a couple from Salt Lake City after reading a news article about them.  The website of the Mercy Ship said they would be coming to Pointe Noire.  I tried to get permission for our 8 young Elders to visit the ship but was not successful with that request and felt very blessed that we were allowed on board for a  visit.
 The young woman on the left was one of our hosts.  She is from South Africa.  I can't remember all the details she told us, but she said that there are 400 crew members and at each port they screen and hire about 200 local people to help with daily tasks, including interpreting the dialects of the people being helped.

The medical help they provide is for maxio-facial tumors, leg bone  malformations (before age 16), cleft palates, and corrective surgery for women who have been injured during long labor giving birth. 

This is one view of the harbor from one of the ship's decks.  There were 8 levels.

Last Week in Pointe Noire

This man owned a pottery shop in the sand by the ocean.  He spoke English pretty well and we often stopped and talked with him.  We gave him some church literature and some Friend magazines for his 2 little boys.

This beautiful sister was engaged before we came to Pointe Noire and she and her fiance were still working to save money to pay the dote so that they could marry.  She moved from a nicer home to this wooden house which had more room outside so that she could dry fish to sell.  

One day when we went with the missionaries to visit a woman, these little boys were playing with their stuffed animals at a home next to hers.  They were playing so cute, then when I asked their father if I could take their photo, they weren't so happy about it!

We passed this gorilla (the only one we saw in Africa) almost daily, on the way to Faun Chi Chi.  He was guarding the plants that were for sale.  

This little store was never open when we had time to go in, but it had displays of American holidays and we always wondered if it might be an American who managed it.

This building was in the same parcel as the well the church paid to drill, but we didn't know what it was until the week we left.  Elder Bybee was with us so we were able to talk to a family that was under a tree by it and they  lived there and took care of homeless children.  It was supported by the Catholic Church.  There is a garden to the right of the building.

A sea urchin on the beach the last day we walked there.

Cherished Friends

Many Aeroport Branch Branche Friends

Some Pointe Noire Branch Friends

President (counselor in Aeroport Branche) Kende and his wife, with a dress for me and mens' congo top and bottom for Keith.

President Kende's son, Gracia, who was a branche missionary and sometimes guardian for us.  He received his passport the week before we left - the first one to get his in the 23 months we were there.  He will be off to serve a mission as soon as the paperwork is completed and our Mission President  can come and interview him.  We are so happy for him and for the hope this gives  to other young men and women who want to serve missions and the families who want to be sealed in the temple-that they will be able to get passports!
John Francois and Heretier - fine young men converts who want to serve missions.

Our interpreter, Leondra's family.  His daughter just turned 8 and he baptized her.  They will have another child in February.

Frere Bonne - wonderful young man who is in school and plans to serve a mission as soon as he can.   He has learned how to do the Distribution orders for the Mpaka Branche.

More wonderful friends from Aeroport Branche.
Mpaka Branche and Aeroport Branche Friends

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Some Thoughts about Daily Miracles

During our 23 months here in Congo, we have often talked about keeping our journals so that we can remember things - especially daily experiences and miracles.  I am not good at writing in my journal, although I have written sometimes.  I then started writing daily miracles, but haven't been dedicated to that, either, although I hope I never forget the daily tender mercies of Heavenly Father.  Keith has been much better at writing - he gets up earlier than I do (that isn't news for anyone) to let the night guardian go home, and then he writes in his journal.  I plan on posting the weekly letters we send home, but also haven't done that yet - plan to before we close our blog.  Today I wanted to record an experience we had on our way from one of the branche meetings to visit a sister who hasn't been to church for a few weeks.  We had two sisters from the branche in the back seat of the truck and two missionaries in the very back, covered bed of the truck. As we drove through an intersection where there are often policemen (and we have had some previous experiences with being waved over there), Keith and I both thought the light was blinking yellow - which happens frequently and the cars in front of us all went through.  But, we were waved over by a policewoman who proceeded to tell us that we had made 3 infractions.  We understand when they ask for our documentation, so we gave her that and told her we didn't speak French and weren't 'comprehending' what she was saying (true, other than getting the fact that she said we had done 3 things wrong and we didn't know what they were).  She, of course, got frustrated that we couldn't speak French and we weren't understanding her threats to write a ticket.  She asked the 2 Congolese women if they could translate and they said no.  She walked to the back of the truck and opened the window and saw the 2 missionaries, who just said 'hi' and then she said we had lied to her because we hadn't told her we had passengers in the back.  The gist of her conversation was something like, we had 6 people in our truck, including the very back, and we were only supposed to have 5; we had run a red light; and we never could figure out the 3rd thing.  She called over another policewoman and they decided to write us a ticket (all the while, of course, we knew if we gave her money, she wouldn't write the ticket).  So, we figured we would get a ticket and have to go to town tomorrow to pay it and get our paperwork back.  Just then, one of the branche members, who is fortunate to have a truck (he has a good job and he also speaks some English), drove by on his way home from church.  He and another member, who drives a taxi, got out and came over and talked to the policewomen.  They were very courteous and we don't know what they said, but they convinced the women to not write us a ticket!  Interestingly, in his truck he had at least 8-10 people in the cab-normal for Congolese-and two riding in the open back of the truck, hanging precariously off the sides.  It was pretty obvious that the law was different for us than for them, so maybe that is why they let us go - we don't know for sure.  Blessings while we drive are a daily occurrence. 
Driving is the most frightening thing we do here.  Driving at night is the worst.  Driving on horrible roads is awful.  Driving in the rainy season is almost impossible except on the very best roads, which are few and far between.  We often come to crazy, jammed up intersections and suddenly there is  an opening just enough for us to make our way through.  Keith is an amazing driver but we both come home and shake for a while on the worst days.  We always have a special prayer asking for safety before we drive anywhere.  We had a new fender installed last Monday and by Thursday, someone had rear-ended us.  We are blessed that usually people don't drive fast here - so fender benders are common but not usually serious.  I hope I never forget to be thankful for daily miracles.  I am sure sometimes I don't even recognize them.  I know we have the Lord's help to do our work here and I am so very grateful for that.

Branche Members

This is Sister Mabiala, who we met as we stopped to go with some elders to a rendezvous   with an investigator.  She was on her way home from the market.  She asked us to come to her house when we were done to get a dress she made as a gift for me!  We tried - we drove all over the place, but there is some road construction and we got lost.  We had to call her and apologize because we had to get to another rendezvous.  She gave me the dress the next day.  It is bright red, with pictures of the map of Congo in celebration of the 50th birthday of the county, which was established in 1960.  I will take a picture of it and add it here later.  I haven't had the courage to wear it yet!  I was so grateful to her for this gift, I will always remember her because she is a very resourceful and hard-working woman who is a stalwart member of her branche.
Too much light in this room, and I am not a great photographer, but here is the Aeroport Branche Relief Society - Société de Secours.  They are so beautiful and they, as many women in Congo, very often wear traditional dress.

A few more sisters joined the group, and a couple of them posed differently so everyone could be seen (they love to pose for pictures,  and I was grateful they would smile because often Congolese people think they have to look VERY serious in a picture).
Still having trouble with too much light in my photos, but this is the Aeroport Branche Primaire.  The children didn't want to smile, but they loved having their picture taken and had to all look at it in my camera afterwards.

This is the Pointe Noire Branche Primaire Nursery.  Sœur Dortrance (who was baptized after we came) is on the left and Sœur Lodi is on the right. The children love Primaire!

This is the Pointe Noire teen-ager Sunday School class.  They are so serious!  Their teacher is a great lady, who is raising her 3 children in the gospel (we met her husband after Church today-a very professional man who works for a large company and speaks English, as do their 2 sons).  These youth are dedicated and will be powerful leaders in the Church.  One of the young women, Journie, was just baptized 3 weeks ago and gave a lovely talk in Sacrament Meeting today!

This is President  Sombo and two of his Branche leaders, Frère Lionel, who is the Financial Clerk and Frère Ahn, who is the Assistant Executive Secretary (and who was just baptized a few weeks ago).  They are all exceptionally dedicated men who work tirelessly in their callings.
Here are some Sisters we love.  Sœur DeLove, Sœur Dortrance, and Sœur Florida have been baptized while we have been here.  They come faithfully and serve willingly in their callings.  On my right, Sœur Varnesh is a Branche Missionary and the other sister is Krtsia, a delightful young woman who is a nanny for our Société de Secours President.

I know some of the names for these young people, but not all - I am so ashamed of my bad memory!  2nd from left is Cleve, then Krtsia, Sœur Varnesh and that's all I remember.