Saturday, November 26, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Preface to our Mission in the Congo

For years we prayed that we would have the privilege of serving a mission together.  We prayed that our health would be preserved and that we would be financially fit.  We had no set goal or date. Early in 2011 Theresa would ask questions about how soon would the mortgage on the house be paid off and hint that she would like to retire.  We calculated that it would be about a year if we could continue to make extra payments at our current rate.  I would be closing in on age 65, maybe a good age to retire.  Then, beginning in May, 2011,  a couple of unforeseen events happened: (1) Austin and Meg, who were living in Torrington, Wyoming, decided to relocate to Utah.  Austin obtained a teaching position at Clearfield High - a position he was not even aware was open when they came to interview at other schools; (2) I was unexpectedly laid off in May after working at ATK for 32 years.  Because I was laid off, the company was obligated to give severance pay which amounted to six months of regular pay.  Company policy was to give this in a lump sum and this  amount was in excess of what we still owed on the mortgage.  When Austin and Meg asked if they could temporarily live with us while they sold their home in Torrington, we realized that our prayers about serving a mission were being answered.  We would be debt free.  Theresa could retire (with 20 years of service) and we could both apply for retirement from our places of employment.  Most importantly we would have good responsible people living in and taking care of our home.
I’m not sure what the Bishop was expecting when we asked if we could visit with him.  He seemed a bit surprised when we said that we wanted to serve a mission, but he was thrilled at the prospect.  He took the necessary steps so that we could obtain access to the missionary application forms.  While this was exciting, it was also frustrating sometimes.  In the process of filling out the forms we found out that we were talking with an old friend, Garn Johnson.  He was able to give us some advice and we felt more comfortable about some of the mission options.  It was probably wrong on our part, but we secretly wanted to go out of the country.  We figured that if we said we would go for two years, didn’t specify a type of mission, and if we said we thought we were capable of learning a foreign language, we could rest assured that we would end up outside of the United States. 
We immediately applied for passports, and began getting vaccinated in anticipation of a foreign call. We made a trip to Washington to discuss our plans with Theresa’s mother and brother and sister.  We went for physical examinations and visited with the dentist.  Theresa set a retirement date.  It seemed like we were racing the clock.  Finally we had everything ready and visited with the stake president. He said he thought we were worthy and submitted our application.  It was now late in July.   We waited a couple of weeks and while in Nauvoo with our family we received a questionnaire that we were to fill out independent of each other.  We now knew they had received our application.  Apparently this questionnaire was one last chance for the missionary department to determine what skills we brought to the table, what experiences we had had that might factor into the call and if we were truly in agreement concerning the time we could serve, learn a language and adapt to another culture.
All we had to do now was wait for our call.  All during the month of August we waited.  We were getting impatient.  Theresa had set her retirement date for Sept. 1.  She had promised her co-workers she would have her call before she left work.  Finally in midst of her retirement party we received a phone call from Meg indicating that the mail had arrived and the call was in her hands.  She opened it and over the phone we learned that we were going to the “Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kinshasa Mission.”  We had never heard of Kinshasa - when I was a kid there was a “Belgium Congo.”  We soon learned that the Belgium Congo was now the DRC and Leopoldville was now Kinshasa.  With our call, were application forms for Visa’s to the DRC.  A few days later we were contacted by the Mission President, President Jameson, who said we should tear those forms up because  we would be receiving application forms for Visa’s to the Republic of the Congo, and we would be assigned to serve in the city of Pointe Noire.  He asked if we could come earlier than requested and arranged for us to enter the Missionary Training Center on Dec. 5.  Going to Africa didn’t seem to be a concern, until we went for additional immunizations and the health nurse showed us a band around the world where health issues were the most challenging.  We would be right in the middle of this band.  Learning to speak French would prove to be a challenge.  We immediately obtained mission materials in French and started skyping with a tutor from BYU. How I dreaded these sessions even though our tutor was very kind and understanding.
We were able to skype several times with the couple we would be replacing.  They were able to help with ideas on what to bring.  Each time we would talk to them they would say, “You are our heroes.”  We didn’t understand why they would say that.
September, October and November seemed to take forever.  We made one last trip to Washington, really thinking this might be the last time we would see Theresa’s mother as she was now 93 years old and her health seemed to be failing.  Theresa spent these months shopping and preparing for our departure.
We finally entered the MTC on Dec. 5.  This was a time of intense training, a time of spiritual uplift and preparation for the months ahead.  I think we fed off of the energy of the young missionaries.  We met a couple who had served in South Africa years earlier.  He was an auditor.  This lady kept saying “You are my heroes.” Once again we didn’t know what she meant.  We also met a couple we had known in Winslow, Arizona, who were heading to the Philippines to serve a second temple mission.  Our stay at the MTC ended on a Friday and we didn’t fly until Tuesday so it was back home for a couple of days.  This time we were wearing name tags.
Our flight to Pointe Noire took us thru Chicago and Frankfurt.  We arrived in Pointe Noire in the evening.  I soon realized that things would be way different than expected. From the air I could see car lights!  Little did I realize that there would be hundreds of thousands of car lights.  We had been told that we needed to be off the streets by 6:00 P.M.  I assumed this meant that the city shut down at 6:00 P.M., I immediately noticed that the streets were still lined with people, shops were still open, and cars(mostly taxis) were bumper to bumper on the streets.  We had entered not a quiet, slumbering Africa, but a large metropolitan city, full of noise, full of energy -  a million people, some educated and affluent, but most living off the meager funds they can scrape together each day. A million people with smiles on their faces, happy to be alive.  Happy to know that God loves them!