Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Relief Society Birthday Celebration

 Three young adult Relief Society Sisters singing in a women's choir at the celebration.

Relief Society Sisters participating in a celebration game.

Our truck with the new canopy on the back.  Elder Wheatley is worried about how to transport the elders now - they won't all fit in the cab......and no more 'free rides' for anyone!

Weekly Letter:

April 19, 2013
Dear Family,
Recently, being prepared for tomorrow has been on my mind.  I often think of the people here and how they live from day to day.  Going to the market is part of the daily routine for most women.  They eat a lot of French bread here which they buy fresh both morning and night. The majority of the people have no way of storing food.  Since we live in a country where a rebellion could flare up at any time, we are supposed to have a week’s supply of food for us and the eight Elders in case they had to take refuge here.  It would be very difficult to feed eight young men on the storage we have. Things seem very peaceful right now.  The last civil war was in 2008.  If you follow the news you might have noticed that the government in the Central African Republic which borders this nation was recently taken over by a group of rebels.
What I notice most right now is a shortage of propane.  Many people have small hot plates that are fueled by propane.  The families own a propane bottle much like the one people use at home to fuel their barbeque grills (only much bigger, like the tanks they use to fuel forklifts).  We have six tanks, two for each apartment.  Finding replacements recently has been challenging.  Wherever they sell propane there will usually be a group of people standing round, waiting for a truck to deliver filled tanks.  These people will travel great distances carrying the container on their head or pushing it in a wheelbarrow.  If the store is out of refilled containers they will often sit outside and wait for hours hoping a truck will arrive to resupply the outlet.  We feel so sorry for them, at least we have a vehicle with which to go in search of propane.
The other day we just happened on a store where the truck had just arrived. People were flocking to the area.  As we secured a container and drove away we felt both happy and sad.  Happy that we now have three full spares and three in use that are good for several days, maybe even months.  Sad, knowing that the  full tanks will be gone in a matter of minutes and that someone will return home with an empty tank and adjust their diet to a meal that doesn’t need cooked, or back to cooking on charcoal outside on a 3-legged charcoal burner.
This city is very dependent on the shipment of food and hardware from the outside world - it must come from the sea or the air.  There are no good roads through the jungles to other supply outlets.  It is very apparent that the people who suffer the most if there were a crisis would be the rich who rely on the good things of life.  The poor would survive because they still know what plants are edible and could live off the land.  
Hopefully, as a family, we will never be too good to grow a garden and eat home canned fruits and vegetables, bake bread and pluck a chicken (just kidding).  We do need to take food storage and other essential items seriously.  But we also need to store what we use and use what we store. 
We had a good week, we were in a small store owned by a person from Portugual, and a man said, “Hello Elder” in English.  I was probably as surprised as he was.  This was a man from the Philippines who is working here in Pointe Noire. He indicated that he did not know the Church was established here.  He said he had been listening to the conference talks through the internet.  We gave him the address to the Church.  His Congolese driver indicated that he knew where the Church was.  He came to Church today. 
This week, we visited three families who haven’t been attending church.  We usually make banana bread to take as a gift.  Victor and Therese were baptized about a year ago.   The neighbors indicated that Victor was at work and Therese was at the market.  Their eight year old daughter, Dorcas, came ­­­­around the corner of the house just as we started to leave.  We were able to leave our banana bread with her and in our broken French, ask her to tell her parents we had come.  Therese was at Church today.  The next visit was to Claude and Nellie.  They were baptized before we arrived here in Pointe Noire.  They live out of town and finances are a very real challenge for their little family.  They often walk to church and then walk home - about five miles each way.  They live in a swamp in a small wooden home (in our country we might say shack but that seems a bad thing to say when it’s their home).  We arrived unannounced, and the children spotted us as we walked through some trees.   A ten year old daughter and two boys eight and six. They were home alone.  The boys entertained us for a few minutes doing somersaults and then played a game very much like Jax, only with small round stones.  We gave them the bread and a hug and walked back to our vehicle.  We were just backing away when Nellie appeared.  We got out and Sister Wheatley gave her a big hug.  We walked back to their home.  They brought out some benches.  Elder and Sister Wheatley sang “I am A Child of God” in English.  The children then sang it in French, so we must have sung it well enough for them to know what song it was!  We asked if we could have a prayer.  The children voted for Elder Wheatley.  We then gave them all hugs again and departed.  A simple visit but one we will always remember and cherish. We can always communicate through song and prayer.  We don’t have to understand the words because the spirit lets us know the meaning.  Claude was at Church today.   Yesterday we went with the Elders to visit Aimie and Georgette and their three daughters.  It would be more correct to say the Elders went with us.  Neither of them had been to their place.  This family was baptized about a year ago.  Shortly before their baptism they moved to the outskirts of town, where they erected a small home about 10ft by 10ft. We donated the Elders’ plywood sheet/ping pong table for a door at that time, because it wouldn’t fit into our little house.  It is on a hill overlooking a river.  It is so peaceful when compared to the hustle and bustle of the city.  We have enjoyed visiting them several times and have watched as they have added to the home and planted a garden.  We found Georgette sick with malaria.  She said she had been sick for several weeks, which is not unusual here with malaria.  The Elders shared a lesson on “Standing In Holy Places.”   We hope they understood that indeed their home is a place of holiness.  We asked Georgette if she would like to receive a Priesthood blessing, and she started to cry. It was very humbling.  Aimie holds the Priesthood, but is not yet an Elder, and this was probably the first Priesthood blessing their family has experienced.  It felt like a very sacred time during our visit and the blessing. They love to sing.  It’s amazing that their young daughters have several hymns of the Church memorized.  They have marked in their hymn books, many of their favorite hymns.  Georgette loves the hymns!
Even though it is difficult to communicate with our voices, we all know the effects of a hug, a smile, a song and a prayer.
We hope all is well.  Once again we thank you for your prayers.  What they said in a couple of the conference talks about the saints in Africa is so true.  Of course they give the positive stories of their faith and commitment.  The downside to culture in Africa, is that the wicked traditions of the fathers are slow to disappear, such as requiring dotes before marriage.   But we know that we have a Father in Heaven who is patient.  We are grateful he is patient with our faults, too.
We love you all.
Elder and Sister Wheatley