Thursday, May 2, 2013

Views of Daily Life in Pointe Noire

We love seeing all the different types of things that people carry on their heads.

Nor sure what she is carrying.....

A beautiful woman with her Congolese dress and head wrap.   It is very typical for the dresses to be designed to be off the shoulder.

Another view of what it looks like to approach one of the outside markets.  This is a very 'unbusy' time.
After a District Meeting one day, while the elders waited for some branch missionaries to arrive, they ate lunch (note the bread) and played a short game.  Elder Christensen looks like he is praying that he will win!

This is a welcome sight, because every bit of garbage collection is an improvement on none at all.  It's too bad that most of the garbage is then taken to a swampy area along a main road and dumped, but it is better than garbage everywhere.

This woman has a colorful dress on and is smart to carry an umbrella, in this case to protect her from the sun instead of the rain.

Weekly Letter:

Monday, May 6, 2013
Dear family,
We are so excited about Katie/Sister Johnson, leaving for her first missionary assignment today!  She will be a great missionary in the Rochester, New York, Mission.  One of the elders who was in our city for several months has a friend who is a sister missionary there.  We have asked his mother to tell her about Katie, in case they have the opportunity to meet.  Katie wrote that she may be able to go to the Sacred Grove even more than once while she serves there.
We have experienced a good week, and a lot of interesting happenings.  On Monday we returned home to find that our power had been disconnected.  We were assured when we moved in that all the utilities were currently paid up.  We found out that the electric here was over $800 U.S. dollars in arrears.  It hadn’t been paid for fourteen months.  This is not unusual here and we know that people sometimes get in difficult situations back home and utility bills are usually the first things that go unpaid.   However, when our interpreter called the landlord, he said that if we wanted electricity we would have to pay the whole bill and then deduct less than half of it from our next rent payment amount.  This did not set well with Sister Wheatley, who said we shouldn’t have to pay any of it because it was all for months when we didn’t live here.  After a process that took most of the day, and cost about the equivalent of $400.00 US dollars, we were very blessed to have our power restored – at least temporarily!  Until this morning (Monday May 5) we hadn’t had any water come into our reservoir for about 15 days.  We were happy this morning to receive water again and know that it hasn’t been shut off.  It appears that we will just have to take what water the city gives us and take it when it is available.  There is a well/reservoir across our little road and we can pay to have water run through a hose from there to our cistern when we run out.  Water and reliable electricity are both precious and to be treasured here, as in many places around the globe.    Sister Wheatley says she will never take pure water for granted again – it is most precious above diamonds and rubies!
One day last week, we decided it was time for dinner out.  We had that tradition at home – after a long and busy week, Friday night was the night.  We had been shopping for groceries and decided to stop at a small bakery that is owned by a Portuguese man and his Italian wife, because they also own a couple of hotels and restaurants.  They have told us where the one that is open to the public is, but we were never really sure where they meant.  The bakery was closed (most businesses close for several hours in the afternoon), but not locked and we walked in and ‘talked’ to a man who was closing up.  We understood that the restaurant was about 3 streets over in a certain direction…..not a lot to go on, but we decided to try to find it.  We drove around for a while, and suddenly saw a new looking Italian restaurant, which we figured might be the one of a man we had met one day in town, who said he was from Italy, a member of our church, and was opening an Italian restaurant soon.  We went into the restaurant – and it was his!  He must have just opened, because he still had no menus, but the restaurant had quite a few people in it and he was happy to see us.  It is small, but very clean and nicely decorated.  There are about 8 or 9 tables, some which seat 2, some 4, and a couple that seat 6. We had a lovely  appetizer, delicious lasagna, cold bottled water, a crêpe with Nuttella for desert.  The reason he didn’t open his restaurant as quickly as he wanted to, was he was waiting for his shipment of cheeses, etc., from Italy.  The missionaries who work in the quartier where he lives, haven’t been able to meet with him because he has said he is too busy getting his restaurant ready.  He indicated he has been inactive for quite a while but wants to return.  He is friendly, but doesn’t speak a lot of English or French!  He said there is not work in Italy, so this is why he and his business partner decided to come to Congo.  We think there are quite a few Italians here.  The restaurant is across the street from the Italian Consulate.  There are Italian contractors here – one of whom we met about a year ago, when we traveled to a bridge about 20 miles out of town, for a P Day activity.  He was the managing contractor over the refurbishment of the bridge.   There are many French people, a lot of Chinese, and a variety of Italian, Canadian, South African, Portuguese, Philippine and a few British and Americans here.  They come here to work in shipping, oil, airlines, mining and we aren’t sure of what else. 
One of the Elders phoned us and requested that we pick up a baptismal candidate and his family.  This was the Elders idea.  The family comes to Church faithfully even though they live a long distance from the Church and they have little or no money.  The baptism would be in the church building not where they meet, but much further away.  Because they do make it to Church faithfully we agreed even though we are not supposed to, to give them a ride to the baptism.  The fear is making people dependent on the missionaries.  On Saturday we headed out to get them, with plenty of time to spare.  We wanted to visit another family on the way, and leave them a loaf of bread.  The Elders were worried that their family might leave before we arrived if we stop before going to get them, suggesting that once we secured the baptismal candidate we could stop to see the other family.  After picking our way through giant mud holes (we never know how deep they are we just look to see if other drivers made it through) and around many dirt roads and sandy areas, we arrived at the home - a simple one room, wooden house.  The son to be baptized had gone to the market and the parents were busy working around the yard and not prepared to leave.  We decided to visit the other family while we waited.  They agreed that when he returned, they would meet us on the road at 1:00 P.M.  We proceeded to visit the other family and returned to the designated pickup point a little before 1:00 P.M.   We sat in the vehicle in the hot sun until about 2:00 P.M.  It seems to Sister Wheatley, that no matter where we park, or what direction we face, the sun is always directly shining into the cab of the pickup….and opening all the windows and doors or trying to find shade is futile.  We finally decided to return to the baptismal candidate’s home, realizing that we may miss them altogether if they walk a different way.  We follow a water tanker trucks tracks and find a shorter way back (there are no water sources in the whole area and no electricity without a generator).  When we arrived they were just getting ready to come and find us.  For the fourth time it was through mud holes and over questionable roads, on our way to the Church.  We had the keys to the closet where the baptismal clothes are kept and  knew the other people wanting to be baptized would be waiting to get dressed.  We also had the keys from the bathrooms into the font.  We arrived just in time.  There was a nice service and despite the frustration we were happy to be a part of it.
Yesterday (Sunday) was a busy day.  Elder Wheatley had to oversee changes in an Elders’ presidency in one branch and some Priesthood Advancements in another.  Despite his objection, he ended up confirming one person a member of the Church and conferring the Melchizedek Priesthood on another.  We always stress that the members do this and not the missionaries, so they can experience the blessings of using their priesthood authority.
Today one of the elders called and said he wanted to come over to have Sister Wheatley look at his toe.  This is always a heart-stopper for her.  You never know what that means – it could be a severely infected ingrown toenail, a worm growing out of a toe, a cut, a rash………We have tried to nurse a really nasty ingrown toenail that eventually required surgery, stitches in an elbow due to a P Day basketball game, a variety of intestinal issues like worms, what some elders thought was malaria with fevers and chills (but what we don’t think was because it wasn’t severe enough), headaches, backaches, toothaches, allergies and colds and a worm growing out of a toe.  Our mission doctor is in Johannesburg, but usually answers his phone and if not, can be contacted by email, or through our mission president if there is an emergency.  We have two good clinics and one good hospital here, with French doctors.  The doctors trained in Congo have different approaches to medicine and unfortunately don’t have the opportunity for the quality of training that French doctors have.  We have taken elders to the doctor whenever needed, but try to contact our mission doctor first for his direction.  If there was an emergency, we would insist on going to one of the approved clinics or that one hospital that is approved.    After looking at this toe, which has red, swollen flesh and was indicating red spreading up the top of his foot, Sister Wheatley called Dr. Hoffman.  He was able to talk with us and indicate that we should start him on an antibiotic, he should cleanse and soak his foot and apply antibiotic cream, etc.  Dr. Hoffman is very careful with antibiotics, so we know he felt this was important in this case.  The elder said he had a small cut on his toe and that is how he felt the infection started.  It is so difficult to keep feet clean here because of the rain, puddles, dirt and sand everywhere, and all the walking they do.  We will check his foot in the morning and see how the treatment is progressing!  The Church places the health of missionaries as a very high priority, which is comforting and we feel so blessed to have medical help from the mission doctor and quality care available if needed.  It isn’t the same as at home, but as close as possible. 
Amil, a member from the Phillipines that we met down town one day,  attended Church yesterday.  He had seen the spire of our church house before, but was unaware that the Church was established here in Pointe Noire. Sister Wheatley invited him over for supper. He accepted the invitation.  We learned that both he and his wife served missions in the Philippines.  They now have three children.  He contracts with a U.S. shipping company called Tidewater.  He usually works for four months then goes home for a month.  He brought his scriptures, so after supper we asked if he would like to share a scripture with us.   He said he had been reading in Alma and was touched by Alma 5:46.  The whole chapter is very powerful.  I had marked in my scriptures that this verse is part of Alma’s testimony.  What is interesting is that Alma says in verse 46 that he had fasted and prayed many days to know that the things he spoke of were true.   This is the same Alma that had once gone about persecuting the Church.  Even though he was visited by an angel (Mosiah 27) and rendered helpless, he tells us in verse 46 of Alma 5 that he had fasted and prayed many days to understand the doctrines he was preaching to the people, which were mainly, being spiritually born of God through repentance and being stripped of pride, after which the Holy Ghost can act upon us.  Chapter 5 ends with a plea or invitation to come and be baptized.  A lot of lessons can be gleaned from this chapter and each reading will probably reveal something new.  Last evening the impression was that like Alma, a visitation by an angel or a few spiritual experiences won’t carry us through.   We must continue to fast and pray, and keep the commandments so we can say as Alma says in verse 48, “I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea the Son, the only begotten of the Father full of grace, mercy and truth…..He cometh to take away the sins of the world, yea the sins of every man who steadfastly believeth on his name.”   We leave our testimony that what Alma testified would happen, did indeed happen.  And as Alma looked forward to the coming of Christ, we look forward to the day when he will come again.
We hope you are all happy and well.  Once again, we express our appreciation for your faith and prayers on our behalf.  We know that it is through your faith and prayers that we are protected.  In a very real sense your prayers for us and other missionaries, involve you in the work of seeking out those who will be touched by the gospel message.  Our prayers need to include more than just finding people to join God’s kingdom they need include providing members with the means to marry, and attend the temple to receive their endowments and be sealed together as families.
Love Elder and Sister Wheatley

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