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