Wednesday, December 26, 2007


OK -- this post is going to be a little unfair to you, emotionally. It's a heart rending story, but there are some good elements of joy to it.

We challenged each set of missionaries to do an act of charitable service for someone else to enjoy the real spirit of Christmas. The couples in the office chose to do our service for the Center for Polio Victims in Kinshasa. This center at any one time has between 60 and 110 young people, virtually all orphans, who have deformities usually associated with polio. As there is little vaccine here, a disease that we don't give much of a thought to in the more civilized world can strike young people with terrible effects.

The Center's goal is to bring the young people in, arrange for surgeons to do the best possible corrective action that can maximize the young person's mobility, and then try to use physical therapy to help them re-enter the world. What world they will go back to will be very challenging, given the lack of employment and their capacity to compete. We see hundreds of handicapped people on the streets of Kinshasa each day. Society generally is very tolerant of them, and they are able to beg without any hassle from others. We wish we could give meaningful things to them, but given all the demands on our time, the best we can do is to hand out tubes of crackers that we can buy here for about 40 cents. Marsha tries to keep 8 to 10 in the car whenever we go somewhere, and we hand them out with the hope that at least they won't go hungry for 12 hours.

The Center has an annual grant from external sources (in this case, US AID is a major donor), but last week, the Barlows came here and discovered that there was almost no food in the entire center. So our service project was relatively simple -- help these young people eat for a week or so, until the 2008 grant is received.

The Center is run by some wonderful people. A young English woman from London arrived about two weeks ago to take the place of another volunteer. She is planning to be here for two years, and she will be stretched and challenged in every way. The plumbing is down most of the time -- there are only about two flush toilets for the 60 to 100 young people, and there are always things to be done from a physical facilities standpoint. Stretching the grants and aid received from external sources will be a challenge. Somebody has to work with the doctors who provide corrective surgery on an as available basis, at very low cost. You are so grateful for people like this who are truly making a difference in the world.

Here the Barlows are with the African mama who "really runs" the place -- the children all respect and obey her, and she deals with preparing the food, etc.
As the three couples in Kinshasa (the Barlows -- Humanitarian Directors; the Thomas's -- who serve in the office and keep the mission running; the Livingstone's), we decided to ante up and buy 100 kilos of rice and 60 kilos of beans. It won't be fancy, but it will be a good complete protein and filling for the children here, and will keep them fed for another week until their 2008 grant kicks in. Along with the rice and beans, we also prepared about 100 little sacks with a sleeve of crackers or cookies, a few candies and some other things for Christmas which we distributed to the youth who are here.

While we were there, another gift arrived -- a car with the back stuffed with bagettes. Most of the bagettes were stuffed into big white plastic sacks and carried into the kitchen -- both not all. Most kids received a bagette and started gnawing on it with gusto, a pretty good sign that they had not eaten all that well for some period of time. The bandage indicates that this young man has received his corrective surgery, and hopefully in the near future will be able to start walking, although it seems that his left leg will be very much shorter than his right leg. Even so, look at the diameter of his right leg -- so small!!

Each person at the center has to have braces and crutches which are made pretty specifically for them. Right now, this is done by hand and is a laboriously slow process. One of the things we hope to do as a Humanitarian project is to secure funding for about $ 10,000 which will buy a very effective metal bending, cutting and drilling machine that will allow the center to make the braces and crutches much more quickly, and also provide them with a way to make things for other purposes and bring a source of sustainable income for the center so that it won't have to totally depend on grants and aid.

This young man sat pensively almost the first 20 minutes we were there, watching us with eyes that at times were questioning, at times suspicious, but finally he accepted us and opened the small bag of cookies, etc. that he is holding in his hands. He ate the cookies -- more like devoured them, and we moved on. But the next picture will break your heart. I hope and think that he is one of the children waiting for the corrective surgery.

If your heart wasn't aching by now, then look at how this young man has to get around. Physical therapists come here on a volunteer basis, unfortunately not often enough, to help these young people rehabilitate themselves as best they can.

We wish we could show you the short video clip we took of these young kids swaying back and forth, dancing to a boom box in the background. That young man in the center next to the one in the yellow shirt had ALLLL the moves, even if his legs are terribly deformed.

At the end of the day, everyone is dancing -- even Elder Thomas, our laid-back terrific financial genius in the office. What a day!!

Africa is full of stories like this. A good friend told me that once a year, he tries to do something really good and meaningful in a secret fashion for someone else, and doesn't tell a soul. Then that way, the deepest secret in his heart isn't something dark and ugly, but a good memory of what he has done to bless the lives of someone else. Thanks for all of you that are out there, doing good things for others. That's the real spirit of this Holiday Season, and something that we should be doing everyday for Heavenly Father's other children.

This afternoon we visited a brand new hospital on the east side of Kinshasa, that has been funded and built by the Dikembe Mutumbo Foundation. Dikenbe Mutumbo is an NBA basketball player who played for years in the league. Several years ago, his mother became very seriously ill and died before she could receive appropriate medical care. Adequate care has two challenges here -- to find those who can provide proper care, and for the people to be able to afford care, as there is no system of insurance and no government sponsored medical program.
Mr. Mutumbo contributed somewhere around $ 15 million of his own resources, and obtained roughly the same amount from various donors, and has built a sparkling new medical facility on the east side of Kinshasa in a section known as Masina. We toured the hospital with the director today, for two reasons -- one to make arrangements for the young missionaries to be able to be treated there, and another to see if there is a way that we might be able to work with them on a Humanitarian basis. The hospital is sparkling new and has, in a very simple way, most of the services that you would want to have in a hospital. We hope that it can be maintained over the years.
As we left and went out the main gate, there was a crowd of 30 - 40 people pushed up against the locked gate. We wondered if these were people that wanted health care and were trying to cajole their way into the facility, or if they were people that could afford to pay and just couldn't get in for treatment because the facility can't begin to meet the needs of the total community. How blessed we are with our healthcare system in the U.S. and Canada and other developed nations. It may not be perfect, but be grateful for it.

Love to all - Don and Marsha

Sunday, December 23, 2007


As a mission president, we have two main responsibilities. The foremost is to work with our young missionaries and senior couples, and serve and help them. We particularly want to build the young missionaries and help prepare them for the life they will face after their missions -- to build and strengthen their testimonies, and help them learn how to gain an education and work hard -- two very vital skills and talents to have. To the extent they are willing to try, we also help them learn some rudimentary English, as this will be a great advantage for them in the job market.

The other responsibility is to work with the local Congolese leaders. In the major cities, we have very mature and large groups of congregations, with superb local leaders. In the outlying cities, we have smaller congregations, which we hope will grow and match the strength of the large city groups. In 11 different cities in the two Congos and Cameroon, we make visits at least twice a year and often more frequently to help serve and strengthen the local members.

In mid-November, we visited 3 congregations in the city of Kolwezi, which is located about 900 miles southeast of Kinshasa. Kolwezi is a mining city with large copper and cobalt mines. It was founded in 1937, and in 1978 was taken over by rebels supported by neighboring Angola. Elite units of the French Foreign Legion brilliantly outwitted the rebels and liberated the city (thanks, Wikipedia).

So come along for a District Conference visit.

The journey to Kolwezi starts with a 1,000 mile flight to Lubumbashi, where we have a zone conference with the elders and inspect the new facilities rented by the two senior missionary couples. The former apartment didn't have water for 4 weeks -- they trucked it in, in 55 gallon barrels, and the electricity was sporadic. The new home -- a large former Belgian home which has a separate guest house in the back, will be a great place for these two couples -- one from Salt Lake City (the Park's) and one from Marion, VA (the Wassum's).

After the conference, we catch a little 16 seat plane for the one hour ride to Kolwezi. This is such a wonderful improvement -- prior to 2005, the presidents had to drive here -- a trip of about 10 hours over 150 miles of very rough roads. During one trip, the truck overturned, but fortunately no one was injured. The plane makes the trip far better.

Kolwezi is a city of about 500,000 on the rolling green hills of southeastern Africa. We circle once and let down for a smooth landing. We are met by the District Presidency, who are here in a rented car -- about a 1990 Toyota which has seen far better days, but not one person in the District owns a car. Fortunately a young wonderful member, Nicolas Monga, knows how to drive, and he chauffers us into town about 5 miles away and to where we will stay. The roads are typically African, but we are used to it and enjoy riding and talking with these great leaders.

As a three-time loser with back surgeries, a nice firm bed is always welcome. Unfortunately this one isn't -- looks like Marsha and I will have a lot of togetherness in the middle of this one for the three nights we're here. Still, this hotel has its own generator to provide electric power at night, so we will be able to read, heat water for our freeze-dried food, etc. It's very much a 5 star compared to the others in town, so we are grateful to be able to stay here.

A quick peek into the bathroom quickly signals that this will be a "catwash" visit -- no hot or running water for three days. But you carry lots of soap and deodorant, and you get used to sweaty clothes. Everyone else does, so why now us? So we are off to visit the new building that the Church is constructing for these saints -- it will be a Godsend to them after you see the present buildings that they are using.

This is the new District Center building under construction in Kolwezi. All the chapels here have a distinctive white steeple -- it will be on the other end. Everything is built out of cement and masonry as a wood building would give way to the termites in about 3 years. The buildings are by far the nicest building in the city and are a real landmark that everyone knows about, once they are completed. We have to fight the image of a "rich church", but teach them that tithing and sharing of resources by all of Heavenly Father's children is His way. This building has been under construction for about one year and will take another 8 months to finish. Speed is not a virtue to these people.

This is the chapel for the new building under construction. Along with the chapel there will be an adjoining cultural hall so that 600 - 700 people can be seated for a large meeting, and plenty of teaching rooms, offices for the local leaders, etc. Because everything has be brought in either by truck or railroad, the chapels are very expensive to build -- this one will be about $ 2 million. Thanks to wonderful members in other countries who faithfully pay their tithing, we can build buildings such as this for this first generation of African Saints -- and the day will come when their tithing will pay the cost of their own buildings.

SATURDAY CONFERENCE EVENTS -- Saturdays, we meet with the local leadership for two hours to evaluate how they and the branches and district are doing, then have a 1 1/2 hour meeting for the leadership. I take the men while Marsha will train the sisters. How she does it in her limited French is a miracle -- and everything has to be translated into Swahili. Her French is coming so magnificently, and the power of love speaks more than anything she can say. After the leadership meetings, we have another 1 1/2 hour session for all the adults, where we share the time with local members who have been selected to give talks. Their "discours" are always powerful and inspiring.

But before the meetings, we always tour the physical facilities.

This chapel -- a temporary location for the new Diur II Branch -- doesn't pass inspection. In the garage (where the Young Women meet on Sundays), there is an exposed junction box with bare wires for the 220 volt current. A little child could reach up and touch these and a tragedy would result. We'll ask the people in Lubumbashi in charge of physical facilities to work on this, as well as the toilet (only one in the whole building) that doesn't flush, and the electrical fixtures that need flouresecent bulbs. Always a list of things to do.

This is a typical first generation chapel that we have in Africa -- an older home that was purchased and renovated into a small but servicable chapel, that has a chapel for maybe 100 - 125 members and 6 to 8 classrooms. Our Saturday afternoon meeting was held in a chapel like this. About 2:30 it started to rain, and the water cannonaded off the metal roof for two hours. You had to shout to be heard over the roar of the storm, punctuated by thunder and lightning. But they paid rapt attention to all the speakers. In the first meeting, I spoke to the brethren about the blessings of going to the temple, and they felt the spirit urge them that this is something they should work towards. In this district of over 500 members, not one has been able to save the money so they can go to the temple in South Africa. But we will change all that -- see an earlier post on the blog about the Temple Patrons Assistance Fund and how it will help defray the almost impossible cost of these members to go to the temple.

The joy of these people in their lives after they become members of the church is incredible. The teachings of who we are, where we came from and where we will go after this life give them purpose and meaning for their lives. It's hard to get them to smile for a photo, but when they do, their smiles light up the room.
After the meeting, everyone visited for a while as it their custom. We were out in the street with the neighborhood kids who were fascinated by the "muzungu's" (white skinned people). They love to shake your hand and give you a big "Bonjour" or "Jambo" (Swahili for "Goodday"). For the first picture they were pretty reserved, but once they see their picture on the digital camera, they soon turn into world class hams.


The Sunday session of conference was held in an auditorium at a recreational complex originally built by the Belgians for their mining company called Gecamines. The complex was incredible in its day -- there were 4 tennis courts, a soccer stadium, a large outdoor pool with high diving boards (now empty) and several large social halls. The church rented one for the Sunday session of conference -- the priesthood had to come at 6 am to clean up the beer bottles and other garbage from the Saturday evening social event, and then deploy the white PVC chairs for the 350 or 400 who attended. Lighting was pretty minimal and a rented PA system tried vainly to carry the words of the speakers to all. This great couple arrived at 9 am for the 10 am start of the meeting. I asked him to speak for 3 or 4 minutes as part of my time, and he gave a wonderful extemporaneous testimony and story of his conversion.

This is the youth choir that sang. For some reason that we hope to change, they all like to have the same dress or blouse. In the church we don't want people to be precluded from participating because they don't have the money for the "uniform" that someone has selected. We try to gently tell them how lovely they look, but at the same time, perhaps they can use their scarce funds for other worthwhile purposes and not have a "uniform" for the district conference choir.

Finally, everyone heads for home. Because the auditorium where the conference was held is a long ways from the center of town, the members pool their hard earned money and rent a combi van to transport them. They get their money's worth -- about 25 crammed into this van.

As for us, it was interviews and then back to the hotel for one last evening meal of REI freeze dried food, another couple of hours in and out of darkness when the generator failed, and then back on the plane to Lubumbashi on Monday morning. There we interviewed missionaries for three hours, then caught the plane back to Kinshasa. One major airline recently failed, so the other two have more business than they can accommodate. Neither runs on time -- if you leave the day scheduled for the flight, it is a major victory. We joke that the name of one airline we use more frequently, Hewa Bora Airlines, translates into English as "Three Hours Late Airlines". But we made it back home after another successful and wonderful meeting with these great people in Africa.

When I think of the blessings that we enjoy in the United States, all I can say is that the next time you grumble a little bit because of some inconvenience, just think that nearly everyone hear would trade places with you in a second. And based on our experiences, you might want to trade to come here for a while, to see these great people.

Love to all -- Don and Marsha

Saturday, December 22, 2007


We've kind of grown used to being in the Congo. Surely there are physical challenges, and the mental grind of always being in a difficult place to live can wear you down. But it is home and we have grown very quickly to love this privilege. But it isn't always Third World Country tough on a mission.

MISSION PRESIDENTS' SEMINAR IN JOHANNESBURG -- Every six months, the Church gathers all the mission presidents and wives in one area of the world for a three or four day seminar. Our seminar in November was in Johannesburg. Because airlines only fly between Kinshasa and Johannesburg four times a week, and we had to stay and get medical and dental checkups, etc., our stay lasted for a little longer. We also went shopping for essentials like baking powder, cocoa powder (for Marsha's now legendary homemade chocolate ice cream), new hinges for the kitchen cabinet door, etc.

Also we got to meet our great friends from Salt Lake City, Eric and Kaye Jackson, who are serving as the volunteer missionaries in charge of Public Affairs for this area of the world. They were wonderful hosts for us the first two days, and it was great to spend time and share several meals with them. They are doing a great job in bringing the church more into public visibility in southern Africa.

The seminar was held in the Westcliffe Hotel, a very lovely facility, although the Area Presidency made certain to tell us (and you) that the church negotiated a sensational discount for a mid-week, off-season block of rooms, so we weren't being extravagant with the Lord's funds.

The highlight of the seminar with the other presidents (Capetown, Durban and Johannesburg South Africa and the Johannesburg Missionary Training Center; Madagascar; Zimbabwe; Mozambique; Uganda; and Kenya) was training and instruction by Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for three days, assisted by the Area Presidency. Elder Scott was truly inspirational in what he taught. You would sense and feel the Spirit enter the room as he led us through the scriptures, and taught from what he learned many years ago when he served as a young mission president in Argentina.

At the same time, he took 15 - 20 minutes to interview each mission president and wife in a very sensitive and loving manner. In our interview he asked about our family, how we met and fell in love, what we admired most about our companion, and taught us by his example of humility and love for others. It was an experience that each of us has tried to capture on paper -- our notes of these three days are a most valued possession. Fortunately we will have another three seminars with him or other members of the Twelve Apostles, to learn and be taught by them.

The Westcliffe Hotel is perched on a hillside across the valley from the Johannesburg Temple and offices of the Church in South Africa. We walked 132 steps up from our room each morning to get to the breakfast facility -- great exercise. Here's a photo of the Westcliffe taken by Dr. Thomas, the doctor serving as a missionary for two years as the Medical Advisor for all the missions. The hotel is every bit as enchanted as it appears in the pictures, surrounded by beautiful landscaping and people that took care of your every need. We felt guilty being pampered, but loved it!!
The pool overlooks a hillside of colorful jacaranda trees and bouganvilla. We loved staying here for a week, but after five days were itching to get back to Kinshasa, afraid that we would get used to the lifestyle of South Africa.

Johannesburg is one of the world's more beautiful cities. Although it is at an elevation of roughly 6,000 feet, the climate is very temperate, and flowering trees and shrubs are everywhere. In their spring (October and November), the streets are a mass of violet from the jacaranda trees. Aren't they beautiful? We first saw jacaranda trees in Pasadena, when we lived in Southern California, but the trees in Johannesburg are incredibly more flowering. When we lived in Southern California, we used to say, "There's no summer like winter in Southern California." But truly, there is no summer like spring in Johannesburg.
Unfortunately there is a real brain drain as people flee South Africa for other countries, but the hope is that the rise of a solid class of middle class African citizens will stabilize this beautiful country. We couldn't get used to the smooth roads in South Africa, and missed our potholed, bumpy Kinshasa specials after several days.


Thursday, November 22nd was Thanksgiving Day here, as well. We worked in the morning, visiting some investigators with the missionaries and teaching a discussion. Then it was time to get down to some Thanksgiving Day cooking, but without the TV showing some football games, sadly.
Somehow, our friend at the U.S. Embassy, Mike Tweety (see picture below) managed to get his hands on two turkeys. Well, maybe "turkeyettes" is the more appropriate term, as they were raised in Brazil and only weighed in at 10 pounds (and cost $ 33 apiece). But they were good turkeys, and Mike did a spectacular job on his, smoking it to perfection. We made homemade rolls for the first time in the Congo -- the flour came from India and the rolls turned out to be brown instead of white, but they still tasted great. Here's the table all set for 12 of us.

Thanksgiving Day dinner and our guests -- from left to right -- Steve and Lynn Thomas; Marsha; the two children and Robert Workman and his wife; Deborah and Mike Tweety; and Marilyn and Farrell Barlow. A brief word about each of these good people:

The Thomas's are from Minneapolis -- he retired from a very successful career at Honeywell and they volunteered to be senior missionaries anywhere in the world, and do anything. They are the world's greatest office couple -- don't speak French, but they do incredible work. Sadly, they will finish next March, and we DESPERATELY need a replacement couple. Any of you out there who want to have the greatest experience in your life -- please volunteer.

The family to the right of Marsha are the Robert Workman family, who lived in Mapleton just down from road from Provo, but are just moving to Morgan, UT. What an inspiring story. Robert was a very successful entrepreneur who built a large crafts company, Roberts Crafts, supplying craft materials to all the major companies in the U.S. like Michaels, etc. He started going to China in the early 1980's and found some good honest people who would make craft supplies for him to import to the U.S. They and he became very successful and highly profitable.
Robert sold his company to a private equity firm for a very large sum of money several years ago. He went to his Chinese partners and said in essence, "Look -- I invested money in and helped you when you have very little, and now you are rich. Would you now do the same thing with me that I did with you? Let's find a country where we can invest in the people and help them become successful." For some unknown reason, God led him to the Congo, and he has invested with his partners in a number of businesses -- both "for profit" and "nonprofit". Theyare now importing crafts to the U.S., but more importantly have brought over farm equipment to help people grow corn, etc.
On this trip, he was incredibly excited about a new photovoltaic system that they tested, It can be built in China for about $ 200. Installed on the roof of a hut in the interior of the country where there is no electricity, this system will power about 10 - 12 light bulbs, either in a home, or shared between a number of homes in a village. He is truly making the world a better place to live.

Next to the Workmans are Deborah and Mike Tweety. They work in the U.S. Embassy here, and have lived all over the world doing interesting things. They will be returning to the U.S. to live in Yakima, WA next spring. Mike and Deborah are incredible cooks, and we often have dinner together with them, the Thomas's, and the Barlow's on Friday nights, whenever we are in Kinshasa.

The couple on the far right are Farrell and Marilyn Barlow. They came as Humanitarian missionaries for the church in March 2007 to serve for 18 months, and are doing an incredible work in creating humanitarian projects that the Church funds, that benefit all people in a community, not just church members. They take their little four wheel truck in places where normal people would fear to tread, and with their smiles and willingness to serve others, win over the hearts and souls of people. They have managed projects such as drilling wells to provide clean water for tens of thousands of people in suburbs of Kinshasa, doing a neo-natal recussitation project that taught doctors here in the Congo how to save the lives of newly born infants, and a campaign partnering with the World Health Organization and others that vaccinated tens or hundreds of thousands of young children against the measles and other diseases. This past week, they received approval that the church will fund a water project in the interior of the Congo for over $ 2 million that will bring clean water to a city of 100,000.

All of these people are making such great sacrifices to be here, and doing such a great work. It is a privilege to serve with them, and have Thanksgiving dinner together. Thye are such good friends -- the dinner was late and even before it finished, we had to run immediately to the airport to catch a late night plane to Cameroon to start a visit to the members and missionaries. We promised them that if they did the dishes, they could take home all the leftovers -- the turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, dressing and whole nine yards. They did, and they did, and when we got home the following Monday evening, there weren't any leftovers. I was dying for a cold turkey sandwich. No such luck. As Marsha would say, "Wah, wah, wah!!"
Hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful, and that you have many, many reasons to give thanks to our Heavenly Father.
Love - Don and Marsha


In this post, we want to introduce you to some of the most greatest people we know -- the members of the church here in Africa. All of them are first generation members of the church -- the church has only been established here for 15 to 20 years. Their faith and their stories are wonderful, and make us humbly reflect on the great blessings that we have taken for granted throughout our lives.

These two are members of the Dajeu family. Their dad was the branch president in Douala, Cameroon until the end of November. He applied for "the lottery", in which the U.S.A. allows a certain number of people from each country to apply for green card status each year. If you win the lottery, you can emigrate to the U.S. within a three month period. The family sold every possession they have to buy tickets for the 8 of them, and they moved to Richmond, VA. We get emails from them now -- they have so very little, but a wonderful family is helping them find a place to live and they walk 8 miles to and from the school. They are so happy and thrilled that their children will be able to attend school in the United States, even if it will be an inner city school. Some wonderful friends, Chris and Erlynn Lansing, are helping them get established, and hopefully soon they can go to the Washington D.C. temple and be sealed as a family. These two kids are amazing -- they "self taught" themselves the keyboard by "ear", but play church hymns pretty well.
I met this handsome couple in Douala, Cameroon on October 12th. Sister Marthe was baptized in January 2007, followed by her husband in May 2007. They are saving their money now to go to the temple in May 2008 and be sealed together as a family for all eternity to their three young children.

Here is a group of sisters with Sister Young, after the Saturday session for the adults at the Brazzaville Stake Conference. The sisters come from very humble backgrounds, but don't you love their smiles.

A typical scene in a Congoelse church -- this is the Stake Center in Brazzaville, after the Saturday afternoon meetings for all the adults in the stake. The meeting has been over for 30 minutes, but the members love to visit with each other and won't go home until it is dark. We love to see the affection and love they have for each other.

This lovely young woman with Marsha at the Brazzaville Stake Conference is Sister Rahaman. In early October, I worked with the missionaries in Brazzaville for two days, and one set of elders asked me to visit with a person they were teaching. She wanted to be baptized, but her husband was "deadset" against her doing this. The person was Sister Rahaman, and I counseled with her for 30 minutes -- we talked about the power of prayer, and I promised her that if she and the elders would pray and fast with me, she would be blessed. She was baptized one week later, and we met at the Stake Conference two weeks after that.

I had an interview with Elder Matshumba who helped teach her, on December 18th in Brazzaville. I asked how she was doing. He said, "President, last Sunday was one of the happiest days of my life. A man that we taught and baptized passed the sacrament to me, and Sister Rahaman was sustained as the first counselor in the Relief Society (the organization for the women in that congregation)." These are the blessings of the Gospel in these African saints -- both the new members and the missionaries who teach them.

At the Brazzaville Stake Conference -- a standard staple of any conference in Africa is that everyone, and I mean everyone, wants to shake the hands of the visiting Church leaders. This is Elder Allen Young, a member of the Africa Southeast Area Presidency, who reorganized a stake presidency in Brazzaville. We shook hands afterwards for about 30 minutes. But that pales in comparison with Elder Richard G. Scott, who spoke to a fireside of about 1,000 young adults in Johannesburg in early November. Elder Scott is 80, and his schedule is incredible. He flew from Salt Lake to Johannesburg, a 24 hour trip which started on Friday and ended Saturday night. Sunday, he met with the area church leaders for 8 hours from 9 to 5, then spoke to the young adults and afterwards shook hands with as many as wanted to (nearly all of them) for 90 minutes. Then on Monday to Wednesday, he led a three day seminar for Mission Presidents. To be taught by him, and have the blessing of a 20 minute interview with him was one of the highlights of our lives.

The youth choir at the Brazzaville Stake Conference -- about 60 youth strong, and boy, can they sing. We met in a large rented auditorium in the "Palais de Peuple" -- the Palace of the People where the national assembly meets. The youth sang wonderful arrangements of church hymns -- for 10 minutes before and 15 minutes afterwards, along with their special numbers during the conference itself. We've heard youth choirs at every conference, and they match up along with any choir we're heard elsewhere.

Meet "Frere Mike" and his family -- Mike is the man in the middle of the pictured, sandwiched between Elders Mbambu and Mampouya. I first met Mike when I interviewed him for baptism in the middle of September. Mike fought in the civil war that occured in the 1990's, and is a highly ranked officer in the Intelligence Division of the DR Congo government. He has a wonderful faith and rejoices in the truths of the Gospel. He and his family live in a protected compound for higher ranked police and intelligence personnel -- yet, note that the door to the apartment on the right hand side is only a curtain, and the whole area is quite humble. Mike is typical -- the men join the church first, and then their wives follow. We have visited Mike, his wife and family twice in their rather humble apartment, teaching her and bearing testimony. We hope the day will soon come when she joins the church.

The church has three temples in Africa -- in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa. To get to the temple is a huge sacrifice for most Saints here -- an airplane ticket to Johannesburg costs about $ 800, or several years salary. Fortunately, if the members will save and make a "sacrificial donation", the Church's Temple Patrons Assistance Fund will help pay the rest of the trip. During the week in early November when we were in Johannesburg, we met three young families from Kinshasa and Kananga who were there at the temple to visit it and receive their temple blessings. We met three young fathers out front with their young children that we knew. When we asked them where their wives were, they replied, "Oh, we're tending the children so our wives can attend a session in the temple." What great young fathers and husbands they are.

At the Johannesburg airport on Sunday morning, Nov. 11th, we met the rest of the Congolese saints who had journeyed to South Africa that week to receive the blessings of the temple for the first time. In all, 12 members from the Congo went that week. These two couples are both bishops or branch presidents in wards or branches here in Kinshasa -- and don't they look wonderful. We went as a group of mission presidents to a session in the temple on Tuesday with Elder Richard G. Scott, one of the Twelve Apostles of the church. After the session was concluded, he visited with many of them and expressed his love and appreciation for them. It was a tender moment to watch the mutual love and admiration between them and him.

This is the family of Pres. Ilale of the Kolwezi District. They became members about 10 years ago, and he has served for three years as the District President. In this district of 600 members, there isn't a single person who has been able to save the necessary money to go to the temple. The Temple Patrons Assistance Fund will help pay part of the cost of the trip, but we generally ask them to save the money for their passport, which for Pres. Ilale would be about $ 260 or about a year's salary for him. When I told him that I would accept the $ 200 he had saved over the last three years as a sufficient sacrifice and help him get to the temple in the next three months, he and his wife sobbed in tears. What a blessing it will be for them to go. Three other member families will go at the same time, thanks to the reduced level of what they will pay. Thanks to the wonderful American and other saints who contribute to this Fund and help wonderfully deserving members in Africa and other places to be able to go. (The man in the back is the second counselor in the mission presidency -- Pres. Kazadi -- more about him in another post.)

December 2 -- at the Stake Conference in the Masina Stake. For some reason of which we're not quite sure, all the Primary children were seated in two lobbies in the Stake Center. They were incredibly reverent the entire two hours -- we didn't hear a peep from them as they watched the conference on closed circuit TV. I would guess that this is the only time that most of them see a TV. Note their fascination with the "mundeile" -- the word in the local dialect (Lingala) for white person. In Lingala we are "mundeile's"; in Tschiluba in the middle of the mission we are called "mutoka's" and in the southern section, in Swahili we are "muzungu's", and always a curiousity because we are the only white people in the entire congregation.


The two Congos. Kinshasa (on the other side of the Congo River) and Brazzaville are the only two capital cities in the world directly across from each other. The Congo River (about 2 1/2 miles wide in this picture) disgorges more water into an ocean than any river other than the Amazon. We frequently cross the Congo River to visit missionaries and members in Brazzaville -- using a 24 foot skiboat as a water taxi (and holding our breath because sometimes the outboard motors stall and you drift towards the rapids downstream about three miles).

Brazzaville is the capital city of the Republic of Congo, which is a country that seems to be a little more progressive than its neighbor, the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Kinshasa is the capital. Maybe it's because it has been longer since devasting wars in Brazzaville. In the 1990's there were two terrible wars fought in Brazzaville, and there are many buildings that still stand in their ravaged state. Here is what used to be a very modern hotel -- all the windows are gone, the rooms completely cleaned out of anything of value. A 12 story Sheraton is being rebuilt now -- only the shell like this stands, but they hope to rehabilitate it. You can see the Sheraton and the construction crane in the middle of the first picture.

A favorite sight in Brazzaville is this statue of an elephant. I walked over to check it out, and all the tusks in the base are the real deal -- real ivory, which is amazing that someone hasn't come along and tried to bust them off and sell them. But the level of honesty among the average person in the Congo is very high. The base is about 10 - 12 feet high, so the elephant adds another 10 - 12 feet as well. Very impressive.

WHEN IT RAINS -- IT POURS -- AND IT DOESN'T DRAIN!! October marks the beginning of a six to seven month rainy season in the Congo. We were in Brazzaville for a stake reorganization on October 26th, and it rained. And rained. This is going down the street that the stake center is on -- a stretch of about 500 feet of water up to 16 inches deep. How the members came was a good question -- but they got there and we had wonderful meetings. After a stretch of this and more water ahead, our driver decided that he knew a better route.

So, we tried another route going to the chapel, where the driver thought that there would be less water. Driving down the back alley, in about 12 inches of water, we ran into a man with his "pouse-pouse" wagon, pulling a heavy load of something through the water. You just never know the sights and scenes you will meet, of people whom you just have to admire for their determination and grit!!

One thing about Kinshasa -- the weather is always very interesting. It can rain here like you've never seen in your life -- a driving sheet of water for maybe four to six hours. Floods are a constant threat to the houses because of very poor drainage -- but it doesn't get much "press" outside of Kinshasa because the Congo generally isn't news. But you do get some incredible sunsets -- this is out of our back porch. The sun just sinks into the horizon every night at 6:15 like a rock, but when there are clouds, the sunsets are beautiful.

Driving in Africa is always an adventure. The road between Lubumbashi and Likasi is about 70 miles, and you're pushing it to try to make it in less than 3 hours. Once we've had to do it two hours, and the last 40 miles are a potholed "tooth rattler" stretch. Even when the pavement is good, you can't go too fast because vehicles don't have the right-of-way -- you never know what you'll meet.

This is on the "road" between Lubumbashi and Likasi, where we were going for a conference with 1,000 members of the Church. To build a bridge, the ingenious Congolese just sank about 8 40-foot containers in a river, and then laid a one lane bridge across the top. Needless to say, you don't go very fast. Unfortunately, we just read that some people charged with disposing of some radioactive waste just dumped it into this river (the Lufira River) and the radiation levels will be elevated far above safe levels for decades. We hope that by the time the water reaches Kinshasa, about 2,000 miles downstream, the levels will be highly diluted.

One of our good friends, Larry Linton, from
Portland, Oregon, is a great entrepreneur. Several years ago he told me that there was a terrific future in "water", and he bought a company that made a great filter system for dirty water and has built it tremendously. His filter system is used throughout the world, and also in missionary apartments in third world countries. It takes water like here in Kinshasa (here's a sample in my bathroom sink) and turns it into sparkling pure water that saves countless days of sick missionaries. This picture really doesn't quite do the water justice -- it's much browner than this!! But as Marsha's mom used to say, "Dirty water washes clean." And it does.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


THESE INCREDIBLE NON-AFRICAN MISSIONARIES IN CAMEROON -- Our mission covers five countries, about the size of North Dakota down to Texas and west to the Pacific Ocean. One of these countries is Cameroon -- about 700 miles north of Kinshasa. Cameroon has more of a history of stability, and thus has been judged to be safe to send missionaries from countries other than the African nations to serve there. We have 9, soon to be 10 great elders there, with more on the way.

We visit them each six weeks and hold a conference with them, work with them, and do interviews of the missionaries and members in the three branches. These elders serve a mission like none other. They labor in two cities -- Douala and Yaounde -- which are 150 miles apart. Except for Elder Mol (the handsome Polynesian in the front row), they all came out within three months of each other. So their entire mission will be laboring with the same companions several times, in the same cities, 700 miles away from their mission president. They are truly "Eagle Scout" missionaries -- the best. We love them and trade emails each week.

Fortunately in each city, we have a senior missionary couple. The couple in this picture are Steven and JoAnn Hanks from Las Vegas. He was a very successful orthodontist and brilliant inventor, who also taught in the UCLA dental school, but was willing to accept a call for 23 months to come to a country where he didn't know the language (his mission as a young man was in Germany). Sister Hanks is a great mom to the elders in Yaounde and gave one of the best talks we've ever heard at our last conference. In Douala, we have another couple, Bill and Janine Coles. The Coles were absent for this picture -- a doctor had diagnosed Elder Coles with a partially detached retina and they had been released to return home to the U.S. to have the needed work done. Fortunately, a miracle occurred and his eye healed very quickly without surgery, so they immediately returned to finish their last 12 months. How great are people like that!!

One thing about missionaries -- they love to eat. After our 4 hour meeting together of training and sharing our testimonies and love for each other, it was off to a restaurant for lunch of pizza, french fries and all kinds of other good stuff. And a soft drink that all the elders in Cameroon love, and each can drink a 1 1/2 litre bottle during lunch. From front to back, Elder Kay, Sister Hanks, Elder Landes, Elder Hanks, Muir and Shaw on the left. Elder Wilde, Marsha, Elders Mol, Archibald, Nielson and Ward on the right.

After devouring their meal, it was time for the elders to get back to work (or for the ones from Yaounde to walk back to the bus station for the three hour bus ride back). As we drove past them, here were our 9 heros, striding down the street, ready to go teach and testify. What a thrill to see them. Elder Mol, the third from the left, comes from Vanuata, a tiny island in the South Pacific. The airlines lost all his luggage and one year later, we're still fighting to get some reimbursement. So other elders and people have volunteered to help him get the minimums of what he needs. Another turned in his football scholarship at a school in Indiana to serve. They are such great, great young men, and we love them.

I just obliterated the picture of the new missionaries, so it will be at the top of this posting. If anyone knows how to move pictures around inside of a blog, PLEASE send me the instructions.
Almost all our missionaries in counties other than Cameroon come from the DR Congo, with a few mixed in from Ivory Coast. They go to a Missionary Training Center in Tema, Ghana for three weeks to be learn how to be good missionaries. All of them know their scriptures extremely well. Here are nine great young people who arrived Friday, Sept. 28 to start with us -- Elders Makumb, Sisters Kinkeba and Mukaz, Elder Djiewo and Mulamba in the front row, and Elders Musoka, Kone, Nkinda and Poutance. I had a 15 minute interview with each of them, and would be thrilled to call them our own sons and daughters, which they will "kind of" be for the next 24 months (18 for the sisters).


As wonderful as it is to get the new missionaries, it's so hard to say "Goodbye" to those who have faithfully served for two years. But it's a joy to know they will return home with a strong testimony, good work habits, and ready to continue their schooling or work. The same day we welcomed the new missionaries, we enjoyed interviews and a nice meal with Elder Pikazio, Sister Mbanza, Elders Kuteka and Mukuna (front row) and Tufwila and Kabangu (second and third from right in the back row). The other two are my Assistants -- Elders Kanundeyi and Kalala. And that beautiful blonde is MY COMPANION -- and I love her. Fifteen minutes after she finished the goodbye lunch for this group, she served a completely different meal to the 11 new missionaries -- with different dishes, tablecloth, etc. What a wonder woman!!!


One of the things a mission president is supposed to do is work with the missionaries periodically, to see how they are doing and try to help them. I find that they usually are doing terrific and know much more than me, certainly in French. To celebrate my 65th birthday last week (Social Security, here I come!!), another great senior missionary (Elder Barlow) and I went across the Congo River to Brazzaville to spend two days working with the 5 sets of missionaries there. Here is my first companionship for most of the day -- Elder Matshumpa on the left and Elder Kayumba. What a great team of young men!!

Here we are walking to an appointment, down a typical path in a metropolitan area. The green shrubs farther down are actually manioc -- the plant that people grow and then harvest the root and pound it into flour. It's kind of like poi to the Hawaiians. And the leaves, when cooked, have a faint resemblance to spinach. A little gritty, but they are a green vegetable.

Here are my two companions as we are off on another 30 minute walk to teach another lesson. I've gotten used to not paying attention to where we walk -- there is a lot of litter along side the trail. But you get used to it and don't give it a second thought -- most of the time.

The last lesson of the day was taught in a humble home in a very poor section of Brazzaville. To get there, we had to climb down a 10 foot high wall of garbage. I'm shooting this picture from the top of the hill, before carefully navigating down the hill. These elders didn't even give it a second thought -- just scrambled down it and almost left me behind.
And we have 70 more just like this. Next time we will profile some of the sister missionaries. They are absolutely wonderful and even more dedicated. One of our best sister missionaries is engaged to a man who works for the church in the Center which distributes all the materials to the various congregations here in the Congos. She earned money for her mission by operating a cell phone booth, and then , even though they were engaged, told him to wait for her for 18 months while she served Heavenly Father first.
There are many more stories like that about these wonderful missionaries, but now you know a little about what a great privilege it is to work with them and be their surrogate mom and dad and their leaders for these two years. How grateful we are for this opportunity which is teaching us so much, as well.
Love to all -- Don and Marsha