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


Welcome to Kananga -- a city of over a million people in the middle of the Congo. We are here for a District Conference of our 4 congregations in Kananga. There is an "ebola" outbreak about 60 miles to the northwest of Kananga, and the U.S. Embassy issued an "Extreme Travel Advisory". (Ebola is not a nice disease to contract and 150 have died from it in the outbreak.) But after prayers and a confirmation feeling that we should go, and knowing the great efforts that the members had made for the Conference, we felt that the Lord would bless and protect us.

There's only one place to stay in Kananga -- in a brewery. (It's the only place in town with reliable electricity, because it has its own generator.) The sign on top of the guard shack says "Brasserie de Kasai" (Kasai Brewery), and there is a 10 feet high "Skol" beer bottle on top of the shack. The rooms are very spartan, and it's another city in Africa where we buy bottled water, and bring our REI freeze-dried backpacking food as the primary food source. The water in the bathroom is in a 30 gallon plastic barrel and you pour water into the sink or toilet as needed. So between staying in the Catholic monastery last month is our trip to Luputa, and the brewery in Kananga, we are truly "ecumenical stayers". One night, I looked at Marsha and asked, "Can you remember six months ago when we stayed at the Grand Wailea in Maui in such great room overlooking the blue Pacific?" Her response was, "That was then and this is now -- aren't we lucky?" And she really meant it.

This is one of our chapels in Kananga -- an old Belgian colonial home, that the Church purchased and remodeled into a chapel. The main chapel only holds about 200 members, and there are only six classrooms, so classes meet out on the lawn, on the patio outside, etc. I stood here (in the back yard) and envisioned how we could build an addition, coming out towards these palm trees, that could have a cultural hall and then a chapel, so that 600 people could be here for District Conference. We could divide the existing chapel into more classrooms. But, in the meetings we had here, there was no electricity. How we take things for granted.

This young couple is a great example of the future of the Church in Africa. He is a returned missionary, although he served before we had temples in Nigeria and Africa. They hope to be able to save some money, get a passport and go to the temple to receive the blessings we obtain there, and to be sealed together as a "forever family". Don't they look great??

Here is the District Presidency of the Kananga District -- Pres. Kapanga is third from the left and his counselors are on the left and second from the right. Elder Kola, the member of the Seventy is third from the right and Pres. Muliele, my first counselor in the Mission Presidency is on the right. He is a distinguished medical doctor, but gave up three days of his practice to come speak and serve in the Conference.

District Conference on Sunday was held in this building -- an old Belgian movie theatre. Very limited lighting -- the church has a diesel generator that it uses to power a few light fixtures and the sound system. About 2% of the chairs had backs on them, and it was very hot. But it was filled with 650 people of the 900 in the District for our conference. A little different from our chapels in North America.

The District Conference was a wonderful experience. Members of the district furthest from the buildings walked two hours each direction to attend. What great faith. And the reverence of the 100 of so children down in the front was truly amazing. The talks given by the African Saints are marvelous stories of faith, dedication and encouragement to do our best in this life. In the Bible, there is a parable about a master who gives three servants differing amounts of money, with the expectation that the servants will work hard to multiple their talents while the Master is gone. These African saints may not have received five talents, but I am sure that the Master will be pleased with how they developed and lived their lives while on this earth, and they will receive a wonderful and the highest reward in the life after this. What an example to ponder!!
Love to all - Don and Marsha



You never cease to be amazed by how things move in Africa. They are the most amazing and creative people in how their country operates. No space on a moving vehicle gets wasted. Here a truck coming from the provinces into Kinshasa is loaded with big sacks of charcoal, which nearly everyone uses to cook with. Electricity is very unreliable, and most homes don't have the wiring to be able to use a stove. (Most rooms have one light bulb in it, and no outlets.) So they burn wood in the provinces and create these huge bags of charcoal to sell in Kinshasa. But there's always room for passengers to ride along with the cargo.
But you'll see that trucks are just the start of the delivery process in the Congo.


Meet the Kinshasa "delivery van" for lots and lots of stuff. It's the noble "pouse-pouse" -- French for "push-push". It's a car axle with car-sized tires, with a metal cargo box about 3 1/2 feet wide and 5 feet long, and a foot high. Usually the axles have been "sprung" from carrying enormous weighty loads, so the tires wobble as they roll down the road. We've seen them with all types of imaginable loads -- sand and cement, barrels or foam mattresses stacked up 10 feet high. Although we're seeing more and more pickup type trucks, there are still thousands of "pouse-pouses" that ply their trade everyday.

"Pouse-pouses" roll right along with all the traffic in Kinshasa. At least they don't go in the far left lane, which is supposedly for the faster traffic -- which means you might get up to 30 mph on a good day. This "pouse-pouse" is rolling along Patrice Lumumba Boulevard, the main artery in Kinshasa. It's loaded with all kinds of metal that has been salvaged from abandoned cars -- on its way to somewhere. Some "pouse-pouses" are used as delivery vans for materials -- others are just for entrepreneurial type people that are using them to pick up something somewhere and sell it somewhere else.

I guessed that this pouse-pouse must have had about 900 - 1,000 pounds of corn on it. Maybe this is a husband-wife business -- he was really straining, pulling the pouse-pouse and the lady on the back was working just as hard. Note the "combie" just pulling into the road. Many combies don't have windows in the sides -- and must have been used as delivery vans in Europe before they arrived in the Congo. So they cut a hole in the side of the van and presto -- you've got a passenger vehicle!!


Why go to a fun park like Lagoon or Six Flags, when you can have a thrill ride on the highway??

We never cease to be amazed about the transportation system in the Congo. This truck was rumbling along the road to Kinshasa, loaded with bags of charcoal, at 30 - 35 mph. There were about 5 young men in the back of the truck, and another three riding on the bumper, hanging onto doors or the roof rack. We implore our children to "be sure to buckle your seat belt" as we start on a trip. Over here, it's "be sure to securely hang onto the door or the roof rack"!!

How about these for electric smiles? These two young men are 12 and 10. When you're around these people and see how happy they can be without so many of the material things of life, it makes you wonder about what we really need to be truly happy in life. You should have seen the joy and smiles on their faces when they saw their picture on the display screen of the camera.

And how can you not love these wonderful kids. Their faces are so pure and sweet. How I wish that their adulthood is going to be as untroubled and happy as their childhood. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ gives them hope. Here Marsha and Sister Kola (wife of one of the church's leaders here in the Congo -- he is a member of the Seventy) smile with some of the 100 children or so who sat down front and were so reverent during the District Conference in Kananga.