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!!
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.
THE SADNESS OF SAYING "GOODBYE" TO WONDERFUL MISSIONARIES GOING HOME
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!!!
OFF TO BRAZZAVILLE TO WORK WITH THE MISSIONARIES
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.