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


heidizinha said...

i just want you guys to know how much I love seeing your blog. People also tell me how much they enjoy reading your adventures. Thanks for taking time to do this!

beth said...

Dearest President Don & Marsha!

How cool is this adventure! I'd heard you were there but to be able to see and share some of your experiences is really a miracle.

A nephew just returned from Zimbabwe...and an aunt & uncle presided over Kenya & others almost 10 years ago, so we have some interest in the work there.

We will add you to the list of missionaries we pray for and think about...including our youngest, Reid, who entered the MTC 2 weeks ago today (Russia-Yekaterinburg) and 2 of David's kids and 1 of Bill's.

Some friends of ours are coming to the MTC in Africa in January...Rich & Judy Cannon (just in case you ever run into them).

You both look just the same as you did 30 years ago! Blessings and loves....always

Beth (Knecht) Thomas