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