Tuesday, December 30, 2008


We shouldn't be given to "hero worship" -- and so we won't be. But if we were, here are 4 of them....
On the left are Elder Charles and Sister Anna Wassum, our senior couple missionaries in Lubumbashi. The Wassums met in France many years ago while at summer school. Anna was from Sweden, Charles from Virginia. Their courtship took several years to develop, but eventually Anna moved to the U.S. and they were married.
Shortly after finishing medical school, they met the missionaries in central California, and after taking the lessons received their testimonies and were baptized in 1969. His career as a doctor and other interests eventually took them to Marion, VA -- a small community in the southwest corner of Virginia.
We found out about the Wassums in Feb. 2007, shortly after our call to serve here. Acutally we found out through two sources. One was the CEO of a microchip manufacturer in Silicon Valley, whose board I served on. The other was through Jim Engebretsen, an associate at the Marriott School of Business at BYU, who had been a partner at Goldman Sachs in Philadelphia, but retired to serve as a mission president in Oklahoma and then came to BYU to do a great job in placement for the MBA's who graduate from the business school. (Jim has organized an annual event where 30 or so MBA's are privilege to fly back to Omaha, spend a day with Warren Buffett including a steak dinner at a steakhouse Warren owns, and have even larger servings of his wit and wisdom. How's that for connections.)
The Wassums were very interested in coming to our mission, but Sister Wassum found out that she had breast cancer. After some treatment and a relatively miraculous cure, she was pronounced "ready to serve" and they came in October 2007, assigned to labor in Lubumbashi.
Lubumbashi is the 2nd largest city in the DRC, located about 1,000 miles from Kinshasa.
Originally they served there with another couple, but for various reasons, including the challenges of serving in Lubumbashi and continual harassment from the police, the other couple was reassigned to Johannesburg. The Wassums said, "we can handle this" and have been in Lubumbashi for 8 months now by themselves.
But that's not the half of it. Throughout the spring, Sister Wassum had a slowly but ever enlarging open sore on her tongue, and was continually losing weight. Not a good sign. After a trip to Johannesburg, it was diagnosed as malignant cancer. They stayed in Johannesburg for several weeks while a skilled surgeon operated and took out part of her tongue. As soon as they were cleared to come back to Lubumbashi, that they did, where they have served diligently and opened many doors for the church. They have a continual positive attitude and help watch over our 14 young missionaries in L'shi. It is always a joy to visit them and share their great attitude.
They went back down to Johannesburg in November to check up on her tongue, and everything is doing fine. We are so grateful for their friendship, their faith and their diligence!!!
The couple on the right are Elder Paul and Sister Ann Koelliker. I wrote a little about Elder Koelliker in another post (see Touring Churches in Kinshasa), and his work for the church in overseeing the building and dedication of so many temples prior to his call to be a General Authority of the church. His work took him to many different countries throughout the world during a time when President Hinckley more than doubled the number of temples operating throughout the world from 50 in 1996 to well into the 120's by the time Elder Koelliker was called to his present calling.
He has worked his entire adult life for the church, in a number of challenging callings. His work experience and travels make him a very well-educated in the ways of a modern dynamic world. Sister Koelliker was a great mom to 7 children, supporting her husband in his career working for the church, and in the calls he received to serve as a leader in his ward (bishop in his late 20's), stake president, etc.
The interesting thing about Sister Koelliker is that for her entire life up to July 2007, which took her into her mid 60's, she lived in the same zip code in Salt Lake City. Raised in it, lived there while attending school, bought a home and raised their children there. Never lived anywhere else -- just in 84109, or whatever the zip code was. And the first time that she lives outside of it, it is in Africa. Although their "home" is in Johannesburg, they travel throughout Africa, including some of the crazy places like the Congo. And she does it with a smile and a grace that silently tells others of what a daughter of Heavenly Father should be like.
Great people. A wonderful privilege to know them, learn from them, and admire them.


One day during the mission tour with Elder Paul Koelliker, a General Authority of the Church who is one of the three leaders of the overall church in Southeast Africa, he wanted to see some of the buildings that the Church has erected here in Kinshasa. The new buildings are magnificient -- the nicest structures for miles around, and they really identify the church in the minds of the Congolese. We visited about 10 buildings during a 5 hour trip. So come along.

As you can see above, the weather was rather wet. When it rains in Congo, it pours -- with no apologies to Mortons' Salt and their slogan. We started off going to the west end of Kinshasa and then working south and east.

This is the road to Kinsuka and Malueka (just pronounce these like Hawaiian -- sound every syllable and you'll do great!!). There's no pavement here -- just dirt roads with 12 - 18 inch undulations in them that turn pretty muddy and yucky quite quickly.

Good thing that our Toyota SUV is part vehicle and part boat!! This was only about 12 - 15 inches deep. Elder Koelliker just said, "President, I trust you." So it was a trial of my faith, as well as his. Fortunately we navigated the waterhole and around the trucks pretty well. Note the licence plate -- KN3563 BH -- just painted on the back of the truck.

The Congo is estimated to only have about 700 miles of paved road in a country with over 60 million people and about the size of the eastern half of United States. Believe it or not, this is one of them -- it just has some rather significant potholes and riverbeds running through it.

But eventually the paved road runs out and we were slithering up a slippery path. Thank heavens for 4 wheel drive!!

Most of the older chapels were homes that were purchased, converted and added onto. Here is the Kinsuka chapel -- typical of those older chapels. You can squeeze about 130 people into the large room used as the chapel, and it has 6 classrooms. The rain was pelting down, but we opened the doors, opened our umbrellas, shouted "Geronimo" and dashed into and around the building. Elder Koelliker was pleased to see the care that the Saints take into their facilities.

Here we are approaching the Malueka / Kimbwala building. It is a modern new stake center-sized building, at the end of a dirt road as you can see. The trees are hiding a beautiful white steeple and much of the building is hidden by the block wall on the perimeter, but you can see the right hand side of the building with a beautiful green wrought-iron fence.
The important thing is the Gospel that is taught and practiced -- not the buildings. The buildings are the hardware -- the Gospel is the software that changes peoples' lives. Could we operate in Africa without these buildings? Yes. But they are a wonderful gathering point for the members and the pride of their communities. The Church has built 8 of these buildings in the last 6 or 7 years, and three more are under construction right now, to go along with the approximately 10 older buildings that we have. And we hope and pray that one day soon, the Prophet will announce a House of the Lord -- a holy temple for this city, country and the great people.
Elder Koelliker was a good sport about traversing through the rain and mud. The leaders of the church are such great people. Always up to facing a challenge, smiling, laughing and then respectfully thinking about how to support the church and its members. The last stop of our trip was at a 10 acre site that the church owns in a commune (section of the city) called Kasavubu. We have a beautiful full-sized chapel, are building a large building for the Seminary and Institute program where teenaged and college students go to attend one hour classes in religious instruction and also to "hang out", and the site has a large corner adjoining a busy road that is a "special site" -- the place where the temple could be built.
When we arrived, Elder Koelliker noted the existing building and the one under construction. But his interest was clearly in the "special site" -- with good reason. For 10 years from 1996 to 2006, Elder Koelliker was in charge of the construction of all the temples the church built during that period. I think he said that he oversaw the construction of 67 temples during that time, from the initial site selection through the construction and the dedication. So he has a very special feeling for temples. He walked out onto the special site, stood and just meditated for a period of time, slogging through the wet dirt in his suit and penny loafer shoes. When he returned, there was a contented smile on his face and a knowing look that didn't have to be explained. It was a joy to be there just to see the expression on his face. One day, soon we hope.......