No mission president could ever come close to fulfilling his responsibilities without two wonderful young "Assistants to the President." These are two young missionaries who, by their dedication and service, and most importantly their willingness to be spiritually led, have proven that they can be entrusted with significant responsibilities to supervise and work with the other young missionaries. I generally have our Assistants serve for a period of six months, and often call them after they have served the first 12 - 14 months of their mission. This means that they will be released from this responsibility and have the opportunity to serve for the last 4 - 6 months of their mission again as "ordinary missionaries", if there truly is such a thing. We think virtually all of our missionaries are truly "extraordinary missionaries", and they really are. So let us introduce you to our two Assistants who are presently serving.
Both of them come from Brazzaville, across the river. And we didn't know it until after Elder Okiery was called in November (Elder Poutance had been called in October 2008) that they are cousins.
Elder Okiery on the left, arrived in July 2007, just 4 days after we arrived. He has been a wonderful missionary, very humble, obedient and hard working. He arrived when he was 19 years old, which is very unusual for our mission. Although most male missionaries in the church start to serve when they are 19, our usual pattern here is that they start when they are 22 - 23 - 24. So to many missionaries, Elder Okiery was just a kid, and they tended to give him a hard time about his age.
But no one has served better than Elder Okiery. He became a senior companion when he had been out 5 months, charged with training a new missionary. His parents are not members of the church. When he had been out 10 months, his father sent him a letter asking him to ask to be released after one year, so he could re-enter university. I called his dad, told him what a great missionary his son was, and promised the father that if he would allow his son the privilege to serve a second year, he would grow as a man and a person in ways that he could never do, attending university. The father quickly relented, much to the relief of Elder Okiery and myself.
On the right is Elder Poutance, who arrived in September 2007, three months after Elder Okiery. He is older, having arrived in the mission at the age of 24. For several years he had worked in an office position for the Brazzaville police force, and had to quit his position to come on a mission. Whether he will be able to regain it when he returns home after his mission is problematic. We hope that he can, but experience has proven to us that most missionaries are not able to go back to their old jobs. A good job is very hard to find, and there aren't many openings. His parents are not members of the church, either.
Both of these elders became members of the church in 2001-02, and served in many church callings while they were saving the money for their mission. Their families don't understand all about a mission, and both of them can hardly wait to get home to teach their families again the restored Gospel.
The Assistants really work hard. They travel throughout the mission, working with the various teams of missionaries, helping to train them, evaluate their progress, etc. Each week when they are in town, we have a meeting for 2 hours or so on Tuesday morning in which we discuss what is happening, what problems are arising and how we might resolve them. Each six weeks, we have a "transfer day" in which up to 25 - 30% of the missionaries in the mission switch companionships or areas to being working with another companion, perhaps in a new area. Their input is vital to the final decisions that I make, although the final decisions only come after long hours of prayer and contemplation.
This picture was taken on Saturday on the way back from Lubumbashi to Kinshasa. They had gone down the previous Saturday morning, and worked for half to a full day with each of the seven missionary companionships in Lubumashi. Additionally they had traveled with Sister Livingstone and I when we went to Likasi to have a meeting with the missionaries there. (See a separate blog for that.) Each morning they were up at 5 or 5:30, and for the most part they slept on the tiled floors of the various missionary apartments where they stayed. It's a hard tough calling to fulfill, but they do their best.
Saturday morning, we were up at 5:30 to catch a plane flight back to Kinshasa. As luck would have it, the plane was late (as always), and they were dog tired. We looked across the aisle at them, and Marsha gave me a nudge. "Take a picture quick!", I urged her.
Don't they look darling -- tired as can be, but great young men. We love them with all our heart.
Our love to all of you -- Don and Marsha