Saturday, January 31, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
She went back to BYU, and eventually met a handsome man named William Moon. They fell in love and were married, and eventually had a family of 8 children -- his, hers and ours. They lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for years, where Bill was an extremely successful pioneer in Silicon Valley. In the 1990's, we both moved into houses in the Riverbottom in Provo in the same ward. They have blessed lives of people wherever they have lived, and our ward in Provo was no exception. Eventually Bill was a councilor in the bishopric and Annette was Stake Relief Society President (for you non LDS church members, this means that she and two other women were responsible for overseeing a church organization for roughly 1,000 ladies that lived in 13 congregations in our neighborhood).
Eventually Bill got tired of commuting to Silicon Valley weekly and retired. He has the most amazing mechanical aptitude, and can literally fix anything. Annette specializes in fixing people's souls with her never ending attitude of service and happiness. They sold their large home several years ago and moved into a condo to get ready for a post-career lifetime of service to others. Within three weeks, Bill was called into the bishopric of his new ward -- a great testament to his ability to serve others spiritually.
Meanwhile, here we were in the Congo with a pressing need to find a new couple to work with us in the office of the mission, to replace the wonderful office couple, Bro. and Sister Thomas who were to be released at the end of March 2008. We were getting desparate and praying for guidance on whom to recruit, since the Church Missionary Department was having trouble finding anyone who would volunteer to come here.
Marsha felt inspired to call the Moons in mid December 2007 and ask them, "How'd you like to spend 18 months in the Congo as missionaries?" Annette's response was, "Gee, we'd love to do that but Bill has some business complications right now that really preclude us from doing that." We felt that the Moon's would be the perfect replacements for the Thomas's, and were really sad that apparently they couldn't come.
One day Marsha was reading emails and screamed a shout of joy and yelled, "Come read this!!!" It was an email from Annette saying,"I can't believe that we are doing this, but we are now able to come and would love to serve a mission." Heavenly Father had opened doors in a miraculous way, and closed others similarly, to where they could now come. Even so, there were more obstacles that seemed to get tossed in their path, but with their faith and prayers and Heavenly Father's help, each problem was resolved and in early March they entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, and arrived here March 13th.
Because Bill can fix anything, I told him to go down and buy out Home Depot -- bring two of everything. So he arrived with 12 bags of luggage -- many of them portable power tools -- 4 drills, saws, sawzalls, etc. and 8 batteries (something no one in the Congo has ever seen), clamps, fasteners, screws, bits, wrenches, hammers, screwdrivers -- you name it. (A big thanks to Karl Smith, a non-member of the church in Provo, who bought the Moon's large home and gave a substantial gift to defray the cost of all the tools.)
What have they done -- maybe more like -- what haven't they done since they arrived. When they had been here 9 months, I sent an email about them to one of their children in the U.S. Here are some condensed thoughts from that email:
1 They run one of the most efficient and effective mission offices in the church. Other missions have 3 or 4 couples to do what they do. The secret -- they're very organized, and they often stay and work until 10 or 11 at night.
2. They teach an English class to 30 to 40 people for 2 hours every Wednesday night, and they make it fun with songs, Gospel teachings and dancing the Hokey-Pokey. You haven't seen "moves" until you see them "shake it all about".
3. Bill can, and has fixed everything, from $ 150,000 lasik surgery microscopes to 50 year old devices in hospitals. If the hospitals had their way, he would just spend 40 hours a week helping them to get their equipment to run correctly. Anything that breaks in the office, he's on it, and fixes it.
4. They have obtained many referrals and done a wonderful job teaching the lessons to some people in English.
5. Helping in their ward -- Annette is the ward music director and Bill does everything -- even offering prayers in French on 2 minutes' notice. See the post about the Kasavubu Ward Christmas party to see one of the many ways they have helped.
6. Putting up with the archaic banking system and fledgling Church Temporal Affairs operations here. You have to have the patience of Job, or of Bill and Annette, to do that.
7. Smiling and influencing everyone for good.
8. Being great friends to the other senior couples and Eustache and Pascal in our office.
The list could go on and on, but you get the idea.
These other heros were here when we arrived and unfortunately (for us) finished their mission in October 2008. More correctly, they finished their mission in September 2008, but willingly stayed on an extra 3 - 4 weeks so they could help orientate their replacement couple as Humanitarian Directors for the Church in the DR Congo.
Meet Farrell and Marilyn Barlow from Salt Lake City. In December 2006 when we were called, the Program Director at the BYU Center for Entrepreneurship, Linda Rich, said, "I've got a cousin going to the DR Congo Kinshasa Mission -- my cousin, Marilyn." Knowing anyone with genes like Linda's would be terrific, we were excited to meet the Barlows and work with them.
What a great couple. They took their little Isuzu pickup truck all over Kinshasa, into places where few would venture, to scout out and then provide Humanitarian Aid projects for the Congolese people. In Humanitarian Aid, the church deliberately stays away from projects that would appear to help members of the church. Humanitarian projects are chosen to benefit the people of the country, without regard to age, gender, religion or any other factor.
What helped the Barlows to be the fabulous success that they were is the unique combination of their skills and talents. Sister Barlow never met a project that could help people that she didn't like. Many times she would start investigating and then campaigning for a project over Bro. Barlow's reservations. With persistence and vision, she would win him over. Then he would use his unique ability to gain the confidence of complete strangers to initiate, plan, perform and evaluate the projects. Sister Barlow's many years of skills as first a nurse and then a training program supervisor for a large group of hospitals and a healthcare HMO were invaluable in working as a team with Bro. Barlow.
The list of their projects goes on and on. Water projects -- wells, and the largest water project undertaken by the church (to bring clean water from a set of springs in the hills over 30 miles to communities of roughly 175,000 people); wheelchairs for the handicapped; health and sanitation informaton and training programs for communities; mattresses and other materials for a community of 10,000 or so homeless people; aid to orphanages; neo-natal training for doctors and nurses; vision care projects; materials for hospitals; and many more that we've forgotten.
They have a terrific blog which modestly lists their accomplishments and their 18 months in the Congo. Go to barlowsinthedrcongo.blogspot.com, and enjoy.
Although they are now back in Utah, their influence is still felt here. They were wonderful people who exhibited the best of caring for others with no thought of themselves. And a great inspiration and example to all of us.
There are so many people like these two couples in the world. We need all of them. We need more of them. Look into your heart as you get to position where you might be able to serve. It won't be convenient or easy. With the current economic climate, you may think that you can't do it. In reality, you can't afford not to do it. Instead of seeing all the reasons "why not", just think about "why - yes". You can do it. And like these two great couples, you will leave the world a much better place, and you will grow so much yourself.
Don and Marsha
Sunday, January 25, 2009
And when they get that vision, they are tremendous. For the first four months of 2009, we are reading the Book of Mormon together as a mission. We prepared a schedule for them which if they will follow and read between 5 and 7 pages a day, they will finish the Book of Mormon at the end of April. In our zone conferences, we are asking each of them to share a scripture that has touched them in some way from the pages they are reading.
Here's the Lubumbashi zone. Last Friday, we just had a marvelous experience for two hours as each of them shared their scripture and why they love it. These missionaries are great because they are serving about 1,000 miles away from the mission headquarters, and I can only get to see them every six weeks. They serve faithfully and are going great. The Sunday before, they had baptized 16 people -- a great harvest of souls for the Lord.
Now a story about two missionaries that brought tears to my eyes. In early January we went across the Congo River to Brazzaville for a Zone Conference there with the 14 missionaries. When it rains here, it really comes down -- in just sheets of water. The result is what you see here -- the road on the way to the building in Brazzaville where we hold our Zone Conferences. As you can tell, it isn't raining today -- this is just the accumulation of the last couple of days of rain. The road has disappeared. There are no sidewalks. Pedestrians are reduced to walking alongside the wall on the left.
The day I did interviews in the afternoon, it started to rain like crazy halfway through the interviews. I had scheduled the missionaries to arrive on 30 minute intervals, giving me 15 - 20 minutes with each missionary to discuss their mission, how they are doing, what I might do to help them, etc. When it started to rain like crazy, I thought that now I would have a time with no interviews, since who would go out in a rainstorm like this.
I was wrong -- as it started to let up ever so slightly, I ventured out of the building and onto the road. There, about 50 meters away, I spotted two missionaries -- Elder Mukamb and Bro. Moselle (a ward missionary who is helping out while we are uneven numbers at the moment), walking towards the building. In their bare feet, with their pant legs rolled up, carrying their shoes so they wouldn't get wet. When they arrived their clothing was soaked, but their shoes and socks were dry. They quickly rubbed their feet with the standing water on the paved stones in front of the building to get rid of the mud, put on their socks and shoes, and came for their interviews.
I just sat by the side of each of them with my arm around their shoulder as we had our interviews. My clothing got soaked as well, but how could you not love them!!! I wish that I had had a camera and had been able to catch the picture of these two elders, resolutely walking in their bare feet, pant legs rolled up, coming for their interview.
In the last picture in this posting, Elder Mukamb and Elder Moselle are on either side of Sister Livingstone. (Somehow I have misposted the Brazzaville picture so it is the last picture and I don't know how to change its position.)
OK -- here are the six noble missionaries who went to Likasi to open that city for missionary work in December 2008. In front kneeling down are Elders Tshibangu and Kalulambi. The four young missionaries on the back row are from left to right, Elders Okiery, Kisala, Poutance and Mbambu. Elders Okiery and Poutance are the two Asistants -- you can read about them in another posting today. The senior couple are Bro. and Sister Motshikana. We wrote about them in an earlier blog -- they are a wonderful African senior couple that some of you are helping to support (if others would like to also help support them, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll tell you how to do it).
So once again, here's the Brazzaville Zone. Elders Mukamb and Moselle, the "walk in the rain and carry your shoes missionaries", are on either side of Sister Livingstone. Sadly, we are missing one set of missionaries from this picture. Elder Mavambu, the leader of the missionaries serving in Brazzaville, had been seriously ill for several weeks, and the doctors had been desparately trying to diagnose his problem. On the day of the conference we found out that he has tuberculosis, so we brought him back across the Congo River with us at the end of the day and had him admitted to the hospital, where he has been for the last 10 days. I visit him often and he is doing much better. Tuberculosis is one of those things that you don't think exists in the world anymore, but nearly everyone here carries the TB virus in some form, and if their health gets run down, the virus becomes active. I saw him today at the hospital and he is doing much much better (and I hope that I haven't caught the virus).
One thing they didn't have in any of the Hope - Crosby movies was a statue like this, which is in the main roundabout in Likasi. It honors Congolese women. And well they should be honored. The women here are incredible -- they do almost all of the work, all of the nurturing of their families. One of the hardest things to teach men here is that they can't hide behind the traditional responsibility of "protecting their family" anymore. They need to get out and be bread winners and providers, and not just sit under a tree and play checkers or talk and drink beer all day, waiting to "protect their family". Fortunately, the "Proclamation to the World on the Family" issued by the leaders of the church in 1995 clearly defines the God-inspired roles of husbands and wives as equal partners in their families, and the goals to be eternal families as well.
And fortunately, nearly all Congolese women are now completely dressed and not like the woman so gracefully reposing in the statue.
For the rest of this blog, we're going to take you along the road from Lubumbashi to Likasi, which is the best road in all of Congo. Except for about 15 tooth-rattling miles, it is a hard-surfaced two lane road of 100 miles, smooth and capable of high speed travel.
Except that high speed travel can be dangerous. The roads are littered with the wrecks of accidents, and mechanical failures. Nothing here is really maintained -- it is just used and abused until it doesn't work anymore. The end result are some really interesting pictures. We could have shown you the car pictures, but the pictures of trucks are far more graphic and fun to see. So here goes.
With all the potholes and unsurfaced stretches of roads, if you don't maintain your truck (car), sooner or later your suspension is going to fail, or a wheel rolls off. Several weeks ago I was driving east of Kinshasa when I noticed a car about 100 meters in front of me coming in my direction, vere (spelling?) across my lane and into the ditch. Meanwhile, half the front axle, still connected to the left front tire, came bouncing down the road towards me. I slammed on the brakes and waited to see which direction I should try to use as an escape route. Fortunately the tire/axle careened into the ditch about 30 meters short of my SUV.
Don't know what happened when this truck lost its left front tire or had a suspension failure, but the resulting swerve across the road and into the ditch in our lane must have been pretty interesting.
Most trucks are used/abused until they die. This veteran has seen a lot of wear and tear on its bed. Notice the rear axle. It's supposed to have dual tires, but when the tires wear out or whatever, they just take that tire off and run with a single tire instead of dual tires on the rear axle. And then they overload the truck terribly, so that blowouts and flat tires are very common. When the tire blows, the BANG! is deafining, and the resultant lurching to a stop is always interesting. You just hope you are not next to or close to the truck.
So there you have another little slice of life in the Congo. We don't post these for sympathy -- just for your information, and want you to know that we love these people with all our hearts. Their life here is so challenging in relation to what our life is, and yet for the most part they are very honest and God-fearing people. And when the Gospel comes into their lives, they are incredible.
Don and Marsha
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
Friday, January 16, 2009
Bemba fled Congo in 2007 when his troops lost out in a power struggle with the existing President and the regular army. When he ventured out of Portugal where he had asylum and into Belgium, he was arrested and tried this past week for the atrocities. The court will render its verdict in 60 days. Everyone in Bangui is hoping for a "Guilty" verdict, as they said that the atrocities were incredible.
The church came to Bangui in the early 1990's through a senior missionary couple. Two branches were organized in the mid 1990's, but when a civil war broke out, the couple left and there has been no work there since then. The two branches eventually dwindled down into one. They have not been visited regularly by any church leaders.
I tried to rationalize not going to Bangui for several reasons. Everytime, the Lord gently reminded me of Jonah and Ninevah. I tried to find a companion to go on the trip, but all the church employees here and several other candidates all quickly said, "Thanks, but no thanks." Reading the U.S. State Department travel warning is good evidence of their reasons. But Sister Livingstone, that brave and incredible companion, declared, "Well, I'm not going to let you go there by yourself." So we packed our "camping out" gear, and off it was to Bangui.
The city is relatively gentle, and there are sections of downtown with office buildings that are pretty decent by comparison to other places we go. In reflection after visiting Bangui, it's certainly no worse than some of the cities where we have districts or branches in the Central Congo.
The above street scene is on the street where the church's chapel is located. A lot of dirt, dust, people walking, ancient vehicles (many of which don't work) and typical dwellings in Africa.
We stayed at the Hotel Central. Tripadvisor.com had a visitor's comments "#1 in Bangui -- only because there are no other options".
From this picture, you see that at one time this was a modern facility. The courtyard had palm trees and other landscaping. Even had a swimming pool. Darn -- we forgot our swimsuits. (But we wouldn't have ventured in, in any event.) There was lots of young people who used the pool in the afternoon. Note the gardener up in the palm tree, whacking down fronds with his machete.
Unfortunately, all was not modern in Hotel Central. Electricity is optional. It was operating when we checked in during the middle of the day. But we came back from our meetings to find the lobby area quite dark. The power needs of the city overpower the supply system in the evening, so there are extended blackouts for 4 - 5 hours.
Trying to find our room in the hallway, lit by only one candle, was an experience in braille reading. One candle for a hallway of about 140 feet.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Brother Willis served as a patriarch for many years, and has received special dispensation to serve as a patriarch for the country of Cameroon. He won't be able to give blessings in French until he is sufficiently fluent, but there are a number of members who understand English sufficiently well to receive their blessing in English. Without Bro. Willis's coming, they might never receive this great blessing in their lives. So we are extra thankful for the Willis's desire to come and serve the people of Cameroon.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
We're here today for the Kasavubu Ward (congregation) Christmas party. Note the only two vehicles in the parking lot are the Moon's truck and our Toyota SUV. There are maybe two or three other cars in the whole ward. Everyone else either rides the beat-up combies or walks to church. Their faith is amazing!!