Au Revoir

2016-05-17_09.42.30Mission President’s Sunset Cruise  –   Cape Town

Well, here we are at the end of our 24 months in Lubumbashi.  There was a time when I thought this day would never come, but now in an instant it seems, we’re here!  These last two years have taken me through an entire gamut of emotions and have given me the opportunity to put theory, or in this case theology, to the test.   I’ve learned first hand that “hard” doesn’t mean “wrong”, that change is good, and that Heavenly Father truly does love us deeply.  I’ve been astonished to discover that our weaknesses can actually be our strengths in certain circumstances, and that He didn’t just ask me to come here in spite of my weaknesses but because of them.

Of all the varied emotions I’ve experienced (and I mean “emotion“), the one that I am feeling now and that overrides everything else, is gratitude!… simple but profound gratitude!… for more things than I could ever hope to list here.  The people and experiences below are just a tiny part.

Senior Couples.  At the end of February, we said good-bye to two of our senior couples.

2016-02-26_01.51.58_2It was a sad day to say good-bye to this amazing couple.  Renee and Vaun Mikesell went above and beyond the call of duty, right to the end.  This was mission number four for them. He took excellent care of the health of our 180 missionaries, while she worked tirelessly trying to get the mission finances in order.  More importantly to me, they were loyal and supportive, no matter what!  Lorin and Nancy Peterson “B” have carried on in their footsteps and no one is more grateful than I am, for all that they do.  Without a medical couple like them, this job would most likely be mine.  (You cannot even imagine.)

2016-03-01_01.43.20_2Neil and Glenda Draper went home just a few days later.  We wondered how we were going to survive without them but the Lord really does provide.  They did an excellent job of training Ron and Shauna Peterson “A” to take their place.  I keep saying that Sister Peterson could run this mission single handed… and I mean it!  She has more skills than the rest of us put together.

I wish I had a fun photo of our two Peterson couples, as well as one of our other couple, Richard and Margaret Bennett.  I can’t even begin to describe all the Bennetts have done for the people of Likasi and how loved they are by them in return.  They are booked from morning to night and barely take time to eat.  Our admiration of them knows no bounds.

2016-02-23_02.18.02Fun times with friends!  I love fabric!  And though it took me about a year for this African fabric to grow on me, I finally followed the example of the other senior sisters.  About the only thing to buy here is fabric, and boy!… did we ever buy fabric!  I’m being conservative when I say that between five of us, we bought over 600 yards of fabric.  I think the employees had mixed feelings when they saw us coming. They knew we were prepared to spend some serious money but I don’t think they really wanted to work for it.  Only fellow fabric lovers can understand the need to see each piece of fabric up close and personal, and take plenty of time making up our minds.  Right Heather?  Hey!  It’s not like they had anything else to do.  Now… I want to hear what you’ve done with all of yours, Sister Draper!

2016-04-15_02.44.00Missionaries who are trying and want to improve themselves.  Can you guess what this is? Exactly what it looks like.  We were impressed with the elder’s innovation. Though there’s only one choice of weight, I guess they can always increase their reps. Those plates are welded on!

Now a little bit about a typical Zone Conference;  Of course there is always instruction from the President on doctrinal subjects (which they love by the way), as well as training from the Assistants, Zone Leaders, Sister Training Leader and me…  But there always needs to be a few minutes of fun!

2016-04-22_06.41.30One of the things our missionaries love the most is a certificate… any certificate!  We do a fun scripture chase/scripture trivia contest at each Zone Conference and award the winners a very official looking certificate, along with a chocolate bar.  Without question, it’s the certificate they are the most excited about.

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Whoops!  I just noticed that we’ve had the year wrong.  Well, if anyone else noticed, they apparently didn’t care enough to mention it.

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Happy missionaries!  For this last round of Zone Conferences, I decided to have some fun along with dinner, where we divided into teams and ran relays and other simple little games.  (After-all… my major in university was Recreational Therapy.)  I had no idea they would love it so much! It was cheap, easy to do and a lot of fun!  We had never seen them smile and laugh so much, nor had they ever seen me in the role of “Game Master”.  One elder said, “I’ve never done anything like this before!  I will remember this day for the rest of my life!” As for me… I was happy to learn that after all these years, I was finally able to put all that time and money spent at BYU, to use!

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The noise of all the fun going on, drew quite the crowd.  However…

2016-05-25_09.26.06_2By the looks on their faces, they don’t know quite what to make of it all!  Fun and games is obviously something they haven’t had much experience with.

2016-04-22_06.09.28Brent’s spiritual as well as physical fortitude.  This was Zone Conference in Mbuji Mayi. You would have no idea looking at this picture, that the temperature in there was hovering around 100 F. That is, not until you see Brent from behind a few minutes later.

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🙂

What you can’t see, is that his shirt is totally wet! … Yes… even the sleeves!  (I think a tiny part of his collar was still dry.)  The fact that it wicked down to his pants gives you an idea of how wet.  I don’t think the missionaries had seen anything like it!

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The weather in Lubumbashi.  This picture was taken after the same Zone Conference and these cute sisters sure don’t look like they suffered any from the heat.  Actually, most of the missionaries prefer the heat of Kasai, to the cold climate of Lubumbashi.  After all, the average temp here in Lubumbashi is only about 85 f.

 2016-04-22_07.03.50_2Two of our “cool” elders leaving Zone Conference.  At first glance, I thought “Wait a minute!  That’s a little too cool for a Mormon missionary!”  …Pretty sure that’s a sucker he has in his mouth… At least that’s the story I’m going with. 🙂

 This Beautiful World!

2016-05-19_02.00.04While in Cape Town for the Mission President Seminar, we took a drive down to the Cape of Good Hope.  It was amazing to me to think we were on the southern tip of Africa, looking out at the cold but beautiful Atlantic Ocean.

2016-05-19_02.02.48_2My sister and brother-in-law were scheduled to meet us in Cape Town and then travel back to Lubumbashi to spend a few days with us.  Unfortunately, they had to cancel about a week before.  Jo and Greg, this would have been much more fun if you had both been with us!  I know you were looking forward to visiting the the Cape of Good Hope.  Would it make you feel any better, if I say that we thought of you at this moment?

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The strength to endure.  Back up to Kasai for the last time.  This time however, we were in the new car that will soon belong to the new Mbuji Mayi Mission President, President Kyungu.  Brent spent an enjoyable ten hours bouncing around in the back seat with our wonderful Assistants.  Each time, the road seems a little worse and the trip a little harder, but maybe that’s just because we’re getting old. 😦  We’ve made this trip at least a dozen times and have spent more than 70 days in Kasai.  I say that deserves a medal… or at least a certificate!

2016-05-26_09.06.20This good man.  The last time in Luputa!  Brent had a few minutes to relax between his eight hours of interviews and dinner with the missionaries.  We always refer to Luputa as the end of the road, which it pretty much is…  for us anyway.

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The blessing of health and safety.  The women in Luputa do a great job for our Zone Conference meal and the elders love it. We always bring our freeze dried but this time we didn’t need it.  To illustrate just how far I’ve come… not only did I eat enough of this to fill me but I picked four goat hairs out of my beans and just kept on eating!  (I really do like the goat meat.)

2016-05-26_08.19.04These are just two of the many wonderful missionaries we have.  If you’re wondering what Elder Bosso is offering me in the ladle, it’s a couple of chicken feet!… Umm, no thank you! (Said sweetly with a smile on my face.)

And then there are always the children of Luputa…  and The perspective you get on our life in Canada

2016-05-26_08.00.14Beauties!

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This little guy always had one hand firmly gripping the front of his shorts.  It didn’t slow him down one bit!

2016-05-26_00.32.54This “free range parenting” does seem to produce some pretty confident kids, especially the little guy in the orange.  I love the expression on their faces…  I think I can read their thoughts and each one is thinking something different.
2016-05-26_00.33.16As I’ve mentioned before children babysit children all day long.  There always seems to be one who is willing to carry a smaller one around for awhile.

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These two aren’t that much bigger than the others, they’re just standing on a little hill. I’ve always been impressed with how good the men here are with babies, and this is why. They’ve had plenty of practice.

2016-05-29_01.45.56The faith of these many good members.  District Conference in Mwene Ditu.  The last time I spoke here, we all experienced a miracle!  It poured rain from almost the moment I started speaking to the moment I finished.  What was the miracle you ask?… It was the middle of the dry season and it never rains in the dry season.  I gave a different talk this time but it wouldn’t have mattered if I had given the last one again.  I doubt they understand much of what I say even though my French has improved significantly.  It doesn’t help that only about 40% speak any french.  I would never say that I speak French but I would feel ungrateful, if I didn’t acknowledge the blessing of at least being able to somewhat communicate.
2016-05-29_01.42.00This picture is of some of the people seated outside of the building.  They have a red tarp overhead to shield them from the hot sun of Kasai.  You might notice that most of the men are inside and most of the people outside are women and children.  We’re working on that, but it will take time.

2016-05-29_04.18.20More of the same.  We are always the only whites in a sea of black.  I will admit that I find this black skin beautiful and anticipate a bit of an adjustment period going back to a world of washed out white.

2016-05-29_08.54.12This is what happens to all of the NGO building projects we’ve seen, not only in Kasai but Burundi and Katanga as well.  Well meaning people thinking they know how to help, build houses for the people that they refuse to live in.  I don’t know why.  They sure look better than what most of them live in.

2016-05-29_11.30.58Electricity and water.  I just had to throw this one in of the sink at the hotel in Mbuji Mayi.  I’ve stayed here more than two dozen times and have never noticed the spout on the bathroom sink before.  IF… they ever had running water, which they never have had during our two years… I would have surely noticed!  The faucet is aimed straight ahead, about belly button level for me.  Just details really!

2016-06-02_09.11.42The love Sister Vance brought into the mission.  Our last group of missionaries returning home.  Well, we know there’s at least one missionary we will see again.  You will be missed by everyone here Sister Vance!  I doubt the workers at the grocery store will ever again see a white woman dancing in their aisles!

2016-06-10_04.59.56The Lord’s protection on the hazardous Likasi Kolwezi road.  Nearly every time we drive this road, we see a new vehicle either upside down or burned out on the side.  It is narrow, full of huge pot holes and teeming with huge mining trucks and semis.  And at this time of year (the Dry Season), there is a new hazard.  The simple solution to getting rid of all the overgrowth, in preparation for the new growing season, is to burn it all.  There are fires all over the place, which miraculously never seem to get too out of control.  This one on the way to Kolwezi, presented a bit of a challenge to our visibility but only for a few seconds, as it turned out.

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This fallen tree presented a much bigger problem upon our return.  The entire road was blocked, with no way around.  As the traffic piled up on both sides of the tree, so did the crowd of onlookers.

2016-06-12_06.21.26Everyone wanted to be the hero and come up with the plan that saved the day!  (So, if everyone else in this picture is of average height, do you get an idea of how big this one guy was?  I was waiting for him to pick up the tree single handed and move it aside!)

2016-06-12_06.33.14_2A couple of men took matters into their own hands and sprang into action!

 

2016-06-12_06.39.42I’m sure their energy was fueled by being center stage, so-to-speak and having everyone’s eyes fastened on them.  But though I was impressed by their balance and skill, I was more concerned that one of them was going to cut their foot off… or at least a few toes!  The whole thing was quite exciting really!

2016-06-12_06.35.00Of course we had to have a few dozen police show up to manage the crowd and insure things didn’t get out of control.  Actually, I’m not sure this guy is a policeman!  Whatever he is… he looks like he means business!  (Now, I’m the first one to admit I don’t know anything about guns, but something about this gun on a string looks a little unusual to me.)

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Pretty soon, the tree was cut and moved to the side of the road.  It was no easy task!  After the men moved what they could, a very large truck was able to get in there and push the rest of it out of the way.  I must say that I was a little disappointed that the whole thing was over so quickly.  I felt like the party was just getting started, when Brent said it was time to hurry back to the car and get home before dark.

2016-06-11_04.09.54A whisper from Heavenly Father that we have made a difference.  While in Kolwezi we met with our wonderful missionaries to say our little good-byes.  They surprised us with some gifts to remember them by… A copper picture of questionable content for Brent, and a beautiful bag and babouche (flip flops) for me.  But by far the best gift was the love we felt from them, as they sang to us.  I have included their song entitled “One Love and One Heart”, at the end of this post.  It is worth watching.

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Well Sister Vance… the sad/happy day has arrived!  Her faithful companion, the amazing Sister Cook, preceded her home by two weeks (she got away without a photo), and we will be just two weeks behind you.  Unbelievable!

2016-06-19_01.33.26This is the farewell photo of our guard Joseph’s family.  That’s eleven children (yours, mine and ours) happily living (I hope) in a tiny two room house.  Somehow, they manage on Joseph’s monthly salary of $140.

2016-06-19_01.35.58My namesake and me.  Meet Caroline!  Joseph didn’t think I knew what he was up to when he told me they had named their new baby girl Caroline.  This flattery comes at a price but unfortunately for them, we can’t give him and his family what they were hoping to receive, by honoring me in such a way.  I have sometimes felt a tad guilty, as he has reminded me on a daily basis for the past eight months, that his daughter “Caroline” is doing well… (hint, hint, hint).  However… as we posed for this photo last Sunday, imagine my surprise when “Caroline’s” big sister was trying to get her attention and called her “Merveille!”  So… is that Merveille Caroline or Caroline Merveille???  Let’s just say I’m not feeling all that guilty anymore.  (I really don’t blame him for trying.)

“We”… actually have another little girl named after “us”.  About a year ago, as we were leaving the Sunday meeting in a city called Fungrume, we noticed a woman sitting on the ground outside.  She looked unwell and like she was in pain.  Brent asked her if we could help in any way but she shook her head and calmly answered that she was simply getting ready to deliver her baby.  Unfortunately, we were unable to stick around for the arrival but when we next visited, we were informed that Forast Caroline was doing just fine. 🙂

The past few weeks and months have sped by even faster than I imagined they would.  The day is here and I have to say that I am ready.  But after all of the hard stuff, Heavenly Father has been very kind and has allowed us to see and feel a change in the mission that we didn’t think we would ever see.  We’ve done our best and it was enough… And that is the one thing that I am the most grateful for of all.

Mea chers, chers Missionaires… Je vous aime.  Au revoir.

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Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?

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Elder Mukundi and Elder Mbelec greeting us at the Mbuji Mayi airport.  Those hats really do help shade their eyes and keep them cool in the heat of Kasai.  I love them!… the elders and the hats!

So… we have two and a half months to go and in a blink, we’ll be home.  Have we accomplished anything that matters?  Have we made a difference?  Well, I know Brent has, though he doesn’t see it. But the role of the “Mission President’s Companion” (that would be me), is somewhat vague and undefined.  My main role here is to take care of him, support him and do whatever I can to ease his burden.  I’m good with that!  I think that’s what I’ve always done! (and quite happily I might add)  However, there are other ways I thought I would be able to serve, that frankly, just haven’t panned out!

My eighteen month mission that I served in Italy, as a young missionary, was the most spiritually rewarding experience of my life.  I returned home on a spiritual high and a somewhat Utopian view of what I thought mission life, and therefore life as a Mission President and wife would be like around the world.  When we received the call to serve here in the Congo as Mission President, though we were surprised at both the timing and the place, we felt fairly well prepared (if one can ever feel prepared for something like this).  We thought we would be able to draw on our previous experience and put it all to use, in what we knew would be a very demanding two years.  The interesting thing is… we discovered that nothing we felt we might have to offer seemed to be needed, wanted or of any use here.  And that the character traits or skills that were needed, we just didn’t possess!  It’s like we spent our lives packing and preparing for a possible future expedition to the Sahara, and found ourselves dropped off in the middle of Antarctica instead!  Or like showing up for a renovation job with all the tools needed to do the electrical work, and discovering that it’s really the plumber they need!  I won’t bore you with even attempting to list the many frustrations of trying to fit a “square peg into a round hole” but I can say that we have tried our best.  I’ve just had a difficult time finding my purpose.

Well, enough of that!  Time to play catch up!  It’s been a long time, so here’s a few pictures of the past few months.  (You will notice that my pictures are rather dull. I seldom take pictures anymore.  What can I say?  I’ve lost my eye and my interest for new things I guess.)

2015-11-11_03.55.002015-06-18_02.56.57Speaking of someone with a purpose…  This is Ilunga.  He is one of the hardest working men I know.  He works from 6:30 to 5:00, six days a week, as the gardener for the Mission Complex.  Each day he greets me with a typical Congolese greeting.  Taking his hat off with his left hand and putting his right hand over his heart, he gives a slight bow, a big, beautiful smile, and a warm “Bonjour Soeur Thomas”.  He doesn’t have to work as hard as he does.  He works hard because he loves to work! If there’s nothing that needs doing, he makes work for himself.  About five or six months ago he decided to dig up all the “lawn” in the complex and replace it with clean new dirt into which he hand plants little sprouts of grass.  Simple and easy enough?  It has been a huge job (he’s still at it) and he has done all this with a shovel and a wheelbarrow.  I wish I could say that the results were worth the effort but unfortunately, I think it looked better before.  The sprouts he plants look like what we in Canada would call quack grass, and everything he weeds out of it looks an awful lot like our nice grass from home!

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Back in the fall, Brent met a South African business man launching a building project called Luano City.  He was able to connect him with the church employment specialist, which resulted in jobs for over sixty of our faithful members.  It hasn’t been problem free. Honesty and trust are always an issue here, but even for these few months it has been a huge blessing for so many.  The big question is, what will happen when Brent is no longer here to act as mediator?

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Though some of the men have been trained, thanks to the Church’s training programs (Elder Atkinson, you left your mark.) most of them have to learn on the job.  Measuring, leveling, and pretty much everything that goes along with it, is new to them.  This has definitely been a case of “two steps forward, one step back”.

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November took us to another Mission President’s Seminar in Johannesburg.  It was fun to visit a crocodile park and get up close and personal with some of the residents.  Even crocodiles can be cute… when they’re babies!

2015-11-19_06.14.46This guy was a wonderful spokesman for the reptiles under his care.  He had just the right balance of love and respect for these wonderful animals.  You could sure tell he loved his job!

2015-11-19_06.49.18_2Here’s Brent with an albino python… or is it an albino boa?  Well, whatever it is, it is a big yellow snake and I felt no need to hold him, no matter how friendly he was supposed to be. The guide told us about one of the workers that went into one of the cages to change a light bulb.  He thought the snake was asleep (not this snake),  but the snake got him by the leg and by the time the other workers got to him, the snake had coiled around him so tightly, he couldn’t draw breath.  I don’t remember how they got him free, but the guy said that he felt like he had a truck sitting on his chest.  By-the-way…  the Congo is full of snakes but we haven’t seen a one!  Well, Brent claims he saw one on the road to Likasi, but there were three other people in the vehicle and we didn’t see it!  Just sayin’!

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Okay.  Now this is more like it!  You still have to be careful of those teeth and claws!

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Brent LOVES cats!  He loves the strength and power he can feel, no matter the size.

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We drove through this lion park in a big vehicle protected with metal grating.  The young woman acting as our driver and guide, delighted in recounting the story of how a few months earlier, a tourist had been pulled through the open window of her car by a lioness. “Of course, she was half eaten by the time the wardens arrived.”, she added with relish. The moral of the story?… When the signs say to leave your windows rolled up… leave the windows rolled up!

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This giraffe ignored her handler and decided to check out the menu at the park’s food court.  She pretty much had the run of the place!  He was trying to bribe her out of there with some bread slices, but she wasn’t falling for it.

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Cute, right?  She all but smiled for the camera!

2015-12-11_01.41.56We have the worst luck with mission vehicles!  Immanuel was alone when he rolled the truck on the way back from Kolwezi.  Miraculously, he walked away from it without a scratch!

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Our first flat tire!  Trusty Godefroid had the wheel when it blew and we were all fine.

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Can you believe it?!  That was a brand new Bridgestone tire with only 80 km on it!  Luckily, we had a brand new spare to replace it.    Wait a minute!…

2015-12-15_07.09.54That’s “Brightstone”, not “Bridgestone”!   Hmmm… Well, what would you expect?! 🙂

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Our Mwene Ditu missionaries awaiting the Zone dinner.  As you can tell, the sisters like dressing as twins.

2016-01-08_00.20.22Homeward bound!  Gotta love the perks of flying CAA!  Who needs leg space, when you can squeeze on a few more rows of passengers?  David… I think you would just have to lay in the aisle!

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Our last Christmas in the Congo!  A fun and delicious dinner with the best people in the world!

2015-12-25_09.22.18Our dear friend Aimee.  Her second Christmas with us and according to her, they’ve been the best Christmases of her life.  We will miss you Aimee, or as they say en Francais, “You will miss us.”

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No, the missionary on the right is not heading off to the Yaught club.  He’s heading home in a few weeks and wanted to strut his stuff at Zone Conference.  This is just a sampling of what you can go home with.  I’ll just leave it at that.

2016-02-10_01.16.00And… We’re back on our way to Kasai.  As usual, Brent is asleep before we leave the runway.  It’s not that we mind Kasai really, though Brent does come home sick more than not.  But more than anything, it’s the whole airport rigamarole and not knowing if and when we can actually get back home to Lubumbashi!

2016-02-10_01.15.40I think that like most everything else here, the airplanes have had a few previous lives. We’ve also traveled on planes with bench seating!  You know,…  like the benches on a school bus?!

2016-02-12_00.28.36The Inn at the Dwiulu.  This is where travelers can get a little rest and catch a bite to eat before moving on with their load.  I’ve written before about the bridge at the Dwiulu River, aka Crocodile River, and how we hold our breath and cross our fingers every time we cross. Well, I guess it finally disintegrated to the point that it could only be used by pedestrians and motorcycles.  I’m just glad we were safely back home before it happened!

2016-02-11_23.43.04This road crew was hard at work patching holes caused by the hard rains and traffic.  This is the only road crew we’ve ever actually seen, and one can’t help but wonder how they can make a dent in countless miles of those wild roads.  I’m sure that within a week or so after moving on and the subsequent rains that follow, the road will look pretty much as it did when they began.  Oh well!  At least someone is trying.

2016-02-14_02.45.58_3Back in Mbuji Mayi for the big event!  Elder and Sister Anderson’s visit!  The sisters had dresses made in matching fabric, along with ties for the elders.  They even had a tie for Brent and a jacket made for me.  I was impressed.  The jacket fit me like a glove,…  a tight glove,… just the way they like them.  I asked how they knew my size and they said they just showed the seamstress a picture of me.  It’s a good thing she didn’t have me pegged for a couple pounds lighter or I wouldn’t have been able to get it on.  They were so excited!

2016-02-14_01.29.18Brent did the translating for Elder Cook.  We love that man!  Elder Anderson of course, didn’t need a translator.  His French was very good, with just a sprinkling of Portuguese. After all, when you speak several languages, there’s bound to be a few words that jump in there from some where else.  He was as warm and kind as one would expect.

2016-02-14_02.37.20Can you find them in the crowd?  There were close to two thousand who showed up.

2016-02-14_05.22.12Well, Sister Anderson may be tiny but she isn’t hard to spot in this crowd.

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Here we are back at The Flats, our home away from home in Mbuji Mayi.  They have done some significant upgrades since our last visit and replaced the sofa and chair.  They had even installed a toilet seat!  Now, if we could just get some running water.

Well… HAVE I done any good in the world today?  I hope so, but it sure isn’t easy to see OR feel, for that matter.  Recently, I found myself yearning for “simpler” days, when all six of our children were still at home.  I knew my purpose then!  I was needed!  But as Mom would say, “There is a time and a season.”  That season has long since passed and a new one has begun.  What I do know, is that whether we’re in the Sahara or the Antarctic, I’m good, as long as I’m with him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Just a Spoon Full of Sugar

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What?!

It’s no secret that I’ve found our life here somewhat difficult at times… but a couple of weeks ago, as I contentedly sat with some people I love, I heard the voice of Julie Andrews singing in my head, “Just a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down, the medicine go dowwwn, the medicine go down…”  It’s true that our happiness in life depends more on our attitude than anything else, but sometimes… it’s just staring you in the face and you don’t even have to try!

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So, in my last post I said there seems to be only one kind of excitement here.  Turns out I was wrong!  Who knew that Lubumbashi has their own Spruce Meadows?!  Okay… it is on a scale of about 1% of Spruce Meadows… but still!  When Sister Mikesell found out about it, we were all SO excited!  Well, not the Bennetts so much.  Yes!… They have arrived! They were good sports and of course came with us.  Elder Bennett said, “I can’t believe we travelled 36 hours to the other side of the world, and are sitting in Africa watching horses jump fences.”  We assured him that it would be the only thing to go, do or see here, until it comes around this same time next year.  (Besides our one hour “safari” that is.)  Sister Vance was in heaven!

2015-10-23_06.48.04It was mostly kids on some pretty small horses, but Wow!…  Some of those amazing little horses could sure jump!

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Well, he said he had a good time but every time I turned around he was doing one of the above.  You know what they say… “You can take the President out of the Mission Office but you can’t take the Mission Office out of the President”… or something like that.  Awww…

I just don’t take many pictures anymore, so here are some random photos from the past.

2015-09-02_09.24.02Three times a year for every second Zone Conference, in one week we feed the seventy”ish” missionaries from Lubumbashi, at the Mission Home.  It’s a snap really.  There are very few things they like, so when I found something they did like, I decided to stick with it. For a group of 25, I cook two large rice cookers full of rice, one large slow cooker full of cut up beef with seasonings, the equivalent of five or six cut up chickens, three or four big packs of spaghetti, bottles of water, and a few chocolates each for dessert.  Easy peasy!

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When we have Zone Conference up in Kasai, we have the Relief Society sisters prepare the meals for us.  The missionaries like these meals way better than the ones I prepare… And I’m not offended in the least!  After all, it almost doesn’t count as a meal without fu fu. The sisters in Mbuji Mayi do an especially good job.  I really like the combination of their rice, banana plaintain and a good old American style salad thrown in for good measure.   …And the goat of course!

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They pull off a piece of fu fu, work it between their thumb and fingers, scoop up some sombe or sauce, and down it goes with hardly a chew!  Some elders and sisters will eat three or four of these along with their meal!

2015-10-05_07.55.59As usual, Brent was the last in line but this time they ran out of plates.  No problem!  At least they didn’t run out of food!

2015-10-05_07.50.40They always wash their hands just before and after they eat.  Without running water, which there never is, this works just fine.

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Thought I might as well throw this in under the “food” theme.  Here’s a P-Day’s worth of baking.  Artisan bread and chocolate chip banana bread.  Delicious!… If I do say so myself!

2015-08-29_00.40.11Okay, I know no one really cares but…  This is our guestroom and the nicest room in the Mission Home.   It is all stuff we brought with us…  From Ikea if you’re wondering!

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Okay.  I take pleasure in little things.  This is an old oil painting that I found here in Lubumbashi that goes perfectly with the above bedding.  I love it when things come together!  My sister Jo would call that “separated at birth”

 

2015-08-09_03.46.20I think I’ve already mentioned how much I love trees, and here they are especially beautiful.  The above is two trees actually!  Unfortunately, as the one on the left grows bigger and stronger, it wraps itself around the original tree eventually strangling it.  I’m sure there is a positive lesson in there somewhere but that’s going to require more time to think about than I have right now. 🙂

2015-08-09_03.46.46All those leaves you see are from the one living tree.  There’s something very cool about this though… right?

2014-10-23_06.23.36Yes… Avacados!  They are quite easy to find, but not as easy as mango trees.  They are everywhere!

2015-10-05_03.04.30We never cease to be amazed at the way they can pack people into the vehicles here.  At least this one has some “air conditioning”.

2015-10-04_03.47.33Believe it or not, we were driving down this street in Mwene Ditu in the Land Cruiser.  I couldn’t help but cringe a little, as the people had to move all their wares to give us room to pass.  I don’t think we would have had the nerve, if one of us were driving but Godefroid didn’t bat an eye!

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This is one of the things I actually like about Mwene Ditu.  The Carrfour is full of these little guys.  This one kept peeking into the open doorway of our hotel room and then looking back at his friends.  I know what he was thinking… “Hey Guys!  Come take a look at this!  This one’s white!

2015-10-29_07.48.42_2Our last group of sisters to head for home.  They were a good group and we will miss them. There’s Sister Vance and our new Sister Bennett in the middle.  Our contingent from Alberta is growing!

Yes… life here (and anywhere else for that matter) can be difficult but there are always things to make us smile, if we’re so inclined.  I love some well known advice from our beloved Gordon B. Hinckley, who always seemed to have a positive outlook on life no matter what the situation.

“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he’s been robbed.  The fact is that most putts don’t drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to just be people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, and most jobs are more often dull than otherwise.

 Life is like an old time rail journey… delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.  

The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride.”

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Just another day in the DRC

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Beautiful!

I’m so far behind in posting.  I’ve been slowly adding pictures to this for weeks, hoping for some inspiration.  Nope!  Nothing!  So… Here are just some random photos.

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So, I guess it was time for the Mission President to get a new car!  Unfortunately, just one week after, we had our first real accident in the DRC.  It was no big deal really.  We were just inching our way through a busy intersection downtown, in bumper to bumper traffic as usual, when a car came from the right and hit us, right in front of the front tire.  People were everywhere of course and very helpful.  As luck would have it, it happened right in front of one of the many police stations, and so of course they were there in a flash.

2015-09-12_01.42.49Once again, Justin came to our rescue.  We never know what to expect, but this time everything went surprisingly well!  In fact, I thought it was quite a nice experience!  No one yelled or got mad.  No one blamed the white people, and the driver of the other car unexpectedly accepted the blame.  We all went to the police station where they took down everyone’s information.  The other driver’s car was not damaged (at least nothing you could recognize that wasn’t already there) but was impounded until the repairs for our car were paid for by him.  Of course he had no insurance and as a taxi driver, needed his car to make what little living he could.  Brent told him not to worry and that we would take care of the repairs.  He was very grateful of course.  So grateful in fact and so relieved, that he thought he might as well ask if we would throw in a few extra $ just for good measure.  It never hurts to ask!… Right?

2015-09-12_01.30.05Taking pictures of the accident gave me an opportunity to take this picture without anyone really noticing.  As a rule, the police don’t like to have their picture taken…  At least not for free.

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I thought I might as well throw in a couple more pictures of our mission fleet.  About a week ago, our Assistants were broadsided by a drunk driver.  Aren’t there supposed to be some lights in those little holes?

2015-10-20_03.32.56And then a few days later, the Mikesells and the Sisters had quite the experience, in the newest and nicest truck in our shrinking fleet.  You could call it a “Hit and Run”, only Elder Mikesell was the one “hit” and the one that “ran”.  Such is life here in the DRC.  Well, Elder and Sister Davis!… Are you missing Lubumbashi driving yet?  Your truck is definitely looking a little worse for wear!  But hey!  It’s a little over a year old now and it was just a matter of time. 🙂

2015-08-27_04.47.26  This was so exciting!  Two beautiful, big, new buildings in Likasi that have just been completed.  We were invited to be part of the final inspection before handing over the keys.  We had no idea these buildings were being built and we’re up there all the time!  We knew nothing about this when we decided to put the Bennetts, a new couple that will arrive next week, up in Likasi with the role of member support.  It was one of those moments, when the pieces of the puzzle all fall into place.  I think they will come to love Likasi and I know the members are going to love them!

2015-08-27_05.23.43This is one of the bathrooms, with granite counter tops and all!  Of course it hasn’t been used yet.  I’ll be interested to see if it looks anything like this in a few months.

2015-08-27_04.53.07Some of my favorite women in the mission.  They are truly amazing!  Zach, there’s your future sister-in-law!  The members of Likasi were out in full force to take a tour of their new buildings.

2015-08-23_00.58.39And of course, our cute sister missionaries were there to do their part.

2015-08-27_05.39.47They really are easy to love.

2015-08-27_06.13.54The streets of Likasi.  Not bad right now in the dry season, but in another month it will be another story.  No one thinks a thing of it though.  It simply is, what it is!

2015-08-27_08.28.44I think we are all really looking forward to the rainy season.  This is what the roads are like right now, after almost seven months with no rain.  That is a truck we couldn’t see until we were right behind it.  All of us, the missionaries old and young, are suffering from the dust in one way or another.  The young missionaries all complain of their eyes hurting from the dry weather and the dust.  They are convinced that all they need is a pair of sunglasses to cure the problem.  In fact, they can even back up their claims with signed notes from the optometrist, stating that without sunglasses they will go blind… adding, “Please allow him to buy some glasses from me.”

2015-08-27_08.31.29Driving through one of the many little villages, I spotted this man getting a haircut and a shave.  They do it with an old-fashioned razor blade that they attach to a little piece of wood.  I don’t know how they manage to get it so short and so even, but they do!  By the looks of that roof, they’re not taking any chances with the wind!  Thankfully, it doesn’t get very windy here, at least not by southern Alberta standards.  Strong winds do occasionally come though, and with it, injury and death.  One of our guard’s little grand-daughters was killed when a brick from the roof fell on her head.  So sad.

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District Conference in Likasi is just like Stake Conference anywhere else.  It’s a fun time of gathering together with members from other Branches.  This van pulled into the parking lot and all these people in the picture got out.  Brent counted 29 passengers.

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That’s right!  29 people in this van!

 

Back to Kasai once again.  Getting through the airport here is quite the ordeal, even though we have someone working for us, to smooth the way.  It quite literally takes hours and I will never again complain about the airports in North America.  (Okay.  Don’t hold me to that.)  Anyway, there is no such thing as an actual line to wait your turn because there is no such thing as “waiting your turn” anywhere in the DRC.  You may think you are the next person, but that can and usually does change in a split second, when someone either pushes you aside to get in front of you, or is quicker than you in putting down their passport or handing over their money or ticket, etc.  (Remember to float, remember to float.)  On this particular trip, we had finally worked our way through the crowd to one of the wickets.  We then had to wait for another ten or fifteen minutes, while the woman working there decided to slowly make her way through a stack of Passports sitting to the side.  When she finally got to us, she casually informed us, with a certain amount of satisfaction I might add, that we would have to go to another wicket.  It took close to another hour to finally get everything back into our hands.  We were later told that she just didn’t want to help us because we didn’t give her any “sugar”.  Such is life in the DRC.  However, I have seen some very real improvements in the fifteen months we have been here, and that bodes well for the future.

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Here we are safely on the ground in Mbuji Mayi once again.  As I have mentioned before, I am really not a fan of travelling.  The good news is…  now that Bujumbura and Uvira are off-limits, we only have to fly to Kasai.  The bad news is… CAA is the only airline that goes there!  I’ve got a few stories but for now, suffice to say that when you land, the passengers erupt in applause.  Our wonderful and trustworthy assistants (I think these two really are), Brent’s first councilor and his wife, as well as the Drapers accompanied us on this trip.  You know the old saying… “Misery loves company!” 🙂  Actually, it’s getting to be old hat!

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Welcome to Mbuji Mayi… again!  Nine down and just three more to go.  …And so begins the tour.  Mbuji Mayi, Mwene Ditu, Luputa… And then back the same way we came.

2015-09-30_09.31.34This time, our old standby The Carrfour”, was already booked.  We spent one night in this hotel, and though the people were wonderful, we realized how great The Carrfour actually is!  Everything is relative…  Right!

2015-09-30_12.04.52This bed pretty much filled the room.  Getting into our suitcases and moving around the room, reminded me of those little plastic puzzles, where you have to keep moving the numbers around to get them in the correct order.  However… I think we were lucky enough to get the Honeymoon Suite!

2015-09-30_11.51.46This gives you an idea of the space we were dealing with.  I told Brent… This is the first bathroom I have been in where you can sit on the toilet, soak your feet in the tub, and spit in the sink all at the same time.

2015-09-30_09.43.07What a fun dinner this was!  Brent’s second councilor in the Mission Presidency lives in Mwene Ditu, just down the road from the new hotel.  His wife had worked hard to provide us with a delicious meal in their home.  (Yes… It is always the same menu, but it really has begun to grow on me.)  The best part was the mother hen and her chicks, that came walking into the room as we sat down to eat, and having two cats fighting between our legs for scraps under the table.

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This was an eventful day for us and the members of the church in Mwene Ditu.  Brent released the District Presidency and four Branch Presidencies.  He then called a new District Presidency, created two new Branches and called six new Branch Presidencies. Whew!  It was a busy few days for him, his two Councillors and Elder Draper.  This picture was taken about an hour before the meeting began (in a rented building which is much larger than it looks here).  By the time the meeting started, the room was packed with two to a chair, in some cases.  They had tents and chairs set up outside that were full, and people standing outside by all of the windows.

A couple of months ago when we were here for District Conference,  I was assigned to train the Women’s Auxiliaries for 45 minutes on Saturday afternoon.  I will never forget the feeling I had as I walked across a field, to the building where the women were waiting.  I felt so alone.  Different culture… different color skin… different language.  And yet I had no choice!  I simply had to do it… In French!  As I walked across that field, the words came into my head, “Like a lamb to the slaughter…”  Well… it wasn’t exactly a slaughter.  It actually turned out better than I thought it would…  The slaughter was yet to come.

That same evening I had been assigned to speak to the adults in one big meeting held in the above building.  I was told I had ten minutes, so I prepared a talk to read that would take pretty much exactly that!  What I didn’t know was that they were translating the french into Tshiluba….  Okay…  So now my ten minute talk was a twenty minute talk! No big deal Brent said.  He always ad libs and he would just make up the difference!  So I take a deep breath and stand up to the pulpit, just as I hear the pitter-patter of rain begin on the TIN roof.  (Check out the roof above!)  That can’t be rain!… It’s the middle of the dry season and it NEVER rains in the dry season!  Suffice to say that the pitter-patter turned into twenty minutes of torrential rain accompanied by crashes of thunder.  There I was yelling my feeble french into a mike that really doesn’t work, followed by my translator yelling into his mike.  They still couldn’t hear me… and if they could, I’m sure they couldn’t understand me.  I kept turning around looking at Brent, hoping I could just stop and sit down.  Nope!  My patient translator just kept smiling and nodding at me to continue on.  I seriously just wanted to cry.  Once again, a lesson in humility and submission.  No sooner had I finished my talk and sat down, when the rain stopped as suddenly as it began. Seriously!  Well, tell me… What would you think if that was you?  Do I say or do anything that matters?!  It was not a great day over-all.

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Thank goodness for sleep and the new day that follows!  After Sunday’s District Conference, everyone stayed around visiting and taking pictures.  This sweet sister certainly has a style of her own!  She followed me around for awhile before asking if she could have her picture taken with me.  As soon as the picture was taken, she whispered in my ear her real reason for following me around.  “I really like your I-Pad and I really want it.  Will you give it to me?”  I tried explaining that it has all of my important things on it, and that it would be useless to her anyway without either electricity or internet access. This is nothing new.  We are routinely asked for just about anything and everything…  our watches, our cameras, our glasses, our shoes and one time I was asked for my skirt.  I think they figure, “What have I got to lose?”  “The worst she can do is say no.”  The simple rule is… never lay anything down you’re not ready to part with.

2015-10-04_00.09.09My friend Janet and her darling daughter-in-law.  She is always there to greet me and give me a kiss, when we come to Mwene Ditu.

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Janet and her husband are strong and faithful members of the Church.  Is it just me, or does this picture remind you that famous American painting of the farmer and his wife? All he needs is a pitchfork!

2015-09-03_09.05.00Clean-up after one of our Zone Conference dinners at the Mission Home.  I am SO grateful for all the help of our amazing Senior Sisters – Sister Mikesell, Sister Vance and Sister Cook. I don’t know why Sister Draper is not in this picture, because she is always there to help out whenever we need her.

So… this is our life in the DRC Lubumbashi Mission!  For the most part, one day is pretty much like the next and that’s okay!  There seems to be pretty much only one type of excitement here, and we like to keep THAT kind of excitement to a minimum.

2015-08-30_05.44.49Sweet Sisters

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Saying Goodbye to Lincoln

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I knew when we left for our mission, that Linc wouldn’t be there when we returned.  I said my goodbyes then… Sort of.  I have been dreading this day and crying over this day for years, and now it’s here.  Oh, how I wish I could be there to hold his head in my lap as he slips away to join whoever and whatever is waiting for him beyond.  I always felt I owed him that.  Thank goodness, one who loves him almost as much as I do, is there to take my place.

I know there are many who know exactly what I’m feeling right now.  We are the ones lucky enough to have both given and received love from one (or more) of these pure and innocent spirits that are not quite our children, but almost.  Yes, Lincoln was a dog… but no ordinary dog.  (Are there ANY ordinary dogs, given the love and attention they deserve?)  Lincoln loved people, especially babies, was as kind as he was big, and had the gift of always seeming to know who needed his love and attention.  I know the purpose of this blog is to write about my experiences here in the Congo, and though you may not see it as such, saying goodbye to my Lou is one of them.  Just let me tell you one of my favorite stories about Lincoln, that best illustrates his goodness.  Isn’t that what we all need to do when we grieve?

A few years ago, I was standing at the open door of our home talking to a friend who was on his way out, when Linc appeared from around the side of the house.  He had been out galavanting as usual, but this time, he had come home bringing a friend with him.  The friend, obviously a stray, hung back while Linc tried to encourage her to follow him in. Now you know I love dogs, but this was the third stray in a couple of months that he had brought home.  This one was matted and thin and I wasn’t quite sure I wanted her bringing “whatever” into the house.  Besides, my friend and I were in the middle of a conversation, so I put my hand up to stop the stray from coming any closer.  As we continued to talk, Linc stopped at the door, looked up at me and waited, asking if “she” could come in.  In exasperation, I told Linc to either come in or go out, but the stray was not coming in!  We continued our conversation as Linc walked between us and into the back entry, where I had put down his food for the day.  A few seconds later he was back again.  This time, our conversation stopped and we watched, as he walked back outside with his bowl of food in his mouth.  He carried it over to where his little friend was waiting, placed the bowl down in front of her and then stood back, as she hungrily gulped down the food.  “Did I just see what I think I saw?”, my friend asked in surprise.  Yes… That was Link.

I think God must have created dogs, as a gift to help us get through the tough parts of life. At least that’s what they’ve done for me.  Lincoln loved unconditionally and was always by my side when I needed him most.  I feel him there watching over me still, and when I close my eyes, I can see him happily running and barking with Simon, Sam and Little Lass.  One of the many things I don’t know, is exactly HOW it will be when we leave this life.  But one of the few things I DO know, is that those little souls with whom we have shared so much love, will be there waiting to greet us.

DSCN0176A winter’s walk with the boys.

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Learning to Float

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I never was a good floater.  I remember my first swimming lessons.  The teacher had me lay out on the water while she supported me with one hand under my back and the other under my legs, with the instructions to trust her and just relax.  How could I relax, knowing that she would take her hands away and I would sink like the Titanic?  It was nearly always the same.  Try as I might, either my feet would go first or I would panic and fold like a jackknife before planting my feet safely on the bottom of the pool. (Remember, the water was chest deep at the most!)

So what does that have to do with our life here in the Congo?  Let me try to explain.  I have never denied that I am a bit of a control freak.  “Strong Willed”, “Outspoken”, “Helicopter Mother”, “Sergeant Major”. (I’m sure there are other terms that have been used to describe me, but you get the idea.)  However, my experiences here in the Congo are changing me… or at least I hope they are.  I have observed that in this country, the people have very little control over what happens to them and as a result I suppose, seem to be able to accept things pretty much as they are.  I think I used to see this as somehow wrong, and that they needed to make more of an effort to take charge of their lives and make things happen. But what I have realized after the events of the past week, is that they are masters at “floating”. In other words, they have learned to relax and trust in what they refer to as “God’s Will”. In one of my favorite books,”Light in the Wilderness”, Catherine Thomas states, “If we can accept that-which-cannot-be-changed as a reflection of what God would have unfold, then we can have peace.”  Well this past week for us, has been a real life tutorial of that theory and guess what?… I have learned she’s right!  Just so you know… this is a long one.

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Our adventure began well enough.  We were even unexpectedly accompanied to Johannesburg by the Drapers, who were planning on having a few medical needs taken care of there.  They were in for a few surprises of their own however.  The above picture is at the Lubumbashi airport, where young boys eagerly await anyone who will pay them to shine their shoes.  Brent has always been a stickler on well shined shoes, but even though we came with an ample supply of shoe polish, I don’t think he’s used it once, thanks to our frequent visits to the airport.  This was a first however… He had two of them shining his shoes at once.   As an aside,… see those beautiful suitcases beside Brent?…  They’re the Draper’s that they bought new before coming on their mission.  Beside the normal wear and tear, they will go home bearing a few extra signs of their life here in the Congo. When they weigh your bags up in Kasai, they just write the weight right on your suitcase, with a black felt pen in big letters… 18 kg., with “ELDER” thrown in for good measure.

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I thought I would add this in here just because it’s a good story.  A few weeks ago we were driving a couple of sisters back to their apartment after a fun dinner out.  It was dark as we drove down one of the main streets in Lubumbashi, when we noticed a lot of police (there are always a lot of police), blowing their whistles and waving all of the cars over to the side of the road.  It was easy to see all the lights coming behind us, as a procession of big motorcycles and hummers accompanying a big black SUV, passed us as we waited on the side of the road.  When the last light had passed, I gave Brent the all clear and told him we could go now.  We pulled out into the street and had gone only a couple of feet, when a couple of open hummers with soldiers in the back drove recklessly close to us, yelling something and shaking their guns at us.  Before we knew what was going on, one of the vehicles escorted us rather roughly to the side of the road (as you can see from the above). How were we to know that we had pulled out into the middle of THE PRESIDENT’S procession through town?!!!  When we pulled to the side the second time, a jeep pulled up beside us and a soldier jumped out (you could tell he was not your regular run-of-the-mill soldier).  He ran up to the side of the car asking what embassy we belonged to.  He had already determined we were no threat to the safety of the president, even before Brent explained that we were just missionaries and thought the motorcade had finished!  He turned without even listening, jumped back into the jeep and sped off… and that was the end of that!   We were left with nothing more than a few scratches on the car and two visibly shaken sister missionaries in the back seat.  I’m sure all the other motorists and people on the street who witnessed the whole thing, were scratching their heads and wondering who the idiots in the little red SUV were.  Oh well!

2015-08-13_22.23.32Okay.  Back to our trip.  The next night and morning was spent in Kigali, Rwanda, where we experienced the calm before the storm so to speak…  English, paved roads, a variety of delicious food and the delightful company of Elder Leibel and Sister Torro.  Our plan was to drive to Uvira, DRC that day and so, accompanied by Frere Jean-Paul, we set off on what we were assured would be a five hour drive, most of which would be on the beautifully paved roads of Rwanda.  What we got however, was a fourteen hour “trek” which became part of a five day odyssey.

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Driving through Rwanda, we were impressed with the way every bit of land seemed to be used and everyone we saw appeared to be anxiously engaged in productive work of some kind.  We were amazed to see people all along the way keeping the sides of the road, as well as the land along it, neat and clean.

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Look at this amazing highway!  However, we learned first hand why they call Rwanda “Land of a Thousand Hills”.  I have never in my life had a ten hour drive of nothing but twists and turns and ups and downs.  Now… as someone who can get car sick driving across the flat prairies of Canada, I thought I was doing pretty well keeping things together so-to-speak, until about hour six.  See those beautiful, deep ditches in this picture?… Well… let’s just say some were not quite so beautiful after I paid them a visit.  The good news?!…  Rainy season is just around the bend!

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After gathering as much information as we could, we opted to take the route recommended by Google Maps.  We even checked with our sources on the ground and got some “almost” first hand information that the road was newly complete.  Our first mistake occurred at about hour two, when we stopped and asked the people standing at a fork in the road, “Which way to Bukavu?”  I was pretty sure they had no idea, but when they said to take the road to the right, we did just that.  I at least knew that we should be heading in a west/southwest direction and questioned several times whether we were going the right way if the morning sun was on the right hand side of the truck.  We reasoned that perhaps with all the twists and turns, it just seemed like we were heading north.  No… by the time we stopped for further directions, we learned that we had indeed traveled north… an hour and a half north!  We were within spitting distance of Goma!  (Goma has a bit of a reputation for gorillas.  Not the kind of gorillas I would like to see.)  The only thing we could do was to go back the way we came.  That little mistake at the fork in the road added three hard hours to the trip!  Once back at the fork however, we discovered two things that made all the difference. “One“- Brent’s phone has a compass on it, and “Two“- my ancient Ipad that has never had a SIM card (in other words, I only have connectivity where the internet is accessible) was tracking our position on Google Maps, in the middle of Rwanda! How does that work?!!!  Anyway, there we were, a little moving dot on a map.  You have no idea how much comfort that little dot gave us, now that we could actually see exactly where we were.  And oh!…  That finished road?… Well… Not so much, as you can see from the above and following pictures.

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At least there was one other car foolish enough to be travelling on that road.  We played leap frog with them for miles, when they all-of-a-sudden turned around in front of us and headed back the way we had come.  We wondered why, and then some miles later we realized it was almost dark, with Bukavu still a couple of hours away.  The people in that other truck were Africans who know you need some place to stay before it gets dark, and they were heading back to the last town we had passed.  We were worn out (Brent from all that intense driving, and me from ten hours of being car sick) and worried.  We needed to find a place to stay, but where?  I was SO done, I didn’t even care where! (I’ve gotten used to some pretty rough places.)  We pulled to the side of the road and asked someone if there was a hotel anywhere nearby.  Just a few miles away, and down a windy little road, we were eagerly welcomed to a guesthouse on the eastern shore of Lake Kivu.  Thank you Heavenly Father!  We were even given the VIP suite!  I know that because it was written on the key chain!

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If I hadn’t been quite so sick, we could have rounded up some neighbors and had a dance party in that room.

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We were impressed!  The toilet flushed and they had running water… kind of.  I think the tub was for looks only, but we are used to that.

We ate our typical travel meal of chicken and fries, watched the sun set on Lake Kivu, and dropped into bed.  Our meetings in Uvira were scheduled to begin at 10:00 the next morning, and so, with no real sense of how long it was going to take, we were up bright and early and on the road by 5:30.

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Remember “Gorillas in the Mist”?  I always wanted to see those gorillas… but I guess that will have to wait for another lifetime.

About an hour before the Rwanda/DRC border, we passed a UN convoy coming from the direction we were headed in.  Hmmm…  We decided they must have been coming from Bujumbura.  No problem!  We’re not going to Burundi!

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A couple of hours later we had crossed the border into eastern DRC, into a little town called Bugarama.  We can’t help but feel bad for these people we have grown to love.  The minute you cross the border, which by the way takes waaaaaay more than a minute, you know you’re in a different country.  No more pavement, unbelievably rough roads, extreme poverty, and “police” looking for a way to pay the bills.

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Okay… Now I have to admit, this part was kind of fun.  Some months ago, the bridge in Uvira was damaged by the heavy rain and is no longer usable, for vehicles at least.  But thanks to the dry season, you are able to drive across what is now not much more than a stream.  It was a piece of cake… for some of us.  As you can see, it has become somewhat of a spectator sport.

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The tricky part was not so much crossing the river bottom, but getting up the other side!  It was a lot steeper than it looks and many cars had to make several attempts.  The guy above lost his back bumper on his fourth or fifth attempt but just picked it up and seemed to be able to stick it back on, for the time being anyway.  The crowd watching from above loved it and let out a big cheer when he finally made it up the other side.

2015-08-15_02.01.42_2This was going on at the same time, just a few feet away.

2015-08-15_02.02.13And this is why there are no vehicles crossing that bridge.  I’m not sure I’d like to be standing on it either.

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Here are three of the six elders working in Uvira.  We arrived at the church building late that morning, as happy to see them, as they were to see us.  After a three hour Zone Conference, Brent had his usual string of interviews, as well as a 90 minute meeting with Priesthood leaders from Bujumbura and Uvira.  In the meantime, I sat with the women and young girls outside trying to teach them “Cat’s Cradle”. (I brought several pieces of string with me just for that reason, and let me just say that I won’t do that again.)  I don’t know where Brent get’s the strength and energy to do all he has to do (I do actually) but I get pretty tired myself just being his companion.  This was another long day.

2015-08-15_09.36.15This is the view from the window of our hotel room at the northern most shore of Lake Tanganyika, on the outskirts of Uvira.  The waves made it look and sound like the ocean, which it could almost be!  Here are a few facts on Lake Tanganyika.

  • It is the second largest freshwater lake in the world.  (12,700 sq mi)
  • It is the world’s longest freshwater lake.  (418 mi.)
  • It is deep!  Up to 4,820 ft deep!

After a very long hot day, we were grateful for our room with a breeze from the lake to cool things off.  Though it doesn’t look it from this picture, the weather here is beautiful, so beautiful in fact that it could be a vacation spot.  But, as you might be able to make out from the picture, that razor wire pretty much says it all.  The thing is… it does nothing to stop the ones you really need protection from… the Police!  We were soon to find that out.

There are no pictures for this next story.

At about 2:00 am we were fast asleep at the one and only hotel in Uvira, when there was some banging on our door.  (I think we were the only people staying there.)  It was the “police” telling us to open the door and let them in. They said they needed to check our papers!…  Yes… that’s exactly what the police in most countries do, isn’t it?  With nothing between them and us but a rickety wooden door and a skeleton key to lock it, Brent calmly responded with a, “No Monsieur.  We are not going to open the door.”   I was so tired (sick and tired of the police always “menacing” us), that I responded with some of my pathetic french about how they needed to let us get some sleep, and rolled over to do just that.  For the next ten minutes or more, they remained outside our door, insisting we let them in, with Brent just as insistently refusing.  They eventually left and as I was dozing off, I realized Brent was silently sitting on the edge of the bed.  “What are you doing?”, I asked. “Praying”, he said.

It wasn’t until the next day, as we were discussing the previous night’s conversation through the door, (I was sleeping, so that shows how worried I was at the time.) that I heard about this part of the interchange.  Brent said to them through the door, “This is not right Monsieur. The police in Canada would never do such a thing.”  To which one of the “police” quietly responded, “Monsieur… This is not Canada… This is The Congo.”

We really don’t know why they decided to go away and leave us in peace.  There was nothing to stop them from coming in and doing whatever they wanted.  There is no one there we could have appealed to and no one to which they would have to answer.  It’s a city in the eastern Congo of about a half million people, basically with no law!  Well… Let’s just say we definitely won’t be doing that again!  And oh yes… Thank you, to all who remember us in your prayers.  Heavenly Father is listening and once again was watching over us.

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For the other three times we had to cross the river, we were guided to an easier crossing which was much less traveled.  The problem with this one, was that it was pretty much blocked by the two trucks you see above.  They were bogged right down in the mud, but with a little expert driving from President Thomas and a 4-wheel drive, we sailed across. (Well, not quite.)

Sunday morning was spent in two Sacrament Meetings, a couple other meetings and several interviews, before we were able to say good-bye to Uvira.  We were SO anxious to get out of there but at the same time, wanted to do all we could for them, knowing we may never be back.  After that, we had a fireside set up in a city called Bukavu, which was a only a three hour drive away but necessitated crossing the border into Rwanda and then back again into the DRC.   I cannot accurately describe the process and I mean p-r-o-c-e-s-s, to get across these borders.  Let’s just say that everyone who possibly can, wants to get in on the action.  You wait… wait some more… stand in line… answer questions… wait some more… smile (or not)… wait while they painstakingly write down all your information by hand into an old notebook (there are stacks of those old notebooks “filed” on the floor behind them)… and allow everyone with a stamp in their hand, to use it.  Miraculously, we were only a half hour late!

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This was the group waiting for us in Bukavu.  There is no organized branch here in this city of around three million, but there were about 70 people waiting for us that Sunday evening.

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I think the setting made President Thomas feel right at home.  He basically told them the story of his youth and conversion, and encouraged them to be faithful and patiently wait. Bukavu is no longer in our mission boundaries, so there really is not much we can do for them, other than let them know they are loved and not forgotten.

That night we felt like we were on the final stretch of a five day race, with the end almost in sight.  All that remained was tomorrow’s drive to Kigali and then on to home.  I will admit that we had our reservations about the drive.  After all, the only thing we knew for sure was that we were definitely not going to return the same way we came.  But, with the aid of Brent’s compass and my Google Map (yes… that little dot continued to show us exactly where we were), we were confident that we would find our way.  One of the faithful members of Bukavu, Frere Christian, came early the next morning to help us cross the border and make sure we headed off not only in the right direction but this time, on the right road.

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Once again, we went through the routine at the border to leave the DRC.  Somewhere in the waiting process I decided I might as well wait in the car as not, and took this picture of one of the many women trudging (never has that word been more accurately used than here) up the hill to Bukavu.  I was amazed at everything about them… their age (I know that some were even older than me!)… their loads! (some were literally bent in half to carry not just the bulk but the weight)… the strength of their necks as they strained to keep both the heavy load on top of their head, as well as the one on their back stabilized.  You can see how the strap or handle of the load on her back, is positioned on her forehead, so the weight of the load is shared between her neck and her back.  This is a long, steep hill that they have to climb, which I am guessing is why they do it like this… and they usually have their hands full to boot!  This picture doesn’t even begin to show the loads these women carry, but just as I was getting started with the pictures, the border police spotted my camera and informed me it was against the law to take pictures at the border.  Well, there was no surprise there except that she (the border police) was actually very nice when I expressed my admiration for the strength of these amazing women.  She didn’t even try to get any money from us!

A few yards further down the hill, we had to get out again and stand in line to enter Rwanda, which we assumed would go without a hitch.  Nope!  It didn’t.  Something about single entry visa… Canadians on their naughty list… and “apply on line and in about a week you should have the visa.”  There was absolutely no changing their minds, and all we could think about was getting to Kigali so we could catch our flight home to Lubumbashi the next day.  Plan B, was to try a different border crossing and see if we had better luck there.  Of course, this meant the whole routine again.  We had to go through the process to get back into the DRC, drive to the border crossing at the other end of the city, go through the process to leave the DRC, were denied entry to Rwanda again, and went through the whole process to enter the DRC… AGAIN!

You know what the most amazing thing about all of this was though?… We discovered, that we were beginning to learn how to float!

Well, luckily there was a Plan “C”.  We called Justin, our mission office manager and the one we always call to get us out of scrapes, and he was able to get us two tickets out of Bukavu to Lubumbashi the next day.  Why didn’t we take that flight in the first place you might ask?  Well, it happens to be on an airplane with less than stellar ratings, but at this point… we didn’t care!  We just wanted to go home!  With the tickets secured, we went to find a hotel for the night and to just “be” for the rest of the day.  We were shown to the nicest hotel we had stayed in in months.  Who knew?!!!

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This is the view from our balcony, at the far south end of Lake Kivu.  It was a beautiful!

2015-08-17_23.35.14For Brent, the tender mercy was this!  One of the best equipped workout rooms of any hotel he has ever stayed at, and I mean in the world!  They had free weights!  As we went to check the room, I saw the look on the “fitness master’s” face as he sized up Brent. His name was Tresor and I could tell he was excited when he and Brent fixed a time for the next morning’s workout.  The next day, when I got down there to do my little walk on the treadmill, I found Brent training the two other men there (that’s Guru on the bench), as well as Tresor.  They loved it almost as much as he did!

2015-08-17_23.44.37Brent and Tresor.  He asked for Brent’s email so they could keep in touch.  What a nice kid!  (I just can’t get these Congolese to smile in a photo.  They don’t think it’s cool!)

That night, I am happy to say, was comfortable, quiet and uneventful, with no police banging on our door.  The next morning, we wondered why we were instructed to be at the airport three and a half hours early, but hey… the Saga was almost over and we weren’t about to take any chances.  We were the first ones there, even before the agents in fact, but in true Congolese fashion, that didn’t matter a bit.  As usual, we who were there first… were the last to be processed.  But you know what?… By now, we were becoming really good at “floating” and it didn’t phase us a bit.

2015-08-18_02.09.34We could have managed our own suitcases, though not nearly as well as these two men did, but work of any kind is in such short supply here.  We were happy to help them for helping us.  By the way… that big black suitcase was not ours.  It was left behind by one of the missionaries and weighed about 60 lbs!

A few hours later, after a couple of stops that included sand runways and goats, we landed safely back in Lubumbashi.  I wanted to kiss the ground.

So what did we learn from this besides knowing that we never want to go back to Uvira? We learned a lot actually, or at least I did.  It sounds awfully self-centered to say so, but I almost feel like this trip was not so much for the members and missionaries, as it was for us!  I was reminded on day one, that fighting for control in a situation where we basically have none, only seems to make things worse.  And that if we really do believe that the Lord’s hand is in all things, then it follows that “whatever is, is right,” and if we accept that, we can then begin to feel peace.  To quote Catherine Thomas again, “In a sense, then, each thing that happens is a test of our consecration and willingness to submit.”…  You see?!… We had just been given a crash course in learning to float!  Along with the memory of my childhood swimming lessons, came a favorite scripture that spoke to me the first time I read it as a teenager.  I knew even then that it spoke of many things I was not.

And  now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.     Alma 7:23

“If we were to take this subject of “what is” to the next level of appropriate response, we might have to acknowledge that everything and everybody in our life is our teacher, placed there by the Providential Hand for our blessing.  That realization would require us to be grateful for everything that happens.”  Catherine Thomas

So, am I an expert “floater” now?…  No… Not really… But what I do know, is that the better I get at learning to relax and trust in God’s will, the more I am filled with peace.  And just so you know… Yes, I am thankful… very thankful… to our kind and loving Teacher, for all that I have received.

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Sunrise at Lake Kivu

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Count Your Blessings

2015-06-12_06.24.03So…. I think my posts have been heavily weighted on the side of our trials here.  Sorry about that!  (I readily admit I am a bit of a whiner.)  Today, I am dedicating this post to the things I am thankful for on our mission here in the DRC.  I will even count them… One by one.

  1. Every day is a beautiful day.
  2. I have never seen a snake here.
  3. We rarely see spiders or insects.  (Okay…  There are some mosquitoes.)
  4. We never have meetings after dark.  (No electricity for most of the people.)
  5. We have a very comfortable bed.
  6. Brent and I eat three meals a day together.
  7. We are able to eat well here.
  8. We are able to exercise.  (Run, weights, yoga and walking)
  9. Elder Davis makes great cinnamon buns almost every Sunday afternoon.
  10. We have a Mission Medical Specialist, who works tirelessly to keep all of the  missionaries healthy.
  11. When the above Dr. Mikesell has a minute of spare time, he’s busy perfecting the art of baking with orange.
  12. I found some really good Canadian bacon at Hyper Psaro.
  13. Solange irons Brent’s white shirts.  (This is a big one.)
  14. It may be slow, but we have internet!  (most of the time)
  15. The people here, for the most part, are warm and friendly.
  16. We have some wonderful young missionaries, who are trying to do what is right.
  17. Our senior missionaries are amazing!  (We are in desperate need of more.)
  18. We feel Heavenly Father’s patience and love for everyone… including us!
  19. We feel the love and prayers of family and friends on our behalf.
  20. And most importantly… I know Heavenly Father wants us here at this time.

Two of our biggest blessings, came to visit us back in July.

2015-06-10_05.37.40Zach came to stay with us for two and a half weeks, while on break from school.

2015-06-11_12.25.50He had barely walked in the door before challenging Dad to an arm wrestle.  You can see the result.  Zach redeemed himself somewhat with his left arm.  Dad may no longer be the fastest, but he is still the strongest. 🙂

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We warned Zach ahead of time that there is really nothing to see here.  Thanks to Elder and Sister Davis and Elder Mikesell, he was at least able to see some of the various hospitals here in Lubumbashi.  This was a brand new hospital that we were all impressed with.  Of course, you have to have money to come here.  Understandably, it was pretty empty.

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This is the maternity ward at a pretty good hospital.  They didn’t mind a bit that we were all in there walking through and snapping pictures.

2015-06-12_01.38.58This little babe had been “thrown away” as they put it.  She was born with three fingers per hand and three toes per foot.  She was brought into the hospital and was being well cared for until they could find a family to adopt her.

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2015-06-12_02.11.21This is how they get all of their water at this hospital.  Remember… this is one of the nicer ones.

2015-06-12_02.06.26Here is how they do all of the hospital’s laundry.  Can you imagine doing all this bedding by hand?!!! … And they seemed to be happy doing it!  I am constantly amazed by the happy, hard working women of the DRC.

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This was the most interesting one by far.  As I understood it, the doctor (the beautiful woman on the far right) studied modern medicine for six months, followed by some months of traditional medicine.  She now practices a mix of both.  There was a whole crowd awaiting our arrival, including living testimonials of her amazing success… And I mean amazing!  I could use the word “unbelievable” but she had pictures to prove it.  (I won’t even try to describe the pictures.  Let’s just say that they were a little disturbing to innocent eyes.)

2015-06-12_06.30.50This is her stockpile of herbs used for treatment of all kinds of maladies, everything from breast cancer (you should have seen the pictures!) to helping a young girl who had never walked… walk!

2015-06-12_06.10.10Here is the girl and her mother for proof!

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This is the sweet little woman who grinds up all the herbs, so they can be used as poultices or put into water to drink.

2015-06-12_06.41.34A parting shot with the hospital staff.  They were hoping for some funding from the Humanitarian side.  And though that probably won’t happen, they really seem to do some amazing things to help the people here.  I wish we could help everyone but of course, there is just no way.

2015-06-22_06.52.21Brother Mwamba acted as Zach’s interpreter and guide, and with him Zach saw a part of Lubumbashi none of the rest of us will ever see.  Brother Mwamba is about Zach’s age, returned missionary, husband, father and entrepreneur.  He and Zach shared some fun experiences and though they come from two different worlds, there was a little bond there. I will leave those stories for Zach to tell, but I will say that in true Congolese culture, they even did some hand holding.  I think that’s great!

2015-06-24_08.05.52Ben showed up two weeks after Zach, on the same day as three new missionaries.  We tried to make the most of the four days we had with them both.

2015-06-27_04.09.39_22015-06-27_04.21.05The best we could do as far as animals go, was to take them on a little safari (and I mean little) just outside of Lubumbashi. It is a little plot of land someone has created to be like a zoo or a little reserve.  They only have hoofed animals but these guys were pretty cool! We were hoping to catch sight of the giraffes, but our driver was driving so fast, he pretty much scared away anything and everything in our path.  I have no idea what he was hurrying back for, but less than an hour later we had finished the circuit and had apparently seen everything there was to see.  Oh well.  It was short… but it was sweet.  (This is as good as it gets here.  It is the ONLY thing like it in our mission.)

2015-06-27_04.41.12The Mikesells were good enough to accompany us, even though this was their third time there.  Like I said… It is the only thing to do here!

2015-06-27_11.20.18_2We invited all of the senior couples over for dinner and some unplanned entertainment.  It was a lot of fun for Brent and Zach…

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As well as the rest of us, who got to see a rarely seen side of President Thomas.  Sister Vance is one of Brent’s biggest fans, and we are her’s.  She brings a lot of fun to the mission as well as a lot of love.

2015-06-29_03.56.29It was sure fun to have them and let them see first hand a little of what our life here is like, but all too soon it was time to say good-bye to these two.  They were off to climb Kilimanjaro!

We really do have a lot of things that we’re thankful for here, but it’s just so easy to let the hard things crowd out the good, isn’t it?  It really is wise counsel… When you’re discouraged… Count your many blessings and name them one by one…  And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”

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Boy!  Do they look alike or what!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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