SO!… The longer we are here, the more normal everything appears to me, and the more normal everything appears, the less I take pictures! However, today at Stake Conference there were a number of things that were photo worthy, but unfortunately I didn’t have my camera. Come to think of it… pictures wouldn’t have done most of it justice. Sometimes I wish that I could just replay from my mind, the things I see, hear and feel.
I sat in the parking lot, watching people arrive. Because it was Stake Conference, people were coming even earlier than usual. Most of course, come on foot but some arrive by taxi or transport. I would have liked to get a picture of one of the transports (mini vans), that pulled up in front of me. I counted 23 smiling men, women and children get out of it. I wish I had had my camera to get pictures of the families all decked out in their Sunday best, meeting and greeting their family and friends. The women in their bright colored dresses, the men in their suits and clean white shirts, the children (lots of them), spotlessly clean, holding the hands of their parents or being carried by a brother or sister just a little bit older…. Beautiful!… Really! But as visually beautiful as the scene was, the best was yet to come.
The prelude music at church here is provided by the choir. As I have said before, you haven’t heard singing until you hear singing in the DRC. I don’t know if they are so good because they love it… or if they love it because they are so good at it. This particular choir has an outstanding young man about 16 or 17 years old, that accompanies them on the organ. (I have no idea where or how he could have learned to play like that. I think it must be a gift.) They begin singing here, about 15 minutes before the service begins… and can I just say, “Wow!” They could be the Congolese Chapter of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir! It was the perfect beginning to a great meeting. There wasn’t an empty seat in the house. (They announced that the Stake membership is 3,566, and this is only one of three stakes right here in Lubumbashi.) Anyway, there was a great feeling there of love and unity, as the congregation listened to their leaders. The whole thing was topped off by the choir singing once again after the closing prayer, as people filed out of the building. We lingered to listen, as they sang Brent’s favorite, “Praise to the Man”. No picture can capture that feeling.
This is not a picture from today. This was a couple weeks ago, in a city called Uvira, way up north, in the DRC, just across the border from Bujumbura, Burundi. We arrived there on a Wednesday morning, to find members gathered in the hopes of hearing President Thomas. These faithful members have only a rented house to meet in, with no room large enough to hold all the members of their branch. They put up a number of tarps, to shade everyone from the hot sun.
This boy did a great job of leading the congregation in song.
There are nearly always little plastic chairs for the children. I am always amazed that they sit so quietly and patiently (and don’t tip over).
This little guy was sitting in my lap, until it came time for him to drink his bottle of Fanta. Yes… that’s right… His bottle of Fanta. After the meeting, the members break out the refreshments and they make sure everyone gets one. He is only eight months old and handled the carbonation like a pro. I am amazed that there are so many people with good teeth. (They are also a sucker loving society and you often see babies and children in church, with suckers.)
The next day, we had Zone Conference in Bujumbura. These were the missionaries then, but we’ve had transfers since and now that is all changed! What a great group of missionaries and what a great spirit, helped in part by the Van Wagoners dance lessons during break.
Here they are teaching a western line dance to the tune of “Chattahoochee” by Alan Jackson. The missionaries loved it and were quick learners, “Yahoos” and all! I wish we could borrow them to do that at all of our Zone Conferences. It was great exercise and a great break from all the sitting! Elder and Sister Van Wagoner are in their 70’s but move and act like they’re in their 20’s.
Bujumbura is a very different place from the rest of the mission. We had our Zone Conference dinner at an American type restaurant, that even served ice cream sundaes for dessert! Let me just say that the missionaries went away happy that night.
Another amazing dinner at Jean-Franco’s. This time we, the Neeleys and the Van Wagoners were joined by Brother Donnelley and Brother Van As, from Johannesburg. They had church business in Bujumbura and decided to share dinner with us so we could have a visit. As any good Italian chef would do, Jean-Franco served us enough to feed 20 large men. Brent and I performed admirably and I think out ate everyone at the table.
A couple of days after our return from Burundi, we welcomed 20 new missionaries and said good-bye to 11. It was another busy week with training, meals to prepare and a minimum of 31 interviews for President Thomas.
We had the opportunity to visit a new market with the Davis’. This is a beautiful display of local protein for sale. There is a variety of dried fish, (small, smaller and smallest) which I have no idea how they prepare.
Sister Draper and I were asked to speak at the Women’s Auxiliary Training for one of the Stake Conferences here. It was an experience we choose not to speak of. But on a brighter note… Here we are with Sister Vance and Cook and our delightful sister missionaries of that Stake.
No matter what meeting we are at, we have a line-up for pictures, especially with President Thomas. They often ask us to take their picture, with our camera. I have never quite figured out why, as they don’t get the picture. I hate to say it, but I usually just delete the pictures, because I don’t know what else to do with them. (I can’t keep them all!) I had to keep this one though, with this mother and her two beautiful little daughters.
We had a great turnout for Kisanga Stake Conference (a different one than I was talking about at the beginning.) We even had three local mayors/bergermeisters come to check us out, (Not us. The church.) and this woman and man are two of them. They expressed their gratitude for being invited and seemed to be impressed with the words and the spirit of the meeting.
In short, this is a great place in the world to be doing missionary work. As I think any honest person would admit, it’s nice to be needed and loved. And here, believe me,… you are definitely that. And the payoff? Well, as I have said before, for me, my pictures are a sort of payment for some of the things we have to do. But in the end, the real reward is in those moments when you see, hear and most especially feel what no picture can capture. Quite simply… c’est l’Esprit!