“Don’t Wish Your Life Away”

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It’s been a long time since I last posted on my blog, but honestly, I just haven’t been taking many pictures!  I don’t seem to see things anymore, or perhaps I just don’t want to see them.  I find that instead of scrambling for my camera, I have simply begun looking away.  I am tired… exhausted really.  It is hard here in ways we never could have imagined.  Yes, the people here are poor, unbelievably poor, but it is so much more than that.  I’m not going to list the how’s and why’s.  Suffice to say, that for us, this is the hardest thing we have ever done.

As a result, I have been spending way too much time lately thinking of life at home.  It is an indulgence really… an escape.  Whenever I am able, I sneak away and go home.  Oh, my body is still here, in the jeep bouncing for hours down the road or sitting in the same chair hearing nothing but french for hours on end.  Everyone thinks I’m here but I’m really not. I’m thousands of miles away on the other side of the world, eating dinner and visiting with my dear friends and family.  Or I spend hours planning what we will do when we get home, or designing floor plans for each of my children’s homes.  (Hey, it;s what I love to do.)  In short, instead of being in the here and now, I’m living in the future…. I’ve done this since I was a little girl and once again, I can hear Mom telling me, “Carolyn, don’t wish your life away.”  Will I ever learn?

Well, I’m way behind on my posts but I will start here.

2015-05-28_04.22.04_2A couple of months ago, we had a Mission Tour with Elder and Sister Hamilton.  We began the tour in Mbuji Mayi and the next day passed through one of our favorite places… Tshitenge.  Standing with them in this picture, is the Branch President, his wife, the Relief Society President and some of their children.

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As usual, Brent has them rolling in the aisles.

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Two of the little girls who hang out around the church.  Wait a minute…

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Make that three little girls.  Like I’ve said before… Babies carrying babies.

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Kids here (almost everywhere in the DRC) pretty much spend their days on their own, entertaining themselves.  I am always amazed to see small children walking along, carrying razor sharp hoes or machetes, or just hanging out with no adult in sight. However, as bad as it might sound to us, I think this actually creates some pretty confident adults that know how to take care of themselves.

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The group at Tshitenge are very self sufficient.  Here they are harvesting palm seeds/nuts. They use the oil for cooking and baking their bread.  (Yes, they are the same ones with the brick oven I have previously shown pictures of.)  They will also chew on these just the way they are or sell them roasted.  I haven’t tried them but I can imagine what they might taste like.

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Another example of their self-reliance.  The thing that interests me more than the pigs, is the construction of the pen.  They have to use what they can find or make themselves, and do a pretty good job I might add.  It is the same with their other buildings.

2015-05-28_04.27.20These little kids literally dress in rags.  The little guy in the middle (I’m sure you can guess which one) lost his pants, when Brent asked to see how fast they could run.  We were told that the people living around the Tshtenge Branch send their kids to more or less live with and be taken care of, by the members there.  It’s not so much about their physical care, because they are all equally as poor, as it is about their moral upbringing.  There is definitely a special feeling there of peace, that anyone who visits feels.  Remember the picture of the spring bubbling up out of the crystal clear lake? (Waters of Mormon)… Same place.

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This picture doesn’t begin to do justice to the spirit of this place.  Some people refer to it as Tshitenge’s “Sacred Grove”.  There is something about the quiet and the stillness (an extremely rare experience in the DRC) you feel here among the bamboo, with the light filtering down between the leaves.

All of this that I am speaking of, is actually a little plot of land owned by a man who gave up his own home, to be used as the church building by the local members.  He built himself another humble home close by.  The church has since supplied the bowery that the Hamiltons were standing in front of, along with a couple of other small buildings to be used as church offices.
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This is not an uncommon sight.  A couple weeks prior to this, President Mukadi happened by this accident minutes after it occurred.  He helped pull out the bodies of the victims.  All seven passengers were killed.  We recently had six of our elders involved in an accident, as they travelled between Mwene Ditu and Mbuji Mayi.  They were travelling in a mini-van (that had no brakes I might add) along with about 15 other passengers, including babies and children, when it went into the ditch and hit a tree, causing it to flip twice. Surprisingly, no one was seriously hurt.  The people from the nearby village and the other passengers, attributed the miracle to the fact that there were six men of God in the bus. They just may be right!

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There are a variety of vehicles that transport people, but they all have one thing in common… Pack as many people as you can possibly manage into, onto or under (well… maybe not under) whatever mode of transport you have.  We have seen huge trucks with loads of people, balancing on top of loads of goods, and with a few goats and pigs thrown in for good measure.  Obviously, this is a country that is not too concerned about enforcing transportation safety, unless of course it’s us.  The police stop us at every possible opportunity, stating serious infractions like: “You were not wearing your seat belts.”  (We were of course because the car demands it.)  “You had your head lights on at dusk which is dangerous for the other drivers.”  (The next four cars that passed as they were threatening us, all had their headlights on.)  “Your driver’s license is fake.”  (They only cost $50 and no test is needed.)  “Your parking permit for Lubumbashi has expired.”  (We were 100 miles away in Likasi at the time, and No, it had not expired.)  They can come up with all kinds of things we are doing to break the law, but they never stop vehicles like the one above.  I wonder why they stop us so much????  We carry a supply of bottles of water to give to the police as a gesture of appreciation and good will, but something tells me they are hoping to get something else.  Hmmmm… I wonder what that is.

2015-06-01_02.38.17They will travel for hours like this and think nothing of it!

2015-05-30_07.47.07You guessed it… Back in Luputa!  Every time we’re there, there are a few more boys that can whistle with their fingers.  I am quite proud of my legacy actually!

2015-05-30_09.50.49The kids keep a safe distance usually because they have been told to leave the visitors alone, but are always waiting for an invite to come closer and play.

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After a token game or song, I usually retreat inside the Luputa Hotel.  It really is too much sometimes.  This is what I see in the doorway.  Homes in the DRC usually have curtains in the doorway to allow the flow of air.  (Some just can’t afford a real door.)

2015-05-31_09.12.08These two little girls were gussied up in their finest, for Stake Conference with Elder Hamilton.  There were probably between 1000 and 1500 in attendance, with about 30 walking 65 km there and back again from Ngandijika.  It took them two days each way, just for the two meetings of Stake Conference.  ….. Then there’s the members at home that view Stake Conference as a day to stay home from church or go have some fun.  ….. Just sayin.

2015-05-29_09.49.59Some of the wonderful members of Mwene Ditu.  The mayor is standing by Brent.  Our senior couple, the Mbeles have done an amazing job up there and will be missed when they leave in October.  Last week the missionaries of Mwene Ditu had 40 baptisms.

2015-06-01_04.32.10I asked our driver if there were any crocodiles around.  He said there was and that we could go see them.  This isn’t quite what I was hoping for and needless to say was a little disappointed.  I actually felt sorry for the poor little guy… all alone in a tiny makeshift pen. They are trying to create a sort of zoo and proudly displayed an eagle, some goats and two monkeys.  As someone who is not a huge fan of animals in cages, it was a little hard on me. They are doing the best they can, but there is absolutely no thought for the animals comfort,… and why would there be?  They themselves live in similar conditions.

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2015-06-01_05.12.28This is how they make the bricks that they use to build their homes and just about anything else you need bricks for.  There are hills of this clay all over the place, that they say God put there for this purpose.  (It’s as good as any other explanation we received for all  those little hills.)  We were impressed with their speed and coordination.

2015-06-01_10.28.51On our last day in Mbuji Mayi we were invited to Family Home Evening with the most impressive young family.  The parents joined the church as university students and now have three beautiful children.  Tessla 4 and Marielle 2, were dressed in their Sunday best anxiously waiting for us to arrive. We met 8 month old Gordon, once inside.  As we waited for FHE to begin, I couldn’t help noticing the bookshelves stacked with church manuals and old church magazines.  The house was spotless and the spirit of the home felt like many of the young families homes I’ve visited in Canada and the US.  Tessla conducted and sang the opening hymn with gusto and the Mom gave an amazing lesson.  Marielle conducted the closing hymn and after the closing prayer, we played a little game followed by bottles of juice for a treat.  Just like any FHE back home… actually better.  Those little girls were so good, the beautiful mom so patient, and the dad so kind, that it could have been an ad for the perfect Mormon Family Home Evening.  The one thing that was different… It all had to be done before dark because they have no electricity.

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So, I hope you can feel that my spirits have improved.  I began this post a couple of weeks ago but an especially hard and turbulent time in the mission has passed (or at least died down) for the moment.  In fact, I’m feeling pretty good about things right now.  Our mission like life, is full of ups and downs.  I won’t lie and say that when the time comes I won’t be happy and more than ready to return home, but in the mean time I am going to do my best to take one day at a time and try to live each day the best way I can.  After all, if you spend all of your time planning and dreaming of tomorrow, you can’t really live today! The Savior once said more or less the same thing in a little different way.  “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”  So… any of you who might be like me, and spend a little too much time dreaming of days yet to come… Let me repeat some simple but wise advise from my beautiful and wise mother…  (insert your own name here), Don’t wish your life away.

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Marielle and Tessla

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Look Up

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A few days ago, when Brent and I were out on our morning walk, we were basking in the predictably beautiful weather.  Always warm… never any wind to speak of… paradise really!  We commented on how beautiful it all was, and then added, “…if you look up.”  It’s true!  In even the nicest of neighborhoods here, one has to be careful to look where you go.  There are all kinds of things you don’t want to step on or trip on.  It’s easy to become so focused on the possible pitfalls, that you forget to look up, and see all that is beautiful.

Life can be like that.  Some of us are born worriers, or perhaps we are just serious by nature.  Or maybe some of you, like me, are so focused on watching for all the dangers that life holds for those we love, that we forget to look up and enjoy all that’s good and beautiful.  We all know it’s not supposed to be like that, right?  Remember the whole “Man is that he might have joy.”?  But…in my vigilance to ensure that nothing bad happened to my family, I pretty much succeeded in extinguishing a lot of the fun too.  In the few videos we have of our life with six young children, there is always one sourpuss, with too much to do to join in on whatever fun the rest of the family is having…. It’s me!  There I am with a deep crease between my eyes and a scowl on my face,… feeding the baby or making sure the kids are doing their chores, or both at the same time.  I was never too happy about Brent catching us in our true state of affairs.  …The house a mess, me in my pyjamas with no make-up and broken out skin (*check at the end if you’re in the mood for a little anecdote)… kids half dressed, fighting in the background…  You get the picture.  My kids think it’s hilarious to watch those old family videos (though those with children of their own now, are not laughing quite so loudly).  I laugh too, but it makes me kind of sad that I didn’t take time to breathe and just look up.

2015-04-18_03.19.34Kolwezi is the coldest city in our mission.  I caught a picture of this guy, as we were driving down the street on our last visit.  It was about 27 or 28 degrees C ( about 78 or 80 F)!  I guess like many things, “cold” is relative.

2015-04-18_04.00.16Kolwezi is actually a pretty nice city thanks to Foreign Mining Money.  Some of our elders there, even have a swimming pool!

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This is their bathroom, which is not bad actually… as far as bathrooms here go.

 

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I thought this was cute.  It is their chore list.  (It looks a lot more complicated than the version we had up on the fridge many years ago.)  For the most part, the missionary housing is better than what they are used to back home, and I really do think they try to keep things clean and in order.

2015-04-18_04.06.21This one is for you Johnny.  I’m sure in a day or two you could have this spruced up and purring like a kitten.  I know it’s not a Hudson, but I think it has potential.  Unfortunately, the missionaries here don’t drive.  Well… that is except for our assistants.  Elder Draper accepted the responsibility of giving driving lessons to four of our elders this past week.  The lessons were long overdue.  A few months back, the Assistants went through the clutches on three different vehicles in about as many weeks.  Hey!  It’s a learning curve here for all of us.

2015-04-19_05.20.28On our way home from Kolwezi, we decided to make a long over-due visit to a group of members in a town called Fungrume.  When we arrived, the members were waiting to greet us, and stood in a line to shake the President’s hand.  They are one of about twenty groups much like them, here in our mission.  They are baptized members, who seek help and recognition from the church, but have not yet been officially organized into branches.  Some of these groups have up to eighty members, with as many as a hundred more waiting to be baptized.

2015-04-19_06.02.55 On this day, they invited us into their humble little building for a chance to talk with the Mission President, about their needs and hopes for the future.  Most of the members waited outside because there simply was not room enough for everyone.

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We were impressed by the teacher’s beautiful printing.  Church meetings were over by the time we arrived, but they knew we were on our way, and we couldn’t help wondering if the lesson on the board was meant to make a good impression. …It worked!  Hey!… We would all do the same thing!

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I’m trying to give you an idea of the size of this tiny building and the shape it’s in.  You have now seen three of the walls, and my back as I take these pictures, is right against the fourth.  One of the members sleeps in the building during the week, to safe guard the plastic chairs and anything else that is not nailed down.  Come to think of it, “nailing down” doesn’t make much of a difference.  If they can get it loose and walk away with it, they will.  “Hey!  It was with you… but now it’s with me!”  That’s just the way they see it!

2015-04-19_05.23.10This gives you a better idea of the size of their “chapel”, and there are two other tiny, tiny rooms with almost no light.  Their faithfulness really is so touching.  In a world where there is so little, the Gospel plan gives meaning and hope to their lives.

2015-05-02_11.34.16Now, for a change of pace,… It was fun to have Elder and Sister Evans from Salt Lake, come to stay with us for a couple of days.  Elder Evans is/was the Executive Director of the Missionary Department for the worldwide church.  We showed them the best the DRC Lubumbashi Mission has to offer!  The next mission they toured showed them the opposite end of the spectrum, in Cape Town.  The senior sisters prepared a delicious meal for all of us to share one evening.

2015-05-04_00.53.52We travelled with the Evans, and had a nice break for a few days in Cape Town, where Interim Mission President’s seminar was held.  This is a shot from Table Mountain, where you are supposed to be able to see all of Cape Town and the surrounding area and ocean.  It’s all there.  We just couldn’t see it that morning.   It was a very cloudy day… at least from down below.  From the top of the mountain where we were… the sun was shining and it was beautiful!  There is a lesson here.

2015-05-04_06.56.08Once we got back down to the hotel, the clouds disappeared and it was a beautiful day!  That is Table Mountain in the background.

2015-05-07_03.58.02I have always loved the ocean (as long as I am standing firmly on the land).  We found ourselves noticing the difference of the air here, from Lubumbashi, and taking in deep breaths.  It was crisp and clean!  (Now I understand the saying “Taking a breather”, in a whole new way.)  Not far from here is where the cold Atlantic Ocean and the warm Indian Ocean meet.  That is where all those shipwrecks from all the centuries past have occurred.   What a great road trip it would be to drive the coastal highway around the southern tip of Africa!  There’s one area where the whales come for a few months to give birth. (We were told that they come in so close to shore, that you could walk out and touch them.   And then not far from there, is another area where all the Great White Sharks gather. (I don’t think there are many who would want to walk out and touch them!)  Amazing!  We’re in Africa!  A very different Africa from what we are used to… but Africa!

2015-05-07_06.47.17Cape Town is another world from Lubumbashi.  Believe it or not,… though we enjoyed our few days, we were anxious to get back “home”.

You know?…  It’s funny how we keep learning the same old lessons in life.  … At least, I seem to.  I guess I’m a little better than I used to be….  But sometimes even now, when I catch myself focusing a little too much on my own personal obstacle course, or stressing when someone I love has less than a perfect day,…  I just need to remember…                 Look up and breathe.

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* Thirty-ish years ago, we were poor students living in St. Louis, Mo. with four children, between the ages of six and one.  Between school and church, Brent was never home and I, to earn a little extra money, babysat our neighbors two kids.  One day I was feeling particularly sorry for myself, and had a little rant about my skin.  (I have had zits my whole life!  When I was 16, my mother told me that my skin would clear up after I got married and had kids. Well Mom?!  I’ve been married for 36 years, had six kids, and I’m still waiting!)  Anyway, that day my skin was just the last straw!  As I stood there, in the middle of the chaos, our five year old Kate came quietly up to me, and with upturned face and soft voice, she offered her sweet words of comfort.  “Mommy, when I get big, I hope I look just like you…  Skinny… Glasses… And zits on my face.”  What could I do but smile.  …”Out of the mouths of babes.”  (Too bad for her, two of the three things on her wish list, didn’t come true.  Oh well!  You can’t have everything!) 🙂

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Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

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Life in the Congo is definitely improving, but there’s no question it’s not easy here!… and right now I’m not talking about me.  You can see signs of progress that give you hope, but the reality of most people’s lives here, at times makes you want to go to your room and sob.  Honestly, some times it is just too much for me!  At those times of discouragement, I wonder if things here can ever really change and I wonder if we are doing any real good.  I  get a little impatient, judging pretty much everything using a North American standard, which is helpful to no one.  But even if it is a case of, “Two steps forward and one step back”, they are at least moving in the right direction.  I’m not sure at times, if I can say the same about me.  Sometimes, I feel more like it’s “ONE step forward and TWO steps back”!  I don’t think I have ever been ignorant of my weaknesses, but they sure seem to be highlighted here!  The good thing though, is that I have never before felt such an outpouring of Heavenly Father’s love for me, faults and all.

2015-03-26_00.59.06Another trip to Kasai.  I am always amazed by the way people travel here.  We were behind one of these trucks the other day, watching a guy that was fighting to stay awake.  He was perched so precariously, that I was sure he would slip off!  The amazing thing to me, is that they can stay up there at all!… Tons of people!… Mom’s with babies… goats… all kinds of “stuff”… for hours, on unbelievably bumpy roads!

2015-03-22_07.19.53_2This is not an uncommon sight… a funeral procession.  Can you spot the casket?  Yes, that’s it on the bike.

2015-03-24_03.14.59In Mbuji Mayi, there are casket shops all over the place.  These are far nicer than most.  These must be the ones you can rent.

2015-03-25_09.26.53Back in Luputa.  When boys pose, they try to look tough.  Notice the little guy on the right, trying to show me how big his muscles are?

2015-03-25_04.46.58Interviews in Luputa make for a long day.  There really is not much to do for most of it, except sit in the shade.  The kids are there within minutes of our arrival and it doesn’t take long to run through my bag of tricks.  We usually sing a few songs, do “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” in French as well as English, the always good, “Put your right foot in, Put your right foot out” (I guess the real name is “Hokey Pokey”?), and each time I show them once again, how to make a duck noise with a blade of grass. And, for the Piece De Resistance… they always want me to show them how I can whistle loud with my fingers.  (I must say, I’m pretty proud of that one myself.)

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photo 3This was a attempt at “Red light, Green light.”  They really didn’t have a clue, but they had fun anyway.  Brent was trying to help me out, but gave up and took pictures with his phone instead.  I’m sure when we visit again in a couple weeks, they will want a repeat.

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This is the “Presidential Suite” of Luputa.  I choose to bring our own pillows and sheet to sleep on, though as you can see, there are some provided.  Among other things, there is no light (unless the generator is running), no air-conditioning and…

2015-03-25_01.22.30 No running water!  Yes… there is a toilet, sink and tub.  But any and all water comes from that barrel, which is kindly filled by someone other than us, from a well, not far away.  This bathroom is shared by all, who stay at our little “Luputa Hotel”.  Did I mention that the door doesn’t close?  Night is especially interesting.  Flashlights do more than light the way.  The light is essential in clearing the path through the cock-roaches!  (Okay,… so I’ve only actually seen two.)  And no, there is no toilet seat.  However, for all of my complaining, this is worlds better than anything anyone else might have, here in Luputa.  And, any of you thinking you could never come to this mission because you couldn’t live like this… You don’t have to!  The Senior Couples who come to this mission live in good conditions.  Just ask any of them!  Brent and I are usually the only ones who need to visit these places, but you might like the adventure… just once?  The Drapers are dying to go back!

2015-03-25_04.51.33The boy on the right is always there when we arrive, and no matter how early we go out in the morning or how late at night, he is there… waiting.  He must have a home and family but we have never been able to find out anything about them.  He is always alone. There is something not quite “right” about him, and the other children and even many of the adults make fun of him.  After our meal with the missionaries, one of the elders, trying to be kind I suppose, gave him a dish heaping with some of the left-over food.  This boy sat out on the step of the building eating his fill, while about 30 kids watched on from a few feet away.  After he had eaten all he wanted, he got up and walked away, leaving what was left behind.  A second later, the other kids swarmed the plate for whatever morsel they could get.  Most had only a taste of what was on the plate, by licking their finger tips.  …One of those times you just want to go hide and cry.

 

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The rainy season is coming to an end.  I am always amazed at Godefroid’s driving skills.  We haven’t gotten stuck yet, but came close on this trip.  It was worse than it looks!

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No pictures can do justice to this road trip, that we make every two months.  We take a one and a half hour flight and then drive a total of five hours (depending on the road and split between two days), one way, and then return the same way.  I thought it was getting easier, but this last trip was harder than ever.  It find it grueling, I must say

2015-04-09_05.25.44Brent and I drove to Kasumbalesa (a town not far from Lubumbashi) to meet with our elders there and go with them to teach a family.  This is their home.  Notice the bricks keeping the roof on?  Last year, our guard’s little grand daughter was killed, when a wind caught their roof and one of the big rocks fell on her while she slept.  Can you see the two babies in this picture?

This young family was expecting us and proudly invited us into their home.  The room was about 6’x6′ and seated seven of us (if you don’t count the dog and the chicken that wandered in).  Though there was little light (the only light came through the doorway), it was easy to see that the room was neat and swept clean.  The chairs were worn and old, but surprisingly, there were clean white doilies on the backs of them.  The father of the house was polite to us, but though he was proud of where he was and what he had, it was obvious that he felt a hopelessness about his families future.  I really do think the Gospel is their only hope, and that will take a few generations.

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2015-04-09_05.22.11Some of the neighbor kids, came to watch the day’s big event!  It’s not every day you get to see a red SUV with two white people inside, driving through your neighborhood!  As a matter of fact, I’m not sure they have ever seen a car driving through their neighborhood.  I was sure the path was too narrow for us to get through many times, but the elders assured us we could make it, so we crawled along between the houses, with people happy to direct us and encourage us along the way.  We finally did need to stop and get out and walk.  These pictures were taken as we walked.

2015-04-09_06.11.17A tire and stick are the most common toys for kids here.

2015-04-09_06.18.57I do love to see laundry on a line.  However, not everyone has a line.

2015-04-09_05.21.16This seems to work just as well!

This was another one of those days when you simply cannot describe the experience.  Suffice to say, though I thought we would never be able to find our way out of the maze of houses (especially without tipping over or getting wedged between two buildings), we were, with a little help, able to find our way back to the main road and returned home safe and sound.

This post has taken me a long time to do.  Part of the reason is that we have been very busy, but part of the reason I think, is that I have gotten quite used to things here.  And… the truth is, I feel either uninspired or just plain too tired most days.  I think there is some truth to the idea that pain can inspire creativity, and I am happy to announce, that though I continue to struggle with my personal weaknesses, I have experienced very little pain over the past month or so.  I guess I should find comfort in the thought, that like the Congo, two steps forward and one step back isn’t all that bad.  At least I am moving forward.

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One of our elders… leading us home.

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Life Is A Journey

 

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These last few days I have had a couple of expressions running through my mind. One, was one of my dear mother’s favorites, “Bloom where you are planted”, and the other we have all heard, is “Life is a journey.”

The past few weeks have been nice, for the most part because we have been working from home (Mission Home of course) and like my mother, and her mother before her, I am basically a “home-body”.  I actually like things quiet… and I love routine!  Life at “home” however, is never boring.  This week, Brent has interviewed over 70 missionaries, held a 7 hour Zone Conference, and spent three separate evenings in gospel discussion with the aforementioned missionaries, all in a language that is not his own.  He seems to take it all in stride and I am always amazed by what he is able to do.  He never wastes time wishing things were different or wishing he was somewhere else, doing something else.  He just digs in and does what needs to be done.  In short, he is a master at “blooming where he is planted”.

I prepared dinner for and cleaned up after those same missionaries on those three evenings, (with some much appreciated help)… and just that, just about did me in!  Now, don’t misunderstand… I actually enjoy feeding the missionaries, especially if they like what I feed them, but this week reminded me that I am getting older, and some things that I could easily do before, are not so easy anymore!  I discovered earlier in this mission that I am not a good “sitter” (all that time sitting in meetings, sitting in cars, airplanes and airports, sitting at my desk, or sitting waiting for Brent while he is in meetings, has been hard on my body, as well as my sanity.)   I discovered this week that I am not a good “stander” either! (Standing for hours in a very hot kitchen, preparing food for a crowd, and then standing for more hours in an even hotter kitchen, washing dishes and cleaning up, has also been hard for me.)  It looks like there is just one thing left that I am good at and there are just so many hours of the day (well, night actually) when that is acceptable.

The other thing that Brent and I have done a few times over the past few weeks, is speak/train church members in various local Stake and District Conferences.  Again, Brent just takes it all in stride.  He doesn’t need to prepare, he just stands up and speaks!  I on the other hand, get all knotted up over it!  I have done this six times in the past few weeks and just found out I “get” to do two more this weekend.  It would be hard enough to say something worth hearing in English, but the real thing that stresses me is that the language of our mission is not English,… it’s French !  I either speak in English and have someone translate for me or I stumble over my very limited and poor French, and watch them scratching their heads trying to figure out what-in-the-world I am trying to say.  The easy answer seems to be to speak in English, right?  But the question is… Is the easy thing the right thing?  If I try speaking in French, am I setting a good example for our missionaries and others?  Are they warmed by my efforts to speak to them in their own language?  (French isn’t their own language of course but is the best I can do.)  Or, if I speak in French, is it all about me trying to do my best?  A couple of weeks ago, I was talking this over with some of the senior sisters and made the statement, “I don’t care if I look like an idiot.  I just don’t want to waste valuable conference time.  I want to say something worth hearing!”  Pretty noble right?  (I think I was hoping for the gift of tongues.)  Well,… turns out that when crunch time came and I actually did look and sound like an idiot,…  I cared!  The day after the disaster, I had to speak again to the same crowd.  Boy!… I had to think about that long and hard.  If I spoke in English, would everyone know I had given up?  But… if I tried French again and did no better, would I be doing more harm than good?  In the end, the simple answer I received was, “French is the language of our mission.”  And once again, in the time since we arrived here, I learned something about submission,… and about the journey.  (Remember?… “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”)…   This weekend I will try again.

2015-03-22_00.49.09_2Here is one of the Likasi District Presidency and some of his children, arriving at District Conference today. (Count them. There are seven on that bike!)  This is the most common form of taxi service in the DRC, and though it looks terribly unsafe and irresponsible, there is little choice.  Besides, the kids look like they are having fun…  and isn’t that all that matters?!

The rest of the pictures in this post will be dedicated to what I think, are some of the noteworthy store fronts and buildings we have seen.

2014-12-20_09.38.45I think this is a restaurant but as we have never been inside, I can’t be sure.

2014-10-19_04.52.24I don’t know why it surprised me to see a dancing club, but it did.  Possible P-day activity?

2014-12-20_01.32.35Di,…  I thought you might be able to use some of these ideas for your next salon.  🙂

2014-10-19_04.49.082015-03-09_02.28.01This one might be especially good for Salt Lake.

2014-12-20_00.53.22Actually, this one looks pretty good!  Maybe I’ll try it out next time?

2015-03-12_03.10.43I thought I’d throw this guy in the middle.  We pass him every time we go to the grocery store (which is way too often).   We assume he’s had a rotator cuff problem with his right arm for the past week, as he is no longer able to lift it, like he is in this picture.  (Two weeks ago he had nothing but his legs!)  There he is though… rain or shine, doing his best to direct traffic.  They are very proud of him, as you can tell by the printing on the box he stands on.  (No. I don’t know why they have written it in English instead of French!)

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House of Sewing!  I am actually quite impressed with what they are able to do, with nothing but treadle sewing machines.  However,…  Haute Couture they are not!

2014-11-09_00.23.11Apparently, there has been some problem in the past with people selling property that is not theirs to sell,… and then the real owners have to move out!

2014-11-09_00.35.45Come to think of it, hasn’t there been a similar problem at home?  Well,… Here is the solution!  THIS HOUSE IS NOT FOR SALE!!!

2015-03-19_01.39.17This doesn’t have a sign, but it is a store!  And the wheelbarrows?….  Those are to rent to carry home your purchase!

2015-03-21_01.21.57Okay!  There may be something not quite right with the name of this store, but no one here would notice.  It’s still cool!

Now on to the medical section…

2014-10-19_04.49.46Count your blessings girls!  I wonder what the feminists would think about the name of this hospital?

2014-12-20_01.25.49_2Jess, Ben and Wes…  This one is for you!  Is it just me, or could this gentleman use a little orthodontic work to correct the placement of his upper anterior 7 through 10?  It’s apparent he has more immediate problems however, by the look on his face.

2014-12-20_09.39.19Zach and Nin?  You will be setting up practice in a few years…  I thought this was quite an eye catcher!  In fact… if you look more closely…

2014-12-20_09.39.19_2Zach!!!  It’s you!!!  There might be some copyright fees, however.  I LOVE IT!!!  🙂

So!…  What I learned this week about my ability to speak French, (or not) is that “my ability to speak French” really doesn’t matter.  Heavenly Father can take care of the message and the spirit, no matter how well I speak or what I speak about, and in whatever language.  What does matter is that we all keep moving ahead,… learning, growing, and trying to do our best and be our best,… even if it is difficult and we risk looking foolish.  After all, “Life is a journey.”  And one day, when we finally do arrive at our destination, we will realize that it is not so much about the actual ups and downs of life or our achievements, but everything about the person we have become.

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C’EST L’ESPRIT!

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.

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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.

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This boy did a great job of leading the congregation in song.

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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).

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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.)

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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.

2015-02-12_03.53.21Here 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.

2015-02-12_10.35.55Bujumbura 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.

2015-02-11_11.42.00Another 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.

2015-02-19_05.30.36A 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.

2015-02-20_06.33.04We 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.

2015-02-20_06.33.55… And here we have a selection of dried caterpillars, grubs and grasshoppers.  I used to be pretty adventuresome when it came to food, but there are some places I just will not go.

2015-02-21_07.57.13Sister 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.

2015-02-22_04.32.12 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.

2015-02-22_04.49.25We 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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our Week In Kasai

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A couple of weeks ago, we wrapped up our fourth visit to Kasai Oriental.  Though this trip is not one I particularly look forward to, each time seems a little easier than the last.  This trip we were accompanied by the Drapers, the Davis’ and Emmanuel, our housing specialist.  Each of us, other than Emmanuel, had made this trip before and so we came prepared, literally, for the week ahead.  Sister Draper even brought the cushion off her couch in Lubumbashi, to make the ride in the Land Cruiser a little easier.  It was actually kind of fun!

We began the week with a one and a half hour flight to Mbuji Mayi, where Godefroid and the Land Cruiser were waiting for us.  After a three hour ride over some very rough roads, we arrived in Mwene Ditu where Brent interviewed missionaries and members for about four hours.  Meanwhile, the rest of us waited for him to join us for dinner at the Carrfour, the little hotel we stay at just down the road from the church.  Dinner on this trip is always basically the same – dry chicken and rice or potatoes.  Beatrice, the cook at the Carrfour usually has a few extra dishes, like local fish, sombe and of course, fu fu.

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Our four great sisters in Mwene Ditu.  Sister Wamalwa on the far left, is from Kenya and the others, of course, are from Kinshasa.  We do love them!

The next morning we were on the road bright and early to make it to Luputa for interviews and Zone Conference that day.

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Our missionaries in Luputa.  No sisters here!  Man!  I honestly cannot figure out why the missionaries won’t smile.  Part of it might be that they just don’t think it’s cool to smile… or perhaps in this particular picture, they have an idea of the changes that are about to shake up the mission.

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One of our Zone Leaders and just of few of the many, many children of Luputa.

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The main purpose of the Davis’ trip to Luputa was to present the local hospital there with an ultra-sound machine.  The chief came to preside over the ceremony (I think you can tell by the look in his eyes that he is a good man.) and was very gracious in his remarks, as he expressed gratitude for all the church has done for the community of Luputa.  The Church provided the city with an extensive water system a few years ago, bringing water from many miles away and providing a huge holding tank.  It is literally the only access to water the city has.  The chief referred to it as the “water of life”.  Before the ceremony ended, everybody stood and sang the National Anthem.  That was the first (and only) time I have ever heard it.  It is well suited to this place and people and was one of those moments when I had to say, “Brent!…. We are in Africa!”

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There’s something about the light in Luputa!  I love the colours, the children and the trees!

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Some of the trees feel like guardians to me.  Some are huge.

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People truly live outside in the DRC and because of that, the trees serve some important purposes.  In this heat, shade is a must.

2015-01-28_08.48.00What a great place for a rest.

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This… is Africa!  I love the colour and light of this picture.  I think it’s beautiful.

2015-01-28_08.52.07These are called Guinea Hens, I think.  They eventually end up on the plate just like everything else.

2015-01-28_08.54.58_2 2015-01-28_08.54.16It’s a short walk from the Church to the Hospital but all these pictures were taken in this short time.  As you might imagine, six white people walking down the road of a town in the middle of the Congo creates a bit of a stir but while they are staring at us, I am taking pictures of them.  It is a different kind of beauty here.

2015-01-28_12.06.57Back at the “Luputa Hotel” (a building the church built so visitors like us would have somewhere to stay), we enjoyed our dinner of freeze dried food.  As you can see, we had quite a variety, though everything seems to be a variation of the same theme… chicken and rice.  Sister Davis was Chief Cook.

2015-01-28_12.27.06Dinner really was pretty good!  As usual, Brent can’t eat without doing something else at the same time.  His schedule really is grueling and I am constantly amazed at the pace he is able to keep up, though he is always pretty spent by bedtime.  Good thing we didn’t have far to go for bed that night.  Our bed was just behind that curtain!

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The next morning after a few early morning interviews, we were on the road again back to Mwene Ditu for Zone Conference.  The road was not half bad this time… and so beautiful!

2015-01-29_02.05.23We call this Crocodile River, which of course is not it’s real name.  We have never stopped to look for any crocs but we are assured this river is full of them.

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This is the bridge we take to cross Crocodile River.  One of these times we might get an unexpected opportunity to find out if there really are crocs in there!

2015-01-29_10.03.55Zone Conference dinner in Mwene Ditu was provided by some sisters in the church there.  The missionaries loved it and heaped their plates high, even if the rest of us weren’t too thrilled.  Yes, of course there was chicken and rice, but there were some other dishes too.  The goat had great flavor, but just took a lot of chewing.  I think Brent had been working on a piece for about ten minutes, at the time this picture was taken.

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The next day we drove the three hours back to Mbuji Mayi and after dropping Brent off to do a few hours of interviews, the rest of us paid a visit to the wonderful members of Tshitenge to see their new brick oven and sample some of their bread.  They are now able to not only bake their own sacrament bread, but bake bread daily for themselves and to sell to the community.  I’m a little envious.  I have wanted a brick oven for years!

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The rolls these sisters made tasted very much like the homemade dinner rolls we would make back home.

After our visit, a few of the members piled into the back of the Land Cruiser along with the Davis’, Drapers and Emmanuel, for what proved to be a very cozy ride back to M.M.  Brent followed his interviews with the missionaries, with another meeting.  Around 200 of the District leadership showed up to listen to President Thomas teach them the importance of Ward Councils.

2015-01-30_03.16.21Remember the old Sesame Street song, “One of These Things Doesn’t Go With the Others”?  This is a shot of some of our elders in Mbuji Mayi, waiting for their interview with the President.  Though our elders always look nice and clean, “Fashion” is not their strong suit.  We are accustomed to seeing a variety of creative white shirts, shoes, bags and even pants….  Then there is the elder on the left.  He is from the Camaroon.  I don’t know where he gets his clothes, but I don’t think he gets them here.  He always stands out from the pack and has excellent fashion sense!  This is how he came to interviews.  He looked like he was ready to walk down a New York runway!  Everything was perfectly coordinated, even down to the sunglasses and baseball cap (both of which he removed as soon as I mentioned it).  Honestly!  Diesel jeans, Levi leather belt, hoody stylishly tied around his waist, and the most beautiful leather boots I think I have ever seen.  I couldn’t help it!  I was and still am, full of admiration!  But!… We will be talking about appropriate missionary attire in the next round of Zone Conferences.  🙂

2015-01-31_23.42.25Here is Godefroid getting us all packed up to go back to the airport and then on to home.   Well, another week in the mission has come to an end, and though it has not been an easy one (they never are up here), none of us are any worse-for-the-wear.  Look at those smiles!  Tonight we will be back in our own beds, and have hot running water, lights, air-conditioning (if the generator hasn’t broken down) and something to eat other than… you guessed it… chicken and rice.

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Where Are We?!

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We have a great restaurant just around the corner from the Mission Home.  When you walk through the gate of the courtyard, you feel like you have just walked out of the Congo and into some restaurant in Florida or California. – American music, delicious steak and the best Ferrero Roche milkshakes ever!  We refer to it as the “hollow deck” experience.  (Remember Star Trek and the hollow deck?)  The restaurant has been there since before our arrival, but it seems there has been a wind of change about, that we were totally unaware of.  Now, every time we are out and about we see something new, that wasn’t there a month or two, or even a week or two ago.  I have found myself saying to Brent, “Where are we?!  Is this the same city we arrived in seven months ago?”  Things seem to be changing so rapidly, that if they continue like this, I may not want to leave.  🙂

Yes…  Some of it may be attributed to acclimatizing ourselves to our new home, but it is so much more than that.  We landed here on June 30th, on a rough, broken up runway and now it is new, smooth and even has white lines painted on it.  The airport, which could not be adequately described, has since been painted, organized (sort of) and has some new posters and signs with pictures of the Eiffel Tower, the Roman Coliseum and the Statue of Liberty!… just like real airports.

There are beautiful, big new gas stations everywhere, replacing the little stands selling jerry cans of gas and diesel.  And there are the cars to go with them!  Hummers, BMWs and Lexuss (or is it Lexi).  It has been months since we have been stopped by the police.  Instead of whistling for us to stop, trying to block our way and asking us for money, they smile and wave and wish us a “Good Day”!  Yesterday, we stopped when one policeman motioned us to, and I pulled out a bottle of water to offer her.  She politely declined and said she merely wanted to wish us salutations from her chef (good wishes from her boss)!  Unbelievable!  Where are we?!

We have always been able to find enough food to eat well, though the stores here have been in no way like anything we are used to from home.  Until now that is!  We have a brand new… big… grocery store!  It has a great bakery, deli, meat selection and more.  I even found some Callebault chocolate chips!  (Granted, they did cost about $50 for five and a half pounds, but they have them!)  There is even a brand new little food court right beside it with pizza, chicken and ice cream.  When we were buying groceries the other day, we heard Tina Turner singing “Tiny Dancer” in the background… Another “hollow deck” experience. And all-of-a-sudden, there are white people everywhere!  Nothing like a modern grocery store and food court to pull the white people out of the woodwork.  Where have they all been for the past seven months, anyway?!  Really!  Are we still in the DRC?!

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Okay.  I know this will be a boring picture to everyone except someone who has lived here.  I mean honestly!… There is even a real parking lot!!!

2015-01-08_05.22.09Here are our new missionaries, who all arrived on the same day at the same time!  We are so excited to have them all here!  Sister Vance brings the Canadian contingent up to 5!!  Boy!  We are all so glad to have her and her wonderful companion Sister Cook here to help us.

Now for some pictures from Burundi.

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Here is our little group of missionaries in Bujumbura.  We flew up there on Boxing Day and flew home on New Year’s Day.  We had a great time!  We even went out for Chinese food for the Zone Conference dinner!  While we waited, Brent started asking some gospel questions.  Wow!  I was so impressed with how much they knew and with the questions they asked!  We have now started doing that at all the Zone Conference dinners.  They love it and really seem to know their scriptures.  The four sisters are in the close-up with Brent at the top of the page and you can get a pretty good idea of their personalities from the looks on their faces.

2014-12-31_01.33.522014-12-31_01.37.27During Zone Conference, we had a real down pour!  How I love a good rain with thunder and lightning!  But it was so loud that Brent could not be heard, and had to wait for the rain to end before he could continue.  It never takes long, however.  That is what is so nice.  It never just drizzles.  It rains hard and then the clouds clear away and the sun comes out.  I love it!

2014-12-31_12.38.59Sister and Elder Neeley work with the members and young missionaries in Bujumbura and Uvira.  I don’t know what we would do without them!  They are so loved by everyone there, what will we do when they leave?  (We really are in dire need of couples here in our mission.  Life for senior missionaries here is really not so bad!  I think it is mostly the travelling that makes it tough and Brent and I are the only ones that really have to do that.  We all have been trying so hard to find couples to come here, to no avail.  Really!… It is much like life in any mission…  Any takers?)

2014-12-31_12.37.13The Van Wagoners are our Humanitarian couple in Bujumbura and do an amazing job.  Neither one speaks French but that doesn’t slow them down a bit.  They know half of the dignitaries in town, go dancing every Friday night, exercise every morning in the park with their own personal trainer and eat wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables daily.  In short, I think they are healthier than most of us would be at home.  And as far as “happy” goes… I think their faces say it all!

Yes, we are still in the same place we landed in seven months ago but things really are different.  I even feel differently now.  Not really because of any of the things I have mentioned above, though none of that hurts.  It is because of much more important changes that have been taking place.  I am finally beginning to understand a little and to be able to speak and actually be understood!  That is huge to the mental well-being of a ‘talker” like myself.  (Though try as we might, I don’t think we will ever fully understand the cultural differences.)  And even more importantly, we are sensing a shift in the attitude of the mission for the better.  It may be only the slightest of shifts, but it is something!  We are beginning to feel like we are making a difference and that,… makes all the difference.

P.S.  Due to an inability to access the internet, this post was a little long in coming.  I plan on another in a few days.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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