I seem to have gotten behind in updating the blog. October?? and now it is the end of January. Fortunately there are pictures to remind us, so I'll do at least a synopsis of the last three months. We had hoped to make another trip to Liwonde to visit the group there for another baptism, but our schedule has been full most of the time. I will post this tonight and put the pictures in in the next little while.
November saw us driving to Lilongwe for the first time since we arrived here. We have made several half-trips to deliver personnel and immigration papers. We drive to Ntcheu and meet someone coming from Lilongwe, exchange mail and passengers, and then drive home again. It means that we can get things to the northern end of our areas with only 5 hours spent from each end instead of a 10-hour marathon to make the full round trip. We have gotten so that we can enjoy the trip a little more--not so much stress about getting lost on the way and knowing the right time to be driving to miss most of the obstacles (MARKET DAY, FESTIVALS, HEAVY TRUCKS). We also learned not to come home later than 5:00pm, since the homebound traffic in Blantyre includes bicycles with loads 6 feet wide, oxcarts, wheelchairs, pedestrians wearing black clothing, vehicles without lights, and multiple under-powered large trucks on every hill. After dark it gets to be a real nail-biter.
We had company for Thanksgiving, although we ate dinner on Sunday. Elder and Sister Hales, who were the PEF missionaries came to visit. We had roast chicken, stuffing, mashed potatos and gravy, Sister Reynolds' carrot casserole which was a real hit, and a "pumpkin" pie made with butternut squash, which turned out to be even better.
Hales were hoping to introduce the PEF program and get the young people started. Much to their surprise, they found 20 candidates with their paperwork already complete, the interviews done, and proposals for admittance to the various vocational institutions in Malawi ready to be submitted. Unfortunately she suffered some health issues, and they had to be released early. They were home in time for Christmas. The schooling is now kind of in limbo, because we do not have new PEF missionaries yet, but the young people are moving forward on their own, hoping to obtain loans after they are enrolled in school. The YSA group here is powerful.
So, back to the trip to Lilongwe. We took the entire zone of missionaries, along with both counselors from Blantyre District and their wives, for a total of 22, 14 in our trucks and 8 on the AXA bus. We stayed two nights, and spent time in leadership meetings with Elder James D. Martino from the Seventy who was touring our mission. This was the first time we have had both Malawi zones together since the mission was opened. We received marvelous training and counsel. The training had more to do with obtaining referrals rather than knocking gates, and the counsel was about working more closely with the members, including helping with home teaching, visiting teaching, and being more a part of the ward rather than just working in the area. The work of integrating new members into the church should be shared, rather than just left to one or the other group to do, since the missionaries are always being reassigned. It was a great experience to have us all together, and to personally meet with one of the Seventy
December was busy, as usual. We had one of our sister missionaries who had to go home early. Bless her heart, she kept going with pretty severe abdominal pain for 8 months, but after multiple trips to the hospital and testing, she elected to go home. She was heart-broken, but it was for the best, and she had done her best. They finally diagnosed her with parasites, although she had been tested for those while here. We had been advised by the area medical office that drinking an occasional Coke would help prevent that. She had elected not to do that for personal reasons. I'm not sure if it would have helped, but it seems to be working for the rest of us. The Coke and Pepsi here is a little different. It is not as sweet, and I'm sure it has less caffeine. I could never drink a whole can of Pepsi without getting all buzzed, but here it doesn't even faze me. I can go to sleep right after a can of Pepsi. Not that I mind, as long as it keeps the parasites at bay.
Christmas was another story. It was hard to get in the spirit of Christmas when we were used to snow and cold. The temperature was averaging right around 82* and all the flowering trees were in bloom. It finally cooled down a little bit when it started to rain, but it was still in the high 70's most days. The stores put up decorations, and played Christmas music, but we had a pretty hard time keeping from laughing when they played Jingle Bells, White Christmas, and such. That's not happening here, folks! I was sitting in church after Thanksgiving, and they sang "Heark the Herald Angels Sing" for the opening song. Before I realized why, I thought to myself, "Why are they singing those songs this time of year?" Duh, it's December, old man.
Sister Reynolds went all out for Christmas. She asked the missionaries what they would do at home at Christmas time, and incorporated their suggestions into her dinner planning. We found a couple of small turkeys (Wow!), did a couple of small roasts. She made rolls for sandwich buns, some regular crescent rolls (a special request) and he famous sausage rolls. She did pickles, crackers, fresh salsa, home-made ranch dip, shrimp dip (I actually found some Philadelphia Cream Cheese--don't ask how much it was), and olives. She scrounged for all kinds of substitutions, but made sugar cookies, frosted cutout cookies (the sister missionaries asked to help), ginger snaps, texas sheet-cake, fudge, english toffee, and peanut brittle. They don't have brown sugar or corn syrup, so the sugar stuff came out a little different. The fudge was good, but soft like cake frosting, the english toffee was good, but a really different texture, the peanut brittle didn't set up until we froze it, and then it was really good. Not that any of this mattered, the missionaries had a great feast, and of course a lot of it was things that the Africans had never seen before. Elder Amison assembled a video montage of the Church films of the life of Jesus, and it was great, ending of course with the patriarch reading the Christmas story from Luke.
January started off with some exciting-sad-good news. Three of our missionaries had been sent out of or diverted from Zimbabwe at the same time we were going through the visa challenge, and they were sent to our Zambia mission to wait. We found out they were actually going to be able to go back to Zim, after 6 months here, and finish their mission where they had been initally assigned. We lost two sisters, one from California/Tonga and one from South Africa, along with one elder from Uganda, who was a district leader at the time. Zim got three fully trained "new" missionaries. We shed a few tears--it is so easy to learn to love these fine young people, and off they went on their new assignment. We have received one replacement elder, and are to receive the two replacement sisters on the 30th of January.
We also received news that we will be getting another senior couple to serve as CES missionaries here in Blantyre. They will be responsible for Seminaries and Institutes. Sister Reynolds is excited to have someone to talk to. I have been house-hunting for the last week or so, since they will be arriving in March, and we will need to find and furnish a new house for them. You would not believe the houses we have looked at. I told the estate agents what I wanted, and of course they want to trade up if they can, since their commission is usually more for a higher rental. We looked at one place which was the residence of a former member of Parliament--oh my stars! It was at least 3000 square feet on each of three floors, I mean about 10,000 sq ft including the three car garage. The master suite had an enormous round bed, columns, mirrors, six closets, etc., etc., Sister Reynolds wanted to take the kitchen home with her, it had double ovens, island cooktop, and a separate prep room for food, walk in pantry, and tons of cupboard space. The place was tiled from floor to ceiling in most of the rooms, ceramic tile floors or wood throughout, balconies from each of the six bedrooms, all with bathrooms ensuite, and an open air stairwell in the center of the house. All this for USD
$1275/month. It might have been OK for a mission home, but I only need a nice home for two senior missionaries! Half of one floor would have been more than sufficient.
We also looked at some houses which might have been suitable, but the location, security, access, or mutiple floors were not good for a 79-year old and his wife. We did find one house in a nice area, with easy road access, and within two blocks of one of our sister's flats. It is a little too big with four bedrooms and four baths, but would be nice to use about half the house and close the rest off. It is on about two acres, but only 1/4 of it is maintained, the rest is old fruit orchard. They just cut the grass during the rainy season, and then let it go during the winter. The rent was really reasonable, about USD$650/mo. If we don't find something else in the next few days, I will check with Pres. Erickson and see if that would be alright.
We have four new Malawi missionaries leaving within the next two months, so we are also working with them to get them outfitted and ready to go. Most of them have nothing, or very little. We shop like mad for suitable used clothing, luggage, and shoulder bags. You wouldn't believe we could get 8 shirts, several pair of slacks, ties, socks, shoes, and most of their other needs for less than $200. It is an adventure in thrift shopping. You would have to see three blocks of shoes for sale by the side of the road, no shops, no sizes, just whatever is available today, kind of like an open air vegetable market. Good used white shirts come from the laundry services, who replace their stock when it looks the least bit worn. I don't know where they find the socks, but they are reasonable, although you will never find two pair the same color or style. The ties are something else.
One of the biggest expenditures is for a decent set of scriptures and the missionary reference set. Now if we could just get scriptures it would be helpful. The announcement of new versions in the US has eaten up all the production of the scriptures. We haven't been able to buy a Bible for at least three months. I know we aren't a priority out here in the hinterlands, but it would be nice to send our people out with something besides a paperback version from Seminary.
The rainy season is going on now. They told us it would really rain, and it has, but not for too long. We get a pretty good downpour for several hours, then it turns into a nice soaking rain, and the temperature drops into the low 70's. Of course the Africans are all freezing to death at that temperature. You see them in stocking caps and gloves with their coats on. They have a very narrow range of comfort, somewhere between 75* and 85*--outside that it's too cold or too hot. I suppose we will get that way before we go home, but for us now, it's very comfortable.
The missionaries have accepted a new challenge to build the church up and not so much out. The people here in Malawi are very open to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They love him, and are anxious to follow their Lord and Savior. Most of them are in church somewhere on Saturday or Sunday, and they love to talk about the Lord. That makes it very easy for the missionaries to find people to teach, so they seldom knock on anyone's door. They just ask for referrals and follow up. However, we need more professional people, and those with more leadership skills to help build the church. Because we do not have paid ministers, we need people who will work, "doers of the word and not hearers only" in order to build strong congregations
and stronger families. We need people who are personally financially stable so that they can devote time to the Lord. There are many strong people among the poor, but they can hardly spare time to build the church when they are working 80 hours a week just to feed their family. Of course, people who are already doing well in life tend to think they don't need the Lord, and here in Malawi, they live in a fenced compound with a guard at the gate. It's really easy to tell the guard that he can tell those missionaries at the gate that he's not interested, or can't be bothered right now. The missionaries are working hard to find ways to contact those people directly, and also teaching all the guards they can talk to. We have seen some really high-power people come into the church in the last couple of months, attorneys, educators, public officials, businessmen. It is really exciting to see what happens when the counsel of our leaders becomes our focus and guide. The best part is that the missionaries are using us to help them teach, since we seem to represent a more successful role model, rather than just 19-year-olds with a message. And we have met some really wonderful people because of this. We love to be involved directly with teaching, and more than that we love to see how the gospel changes people's lives. It truly does make bad men good and good men better.