Monday, April 20, 2015

We made it to Oahu, spent the first night in Waikiki (I didn't realize that flying overnight from Brisbane on Friday would land you in Hawaii on Friday morning because of the international dateline) so we were a day early for our condo reservations at Laie, but finally got settled for our week in Hawaii.   We had a nice two bedroom unit, right across the road from the beach, and right next to BYUH and the Polynesian Cultural Center as well as the temple.  We got to go to both!  The PCC is fabulous, non-stop entertainment from noon until after the evening show, great food at the luau, and the floor show was fun, especially the young man who did the fire dance. 

Of course, our session at the temple was the real highlight of our stay, but we managed to drive up to the north shore and watch the surfers, walk on the beach, search through the tide pools, and really unwind.  We left early Friday morning so that we could get tickets for the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor, and enjoyed that immensely.  We went to the airport early so that we could be sure of our seating, which was not quite as planned, but had a smooth uneventful flight to San Francisco.  The airport there was a little dicey, we arrived in the middle of the night, and there weren't many airline personnel around to ask for directions.  We flew in on United, and then on to Seattle on Alaska.  The only trouble is that they are on opposite sides of the airport.  We were wondering if we would have to walk home after trudging across several terminals and through security each time. 

Kenneth and his family, as well as Jared and his family met us at SeaTac.  DeeAnn was delayed, and we met her family at Jared's home.  Brenda had out of town company so we met them for dinner on Monday night.  It was great to be home for General Priesthood Meeting and to join all the tribe for Thai food at our favorite eatery.

We are finally home, but not unpacked after two full weeks.  Sis. Reynolds has been back in the sort mode.  It's amazing how much stuff we didn't throw away when we house-cleaned prior to our mission.  We keep finding more and more stuff that needs to disappear.  Her girlfriend, Jan, suggested that she might be interested in doing a yard sale for us for a part of the proceeds.  I think we should take her up on it.  Two years in Malawi helps prioritize what you really might need and also to realize how much you do not need.  Case in point, who needs four rolls of aluminum foil, or three full bottles of Windex, or eight pair of shoes that you haven't worn for five years, or twenty-five pairs of sox, or eight flashlights, or 50+ miscellaneous refrigerator storage containers, or, or, etc. You get the picture.

So now we try to prioritize our time to get everything done before we can take off for a little road trip to be sure the RV is working right after two years in storage.  Hopefully we can get our car set up to dinghy-tow so we can be sure that will work OK, too. 

President Porterfield is anxious to have us speak in as many wards as possible to encourage folks in our stake to serve as missionary couples.  We spoke briefly in Stake Conference, will do our home-coming talks next Sunday in Eastmont Ward, and see how it goes from there.  We love to share our experiences and encourage others to prepare to serve. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

We are on the first leg of our trip back to the USA from the most beautiful part of the Zambia Lusaka Mission, having completed 23 months of service since arriving at the MTC in Provo on the 22nd of April, 2013.  I can hardly believe we have been gone that long.  Especially the last few months, which have literally flown by.

We flew to Johannesburg, had a 5 hour layover, and then flew overnight to Perth.  The seats on that Airbus were awful, cramped, narrow, and no individual air conditioning.  Can you tell that I am from Seattle where they make really good Boeing airliners?  Even the little Embraier jet we flew from Perth to Adelaide was quite comfortable.

We got in about 23:00, after 24 hours in flight and maybe 1 hours sleep.  By the time we rented the car and drove to Mawson Lakes, SA, it was after midnight, and finally in bed by 01:00, but slept until 9:00, so we are beginning to catch up.  We found a Subway (oh joy, oh joy) and had a seafood special for breakfast at about noon.  Afterward we took another nap, then met Martyn's parents and his sister, Jennie for a nice visit.  It was good to see them after so many years.  Peter looked well, but he is having difficulty remembering much any more.  Janet is doing well, and Jennie is expecting a grandchild from each of her chicks in the next few days, so that was exciting news.

We went looking for a good fish and chips shop last night, and found one on the first try.  They had really great butterfish, calamari, and shrimp with great chips.  I'm afraid that Malawi doesn't know how to cook fish, mexican, chinese, or thai or fries.  Blantyre does have great Indian cuisine, especially lamb and goat curries. We will have to be careful or we will gain back the weight we lost.

Speaking of lost, we got lost and spent an extra hour in the dark, wandering around Modbury, Salisbury East, and other unknown points before finally getting back to Mawson Lakes.  After learning to navigate in Africa with no street lights, no road signs, no traffic lights, and no rules of the road you would think we could find our way around in civilization, but I did have to stop and ask directions.  We missed to turnoff to Montague Road, and that was the initial mistake.

We had the opportunity of attending the Temple in Adelaide, which has been the highlight of our stay-over so far.  We had a delightful visit with the Temple President and Matron afterward.  They had been on a mission to Finland before he was called to the presidency, and are looking forward to going again when his service is over at the temple.

We went shopping this morning, and found DeeAnn's sleepers she ordered (Shields in Westfield Mall) and a swimsuit for Sister Reynolds (Target) for Hawaii next week.  Also an Oz electrical adapter--the one I brought with me keeps falling out of the wall plug.

So now we have plans for tomorrow morning to go to a little Bavarian-themed village, kind of like Leavenworth, WA and then back to Mawson Lakes for tea with Martyn's family.  Hopefully Jodie and Matt will both be able to attend and we will try to get pictures.  More on that later, and on our plans to visit the cemetery with Jennie on Saturday morning before she has to return to work and we get ready to fly to Honolulu. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Today I thought I'd let everyone know how their prayers for our safety are answered.  Driving in Blantyre is a dangerous sport.  It requires nerve, defensive and offensive skills, and not a little bit of oversight by your guardian angels. We thank the Lord each night for another day when we have been preserved by his hand. 

While we were on our way today, I was waiting at an intersection to turn across traffic, and there was a car coming, a little too close to turn out in front of, but still coming very slowly.  The driver eventually turned off but didn't turn on his signal until he was half-way around the corner.  Of course I was murmuring a bit about the delay, thinking that if he had signaled I would have been long gone.

As we approached the next intersection to the main highway, suddenly a car came careening out of control into our road, narrowly missing the car in front of us who was waiting to turn, barely missing the bridge abutment and drifting to a halt in the deep grass along side our car, with his wheel covers continuing to spin up to the neighbor's security wall.

If we had been a few seconds sooner in arriving, we would have met him head-on in our lane.  Sister Reynolds looked over at the driver of the errant car, and could see him frozen with fear, clutching the steering wheel and with his eyes wide open. 

I have often remarked that my timing is not the Lord's timing and I'm grateful that the angels are looking out for us, in spite of my complaining.  ER

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Although we are part of the Zambia Lusaka Mission, and we love our President and Sister Erickson, we are fairly autonomous since we are about two days travel from the mission headquarters.  It often seems like we are at the end of the world here in Blantyre, since we are the last stop in Malawi for everyone who comes.  It humbles me (and I think, Sister Reynolds, too) to think that the Lord and President Erickson entrust us with the care of our missionaries here.  We see them come and grow, and move on to leadership positions throughout the rest of the mission, and we realize that these are really choice young people, the best the Lord has to offer to work here. 

The membership is wonderful, so kind and gracious to us as we help, train, correct, and encourage them to be a little better each day.  The young people are incredibly faithful, and watching them grow in the gospel convinces us that this is Malawi's time, that the Church will be fully established here within the next decade and see remarkable growth.

Wednesday 11-03-2015 was another red-letter day for Malawi. We had the opportunity of attending the meeting where Sister Cherwa was set apart to serve in the London South Mission.  She is the FIRST Malawi native sister to be assigned outside of Africa, and it was exciting to be a part of that.  Sometimes we send out missionaries who are the only members of their respective families, and it will just be the Senior Couples who attend, but this young woman's family are mostly members of the church, and were there, brothers and sisters, Mom and Dad, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends.  It was a wonderful send-off. 

We had several non-members who were invited as close friends and families, and they expressed their thanks for having been included.  It was a great spiritual occasion for us all. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

As noted previously, Thursday 26/02/15 was the day we had arranged to deliver the flood relief supplies which had been purchased by the Humanitarian Missionaries, Elder and Sister Bodily through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Humanitarian Services. Wednesday was spent paying for and loading sufficient supplies to allow distribution to 1250 families.  We worked with a representative of the Czech Republic Relief organization because he had established local contacts and could facilitate the arrangements.  The Thylo (say cho-low) District Commissioners have direct supervision of all the NGO helpers, in order to avoid confusion and duplication of efforts.  The loading involved two fairly good-sized trucks which left Blantyre on Wednesday as soon as they were loaded and the drivers spent the night in their trucks at the district offices, guarding the supplies to prevent pilfering.

We met with Beal's and Bodily's at the Blantyre Chapel, assembled our nine YSA and AP volunteers, and caravanned down the side of the mountain into the Shire Valley at Chikhwawa (sometimes spelled Chikwawa).  We drove to Thylo District Headquarters and met the trucks a little bit later than we had scheduled.  That worked out alright, since one of the trucks was changing a flat tire, and our guide from the District Disaster Coordinator was late getting there, too. 

We were assigned to two routes, the Beal's and their crew going north with one, and the Bodily's and my crew going south with the other.  That was quite an adventure.  It had rained again heavily the night before, and the river was rising as we drove toward Nchalo. The water came up across most of the road, and at times we were driving as if in a lake, our wake washing up against the houses alongside the road.  Eventually we came to a place where the water was actually running rapidly across the road, the majority of the river unable to pass under the bridge on M1, the main north-south highway in Malawi.  We were stopped in the water while another large tractor-trailer semi made his way toward us across the bridge and the river, then it was our turn to go the other way, since we were caught in the middle of the overflow.  The cars and mini-buses were waiting for the water to go down.  I told the four brethren in my car, "You all pray and I'll drive."  I put the vehicle in 4WD and we plowed across the current in the wake of our big truck.  It was pretty scary, and I kept thinking of the Weather Channel slogan "TURN AROUND, DON'T DROWN."  The water got up to the running board of the car, but we all made it safely.  They closed the road temporarily after we got through with our emergency supplies.  Surely the Lord heard our prayers.

We drove almost to the Mozambique border, actually within 5 kilometers where we made the first distribution.  We were met by a number of hungry residents who were not assigned to the refugee camp.  It was disheartening to have to tell them that our supplies were to be delivered to the displaced families in the camp, an assignment which had been made by the District. 

Sister Bodily plunged into the crowd and communicated as best we could our disappointment in not being able to help everyone.  I joined her, and then decided that while all the talking (which always proceeds any action in Malawi) was going on we could have fun with the children.  We started singing Primary action songs, "Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes" and "Do As I'm Doing, Follow, Follow Me."  I felt like Sister Bodily should be involved with the actual distribution, so I sent her off to help with the refugees, and I entertained the children, and eventually, all the mothers who were enjoying the diversion as much as the kids. Eventually I had over a hundred smiling small people trying to get the "eyes, ears, mouth, and nose" routine down so we could go fast.  We all got to laughing so hard that I could hardly sing.

The head man lined up all the 450 recipients according to his list, and then sent them across the highway in groups of ten to where we were parked to receive their donation.  The crew would place one 10 kg. sack of maize flour on each person's head, the next one would place a 5 kg. sack of cowpeas (garbanzo beans) on top of that, and finally Sister Bodily would hand them 4 packages of  soya pieces which they will use for relish to eat with the nshema which is their staple food like super-thick corn meal. Because they are all cooking communally (they have few cooking utensils) we distributed salt and cooking oil to groups, rather than individuals.

As we were finishing up, I bid good-bye to my beautiful group of children, we did fist-bumps all around, and drove back toward Nchalo for the next distribution. We drove out through the sugar cane fields of the Ilovo Sugar Company until we reached the next two camps.  They were on opposite sides of the service road.  Once again, I entertained the children while the supervisors talked, and we set up the distribution lines for another 400 families. 

I was having such a good time that eventually I could hardly talk, after having sung the same songs for three groups over a four-hour period.  It was just heart-warming to be able to bring a little lightness, mirth, and joy to children who had nothing except the ragged clothes on their backs.  We sang, laughed, and totally enjoyed each other, and none of us spoke the same language.  My Chichewa is limited to daily greetings, and their English is non-existent.  As usual, the further you get out in the villages, the less education is available at all. The funniest part was singing "There was a little house in the middle of the wood."  They had trouble with the concept of having a rabbit for a pet.  If they ever see one, he gets eaten immediately...

It was quite late when we started for home, and because there had been a mix-up at one of the camps we had 400 bags of each product left on the truck.  They directed us to a warehouse where we unloaded the remainder (something we weren't anxious to do because we will never know who benefited from the goods, or even if they were distributed along with the 1200 blankets).  The corruption may result in its being diverted and sold elsewhere, but we were told by our leadership that we had done all we could, and to leave it in the Lord's hands, since it was His provisions.  We can only pray that things get distributed without cost to those who truly need them.

We started back for home, thinking we might have to cross the flood again, but the river had fallen dramatically, and the pavement was dry, an answer to our prayers.  The delay in off-loading had allowed the river to carry off the day's flooding, and although there was still water all around, the road was high and dry.   It was about 9:30 when we finally were able to deliver all of our crew to their homes in parts of Blantyre, which we had to do because the public transport is almost non-existent after about 7:30.

What joy there is in being able to do service.  We saw relief on the faces of those who were hungry, happiness in the faces of the children for a very small diversion, and thankfulness in the eyes of the mothers who have nothing to give their families.  It is both heart warming and heart rending to witness.  We only wish we could have done more.  The Bodily's have been on the road since it started raining in January, trying to assess the damages, determine who is trustworthy to work with, and arrange funding, then arrange for goods and transport, and finally coordinate delivery.  They have been magnificent and they finally got home this week after two months away.  We love and appreciate them, especially since they have spent so much time in our home.  We will miss them dearly when we return to the USA later this month.

Most weeks are very busy, but every once in a while things go crazy.  Wed 25/02/15 was one of those.  I was scheduled to take Elder Njanji to the airport at 11:00, and had agreed to take his parents with us to see him off to the Manchester (UK) MTC where he will be in training for two weeks before going to his assigned mission in Birmingham.  We had agreed to meet in Ndirande at the petrol station, and a member of the Stake Presidency was to go with us.

Elder Osman Njanji is the first Malawi native missionary to be called to labor outside of Africa.  He will be followed next month by Sister Agness Cherwa, the first Malawi sister missionary to be called to labor outside Africa.  She will leave for the Manchester (UK) MTC on 12/03/15 to serve in the London South Mission.  They are both from Ndirande Branch, Blantyre District.  That branch is meeting in an old house, which even with two interior walls removed will only hold about 70 people, and they have had over 100 attend at Sacrament meeting.  What an exciting time to serve in Malawi and be a part of preparing these young people to leave!

Early Wed morning, I got a text message asking me to deliver the weight-lifting set from the Zone Leader's flat to another companionship across town.  No emergency, they just thought about it when they got out of bed at 6:30 and sent me a text, but early a.m. texts usually are about sick missionaries, so I ran down the hall to take my phone off the charger.  That started my day.

About the time I got out of the shower, Elder Beal called and asked if they could exchange cars for the day.  The alarm interlock button on their car had disintegrated, leaving the parts laying on the bottom of the floor, and unable to proceed, since the security system shuts off the engine if you don't disarm it with the "secret" button.  That meant I couldn't even drive it to the dealership for service.

So I delivered "Princess" (the STL's spare car) to the Beal's and they rushed off to their funeral.  I hurried back to our house to pick up Sister Bodily (Humanitarian Missionary) so that she could meet the trucks in Limbe to load the flood relief supplies for transport to Chikhwawa the next day.  Elder Bodily had driven down to Chikhwawa early in the morning to make specific arrangements for the deliveries to various camps.  Not wanting to leave Sis. Bodily alone in Limbe without contact, I had given her Sis. Reynolds cell phone in case she needed to contact us.  I then drove home to get breakfast, and gave my phone to Sis. Reynolds so she could call the Ndirande Elders about Elder Njanji's clothes while I ate.

Elder Njanji had been set apart on Tuesday afternoon, and spent the day with the Ndirande Elders, then was dropped off at our house so that we could take him to the airport.  Unfortunately, he had placed his p-day clothes in Elder Doig's backpack, and forgotten to take them out while at our house to transfer to his luggage. They arranged to meet us at the petrol station, which they did, along with the family.  Unfortunately President Matale was not there.  We had let the Elders go, not remembering that I did not have my phone.  We waited for 15 minutes, finally we drove back to the house and retrieved my phone, found out that there had been a miscommunication about meeting P. Matale, and then we hurried to Michuru to pick him up at his home.  He sent us off on an African shortcut so that we could go directly to the airport, and amid l8" deep mudholes and large rocks on a one lane street with two-way traffic (it is still the rainy season).  Fortunately, we made it to the airport with time enough to have Elder Njanji's papers checked and catch his flight, along with P. Matale. We waited there until I was sure he was safely in the boarding area, took his parents back to the petrol station in Ndirande, and then drove home for lunch.

About this time I get a call from the Zone Leaders to tell me their car (Patches) won't move, so I grab a sandwich and drive to their last appointment site to find that the clutch had been burned out.  Elder S. was just learning to drive a stick transmission, and I'm afraid he was a little too hard on the clutch on the hill leaving their flat each morning.  It is a difficult task for an experienced driver, so I couldn't be too surprised.  We left the truck parked at the member's house, I took them to a take-away where they bought lunch while I picked up Sister Reynolds' grocery order at the store next door.  Then I dropped them off at their next appointment and called the Isuzu dealer to pick up the car.  Unfortunately it was too late to do that on Wednesday so they would be on foot for several days. 

I drove back to the house to drop of the groceries and pick up my toolbox, and then to Elder and Sister Beal's flat to jury-rig the security button so that I could move that car.  By the time I got it going, it was almost dark and Beal's arrived home to let me know that they had spent the entire day getting "Princess" and the funeral bus out of the mud.  That's another story all by itself.

About 6:30 the Zone Leaders' called and said they forgot to tell me they hadn't had water at their flat for several days.  Could I please pick them and their emergency water barrels up so they could get water from our flat?  By the time we took care of filling and unloading 150 liters of water it was 8:30 or so, and I got home to eat and go to bed, since we would be leaving for Chikhwawa the next morning around 6:00AM which meant a 5:00AM wakeup time. 

I now think that this rates as my all-around craziest Wednesday in my entire life, if  not so for our mission!   So now I'm down two trucks, and won't be home all day tomorrow.  Life is good, I'm just glad that all the trouble happened while we were still here and didn't occur the day after we left, with the Beal's having to handle the craziness....

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Andrea dropped by this morning and wanted to take some pictures to remember us by.  His wife said he should get the pictures for sure, and so we obliged.  He is the tallest of all of those who have been our guards.  Most of them were only a couple of inches taller than Sister Reynolds.  He is very proud of his uniform, wanted to be sure we got a picture of his boots.

Sister Reynolds is wearing a skirt which was made by his wife.  She is an excellent seamstress, the best we have found after a couple of not-so-good results.

Can you tell we live in paradise?  Everyone who visits us says our compound is like the Garden of Eden.  We have heard it compared to Thailand for lushness and beauty.  Of course, we are in the middle of the rainy season, so it is about as pretty as it gets. Much of the credit goes to our gardener, Davey, who does a wonderful job keeping it all trimmed and neat.