Sunday, December 30, 2012

We just received the photo of our mission president group from the seminar in Johannesburg in November.

 front row Left to Right:  Pres. and Sister Kretley, Mozanbique Maputo Mission ; Area Presidency: Elder and Sister Soares; Elder and Sister Renlund (Area President); Elder and Sister Cook; Pres. and Sister Reber, Johannesburg MTC;
back row Left to Right:   Pres. and Sister Broadbent, Kenya Nairobi Mission; Pres. and Sister Jameson, Congo Kinshasa Mission; President and Sister Wood, South Africa Cape Town Mission; Pres. and Sister Padovich, Zambia Lusaka Mission; Pres. and Sister Adams, Madagascar Antananarivo Mission; Pres. and Sister Cook, Zimbabwe Harare Mission; Pres. and Sister Jackson, Uganda Kampala Mission; Pres. and Sister von Stetten, South Africa Durban Mission; Pres. and Sister Omer, South Africa Johannesburg Mission; Pres. and Sister McMullin, Congo Lubumbashi Mission

Two weeks ago we traveled by car to Antsirabe (three hours south) to reorganize the branch of Ambohimena and to create the branch of Andranomoneletra. I, with one of my counselors, spent most of the day interviewing for new branch leaders, and 18 priesthood advancements. The next morning in the Ambohimena branch we had 259 at sacrament meeting for the reorganization at 8am. 

We then had to drive about 12 miles north to the Andranomaneletra group (which was started less than 2 years ago) for the branch creation. They are meeting in a rented house with a capacity of about 60 in the main room. The children were packed into a room across the hall. At this sacrament meeting we had 134 in attendance with many sitting outside the open windows. I have sent an urgent request to the Area Presidency in Johannesburg for the construction of a new building.

We spent Christmas with the senior missionaries and couples. Earlier we attended a Christmas party for the employees that work with and for the Mission. We also enjoyed video conference calls with of our children and grandchildren.

Yesterday Anna and I spent a few hours with Elders Ewell and Smith teaching lessons in the inner city of Antananarivo. We had a lot of fun. We were quickly surrounded by happy children where ever we went. This area is very humble and the people are really very nice. The homes we visited were each about 8x10 feet inside. The ally ways were no more than a couple of feet wide. I don't know how the missionaries find their way in these literal mazes.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

This week we said goodbye to Elder and Sister Gray who returned to England after serving as Humanitarian Service Missionaries. This humble couple, working through translators, over the past eighteen months have accomplished amazing projects which have significantly affected the lives of almost sixty thousand people living in many villages and towns. They were honored last week in a ceremony personally hosted by the Minister of Health for their contribution to the country of Madagascar. Many of their projects involved the installation of clean running water in areas where people would often have to walk long distances daily to obtain and carry back drinking water.  Other work included hygiene training, neonatal resuscitation, wheel chairs, vision and dental services. This work has had a real impact on the perception of the Church in this country. Sister Gray also served as our nurse and handled the medical problems for the missionaries in this challenging medical environment. They worked literally up until the last minute, even meeting with people in the airport.  In my final interview with them they expressed how, in their wildest dreams, they never could have imagined the things they accomplished, the adventures they had, and the impact the people they met had on their lives. They are "poster seniors" for a senior couple mission.

Last weekend we flew to Mahajanga on the northwest coast to meet with our two missionaries there and to be with the members for Sunday meetings and training. This is midsummer and it was pretty hot. We have reduced the missionary force from four to two so that the branch can better assimilate and take care of the new converts. It has actually been growing too fast. Sunday afternoon we spent seven and a half hours (again) waiting for the delayed airplane to arrive. There was only one other person in the  airport for most of that time. Just another day in Madagascar.

The rainy season has arrived, so far with mild temperatures here in Antananarivo, much cleaner air and big evening thunder storms every couple of days. The country side is very green. We have been appreciating more the beauty and charm of parts of this city.

Two weeks ago we were in Mauritius for interviews with the four missionaries, branch meetings and training with the missionaries and members. We had a great time. We had an enjoyable preparation day hiking with the elders in the mountains overlooking Tamarin Bay. At the request of the elders, we also stopped by McDonalds (not found in Madagascar). This one is owned by a Hindu so it has a chicken- only menu.

On our last night we took a long walk on the beach and were blessed to sit for a few minutes on a bench and watch a beautiful sunset over the Indian Ocean. We don't get times like these very often. Typical days start early in the morning and last late into the night, often seven days a week. Occasionally, especially when we are in the islands, we plan in some relaxation time.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

 I had a remarkable experience this morning. One of the top candidates for the presidency of Madagascar, who is also the president of the Green Party for all of Africa, and her husband showed up, unannounced, at my office to talk to me. They spoke of their respect for the church and what it was doing in this country. We talked of the humanitarian work and especially water projects. They wanted our "blessing" for the honorable things they were trying to do for their country. They were looking for a platform to present their ideas to church members. I told them that, as a church, we could not endorse a political candidate but we do endorse honesty and a real concern for the country and the people. They were very respectful and said it was an honor to talk to me.  I was very impressed.
What happened this morning may be known by only a few people, but the fact that it happened at all is really significant for the perception of the church in Madagascar. Doors are opening to many  levels of this society. I feel we are being very blessed. 

We had an enjoyable day with the missionaries in Tomatave on the northeast coast for interviews and member leadership training. I have included photos of the pouspous local transportation in Tamatave plus some other random photos.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Spectacular Reunion.
We returned from almost a week in Reunion. I had interviews with each of the missionaries which take place every three months. What a great group of faithful, accomplished young men and women. Elder and Sister Heap serve as a senior couple. Elder Heap serves as one of my presidency counselors. They are a real blessing to both the missionaries and the members and they always spoil us when we go there. On Thursday after some of the interviews we held a very enjoyable zone training meeting. Anna and I spent some time going out with the missionaries making visits and then held training meetings Wednesday evening for the leaders of the Reunion member district.

We reserved Friday for an adventure hike in one of perhaps the two or three most beautiful places in the world that we have seen. This valley, which is only about 40 minutes from St Denis, is so spectacular that is is difficult to describe. It is a cross between Switzerland, Kauai with a little Lord of the Rings and Avatar thrown in. The photos don't do it justice. With Elder and Sister Heap we hiked from the canyon rim  to a village named Hell Bourg on the canyon floor. After lunch we climbed back up in a rain storm. Over an hour and a half non-stop vertical climbing and rock steps. We were all soaked but had a great time.
We are back in Tana for two days and then we fly to the northeast coast of Madagascar to the city of Tamatave for more interviews and meetings.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Johannesburg, South Africa
We just returned from a week in Johannesburg attending a Mission President Seminar for the eleven missions in our area which includes about thirty countries. We had great sessions conducted by our Area Presidency consisting of Elders Renlund, Soares, and Cook. The sessions took three and a half days. The rest of the time we enjoyed the wonderful company of the mission presidents, area presidency and their wives. We laughed a lot and traded stories that only African mission president couples would fully appreciate. There were some remarkable stories, many humorous, and some that  made us think we are happy to be serving in the Madagascar Mission. The church is growing very quickly in many parts of this area and the challenge is to slow the growth down to allow the church units to mature some and assimilate the increase.  Many of the missions sometimes face security environments that are not exactly as depicted in the "missions for couples" brochure. The areas of Johannesburg we visited were delightful, upscale and interesting. We spent some time in the largest and nicest shopping mall we have ever seen with every store one can imagine. Coming "out of the bush", the seminar time is a welcome visit to civilization for many of the mission presidents. We are fortunate to have the islands that we visit on a regular basis so the need for civilization, for us, is not as great. Still, we stocked up on items not available elsewhere in the extra suitcase that we brought and we are set for a while.
We have received news of four and possibly five new couples coming to our mission. This is a big deal for us. We are thrilled to have the additional help. Even with the new changes in the missionary age qualifications, we will not be increasing very much our compliment of younger missionaries for now.
After a day at home to do laundry, tomorrow we are off to Reunion Island for a week.

Here are some photos of Johannesburg, including one of us standing in front of a larger-than-life statue of Nelson Mandela.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I have begun missionary interviews which occur about every 3 months and it takes about that long to get around to all of the missionaries.  I usually spend about a half hour with each one. It has been interesting and I have heard a lot of insightful observations and suggestions for the mission. We have really great missionaries. There are problems with some, but it has been rewarding working on these issues with them. I have seen some remarkable transformations. We were in Antsirabe this week, three hours south of here. We had a zone meeting for an hour and a half then interviews. These were followed by about two hours of unanticipated interviews with members, most of which involved helping the district president resolve various problems. We were pretty much successful in doing that. This week we will receive four new missionaries from the US. This is a fun and exciting time. Next weekend we fly to Fort Dauphin at the southern tip of the country for interviews, leadership training,  dividing the branch and calling a new branch presidency.

zebu in the road

rice planting

a common street scene

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ambositra, Fianarantsoa, Tulear

Wednesday, October 3
Two days ago we returned from a long road trip to the last of the mission cities that we had not yet visited. It has taken us three months to see them all. Last Thursday we loaded up the car and Anna and I with our driver and the two assistants headed about 5 hours south to the city of Ambositra. We drove through the typical mid-Madagascar countryside of hills with many small villages and  terraced valleys of mostly rice fields. Along the side of the roads through many of these villages are stands of vendors selling the speciality of the village. Each village seems to have its own unique product. One village specializes in handmade toy trucks, another in musical string instruments, another rabbits which the vendors hold up by the ears as we pass. Ambositra is a quaint city built in a hilly area. It is almost like a city one would see in parts of Italy. This city is the center of the woodcarving and inlayed wood pictures and furniture. The quality is really good and the prices are incredibly low. We watched a craftsman working on an inlayed project using a homemade foot powered skill saw. He even made his own saw blades fashioned from wire salvaged from an old tire. The resulting works of art are remarkable as you can see from the photos. He made Anna a small sample inlayed heart while we watched. They will do custom requests of inlayed works from photos. We have one in the mission home of Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove. That evening we attended and spoke at a fireside for more than 100 young single adults form the Antsiribe district. I asked how many had been on missions and three raised their hands. When I asked how many were going on a mission more than half raised their hands. Several of them come from small villages.  My counselor in the mission presidency, President Jacquot, and I conducted training for all the branch presidents of the district and the district presidency. The next morning I interviewed the two missionaries and then we left on a 3 hour drive to Fianarantsoa on a very curvy road into more mountainous terrain.

 Fianarantsoa is a much larger city. The people are very welcoming to the missionaries here.
We spoke at a fireside and leader training that evening. The next morning we attended an open house for the branch and I held interviews for the four missionaries.

After the interviews we left for an 8 hour drive to the coastal city of Tulear on the southwest corner of Madagascar. The drive took us out of the mountains down into high planes that looked like what I remember  driving through Nevada was like in the late 1950's except that the villages were like driving into the 1850's. We drove on long stretches of straight roads, the first we have seen here, We passed through mountain ranges which were like being in southern Utah. In those areas we passed several four star resorts that we never imagined existed in this country. This area is so different from what we have seen in the rest of the country. We saw some of the famous baobab trees.
Tulear is another large city. The church has had missionaries for just about a year. There is a large group here. An interesting fact is that the group leader has a PhD from England and heads up the agriculture for this whole part of the country. His first counselor runs a large shipping company. We attended church there and spent the rest of the day with the missionaries. These missionaries are a 12 hour taxi-bus drive from the next closest missionaries. They love working here even though it is quite hot.
The next day we waited all day for our flight home which was delayed 6 hours, as usual. So late was the flight that our car and driver and the two assistants who left early that morning and drove 14 hours actually beat us home.