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.