Friday, February 20, 2015

Missionaries: Our Blantyre Zone - Carole's Post

When George and I became missionaries last October,  I knew that we were one senior missionary couple joining the ranks of a record high number of 85,000 plus missionaries in our church.  I love the feeling of being part of something so grand!  I love singing "Called to Serve" and being addressed as "Sister".  I treasure being able to wear my badge.  What I did not anticipate was how much I would learn from my association with other missionaries, both young and, um, "senior".   We have both in the Blantyre zone, and like missionaries in many zones of the the world, I feel like we have something quite special here and that perhaps the best missionaries are sent here for a reason!

Elder and Sister Reynolds are the "office couple" here in Blantyre, meaning they are responsible for taking care of the finances, apartments (leases and rents), cars, the distribution center, and all-around everything to keep the zone running.  They picked us up at the airport and brought us to our flat that they had outfitted with everything that would make us comfortable, including Kellogg's Corn Flakes and peanut butter and jam!  Sister Reynolds is the mission nurse and Elder Reynolds - well, I can call him about any practical question and he has the answer.  We are going to be in big trouble when they leave at the end of next month!

Elder and Sister Merrill are an inspiration to all of us because this is their seventh mission and their fifth in Africa!  Elder Merrill is a doctor and six of those missions he served as the area medical authority.  They are here serving a CES mission for all of Malawi so they have to travel to Lilongwe monthly.  I love this photo of them at the missionary Christmas party with three of the sister missionaries.
 George and I go visit them often because not only are they knowledgeable about the gospel and the Church in Africa, but they are the most fun people we know.  We laugh so hard it is therapeutic!
I also had a bad case of envy when I saw their lovely home. However, when Elder Reynolds told me the guards/caretakers had killed FIVE black mambas so far in the previous seven months, I lost some of that envy!  

 Our district consists of Sisters Griffus (from Minnesota) and Browning (from Idaho)

and Elders Hiltbrand (from Arizona), the district leader,  and Ngendabanka (from Burundi).

Every Tuesday, we have a district meeting (or monthly zone meeting) at the church where we report on our work, receive training by one of the missionaries, and talk about concerns where we can all give input. 
Missionary work is hard work, no doubt about it!  These missionaries arise at 6:30 am for personal study and preparation.  By 9 AM they are out the door to their area for the day and they stay out until 6 PM for the sisters and 7 PM for the elders.  Because missionaries in Malawi spend their evenings in their flats, they do some of their companionship study and preparation at that time. 

During the day they have appointments, do street contacting, service, and knock on doors.  They do all their travel by minibus or by foot.

The minibus system is a highly effective relatively inexpensive way of getting around Blantyre.  However, George would say they also make driving the city extremely challenging.  They have their own traffic rules:  stopping in the middle of the streets, weaving around other minis, and pulling out in traffic while always assuming that you will be the one to stop.  After all, time is money...They probably make up 50% of the traffic!

Our zone leaders, Elders Barnard (from Idaho) and Mwangi (from Kenya) stop to chat with people along the way. 
 Here are our shoes at the end of a day....

The zone leaders have the only car for the younger elders and that means there are many leadership responsibilities.  An unusual one in February was delivering water to all the missionaries (after waiting for hours to fill up the tank at the water board) in the evenings when the taps ran dry in Blantyre after the storm. 

The most common type of companionship is a pairing of one African elder/sister with a Western elder/sister.  Some of the advantages are obvious, because the Church looks less like an American institution and Africans can perhaps relate to their contacts more easily (though Africans always point out that there are big distinctions between the various African countries).  Even more, the missionaries bond and frequently a great love can grow between the companions. Westerners usually come with more experience in the gospel, and Africans come with an enthusiasm to spread the gospel that converts frequently have.  They both learn to appreciate  the cultural differences and discover there are far more similarities than differences.  

In early December, the zone leaders arranged a P-day activity for the entire zone.  It was definitely a bonding experience as we climbed a trail up Mulanje, the highest mountain in Malawi.  

At Christmastime, President and Sister Erickson came to Blantyre and met with all the missionaries in Malawi for a holiday celebration consisting of a dinner, white elephant gift exchange, and watching the Patrick Sterwart version of "A Christmas Carol". 
Yes! a movie for the missionaries!

Sister Komiha got a surprise with her gift choice!

We also got together for Christmas Eve at the Reynolds.

Two weeks ago we had the annual Mission Tour, meaning a member of the Area Presidency (in this case, the President Carl Cook) tours the entire mission with the President and Sister Erickson, spending 2-3 days in each zone.  Their flight to Blantyre from Lusaka was delayed and then cancelled until the next day.  All the missionaries in Malawi, (the zone in Lilongwe had traveled down the previous day) waited in the chapel on Saturday morning to see if they would arrive.
President and Sister Cook finally walked in the door, directly from the airport, and immediately began to lead a training session.

You can see George sitting by the window.

At one point, it began raining so hard on the metal roof that we couldn't hear.  Sister Cook helped her husband by holding the mike for him.

After lunch, we all gathered for a photo.

We were joined by Elder and Sister Bingham (on the far right), the Self Reliance missionaries, and Elder and Sister Bodily, the Humanitarian Welfare Services missionaries, next to them.

One of the more exciting days for young missionaries is transfer day, when several of them receive assignments to move to new areas.  It's hard for us because we get attached to the missionaries we know and we hate to see them leave.  Last week, our zone leader, Elder Barnard, left for home.  He has been such an example of dedication to missionary work - being sensitive to the Spirit, being positive, and loving the people he serves.
Hard to believe that two years is over.  Everything goes into the luggage.


Elder Johnson is also headed home - to Utah.

We took them to the bus station and they loaded their baggage onto the bus.
We will miss them but it's time for Elder Barnard to head back to the ranch in Idaho!  He is reminding me that I have to keep an eye on Elder Beal!

It is an extraordinary experience spending  so much time with all of these wonderful elders, sisters, and couples. 

Doctrine & Covenants 4:1-3
"Now behold a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.
Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day. 
Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God, ye are called to the work:"