Sunday, May 31, 2015

Cimbing Mount Soche - Carole's Post

At first I was flattered when Jonathan Nkhoma invited us to climb Mount Soche with the YSA (Young Single Adults) of the Zingwangwa Branch.  Jonathan is a returned missionary (Kenya) and teaches Institute.  This was the final activity of the year!
Then I began to panic!  In the following two weeks, I made sure I got out for some brisk early morning walks to build up endurance.  I didn't want them to wonder why they invited us as we lagged behind!

So yesterday, we were all to gather at the church at 8 AM.  It actually began Malawian time 9:45 AM when enough people had arrived.  We distributed some snacks and drinks among the hikers and headed off for Soche, about a 45 minute walk to the base.

We were quite strung out as we walked along.  I couldn't quite tell, but it looked like we picked up some people along the way.  One thing is for sure, people stop to greet one another and chat all the time!

I was happy to run into Sister Phiri who lives lowdown on Soche.  She just had a baby boy, who is nestled in the chitenge strapped on her back, one month ago!  Fortunately, I just just learned the protocol for greeting new mothers!  You can't ask the name of the baby or any questions or hold the infant until you give a gift.  The Relief Society was going to visit her the next day, bearing gifts and good will but I had other obligations.  So this week I will make a point of visiting Sister Phiri with a gift because I want to hold that baby!

There was definitely a variety of clothing for the hike.  Steve, a very new returned missionary, was decked out in the colors of Malawi (and Christmas).

Even more fascinating was the variety of footwear!

My favorite!  Rosalia's feet just looked happy - or at least they made the rest of us happy!  She had just moved here from Lilongwe and said she hadn't brought many shoes with her.

By the time we got to the base, we numbered about 23 people.  Then we headed up.

One of the things we noticed when George and I first arrived in Blantyre was how many religious groups climb high on the hills and mountains to worship and sing.  The sound carries for long distances.  Soche is very popular for this and we passed about six groups off to the right or left.  One man was dramatically preaching to about three woman.  Others were mostly singing.
Blantyre got smaller and smaller as we headed up.  
I have read so much about the deforestation of Malawi. Several people have said that not too long ago, Soche was covered by a fairly dense forest.  But people need firewood and the trees all slowly disappeared.  In spite of the government's efforts and the ban on using charcoal, people still travel farther and farther to cut down trees and gather wood for themselves or to sell.  Everyday we see people either carrying loads of wood on their heads or on bicycles.
A small stream allowed people to refresh themselves and fill their water bottles.  Steve said he might die but he was going to drink the water!  I told him I was going to document it in case we had to take him to the doctor.

I was told that the group would be providing water.  I was envisioning small individual plastic bottles of water, but this is the "water boy", bringing up our water.

At the top!   Memory, on the top, is awaiting her mission call.  She knows she will receive it on Friday after a two month wait.

Nancy, a new convert sits below her.

It doesn't take long before the cell phones come out.  After all, these are young, single adults! - and they like selfies!

 After we had arrived at the top, Elders Sagers and Allred appeared.  They had a few couple of hours and so ran up to join us!

Jonathan was really happy!  He had planned a very fun activity and eventually,everyone had made it to the top.

We ate snacks and drank Fanta.  We sang "High on the Mountaintop" and George shared some thoughts on the theme he had been given, "Come, Follow Me".  

Louis had a brain teaser game about books of the Bible that kept us all guessing - and frustrated!

I was just happy that I made it - and was trying to stay out of the sun at the top. However, I couldn't be too proud of myself because Brother Magombo had decided to come along too and was one of the first up.  He effortlessly climbed the mountain, never having to hold on to trees or rocks for balance like I did.

He found a quiet spot at the top to just read his scriptures.

Brother Magombo is 77 years old!

Helping Hands - Carole's Post

Before George and I arrived in Malawi, I read everything I could find about the country, Blantyre, and in particular, any information about the LDS church in this part of the world. In some ways, the church experience here is similar to many African countries and obviously, in some ways Malawi is its own unique place.  As I was reading some of the blogs of previous and current missionaries, I came across references to Helping Hands projects, such as painting police stations, cleaning up city-owned areas, and improving school and orphanage facilities. 

Helping Hands is the name that the LDS church gives to organized projects where church members give of their time and talents to bless those in need.  Such projects occur in response to disasters when wards and stakes organize to improve conditions of those victims.  But Helping Hands is also a worldwide name for church-organized efforts to perform volunteer community service. Wards or branches, stakes or districts provide service laborers and not usually goods or materials.  (Totally separate, the Humanitarian arm of the church - and here in the Zambia Lusaka Mission
we have a senior couple serving in that capacity - determine when the church can best provide financial aid for worthwhile projects.)

The projects are not for the purpose of proselyting, but they can be the beginning of some gospel conversations. Helping Hands is also effective in developing beneficial relationships between church leaders and government officials or other opinion leaders. Usually the coordination and implementation of the project is delegated to the Public Affairs committee of the region, stake, or district. 

This year, the Blantyre district wanted to get input from some community leaders before deciding on a project.  And this year, rather than a single event, the church is willing to tackle a larger project that might take many days before turning it back to the community.  With this is mind, the committee organized a meeting and invited the mayor of Blantyre, the Councillors (similar to members of a city council), and the local chiefs of the city.  They hoped to introduce them to the church and glean ideas from them about how best to serve the people of Blantyre.

President Edward Matale is the Public Affairs Director for the church in all of Malawi and he is a counselor in the Blantyre District presidency.  He worked tirelessly to make this an effective meeting.
President Mwale is the other counselor in the Presidency and Sister Mwale has worked on church public affairs for many years.  She has an infectious enthusiasm and is an excellent voice for the church when working with civic leaders.  Even more than that, she spent the entire day cleaning the Blantyre meetinghouse the day before the scheduled meeting.  And it isn't easy for Sister Mwale to get to the church since she has to walk for an hour each way.

The two presidents in front of the Helping Hands logo.

There are always those who work behind the scenes to make things happen. Frank Manchichi is one of those;  he spends hours at the church working on the computer and making sure that "all the pieces fit together".
George, with Frank.  You can see that the church has some marvelous posters (that we had never seen before).  The Relief Society Room looked so wonderful.

The guests slowly began to trickle in.  It was scheduled to begin at 9:00 AM but this is can see that it is now 9:30 and just a few have arrived.  It finally commenced at about 9:50.

These four chiefs each represent a different part (neighborhood) of town. 
The 30+ chiefs in Blantyre hold inherited, not political, positions and have great influence over areas.
 A chief preserves public peace, carries out traditional functions of the office, assists in the collection of taxes and oversees the sale of lands and land uses. He/she might settle disputes between neighbors or businesses.

Two of the place cards:

VH is an abbreviation for Village Headman.  

Chilomoni is an area of Blantyre.

GVH stands for Group Village Headman.

Three of the elected city Councillors, each representing a ward,  were in attendance.

The mayor and a deputy mayor are elected by the 23 Councillors from among themselves.  Councillors serve for five years and the mayor is elected every 2 1/2 years.

The mayor was unable to attend our meeting but the deputy mayor came.  He came up to the building and stood outside talking to us for a short while.  Then he went back to his car to wait for the others to arrive.  It is important that the mayor or most important dignitary be the last to arrive.
When he walked in right before the meeting started, we all stood up as a sign of respect.

President Matale began with a Power Point presentation giving the history and background of Helping Hands.
George is sitting by the deputy mayor.

The deputy mayor read a list of concerns that the city has, such as broken street lights, unlicensed vendors, vandalism, illegal selling of land.

Then the Councillors and the chiefs explained some of their concerns.

After about 1 1/2 hours, the deputy mayor said he felt that there needed to be more discussion on how the church could help and recommended that we have another meeting, this time with more of the Councillors.  He even suggested that we take about ten minutes at the next meeting and give a description of our church, since it was relatively new in Malawi.

George gave the final talk (unknown to him until he saw the agenda at the meeting!) and did an exemplary job of explaining how our religion is a church of volunteers.  He told the story of the Mormon migration to the west, the pioneers who crossed the plains,  planting maize and other crops along the trail, so that the following wagon trains would be able to harvest it and have food for their companies. We could see that it resonated with our guests.

After the closing prayer, we gave a tour of the building to our guests, and visited while eating chips, apples and candy.

A very successful morning!

Friday, May 22, 2015

More Welcomes and Good-Byes - Carole's Post

It isn't that I would want everything to stay the same.  In the mission field, there is a constant flux that keeps life interesting, yet sometimes it is difficult to see someone move on, in particular the transfers of the elders and sisters to other parts of the mission.  I'm selfish and want to keep those whom we have come to know and love in Blantyre.

On the other hand, when we have local members returning from their missions, it is such an momentous day! They have served 18 or 24 months, most likely in another African country, and they are bringing back with them spiritual depth, leadership qualities, and an enthusiastic spirit for building the kingdom here in Malawi.  There is no doubt that they will do more to help the Church take root on Malawian soil than any other group. We know the young men and women who are leaving to go on missions and we will be back in the States when they return.  So it is especially tender for us to see those coming home now, whom we didn't know when they left, and imagine how the missionary experience has changed them.

Here we are at the airport greeting Elder Nyirenda after his arrival from the Kenya Nairobi Mission.  Picking up members of his family along the way to the airport, we wanted to make sure that his family was there to welcome him home!
Elder Nyirenda is the only one in his family who is a member of the church.
Just look at that smile of Christopher's!  Christopher Sitolo had been telling us for weeks all about Elder Nyerenda, now back to "Mike", and I don't think anyone was more excited to see him. Mike had served as an assistant to his mission president.

A week or two later after church, Mike, with loosened tie, is getting ready to go make some visits to less active members of the Blantyre 2nd Branch.

One day after Mike arrived home, we went to pick up Elder Sikumbiri, who had been serving in the Zimbabwe Harare mission.

We were worried that there wouldn't be family to greet him because we were not able to connect with them.  Before he left, the family had lived on Soche, but had now moved. Once again, Elder Sikumbiri is the only member in his family.  But when we got to the airport, there was his family.  They recognized us because of our name tags.  Of course, we offered to give them a ride home.  One hour later, as we were driving north toward Lilongwe, we arrived at their new home!  (There are so many little details that get lost in translation...)

I was worried about Elder Sikumbiri, now back to "Steve".  How would he ever get to church, living such a long way away?

But there he was on Sunday!  He has found a place to stay on Soche so he can easily get to the Zingwangwa branch. That sure does make a branch president happy! - and all the young single adults too!

Now to the story of Maxwell, our VERY PATIENT prospective missionary from Zingwangwa.  George wrote earlier about his mission call to Mozambique.  Only days before he was to leave for two months of training at the Missionary Training Center in Brazil (since Portuguese in the language of Mozambique) he found out that his visa application had been rejected.  His date was pushed back to the end of April.   When the visa did come through, we found out that two other prospective missionaries in Zambia were still waiting for theirs.  President Chinyumba (our district president) who handles the passport issues for the Malawian missionaries, managed a small miracle.

Maxwell, before being set apart by Elder Beal.  Thereafter, known as Elder Mbera.

 The sister missionaries were especially excited for him.

It's a bittersweet time for his loved ones. His mother, not a member, is on the left.  Sister Mwale, his "church mother" is on the right with his twin, Benson.  

Elder Maxwell lived a long way from the meetinghouse and made many, many sacrifices to come to church over the past few years.  We know he will be a great missionary!

In the meantime, we have another prospective missionary, patiently waiting.  Khama Ganghire was scheduled to leave for the Johannesburg mission in April but days before his departure, his visa, too, was rejected, something very unusual.  His date has been pushed back to July.  

Early May brought changes to the our Blantyre mission field. 
Two sisters were released:  Sister Griffus from Minnesota and Sister Mntungwa from South Africa.

After church, we took them, along with their companions, to the bus station where they would take the bus to Lilongwe, fly the next day to Lusaka and two days later, fly home.  
(Yes, these are short sisters!)

Sister Griffus left many of her clothes for Memory Munthali, who is waiting for her mission call.  Then she filled her suitcase with chitenges and more chitenges!
Saying good-bye to her companion, Sister Browning

Sister Mntungwa was such an awesome missionary, a real sweetheart!

With her companion, Sister Zohner, also from Idaho.

Sister Mntungwa's suitcase won the prize for heaviest.  I was worried when George heaved it into the truck!  She assured us that about 20 pounds of books were staying in Lilongwe.  I sure hope so!

And as the bus pulled away...

Farewell, bon voyage, we will miss you!