Saturday, June 27, 2015

Photos Associated with "Love of Thy Neighbor"--George's Post

Here are the photos associated with "II. Key Principles.   B.  Love of Thy Neighbor."

The following photos are of a few of our many dear friends in the Zingwangwa Branch.  They have greatly enriched our lives.

Nimrod Chikapa, an active two year old, the son of President and Sister Chikapa.  Gradually he has gotten use to Sister Beal and me.

Sister Stella Kandulu, and her daughter Brenda.  Sister Stella was in the Relief Society Presidency when we arrived 8 months ago.  In the interim, she moved to South Africa, but has now returned.  It is not uncommon for Malawians to move back and forth to South Africa, looking for work, or moving to be with their spouses.  Long separations are also common.
Brother Munthali was one of the first members we met.  As a young man he studied in Ireland, a rarity especially then.  Now his eyesight is poor and walking is difficult.  He is so pleased that Memory, his youngest daughter, has received a mission call to the South Africa Johannesburg Mission.
Brother Mkochi is another of our migratory members.  A wonderful executive secretary, a returned missionary from Zimbabwe, a great support for President Chikapa.  Recently he moved to Lusaka, Zambia to work on developing an import/export business.  Rumor was that he planned to return, and though he was back for District Conference a couple of week ago, since then he has returned to Zambia.  The branch would love to have him back.

Brother Chimaliro, first counselor in the Branch Presidency and painter by trade.  Shortly he will take his exams in order to qualify of a M.C.S.E. diploma ("Malawi Certificate of Secondary Education"--the equivalent of graduating from Form 4.  When Sister Beal and I visited, he seemed intrigued to learn of the significance of the badges on his shirt.  Boy scouts are unknown in Malawi.

Clement Phiri, a faithful member, and now father of three boys, 14, 9 and two months.  He lives high on Mount Soche, together with wife and three kids.  He loves, and I love, his hardhat.

Brother and Sister Nthenda in front of their brick home in Manje.  The structure was totally destroyed in the rains of November 2014, but it is in the process of being rebuilt.  One of our most memorable events was helping the Nthenda move their belongings to his in-laws home out near Limbe, normally a five minute ride, but during the November storms a hour plus trip.    

Sister Beal and Sister Tsegula.  We have become fast friends of the Tsegulas and their large extended family, many of whom live on the family complex near Three Ways Market between Manje and Soche.
This week we are going to take the Tsegulas to his village in the Thyolo District, only a 30 minute drive from Blantyre.  Brother Tsegula has exceptional common sense, quick wit, and local knowledge.  He is one of my "go to" people for all things Malawian.
Sister Ambali, another member of the branch Relief Society Presidency, is a relatively new member.  She lives in Chilobwe, above the market and behind the Catholic Church, together with her three children.
Yesterday Carole and I visited the Makawas, who live high on Mount Soche.  Their home was one of the two homes totally destroyed during the heavy rains of last November.  Just a week ago, it was finally rebuilt, allowing the family to resettle back home, but this time with a better foundation.  Hopefully, they will be spared further property damage.  As we have visited with the Makawas since our arrival, we can usually count on their daughter Gertrude to spot us long before we get to their home. 
Memory Munthali, with fancy hair braids, now called to serve in the Zimbabwe Harare Mission, which once included all of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi.
Brother Nyama, a fabulous Sunday School instructor, home builder and District Council member.  He is the father of three and lives in Zingwangwa, only a ten minute walk from Church, short by Malawian standards.


The James family, whose home is between the Tsegulas and Nthendas.  When we first visited them, Sister James fortunately came to the Three Ways Market to serve as our guide.  Otherwise, we would still be looking for them.

Brother Mkandawire, a Mission auditor, counselor in the Elder's Quorum Presidency, employed by Vanguard, a Malawian insurance product company.  The father of three, though he and his wife recently took in his nephew when Brother Mkandawire's brother passed away.  He drives a motor bike and car, looking very sporty. 

"II. Key Principles. B. Love of Thy Neighbor."--George's Blog

II.  Key Principles

      B.  Love of Thy Neighbor

“Love of thy neighbor” is at the core of the gospel of Jesus Christ, describing how we are to treat those around us, whether closely related to us or belonging to groups historically despised or hated.  This association is so close that the term “christian” itself, in the English language, can be used in either of two senses—each historically connected with the other, but each having quite a different meaning.  When “Christian” appears in upper case, it refers to a believer of Jesus Christ--one of Christian faith--compared to those of other faiths or those of no faith whatsoever.  When “christian” appears in lower case, it means one who is kind or good to his neighbor, loving, generous, patient, understanding.[1]  In this generic sense of showing “good” behavior, one may be “christian” without espousing a belief in the Christian faith.  The reason for this transmutation of the specific term into a generic form is the recognition that a fundamental tenet of Christian doctrine is that loving one’s neighbor.  Hence, it is possible to think of agnostics, atheists, Muslims, Jews as “christian” in their orientation and behavior.  Likewise, it is possible for those of “Christian” belief to be cruel, murderous, conniving—indeed, having any characteristic other than one we associate with “good” or “ christian” behavior. 
That love of thy neighbor is central to Christian behavior is illustrated by the well-known, oft repeated, encounter between Christ and a lawyer said to have come to tempt him:  “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?  Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and withal thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  Matt. 22:37-40.  While the gospel has “many” commandments, and while God’s truth has, through the centuries, been revealed through the law and the prophets, all of that truth can be circumscribed into two overarching commandments—love of God,[2] and love of one’s neighbor.  It is as though all of the specific laws and commandments are imprinted with a common subtle code, reminding us of the need to love God and our fellowman.  These two principles of behavior supersede all else and are of transcendent importance.  When living the law, one is not to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.[3]  What is important is focusing on the core purpose behind all of the laws and commandments. 
The same themes are reprised in the parable of the good Samaritan found in Luke 10: 25-37, which almost appears to be a slightly altered, and expanded, version of the earlier encounter.  There the lawyer tempting Christ phrased his question as “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?  He said unto him, What is written in the law?  How readest thou?  And he answering said.  Though shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself.  And he said unto him, Thou has answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.”  Luke 10: 15-28.  The balance of the parable teaches that the circle of one’s neighbors reaches beyond those who are related, close, familiar, of the same tribe, kin and blood, to encompass those who are different than ourselves—those traditionally despised, of lowly or contemptuous parentage or coming from lands thought alien.
This love of neighbor, when genuine, is a critical aspect in the conversion of nonmembers, but in missionary work it is not the ultimate goal.[4]  It is the primary impetus behind the desires of missionaries to share the gospel message and to provide ongoing support to new and existing members.  “And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.  And it came to pass that I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted….And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.”  1 Ne. 8: 10-12.[5]  This is certainly the case with the senior missionaries.[6]  No one comes on a senior mission without having a desire to serve[7] and younger full-time missionaries likewise are usually filled with a spirit of service, one frequently intensifying during their months in the mission field.  Also it is precisely this love of neighbor (evidenced in the faces and actions of the missionaries) that attracts nonmembers to investigate the Church.  Indeed, one would expect all Church members, including full-time missionaries, to bear the fruits of righteousness, thereby acting as a light unto the world.  Once others are drawn to the Church, one hopes that their spirits are touched, and transformed, as they gain their own independent testimonies of the gospel.  Everyone knows it is not enough to be drawn to the missionaries; ultimately, each individual must have his/her own confirmation, allowing one to withstand the temptations and trials that will surely come.   

[1] Those not from historically “Christian” countries may well take offense at this “co-opting” the term “christian” to denote “good” or “moral” behavior.
[2] The focus of this section is upon “love of thy neighbor,” not upon “love of God.”  The principles, while different, are nonetheless connected.  We show our love for God by exercising faith, repenting of our sins, fearing him, being obedient, having gratitude, recognizing the Lord’s hand in all things.  And, perhaps surprisingly, we also are told that we show love for the Lord by loving our neighbor.  “And behold I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”  Mosiah 2:17.  Hence, by loving our neighbor we are “doubling” up. 
[3] See Matt. 23: 23-27.
[4] To be sure, Mormon missionaries are not the only ones motivated by a genuine desire to serve.  Many others in Malawi, working for NGOs and other religious denominations, are similarly motivated.  Certainly some come with a sense of adventure (indeed, as they should), wanting a foreign experience, but most are genuinely moved by a desire to help lessen the burdens of those who are poor and needy.  These sentiments and efforts deserve our respect and will certainly be rewarded in the end.  The Lord’s parable of separating the sheep from the goats at the day of judgment reminds us that many will be surprised at the time of reckoning.  See Matt. 25: 31-46.
[5] “That ye may be prepared in all things when I shall send you again to magnify the calling whereunto I have called you, and the mission with which I have commissioned you.  Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor.”  D&C 88: 80-81.
[6] See “IX.  Relationship between Senior Missionaries and Local Members.  C. Defining Characteristics of Senior Missionaries.”
[7] But what the senior missionary has in mind as service may not always line up with the Church’s needs at the time. For example, while I know “office work” is necessary for a mission’s operation, I still find it hard to get excited about dealing with landlords, paying bills, filling reports, however critical these tasks may be to keeping full-time missionaries in the field and supporting the local congregations.  Over the years, some senior missionaries may have been disappointed by their years of service, because they did not have an opportunity to serve in precisely the manner in which they expected prior to their callings.


Friday, June 26, 2015

II. Key Principles. A. What Should We Do?--George's Blog

The scriptures, both old and new, speak to the innermost yearnings within us. They talk of the search for God and how one comes to learn spiritual truths.[1]  They give comfort to those who mourn and are in need of solace.[2]  They provide hope of peace in this world and peace in the world to come.[3]  They establish a blueprint for how to conduct one’s life.  They address the seemingly unanswerable questions that many cannot help but asking themselves and that are at the core of our human experience:  what is the purpose of this life; is there life after death; is there a God in the heavens and, if so, is He mindful of men.[4]  They talk of man’s relationship to God--how does one approach God and does He answer prayers and petitions.[5]  Missionaries, like all others, look to the scriptures for guidance to answer, or at least to find comfort about, these and other similar soul searching questions.
As Carole and I have worked together, I have identified a number of key scriptural themes that give context to what we are doing here in Malawi.  Let me share a few of these themes, knowing full well how easy it would be to replace and/or supplement these themes with others from the scriptures.    

A.   What Should We Do?

Not surprisingly, one of the initial questions I had was “what should we do” when we got to Malawi—how would we work with the people and what lessons would we try to impart.  What should we focus on, knowing one can’t do everything?  In this respect, I was curious as to how much guidance we would receive from Church leaders.  Would we receive specific and detailed instructions or be left largely on our own to figure out how best to serve.  Now eight months into my mission, I have a better sense on how to answer this question, at least for myself, partly informed by a scripture I read before leaving Seattle, and partly informed by the scriptures I have since read. 
Shortly before we left for Malawi, I came across what is an intriguing exchange, occurring sometime prior to his death, between Christ and his disciples, an account with which I was partially familiar but not wholly.  Christ told his disciples that they should not be troubled, even though He would shortly leave them.  He was going to prepare a place for them in His Father’s house—for in that place there were many mansions.  This is the part of the story I remembered from before.  He then said:  “And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.”  John 14:4.  Thomas, puzzled by what the Savior said, answered, saying “Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?”  John 14:5.  This latter part of the account I cannot remember reading before, or if I did, paying it the least attention.  But now I recognized that Thomas’ feelings were really in line with my own thoughts.  How would Carole and I know what to do—how could we know the way?  Would the Church provide us with la list of recommended activities or would we be expected to study the scriptures, handbooks, general conference talks, and other Church materials to come up with our own syllabus.  On the one hand, we know the Church can, and does on occasion, provide quite detailed guidance, evidenced by “Preach My Gospel,” the basic handbook of instructions for modern day missionaries, and the two Handbooks of Instructions.  On the other hand, the principle of self-reliance, thinking for ourselves and acting upon our own plans, is firmly entrenched within the Mormon psychology.[6] 
With time I have come to discover that Christ’s answer to Thomas is actually a good template for Carole and myself.  Christ answered Thomas, saying “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6.  As the scripture indicates there are really two keys:  first, the Savior’s life is the consummate example—showing us the path we should follow if we are to bring others to Christ or, for that matter, are to bring ourselves back to our Heavenly Father; and second, it is only through the Savior that men can be saved.  These keys alone provide sufficient guidance.  In one sense, the greatest challenge is not in figuring out what to do, but it is in doing it.  As a companion thought, it is also about learning to seek and rely upon the Spirit to guide our activities, something easy to say, but much harder to do.  For me, it is the difference between trying to do good and being inspired in doing good.[7]
Second, I have learned that this question—“what should we do”—is amply addressed in the scriptures, particularly in those given in the latter days.  For there is one way in which scriptures speak to one serving a mission that is quite unique--they provide historical context for what the missionary is doing, because the scriptures are replete with specific guidance for those called to be on the Lord’s errand.  For example, virtually all of Chapter 10 of Matthew applies to anyone being asked to serve on a mission.  Indeed, the last three verses of Matthew are directed to those commissioned to carry the news of the gospel to the world.  “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying.  All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”  Matt: 28:18-20. 
It is for this same reason that many of the scriptures of the Doctrine and Covenants (“D&C”) are so compelling, containing as they do instructions given to various missionaries (elders) who were ordained to go forth in the last days carrying the restoration’s message of hope and peace.   Missionaries when they read the D&C are constantly finding scriptures applicable to themselves.  This is true of many passages in the first section of the D&C, several of which are cited below.  “And the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouths of my disciples, whom I have chosen in these last days.  And they shall go forth and one shall stay them, for I the Lord have commanded them.”  D&C 1: 4-5.  “The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of the flesh.”  D&C 1: 19  “And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and individually.”  D&C 1: 30.  “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”  D&C 1: 38.
Virtually every section in the D&C can be analyzed in the same way—pulling out scripture after scripture directly applicable to those doing missionary work, then teasing out of them how they apply to the everyday life of the modern missionary.   In many respects the D&C is an early handbook of instructions for latter-day missionaries.  It includes specific instructions for missionaries, speaks to their historic, and monumental, role in bringing forth the restored gospel in the last days, contains the messages the missionaries are to share, and reaffirms that it is the Lord’s work to be accomplished in the Lord’s way and at the Lord’s time.  See D&C 64: 28-34.

[1] “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.  They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.  The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.  They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Have all the workers of inquiry no knowledge?  Who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord.”  Psalms 14: 1-4.  See, e.g., Isa: 59; John 7: 17; D&C 50:24.
[2] See, e.g., Isa: 61: 1-2; Matt: 5: 4.
[3] “But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come.”  D&C 59: 23.
[4] “When I consider the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?  For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.  Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.”  Psalms 8: 3-6. 
[5] See, e.g., Matt. 21: 22; John 14: 13; D&C 19: 38.
[6] See, e.g., D&C 56: 26-27.  “For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.  Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.  For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves.  And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.”
[7] See the discussion below under “XI.  Have We Done Any Good?—M. Why Is It So Hard.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Photos for "Malawi Has Been Perfect"--George's Blog

I.  Introduction    D.  Malawi Has Been Perfect

When I posted the text for the section entitled "Malawi Has Been Perfect," I neglected to attached the related photos.

Here they are, with some short text.

 View looking down into the Blantyre City market, close to the Blantyre Chapel and our residence.
One of many vegetable stands within the market.  Tomatoes are typically stacked in this artistic fashion throughout Malawi.
Another example of the care taken by vendors to make attractive designs to entice shoppers.
This photo was taken in front of President Kanjala's home in Kampala.  Don't know the name of the red flowering shrub.
 Two months ago, in April and May these flowering trees could be found everywhere.  The blooms are now gone.

These are large poinsettia trees, which we have never seen before in the United States.  Reminds one of Christmas even though we are in June.
Beautiful delicate petals.
This photo was taken in Dedza, three hours north of Blantyre, in the gardens of the pottery factory.
For awhile we thought this was a hybrid form of poinsettia; pedals are similar, and the plants are blooming at the same time.  But now we think we are mistaken.

This photo was taken in what is the only family owned tea plantation in the Thyolo District, south of Blantyre.  The plantation has over 6 million tea plants and is owned by the same Scottish family for three generations.

The pale barkless trees are blue gum trees, used on the tea plantation to fuel the factory producing tea varieties.  These larger trees are, however, very old and are now in a forest preserve where logging is prohibited.  Initially, we thought our guide was saying "Brigham" trees.

A plantation worker picking tea leaves.  During the height of the season (January to March--basically the rainy season), the plantation hires over 2,000 migrant workers to pick leaves.

We should recognize these fruits but don't.
Late afternoon sun in the Kampala township.
Later the same evening, but this time in Zingwangwa.

One of the sisters in the Blantyre Second Branch planted these climbing vines to beautify the outbuildings.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Malawi Has Been Perfect--George's Post

I. Introduction    D.   Malawi Has Been Perfect

The week does not go by but what Carole and I do not say to one another that Malawi has been a perfect assignment for us; we cannot imagine being happier serving as missionaries anywhere else in the world.  Being here has been a great blessing for us, even though we occasionally wonder how much good we are actually doing, more on that topic later.[1]  If there ever was an inspired calling for a senior couple, this seems to be it, even if Carole and I did much to guide where we would be called to serve.   I admit to being slow, perhaps even hesitant, to recognize the Lord’s hand in my affairs.  It is often easier to see how the Lord blesses and sustains others.  Perhaps I am far too well acquainted with my own weaknesses and shortcomings to think the Lord might be mindful of me.  But nonetheless, Carole and I feel being here is, and has been, inspired, the Lord working through Carole, blessing us jointly, even if I was barely aware of the influence at the beginning, and thought we should have processed our mission call differently. 
Weather should not be much of a factor when assessing the quality of a mission, but it is not a bad thing to serve where the weather is good.  And here in Malawi the weather is unbelievably good; every morning is sunny, the skies clear, the temperature warmish. Now that we are in the midst of Malawi’s short cool season (typically late May through July), it is chilly when we get up and go to bed, but a light sweater and light blanket are enough to take the edge off, and once we are up and about the temperature is comfortable, even better than the dry season, when it can get a tad hot in the direct sun.  Certainly there is a rainy season (roughly the three months from January through March), when you can get stuck, if not careful, in torrential downpours.  Anyone following our blog posts will have seen photos of us getting drenched, wet to the bone, ruining one camera, turning the back lanes into seasonal streams, washing out the roads.  This year the rains were especially heavy, displacing thousands of villagers, especially south of us in the Chikwawa District, creating instant refugee camps.  So life, as it is here, is not always easy—and so what one day is pleasant, and even carefree, can suddenly turn into a mini disaster or life crisis for the Malawians who live so close to the poverty edge.  Yet for those with resources the weather issues are normally just little blips, easily dealt with.  I can’t imagine living anywhere where the weather is better, day in and day out,[2] and shudder at the thought of returning in a little less than a year to the dark and dampness of the Pacific Northwest, however much we find it home, and are comfortable with its rhythm and pace.
I hoped for a missionary call to a beautiful part of Africa and have not been disappointed.  Blantyre is surrounded by a ring of small peaks, the city sitting squarely in the midst of a bowl.  The weather is categorized as “humid subtropical,” but the temperature is moderate because of the area’s relatively high altitude.  The plateau in which the city is located ranges from 3,000 to 4,000 feet, with several of the local peaks approaching 7,000 feet.   Travelling to the north, toward Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city, the road gradually climbs until Ntcheu (roughly the midway point, two hours north by car), where one climbs steadily up the eastern slopes of a small mountain range, finally reaching the highest populated plateau in Malawi, where one finds the scenic village of Dedza, locally renowned for its pottery and local arts, reputed to be the highest village in Malawi at an elevation of 8,000 feet.  Travelling south of Blantyre toward Chikwawa one reaches within an hour by car the outward edges of the plateau upon which Blantyre is sited, before dropping down off the plateau, roughly some 500 to 700 feet, to the flat plains of the Chikwawa District, watered by the Shirer River, running off to the south to Mozambique. 
The local vegetation is incredibly lush, tropical, and verdant.  Ever since we arrived, we have been greeted by one flowering bush or tree after another (only a few of the species we recognize)[3] as we cycle through the four mild seasons, one hardily distinguishable for the other.   The colors of the flowers are bold, vibrant and stunning—bright purples, yellows, pinks, reds and oranges.  It is as though the colors of the foliage are intended to match the brilliant colors of the women’s chitenge (though of course the opposite is surely the case).  African women, given the rich brown darkness of their skin, are naturally endowed to wear brilliant colors.  They were not intended to wear English tweeds, small stripes, pastel colors.  They come to life when wearing bold patterns, the brightest of colors, and when enveloped in broad swathes of fabric.  Coordinating colors is not a high priority—chaotic patterns, clashing color schemes, are common.  What might look contrived or out of place when worn by a Westerner looks spectacular on African women.  The soil of Malawi is the orange red soil of Africa, with a texture that stains and marks clothes.  It is virtually impossible to wash it out of clothes once soiled.  The red soil is best on display when viewing the ribbons of village paths breaking off the main paved roads. 
We hoped to see the vibrancy of Africa, after our earlier pre-mission experiences in Kenya and Tanzania, and that vibrancy is all around us—especially in the city centers and markets--a swirl of constant activity, people crossing the streets, kids chewing sugar cane stalks, women carrying babies, constantly readjusting their chitenges, market goods—bags of maize, bundles of long kindling, water—moved, not by modern means, but balanced on women’s heads, heavy loads of charcoal transported on bikes, flashes of color, dust and commotion.  People are everywhere--clusters of kids mulling around; women, old and young, by their small open air stands, idly chatting, waiting for local customers; kids playing improvised soccer games, using small piles of rocks as goal posts; the locals making small purchases at mini-shops selling Sobo (a high-concentrated local fruit drink), candies, and snacks, and at wood stalls set up for tomatoes, bonya (small dried fish—a bit like sardines), chambo, bananas, and lettuce.  Mini-buses are the constant on the roads, pulling in and out of their standard stations, clogging up traffic, breaking down or running out of gas in the middle of roads, pulled over by local police checking for safety violations and the adequacy of the documents (current car registrations, annual driving permits and mini-bus registration),[4] mini-bus flank men hawking rides, half cantilevered out of the left side sliding doors.   Each small community has its share of vegetable stands, hair salons, barber shops, stores selling airtime, furniture operations, selling the same upholstered and wickeder stairs, sofas, mirrors, and baskets.  The townships spread out horizontally, there being no high rises, walk-up apartments, or office or commercial buildings. 
Never have we lived anywhere where people are as friendly and quick to smile as they are in Malawi.  Whenever we nod or smile, we are greeted with a nod or smile in return.  The Malawians are not sullen, tight lipped, too busy to be bothered.   Perhaps their slower pace of life, not unlike the proverbial village life, is part of the reason for the friendliness—rarely are they in a hurry and being late is just expected.  No one (other than the Westerners with whom they are dealing) gets too stressed out if they show up an hour or two late.[5]   Westerners are shown considerable deference in common day life—they are presumed to have wealth and be important.  They are frequently surprised by our greetings and seem pleased we have seen fit (i.e., deigned) to reach out to them.  By adults, I am routinely addressed as “boss,” “elder,” “pastor,” and Carole as “sister" and "mommy," each name signaling respect and social standing.  We have been told it is a great honor to have “azungus” (whites) visit their homes, and, when giving them  rides home, they want us to drive the truck the last couple hundred yards to their homes, however narrow, rocky, rutted, and torn up the lanes. 
But it would be wrong to see their openness and kindness to us as only a symbol of racial/ethnic inequalities.  They are, in our experience, nice to one another.  They visit friends and neighbors when someone is sick or in the hospital.   Funerals and marriages are huge affairs, whole villages and communities coming together to pay respects and show support.  And this gentility is apparent even in the most casual of interactions.  They speak and listen to each other quietly and without interruptions, free of the speaking over one another so common the United States.   They stand and visit easily, without impatience or signaling a need to hurry on.   For hours on end, women (especially those at the small stands and stalls) chat quietly, in the most companionable way.  Men frequently come and go, joining the conversations, then moving on, with no overt signs of the sexism one suspects when thinking of the highly hierarchical structure of African tribal life.[6]   Even the play among children is remarkable in the absence of fighting, bullying, and nastiness.  Young boys, as well as girls, frequently walk hand in hand, or with an arm draped over another’s shoulders.  Play is tame by Westerner standards.[7]
We have not encountered the hostility or reluctance of less active members so prevalent in the United States.  Whenever we track someone down to visit, whatever their attitude toward the Church or level of activity, they are willing to meet with us.  With very rare exceptions, they are open to visiting with us when we drop, and are home at the time of scheduled appointments, ready to meet and chat about the Church.  They don’t try to avoid us or make appointments knowing they don’t intend to keep them.  The few occasions when that has occurred stand out—actually we can count them on one hand.  For whatever reason, they are not plagued by the embarrassment felt by less active members back home.  Perhaps it is because this is fundamentally a God-fearing country, and people are loathe to show disrespect to ministers of God—which, I am sure, is the way we are commonly perceived.  Perhaps it is because less active members here are so new to the Church, they don’t think of themselves as “less active,” or worry about how that might be perceived by others.[8]  They may even see themselves as still active in the Church and still converted to the gospel.  In any event, they are very welcoming to us—one of the phrases we often hear, when being greeted in their homes, is “you are most welcome,” said with a very distinctive cadence.   We do not feel the rejection and outright hostility many senior missionaries experience when trying to touch base with less actives in local branches and wards.  Hence, it is easy to go back to their homes, knowing you will be welcomed.   Back home, every home teacher or visiting teacher knows the sinking feeling that comes with being rebuffed or brushed off or intentionally avoided.  For the most part, senior couples working here are spared those unpleasantries.  We know it would be much harder serving in the same capacity were we in the United States or the countries of Western Europe.
The most common advice bestowed upon senior missionaries is that they must grow to love the members with whom they labor.  “You have to love the people, and if you do they will sense it and respond to you.”  I certainly admired many Germans and came to love German culture during the two years spent as a young missionary in northern Germany in the late 1960s.  The extent to which I grew to love them, or was able to demonstrate that love, is much harder to assess.  So few Germans had interest in the Church, and so few spent any real time visiting with us, that I hardly got to know any Germans intimately.  My contacts with them, but for a couple who became friends, were limited and transitory.  Certainly our experience in Malawi is far different.  For one thing, unlike the young missionaries, we are rooted in one area, all 18 months being stationed in Blantyre.  No transfer every two months to another area to break up the routine and rhythm of our service.  But far more importantly is the fact that Malawians are so open and friendly.  Many of the members in Zingwangwa, and now more recently in Blantyre Second Branch, have become fast friends.  And while I can’t say that I understand what they are thinking, what motivates them or even how exactly they view the Church, I have certainly come to love them—I think precisely in the way missionaries are expected to love those they serve.  I find it naturally to embrace them, share expressions of concern, and be happy when they are happy.  The first lesson Carole and I have shared with members is from 1 Cor. 12—a lesson about spiritual gifts and Church unity.  It is about caring for members, rejoicing when they rejoice, and feeling sorrow when they mourn.  It has been an easy lesson to give and an easy one to learn. 
Much of what we are asked and expected to do is rewarding.  Attending Church, watching new Malawian members, seeing their commitment in the face of opposition, are all highlights, reminding us how the gospel molds and changes lives, both of the young and the old.  We enjoy participating in district and zone conferences with younger missionaries, seeing their leadership, observing their spiritual maturity.   Many of the young men and women give inspired talks and lessons, speaking with a confidence belying their years and experience.  When asked to join them for lessons to investigators, we marvel at their wisdom, though young, largely inexperienced, and sometimes downright silly.  They give shape to the spiritual promise that the weak of the world will carry forward the gospel’s message.  “To prepare the weak for those things which are coming on the earth, and for the Lord’s errand in the day when the weak shall confound the wise, and the little one become a strong nation, and two shall put their tens of thousands to flight.  And by the weak things of the earth the Lord shall thresh the nations by the power of his Spirit.”  D&C 133: 58-59.  One would be hard pressed to find a finer group of young people anywhere, with good values, committed to doing good, trying hard to be faithful and obedient.    
One of the most startling aspects of being here is how I respond to being out and about in the townships.  Nothing is quite as cathartic as walking through the townships, greeting young boys and girls, the elderly, indeed almost everyone we pass, and visiting with members in their homes, hearing conversion stories, sharing thoughts about the restored gospel.  If a week goes by without many visits, I get cranky and out of sorts, not the attitude a missionary should have.  It is as though my spirit is fed through mingling with the Malawians, and hungers when I am hedged in by too many administrative tasks.  Fortunately for me, Carole is more than game for visiting, never complaining about the dust, the uneven footing, the heat (it can be brutally hot at mid-day), and the thirst.  We try to stay hydrated (but doing that has its own challenges in a world without public toilets), and to cover up, wearing a hat to keep from getting burned at the crown of my head.  When the weather looks threatening, we throw umbrellas into the truck, or carry them in a small satchel, thrown over my shoulder, but in the end there is only so much one can reasonably do.  But these little inconveniences are only that—mild inconveniences.  I thrive on being out and don’t worry too much about the little nagging problems.        

[1] See “XI.  Have We Done Any Good?”
[2]Often when we chat with other senior missionaries about the climate in Malawi, praising its perfect weather, comparisons to San Diego’s weather invariably come up.   For Americans, San Diego is used as the litmus test for determining how good the weather may be in another corner of the world.  Since Carole was raised in San Diego, and her parents remained there for many years before finally moving to Salt Lake City for the last ten years of their life, our family had many trips to Carole’s California home.  Yet as nice as San Diego’s weather is, I find Malawi’s every bit as pleasant, if nothing else it lacks the marine layer of San Diego responsible for the early morning mists flowing into the bay and creeping up the canyons before they burn off later in the day. 
[3] So far we have only identified oleanders, poinsettias, and frangipani.  When questioned, Malawians do not seem to the names of many of the flowering plants.  Perhaps they know the names in Chichewa, not English, and see little point in sharing the local names with us.
[4] There are lots of stories of police using these improvised roadblocks to shake down mini-bus drivers, expecting small bribes to allow them to resume their trips without further delays.  It is also likely that, at any given point in time, most mini-bus drivers, and their vehicles, are in violation of some road safety regulation or lack all of the necessary documents for lawfully transporting passengers.  The mini-bus drivers are notorious for skimping, not having any money, running out of gas frequently, because they are so cheap.  Police probably can find some kind of legal violation anytime they wish.  Interestingly, when mini-buses are pulled over, the passengers sit passively in the mini-buses, waiting for the matter to be resolved, because they have already paid the fares for their rides, so getting up and taking off on their own doesn’t make money sense.   They can’t afford to pay twice for the same ride.  The only time we have seen a traffic police presence in Blantyre is at these provisional roadblocks, which can be erected anywhere, and at any time, even in the midst of heavy traffic. 
[5] There is another aspect to being late.  The more status an individual has, the later he or she appears at any scheduled appointment or meeting.  Having others wait is another way of reminding others of one’s importance.  This can be, and has been, a problem in the Church.  There is an account, which I don’t think is apocryphal, of a stake president showing up five or ten minutes late for a regional conference, only to find the presiding general authority already sitting on the stand, ready to start the meeting.    After the meeting he was remanded, told in no-uncertain terms not to do that again.
We witnessed another example of this phenomenon when the Church, through its District’s Public Affairs group, sponsored a get together at the Blantyre Building for the Blantyre mayor, district councilmen, and some of the local chiefs and their representatives.  The senior most member to attend was the deputy mayor.  Though he was one of the first to arrive, he stayed in the car with his driver until everyone else had appeared and then made his appearance.
[6] As best we can tell, tribal life, as it still exists in the villages, is highly structured, chiefs, subchiefs, village group headmen.  Some tribal groups however are organized on matriarchal, rather than patriarchal, lines.
[7] Most of you will not believe what I am about to say.  In Blantyre, even the dogs in the townships are surprisingly passive and non-aggressive.  Go figure.  So far there has been only one time when we encountered a surly dog when visiting member homes, and even then a small gang of kids quickly drove him off.   Almost all of the dogs in the townships are of the same breed—which we assume is a mongrel--short haired, slender body frame, mid-height, brown, pointed nose.  Many of the dogs appear underfed.  The exceptions are guard dogs for the larger estates and they, as you might imagine, look frightening.  We are told, but have not separately witnessed, that Malawians have an irrational fear of dogs.