Monday, August 31, 2015

Mormonism--Not Another Christian Church--George's Post

(a)  Not Another Christian Church”—A Place for True Believers

Whatever the Mormon Church may be, it is not just “another” Christian Church.  If it were, it might find it far easier to attract new members and to grow.  While the uniqueness of the Mormon message--reaffirming that Jesus is the Christ and the only Begotten of the Father and the only name by which salvation can come--should be obvious through the standard lessons taught by full-time missionaries, often investigators seem to be deaf to this message.  Frequently they hardily react to the startling account of the first vision—wherein the young Prophet Joseph claims to have seen God the Father and the Son and to have been told to hold himself apart from all of the existing sects of Christianity, since “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”[1]  Equally surprising is how little they react to the Book of Mormon, which the Mormons accept as a companion set of scriptures, containing the writings and visions of holy men, prophets of God living in the Americas, both before and after the life of Jesus Christ, similar in content and style to the books of the Old and New Testament.  It is although they are not listening to what the missionaries are telling them—they hear but they hardily respond to the extraordinary, indeed revolutionary, claims made by the Mormon Church.  They seem to find themselves in the same woeful condition of thoughtlessness as many of the Israelites at the time of the Christ’s ministry, to whom he preached by way of parable.  “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.  And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith,  By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see and shall not perceive:  For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and shall understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”  Matt: 13: 13-15.   
Not infrequently, investigators, after listening to the missionaries, will say that all Christian churches, including the Mormon Church, are pretty much the same, each, though different, a channel for getting back to God.  Implicit in these or similar comments is that Mormonism isn’t too bad and is likely much like the other Christian churches.   Some of these investigators may be merely humoring the missionaries, wanting to spare their feelings, reluctant to express the shock and dismay they actually feel upon hearing the radical, and to them unbelievable claims, of Mormonism.    But such comments, if intended seriously, suggest the investigators are largely deaf to the missionaries’ extraordinary claims—their eyes are dull and ears deaf. 
Either Mormonism represents precisely what it claims to represent—the restoration of the gospel’s fulness in these the latter days, preparatory to the great and dreadful coming of the Lord—something that should be taken seriously by all of good intent, whether they be Christian or not--or Mormonism constitutes a web of raw fabrications, not worthy of belief, indeed something contemptible.  Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, as well as all of the latter-day prophets should be rejected as “false prophets.”  They are those of whom the Savior warned when saying: “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many”[2] and “For there shall arise … false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible they shall deceive the very elect.”[3]  It is hard to think that those listening to the message would not understand this.  Perhaps, for some, they are slow to be too critical of the Mormon Church, because, while they do not believe the message, they find Mormons to be decent, God-fearing, morally upright individuals and the Mormon Church to be a positive force for good in an increasing wicked world, neither the church nor its members deserving of any special criticism when compared to other Christian denominations or religious groups.[4]
What may be less apparent to those introduced to the Mormon Church, at least in the beginning, is the radically new vision it provides of Christianity.  Most Christian churches justify their existence in some way either as a reformation of earlier doctrines—considered distorted, lost or corrupted over time by other Christian churches and in need of reforming—and/or as a reaction to unholy or corrupt practices that have crept into the churches due to the intermingling of church and state, religious corruption or political intrigue.   But Mormonism, unlike the Protestant churches and most of the evangelical movements, does not neatly fall within two these tradition.  Certainly some Mormon doctrines might be viewed as the rejection of certain Christian doctrines pronounced by other faiths—such as the Mormon concept of the Godhead (rejecting a portion of the Nicene Creed); baptism by immersion (rejecting infant baptism and sprinkling); the establishment of a lay ministry, called by inspiration, and empowered by the priesthood (because of what Mormon see as the loss of priesthood power due to the early church apostasy); an individual form of worship, emphasizing personal unscripted prayers, direct connection with God, Christian service, in lieu of communicating to God through pastors and ministers.    In this sense, Mormonism may seem like other reform-based Christian churches, whose doctrine is based largely upon a rejection of earlier forms of Christianity, often trying to go back to an earlier, purer form of Christianity, true to its historical roots.  But upon further examination, many core Mormon doctrines are genuinely unique and do not have their genesis as the “reaction” to the church doctrine of any other denomination considered apostate or corrupt—or as a reaction to secular or unrighteous forms of public worship that have been engrafted over time into Christian life.  Instead these doctrines, central to Mormon belief, are strikingly original, yet at the same time, remarkably integrated, giving sense and form to much of traditional Christian doctrine.  Among such doctrines, as explained by humble young Mormon missionaries, without formal training, include the plan of salvation—elucidating the purpose of life by reference to the preexistence, spiritual children of god, human agency, eternal progression, the fall of Adam, the atonement and resurrection, the three degrees of glory, and the possibility of exaltation; the centrality of temple ordinances, including the endowment, baptisms for the dead, and the sealing ordinances; and the roles played the Jesus Christ, Satan as a fallen son of the morning,[5]star of the morning, and the “great and noble” ones in the preexistence, in giving shape to the history of human life.  None of these doctrines are refractions of earlier Christian doctrines, coming back in some new, reshuffled or reformed fashion.  Instead, they give a framework to Mormon orthodoxy and religious thought that many Mormons find speaking to their souls—they are “truths” considered sublime; —complete—as though all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole; —and surprisingly “simple” and “appealing—truths that make sense and that somehow seem familiar and believable though new. 
Most Mormons are fully conscious of the “all-or-nothing” character of the claims made on behalf of the Mormon Church.  There is no comfortable middle ground for Mormonism, allowing its doctrine to be reconciled with other Christian denominations, and permitting the Mormon Church to iron out the doctrinal difference through ecumenical discourse.   This recognition is captured over and over again in their testimonies, wherein they boldly, without hesitation, claim that the Mormon Church is the “one and only” true Church upon the earth.  They do not consider the Mormon Church to be another “Christian” denomination, barely distinguishable for other Christian churches, each having the power to lead to knowledge of the true character of God and the right form of worship.  Indeed, any suggestion to that effect is based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of the Mormon message.  For this reason alone, members of the Mormon Church are usually comfortable in their own skin only when they are “true believers.”[6]  
Many Mormons certainly consider themselves as true believers and are very devout, willing and ready to make great sacrifices for their faith.   Yet, at the same time, some struggle to accept all of the doctrine, even when they believe much of what the Mormon Church teaches.  The “absolute” nature of the doctrine—the dichotomous view of the Mormon Church as true or false--creates for them dissonance.  It is hard for them to reconcile the good they may see in the lives of Church members, the strength of the Mormon Church as an agent for good, or the beauty or simplicity of its doctrine, with those doctrines, social customs, or cultural aspects of Mormonism found offensive or hard to accept.  Mormonism seems to be wrapped in an unbending logic of its own—either it is inspired and true or is fundamentally flawed, possibly even the work of evil, designing, or deceived men.  There appears to be little room to maneuver.
There are number of ways to relieve the tension created by this dissonance, when felt by members.[7]  Those most converted may choose to “set aside” the things they find difficult accepting, cannot understand, or simply don’t believe.[8]   They are prepared to say to themselves—“we don’t or may not now understand this—but we will wait for the day when the Lord reveals more or when we understand better.”    To do this requires humility, a baseline testimony of the core gospel principles of the gospel, the faith to proceed in the face of uncertainty, and patience--knowing that some, perhaps many, truths will not be revealed to us in this life.  For those willing to do so, “shelving” issues seems to be a reasonable approach, allowing them to continue with their faith—doing the things they feel are right and important—without sacrificing their intellectual integrity.  This approach however is feasible only if they believe the issues “shelved” are fringe issues, not going to core beliefs they regard as central to the gospel message and not interfering with their good standing in the Church.  Often they believe it advisable to keep their questions, uncertainties and doubts to themselves.  Should their sentiments be shared with others, it may upset the faith of some—when that is not the intent—they are not trying to convince others of “any” particular point of view.   Their concerns are personal to them and they wish to keep them private.   Moreover, they wish to maintain good relationships with others in the Church, not wanting others to brand them as heretical or unorthodox.   
What should a member do if he or she has ambivalent feelings toward membership in the Church—on the one hand, loving much about the Church and its doctrine, and on the other hand harboring some doubts.  The first principle of the Church is “faith”—something we forget on occasion.  However much we may know, or at least be so comfortable about that we don’t worry, there is always a point where we must peer over the edge and exercise faith in the face of the yawning unknown.  We may order our beliefs—sorting core beliefs from fringe ones—and decide how much we are prepared to take on faith and where we find when the going gets too rough.  Then there is always the question about the alternatives.  If, at the end of the day, we can’t get satisfied with what we believe—where do we go?  Do we embrace our own brand of Christianity; do we choose to worship with some other Christian denomination; do we quit searching for God altogether; or do we embrace Buddhism, the Jewish faith, some form of new age religion or mysticism?  Are any of those options apt to be more comforting or answer our big life questions better, or more convincingly, than Mormonism?  Or will we find ourselves just as disappointed, unsatisfied, or left questioning as we were before. 
When thinking of these alternatives, I am reminded of the experience of the early disciples after Christ gave the “bread of life” sermon considered so blasphemous to traditional Jewish thought.  “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.  As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.”  John 6: 56-57.  Many were so upset by these teachings that, however they may have been moved by the miracles Christ performed, or drawn to the other doctrines he taught, they said: “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?”  John 6: 60.  Then they left him.  In the aftermath, Christ asked the twelve: “Will ye also go away?”  Much the same could be said of faithful Church members struggling to be at peace with doctrines they find objectionable or offensive or a Church history that at points seems problematic.    Peter’s response is, I think, idiomatic of the feelings many members have.  “Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou has the words of eternal life.  And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”  John 6: 68-69.  Those converted to the Church’s core doctrines feel as though the gospel, as revealed through latter-day revelation, is ultimately the source of eternal life.  Where else would they go for “eternal life?”  Mormon doctrine is simple, complete, indeed sublime.  It addresses and provides answers to tough life questions.  Similar answers are not to be found in the doctrines of other churches.  They do not see Catholicism or other evangelical churches, as viable alternatives.  If they are prepared to accept Christianity, it is Christianity in the form taught in the Church.  Usually, they find the Mormon view of the deficiencies of Christian doctrines as espoused by other denominations to be damning.  And while they may struggle with Mormonism, they would struggle as much with the doctrines of other Christian denominations.  For the most part, if members leave the Church, they do not leave the Church in favor of joining another Christian faith.  Apostate Mormons more often than not find themselves outside of Christianity altogether.

[1] See Joseph Smith History, 1:19.
[2] Matt. 24: 11.
[3] Matt. 24: 24.
[4] This of course is relevant.  Christ, when warning his disciples about “false prophets,” did not suggest that there would not be “prophets,” but only that some would “false,” in that they would “come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”  Christ then provided a means for testing the claims of prophets—“Ye shall know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes of thorns, or fits of thistles.  Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. …  Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”  Matt: 7: 15-17; 20.
[5] See Isa. 14: 12.  “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning.  How ar thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations.”
[6] On occasion, those born and raised in the Church, especially those in the western parts of the United States where there are many Church members, become what are in effect “cultural” Mormons, wed to the social customs of the Church, but divorced from its doctrine and orthodoxy.  Certainly for some of them the dichotomous view of the Church—as either “true” or “false” on doctrinal issues—is less relevant.  They do not tend to think of the Church as “true” or “false” but instead as an established social institution, conducive of a comfortable life style, teaching positive Christian values, and supportive of strong family values.  For many, they feel connected to the Church because their parents, grandparents, and even earlier ancestors were members; they are proud of their ancestry and the personal sacrifices made by family members to join and stay active in the Church.   The Church is part of their cultural identity, giving context and meaning to their lives, much as nationality is part of the cultural identity of many Americans.
[7] To be sure, many in the Mormon Church seem to be perfectly content with Church doctrine and practices.  They are happy in the Church and find its doctrines and practices reassuring.  They feel as though the Spirit has borne testimony to their hearts and that is alone sufficient.  They are not worried by the things they may not understand. 
[8] The practice of polygamy, no longer practiced but certainly still a part of the Church’s doctrine, is such a stumbling block for some in the Church.  Even the most faithful of Church members often set this doctrine on the “shelf,” fully mindful that they don’t know enough to understand why and how it become a part of the Church history.  They are prepared however to move beyond it, because of the fervent testimony they have of the core doctrines of the Church, confident that the time will come when the purpose of polygamy in the Lord’s plan will become clear.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Expectations About Growth--George's Post

1.    Expectations about Growth; Growth for Growth’s Sake

What are the expectations of the members about the growth of the Church over the next several generations?  Occasionally, one sees projections of worldwide Church growth, taking into account historical rates of convert baptisms and child baptisms (i.e., the baptisms of the young children of existing members).  Extrapolating from current numbers points to exponential growth, not only in the United States but throughout most of the world, especially in third world countries, including those in Africa.  Of course, the projections may not play out, because one or more of the underlying assumptions behind the modelling are not met.  The Church may meet greater opposition than anticipated, retarding growth; historical conversion rates may taper off; birth rates among members may decrease; the number of full-time missionaries may fall below projected levels.   Membership turnover may also be higher than expected. 
While members generally expect to see the Church’s continuing growth, together with the opening up of new missionary fields currently closed to missionary activity,[1] they do not necessarily subscribe to the argument that the Church itself will become, with time, one of the largest Christian denominations.  Members’ attitudes toward growth are primarily shaped by a number of well-known scriptures and themes.  Even in the earliest days of Mormonism, before the Church had started to expand beyond the borders of the United States, statements taken from the Book of Mormon or revelations given to the Prophet Joseph Smith spoke of the Church’s spreading throughout the world.   “And now I say unto you that the time shall come that the salvation of the Lord shall be “declared to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.  Yea, Lord, thy watchmen shall lift upon their voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion.”  Mosiah 15: 28-29.  “And I give unto you a commandment that then ye shall teach them unto all men; for they shall be taught unto all nations, kindreds, tongues and people.”  D&C 42: 58.  “And this gospel shall be preached unto every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.  And the servants of God shall go forth, saying with a loud voice: Fear God and give glory to him, for the hour of his judgment is come.”  D&C 133: 37-38.  Mormons see the Church’s establishment as being the “ensign of the people” to which the Gentiles will see,[2] the second gathering of the House of Israel,[3] the raising of the mountain of the Lord’s house, to be established in the top of the mountains, exalted above hills, to which all nations shall flow.[4]   Likewise, the Church’s growth is seen as the literal fulfillment of Daniel’s prophetic vision, where God will “set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed” and which “shall break in pieces and consume all” other kingdom, just as the stone cut out of the mountain without hands rolled forth to fill the whole earth.[5]
In addition, the Church’s growth is viewed as a sign of the times, a harbinger of the ushering in of the last days.    While this is the case, Mormons do not believe that the gospel will be widely embraced before the great and dreadful day of the Lord’s coming.  “And it came to pass that I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few, because of the wickedness and abominations of the whore who sat upon many waters; nevertheless, I beheld that the church of the Lamb, who were the saints of God, were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness of the great whore whom I saw.  And it came to pass that I beheld that the great mother of abominations did gather together multitudes upon the face of the earth, among all the nations of the Gentiles, to fight against the Lamb of God.  And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the power of the Lamb of God, that it descended upon the saints of the church of the Lamb, and upon the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth; and they were armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.”  1 Nephi 14: 12-14.  The Church’s strength is evidenced by the righteousness of its members—however few there may be—and the purpose of missionary work is to find those, wherever they may be found, willing to make sacrifices to be numbered among the saints.   Spiritual power is not found in numbers, but in the lives of the righteous.  This brings to mind the Old Testament story of the winnowing of Gideon’s warriors called upon to fight the Midianities, reducing the force from over 30,000 down to 300.[6]
Consequently, the Church is not about growth for “growth’s sake.”  Growth is positive, but only if it is the right kind of growth—adding new members committed to gospel principles and willing and able to be a light unto the world.[7]  Church members are expected to be an influence for good.  Were the Church’s primary aim to attract as many members as possible, Church leaders might consider undertaking a number of steps to make the Church more attractive to mainstream populations--thought might be given to softening doctrinal positions, especially on high profile social issues, harmful to the Church’s public profile and potentially limiting Church growth; approving policy changes designed to make the Church more appealing to conservative, but mainstream, populations; making it easier for nonmembers to become members—such relaxing the moral standards expected of new converts.  In addition, the Mormon message might be customized to make it more palatable to local populations—for example, allowing Africans to bring local customs into the Church, rather than expecting them to shed traditional customs considered inconsistent with gospel principles, would likely enhance growth.   President Erickson, at the senior conference held in March 2015 in Lilongwe, reported briefly on a results of a report done on the Church’s growth in Africa, shared with the mission presidents during one of their training sessions with the Area Presidency of the African Southeast Area.  The report noted that the Church has experienced solid growth in Africa in the recent past, but at the same time, reported that a number of evangelical churches had even enjoyed better results over the same period.  He then noted that the Church, if its sole concern were growth, could consider “franchising” its model, using local paid clergy, and adopting some of the member recruitment tools used by other churches, to achieve faster membership growth.  But, of course, Church growth is not to be achieved at the expense of its basic principles.
Convert baptisms, defined as the baptism of individuals who are not the children of record of existing members, has the potential for invigorating local congregations.  The new members often bring great enthusiasm, energy and zeal, which in turn uplifts and strengthens existing members.  Shortly after joining the Church, new converts are frequently asked to accept callings, allowing them to grow in their understanding while at the same time helping and supporting others.  They serve as primary teachers, work in the Relief Society, help with training young men and young women.  Their talents are quickly put to work.  And, especially in the missionary field, where the Church is new, these new members may within just a few years, or in some cases just a few months, be enlisted to hold important leadership positions—serving as counselors or heads of elders quorums or relief society presidencies, or as branch presidents or new bishops.    There are no arbitrary restrictions on how fast they move through the ranks of Church leadership, though it is likely they will wait longer for such callings where the Church is well established and move more quickly where the Church is new and growing fast.   New member conversions usually elevates the spirituality of congregations.  It reminds longer-tenure members of the enthusiasm they enjoyed when first exposed to the restored gospel. 

[1] The Church does not currently have missionaries in China and most of the Muslim countries of the world.
[2] Isa. 11: 10.
[3]  Isa. 11: 11.  “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people….”
[4] See Isa. 2: 2-3.
[5] See Daniel 2: 44-45.
[6] See Judges 7: 1-7.
[7]  “Ye are the light of the world.  A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.  Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”  Matt. 5: 14-16.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mormon Church--The Field is White--Ideal Conditions--George's Post

1.    Mormon Church--The Field is White—Ideal Conditions

The religiosity of the people, together with their humility, friendliness, and openness, makes Malawi an almost ideal place for proselyting activities.  This is true not only for the missionary efforts of the Mormon Church, but also for similar activities sponsored by evangelical churches.  One of the most frequently quoted passages from the Doctrine and Covenants is Section 4—commonly used by full-time missionaries to remind themselves of their sacred calling to share the restored gospel with the peoples of the world.  It reads in part: “Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of me….  For behold, the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul.”  D&C 4: 1, 4.  It is not hard for missionaries serving in Malawi to think these verses were written with Malawi in mind. 
The receptivity of Malawians to the gospel message is extraordinary, certainly when compared with the lack of interest found in many parts of the world, such as the countries in Western Europe including Germany, where I served as a young missionary in the late 1960s.  Frequently, when Carole and I are walking in the townships, strangers will stop us, asking what Church we belong to and where we worship.  They carefully scrutinize our missionary tags—sometimes sounding out the words—“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”  They ask us about what we are doing and how long we plan to stay in Malawi.  Usually they know where the Blantyre chapel is located--downtown, close to the market, behind the “Inde” Bank--but rarely do they know where the Ndirande and Zingwangwa Branches meet.  Were we called to proselyte like the younger missionaries, Carole and I think we won’t have any difficulty spending most of the day, every day, visiting with nonmembers about the Church.  Their innate curiosity about us, and the lack of fixed schedules driving their days, leaves them ready to spend a few minutes chatting about the Church.  Sometimes this is little more than a passing interest, but on occasion it amounts to a genuine interest in learning more about the Church and its message.  The younger missionaries have much the same experience. 
As a consequence, the Church is growing rapidly in Blantyre and Lilongwe, the two locations where the Church has established districts in Malawi, and where the Church has assigned full-time missionaries.  At the senior missionary conference held in March of 2015, President Erickson announced that the Africa Southeast Area was the fastest growing area in the entire Mormon Church and that Malawi/Zambia were, at the time, the fastest growing countries within the area.   We expect the Church to continue growing quickly in Malawi in the foreseeable future, and can easily envision dramatic changes in the landscape of the Church within the next decade—the building of new meetinghouses; the existing districts being replaced by “stakes;” the Church’s opening new cities within Malawi to missionary work; the possibility of the Church’s creating a separate Malawi mission, with a larger missionary force; and, the number of young Malawian men and women called to serve as missionaries, both in Africa and elsewhere, growing dramatically, greatly enhancing the pool of potential leaders. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Mondays - Carole's Post

Today is Preparation Day (P-day) and there are some things we can always count on each Monday.  
LAUNDRY.  When I was very young, my mother always had a "wash day".     Now I do too, and you can see what I am always washing.  It is starting to get quite warm again, so there is only one long-sleeved shirt in the bunch.

Also, on Monday, I frequently have a pail or two of wet baptismal clothes and towels left over from Sunday baptismal services at one of the three buildings.  Sometimes the branch members wash the clothes themselves, but this is something I am happy to help out with.

Today also happens to be a clean and polish the shoes day.

Yesterday, after attending meetings in both branches, we went with some members to visit a newly baptized member who was sick.  I thought we would be driving but we ended up walking, and made visits to two other homes along the way.  My "Sunday shoes" were not the best for walking.  The shoes took a beating along with my feet!

We frequently go shopping in the morning because some of the sister missionaries count on us to take them to one of the large Western-type supermarkets.  

We drive down a four land divided highway to get to any of the three major stores. The sisters like to go to Shoprite which is in a western-style shopping mall (really a strip mall).  

Sometimes we Americans just like to start the day with something that seems really familiar (or sort of familiar).

Occasionally, there is a real find - like Philadelphia cream cheese!!  taco sauce! or Hellmann's Mayonnaise (even though the expiration date is in three weeks)!   I frequently dart into Game, a subsidiary of Wal-Mart (thinking of our son Seth who works in the corporate offices at home).
Doesn't this look like any store in the United States?  We hardly know any Malawians who shop at Game because it is considered an expensive store.  However, we buy many supplies here because we can usually find what we are looking for - supplies for the church, the missionary flats or our home.  I wouldn't say that they understand customer service however.  Whenever I have had trouble finding something, I am immediately told it is "finished" meaning out-of-stock.  No one checks; they just know it is "finished".

For groceries, I prefer Chipiku, a Malawian chain down the street.  It's smaller but has a good produce department for things you can't buy at the outside market.  The parking lot is deadly - it is difficult to get in and out and find a parking place.  Plus the outside vendors are relentless.

Sometimes we park in the area and walk, but you have to maneuver through the minibus traffic. 

Occasionally I convince George to go to Limbe for the other Western-style store, Savers.  This is a specialty store where you can find cheeses, candies, nuts, and imported goods that simply can't be found elsewhere.  Still, I should stress that you can NEVER depend on finding what you want anywhere. Inventory control seems non-existent.  Fresh milk (or cream or butter etc)- or anything else for that matter - can be unavailable for weeks at a time.  One time there was no shampoo in ANY of the stores!
  Elder Reynolds is in the background because they took us to Savers soon after we arrived.

Though we pick up vegetables and fruits throughout the week at little local markets, I still like to go to the major Blantyre market on Saturday because that is the day the farmers bring in fresh produce.  I always bargain but who knows if something is a fair price or not?  "Azungu price" is a common term.

Farmers unloading their goods.

Tomatoes are always displayed like this - even in the small towns.

The Blanatyre equivalent of Seattle Pike Place Market!
And just in case you need a new khazu...
or anything else for that matter!

We also try and get to the post office weekly to check on letters and packages for the missionaries.  There is no mail delivery here so everyone has to go to the post office or use a private carrier.

Since we have a "private bag", we take our bag with us and go to the outside appointed window.  George is holding a rock that sits on the sill so each customer can use it to knock loudly on the wooden door.  

That probably wouldn't be necessary except there is frequently loud music playing inside.

George passes to the postal worker the unlocked bag.
If it's a good day, he/she will return it (now locked) with a few letters inside and we know there will be some happy missionaries! If it is a real good day, there will be a notice that they are holding a package, requiring that we take the notice to another window for pick-up.  Sometimes, for unknown reasons, they send us to another post office in town or in the neighboring town to pick up the package.  Once, we had to wait while customs went through a missionary's package. (It was a DHL package delivered to the post office - strange).   We recently received a package from our daughter, 3 1/2 months after it was mailed in Washington D.C. 

A day frequently ends with the zone leaders stopping by to use our computer or scanner.  Last night they had baptismal records to send to the mission office.  Tonight they have a spreadsheet to work on.

Elder Allred in George's office.  This is probably obvious because of the art (sculpture) next to the chair.

Because there continue to be major water stoppages at several of the missionary flats, Elder Allred and Elder Rugumayo frequently come to our house to get water for the missionaries.

Elder Rugumayo fills up bottles of water from our filtered water system in the kitchen.

Off they go with enough water for a day or two.
(See the baptismal clothes still hanging on the line on the back patio).

Our neighborhood, Mandala, has fewer water problems, but even if our water might have been shut off, there is usually plenty of water in the tank outside to share.

We have a very scientific way of checking how much water is in the tank.  Davie climbs up on a ladder and knocks on it to see where the water line might be.

The elders take a hose from the tank and fill up their large containers directly with the unfiltered water.  

The tank is close to the popo (papaya) tree.  We have had a few members come ask for them and Davie uses a ladder and broomstick to knock one down.  Hopefully, it gets caught before hitting the ground.

To conclude... I haven't been sure where to insert this completely random picture, but George and I have stared at this quote (pinned on a bulletin board) through many meetings in the district president's office.  It always makes us smile, as I am sure it would Elder Holland.  Those "L's" and "R's" are tricky in Malawi!