April 1 – April 8

We enjoyed watching General Conference.  The Mission Home has BYU-TV so we are able to receive all sessions of Conference.  However, because of the time difference some are broadcast in the middle of the night.  So we watched the Saturday afternoon session on Sunday afternoon.  The Priesthood Session was broadcast at the nearby Stake Center Sunday morning.


On Tuesday we traveled to Benoni for another Zone Conference.  Following the Zone Conference, I met with three different Stake Presidents in three different locations from one end of Johannesburg to the other.  On Thursday we held the Johannesburg Zone Conference.  Friday we traveled to Gaborone, Botswana on our way to Francistown.  Saturday, we completed the trip to Francistown.  From Johannesburg, the journey to Francistown takes about 10 ˝ hours on roads that vary from excellent to marginal.  The scenery on the way to Francistown was very different than the first time we made the trip.  The summer rains had changed the dry brown desert to a verdant green.  Although vegetation was still sparse, what vegetation existed was now green. We even saw water standing in a few depressions.


As we passed the small villages of mud huts, we noticed villagers selling small containers of brown furry things.  We later learned that they were selling dried Mopane worms.  Mopane worms are really caterpillars that infest Mopane trees.  Although, natives and some young missionaries eat live Mopane worms, they are usually sold and eaten dried.


Closer to Francistown, many of the roadside vendors were selling long green canes that looked a lot like sugar cane but somewhat thinner.  When we inquired, we learned that it was sweet reed season.  Sweet reed is similar to sugar cane but not as sweet.  Inside Francistown, nearly every child and many adults were chewing on a stick of sweet reed.


Friday night we had dinner with President Tembo, the Francistown Branch President.  He expressed his excitement about the growth of the branch.  We discussed the possibility of renting a place for the branch to meet.  The branch has been meeting in his home, but has outgrown the home. (I have since received authorization to locate a rented facility as a meeting place for the Francistown Branch.)


April 9 – April 15

Sunday, we enjoyed the wonderful spirit of the Francistown Branch.  The small living room was filled to capacity.  The branch choir, consisting of about half of the adults, sang magnificently. Both Jane and I spoke.  During the third hour, every room of the house was used.  The newly formed Young Women's class met in the kitchen, the Primary in a bedroom and, as usual, the priesthood met outside under a tree.  The Relief Society used the living room.


After church, the branch members moved to a community pool a short way off.  There we participated in the baptism of three children and one Sister.  Two of the children were converts whose parents had been baptized earlier.  We had to use the kids’ pool for the baptism of the children because the main pool was too deep.  Following the baptism, President Tembo called on Jane to give a talk on the Gift of the Holy Ghost – without any warning.  As usual, she did a wonderful job.


Sunday evening we drove back to Gaborone.  On Monday, we held the Botswana Zone Conference and then headed back to Johannesburg.  Thursday we concluded this round of Zone Conferences with the Soweto Zone.  Friday, we worked in the office.  Jane continued her quest to clean up the baptismal records of the Mission.


On Friday morning we attended the baptism of Ernest, a 63 year-old man who had been taught by the Assistants.  Over the last few weeks, we have watched the wonderful change in Ernest as the Gospel has blessed his life.  We can now see the light in his eyes.


April 16 – April 22

On Easter Sunday we attended the Daveyton Ward where I had two baptismal interviews to conduct.  Daveyton is a township on the east side of Johannesburg.  We know the bishop quite well because he handles travel for the Area Office and helps with all of our visa and passport issues.  Since it was Easter, we were confident that we would not have to speak.  We were wrong.  As we arrived, Bishop Mokoena greeted us by saying that we were an answer to his prayers because two of his speakers did not show up.  Jane also played the piano for Sacrament Meeting. We had Easter dinner with the Assistants.  We couldn’t find a ham, so we had lamb instead.


On Wednesday we held Zone Leaders' Conference.  At this meeting, I announced the calling of Elder Bradley Roberts from Provo, Utah, as my new Assistant replacing Elder Daniel Plantin who will complete his mission and return to England on April 27th.  Jane provided homemade chili, cornbread and chocolate cake for our lunch.  I am continually amazed at the strength and spiritually of the Zone Leaders and Assistants. We currently have Zone Leaders from England, Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Canada as well as Utah, Idaho, Georgia, California and Washington. There are many other missionaries who could also serve wonderfully in these callings.


On Friday, we held a Mexican dinner for all of the senior couples serving in the Mission.  Mexican food is hard to find in South Africa and most Americans agree it is the food they miss the most while on mission. The mission could not operate effectively without senior couples. They serve in a variety of capacities:  two couples serve in the office; some work in wards and branches spending much of their time on retention and reactivation; some support the CES program; two of the senior Elders serve as branch presidents and all of the couples do proselyting as they have time.  The couples love to get together and seemed to have a wonderful time at the dinner.  They stayed from 4 pm to after 10 pm.  Four couples from more distant assignments spent the night in the Mission Home. 


April 23 – April 30

Sunday we attended church in the Roodepoort Ward, so we could hear the departing testimony of Elder Plantin.  This is the ward where the Assistants have been serving in what spare time they have.


Tuesday evening, I held the first meeting of the full Mission Presidency.  Earlier I had called Michael Wrench from the Roodepoort Ward as my first counselor and John Means, a full time missionary serving with his wife in the Bloemfontein Zone, as my second counselor.


On Wednesday, eight new missionaries arrived from the Johannesburg MTC.  Since the MTC is adjacent to the Mission Office, they just made the short walk from next door while those headed to other African missions left for the airport.  I interviewed each of the new missionaries, after which, Jane, the Assistants and I provided a brief orientation.  We trained the newly called trainers along with the new missionaries and held a brief meeting to introduce the new missionaries to their trainers and to recognize those missionaries going home.  By three o’clock the new missionaries were on their way to their first assignments.  We then took the four missionaries going home and the Juchaus, a senior couple also completing their mission, back to the Mission Home for interviews, dinner and a testimony meeting.


We took the three African missionaries to the airport early on Thursday to catch their flights home.  All went smoothly, except that the flight for Sister Mjiba was canceled and we had to book her on another flight and notify her parents of her new arrival time.  When we returned from the airport, we loaded the Juchaus, Elder Plantin and the Assistants in the mission van and headed to the Voortrekker Monument near Pretoria.  The Voortrekker Monument was built to honor the Dutch Voortrekkers, or pioneers, who traveled by wagon train from Cape Town to the interior of what is now South Africa to escape the British.  From 1835-1852 more than 15,000 people made the trek.  They had a difficult and dangerous journey over rugged mountains and through the territory of hostile native tribes.  Many died from disease and hardship and many more were killed by natives.  The Monument is huge, over 200 feet tall, with 130 steps leading to the door from the parking lot.  The interior of the monument has a series of bas-relief carvings depicting various events along the journey.  There are also very large needlepoint tapestries memorializing the trek. The tapestries took more than nine years to complete.  Nearby is Fort Schanskop where the Afrikaaners defended Pretoria from the British.  From the fort there was a great view of the mammoth buildings of the University of South Africa .


Late that afternoon we took Elder Plantin and the Juchaus to the airport to catch evening flights home.  We have found it especially hard to say goodbye to missionaries who have served as Assistants and it was additionally hard with Elder Plantin, since he had served as an Assistant for almost nine months.  It is also difficult to say goodbye to couples like the Juchaus who have served so diligently and sacrificed so greatly to serve the Lord and the people of Africa.


Sunday we attended the Ridgeway Ward where we had agreed to speak.  That afternoon we packed our suitcases, so we would be ready to leave for the semi-annual Mission Presidents’ Seminar early the next morning.  Another month has now passed much too quickly.