December 1 – December 11

On December 1, 6 and 8 we held three combination Zone Conferences/Christmas Parties.  We started each day with a shortened Zone Conference where we conducted some mission business, had testimonies from departing missionaries and both Jane and I gave Christmas messages. Then everyone changed into preparation day clothes.  We divided into 8 teams of 5-6 missionaries each and held our crazy Olympics.  We had 4 events:


The Africa Head Carry where missionaries had to carry bowls of water on their heads, African style. The team to get the most water across the finish line into their bucket won.


The Dual Duel where missionaries had to stand on one leg on a platform and swing at each other with pillows.  The missionary who fell off or had the other foot touch down lost.  Sisters got to stand on two feet.


Noodle Hockey where teams played a kind of hockey where you could only hit a beach ball with pool noodles.


The Super Slip Slide Sprint where teams raced against the clock down a hill of slippery wet plastic and then back up.  The other team was throwing water and water-logged sponges at them while they attempted to make their way to the finish line.


We then had a Braai (African BBQ) of chicken, coleslaw, chips, sodas and watermelon. After the Braai, missionaries could play soccer, volleyball, basketball or watch Madagascar and The Best Two Years (one or both).  At dusk we each lit a candle, sang Christmas carols and had a closing prayer.


Planning and implementing the parties was hard work and we were exhausted when they were over, but everyone seemed to have a great time.  Our only injuries were one broken toe and a few sunburns.  Remember it is the middle of the summer here.


On Sunday the 4th we attended Church in Kwa Thema, a black township branch.  Their building had one of the few drinking fountains we have seen in Africa.  However, fastened by chains above the drinking fountain were two communal cups that everyone used to get their drinks.  Jane asked the missionaries to teach the members how to use a drinking fountain.


On the Wednesday between the last two Christmas parties, we picked up a new senior couple at the airport.  The Hodgsons are from Rancho Cordova, California and will be a fine addition to the mission.  Their first assignment will be in Rustenburg and Phokeng.


We have had, Elder Maluana, a missionary from the Mozambique Mission, staying with us.  He is in Johannesburg for some surgery that was necessary because of a bicycle accident.  He has been a delight.  He helped us put up our Christmas tree.  It was the first time in his life that he had helped to decorate a Christmas tree.  He doesn’t speak English very well, but we are able to communicate adequately.  He is 22 and was a Branch President before his mission.  We would love to keep him in our mission, but he will go back to Mozambique once he gets clearance from his doctor.


On Saturday, the 10th, we bid farewell to Elder Walshaw, one of the Assistants to the President.  Our new Assistant is Elder Howe from Sandy, Utah.  We will miss Elder Walshaw; he was a great Assistant and has been with us from the beginning of our mission.  We look forward to working with Elder Howe.


Sunday, the 11th, we attended Church in the Bedfordview Ward.  The ward is large and covers both a town area (mostly white) and a township (all black). The mix of races works very well. The vestiges of apartied are not apparent in this ward.


December 12 – December 18

On the fourteenth our sixth grandchild was born: Zachary Craig Johnson.  The biggest sacrifice of our mission is not being able to cuddle our grandchildren.  Pictures are nice, but holding is better.


The parents of the North American missionaries, friends and others have sent us all kinds of small presents to give our African missionaries.  We began the week by dividing up all the gifts into piles for each of our African missionaries.  Each African missionary will get socks, ties and candy and a couple of other things like small hymn books, white shirts, belts, flashlights, etc.  On Thursday evening, the office couples and other senior couples that live near the mission home came over and we wrapped the presents for the African Missionaries.  We also had Christmas goodies and enjoyed visiting.


We were asked to care for a missionary from the Uganda Mission.  Elder Woodford has been sick off and on for six months so they sent him to Johannesburg for medical treatment.  He has had typhoid and malaria.  The doctors now think that he was over-dosed with malaria medicine. Elder Maluana from Mozambique is still in our mission, but living and working with other Elders in our mission.


On the 16th, there was a special Christmas program at the temple grounds called Temple Illumination.  Our missionaries helped with ushering and parking.  We also had a missionary choir that sang as people viewed the new nativity on the temple grounds.  There was a large crowd and it was a beautiful evening.  It still seems strange to enjoy such beautiful weather at a Christmas celebration. Our missionaries received a nice write-up on the Church’s South Africa website for their efforts in December; not for this event but for a prior Christmas program.


On the 18th, we attended Church in the Pimville Ward.  Pimville is part of Soweto, the largest township in South Africa.


December 19 – December 25


Elder Woodford from the Uganda Mission returned to his mission on December 21st and Elder Maluana from the Mozambique Mission returned there on December 22nd.


On December 21, we received five new missionaries: one each from Utah, California, Madagascar, Uganda and England.  At our transfer meeting on the 22nd, one of our departing missionaries was absent.  I talked to his Zone Leader who said they had been unable to reach Elder Kisembo and his companion, Elder Atsiaya, for the last 24 hours.  They are assigned to Lesotho.   I asked him to keep trying.  Finally, in the middle of the meeting he signaled that he needed to talk to me.  He told me that the missionaries had been in jail, but had been released and would arrive in about two hours.  He didn’t know any other details.  When they finally arrived, I learned that they had been stopped for making an illegal U-turn, but that the police officer wanted them to pay 100 rand (about $15) on the spot, but would not give them a ticket or a receipt.  They refused and were taken to jail.  They demanded to call an attorney or me, but were denied. After a night in jail, they final got to talk to a superior officer.  They told their story and the arresting police officer claimed they tried to bribe him.  Luckily, after the superior officer talked in private with the arresting officer, the arresting officer admitted that he had attempted to extort money from the Elders.  They were then released.  On December 23, we said goodbye to Elder Kisembo and nine other missionaries who had completed their missions. 


On the day before Christmas, Elder Gama joined us at the mission home to recuperate from a bout of pneumonia.  He will have to have an operation early in January to remove part of his lung that was damaged by tuberculosis before his mission.  The damaged part of the lung will continue to get infected unless removed.


On Christmas we attended Church in the Florida Ward which is the ward we actually reside in.  It was only the second time we had attended our own ward.  Christmas was very quiet.  Our Christmas decorations are still a little sparse but we have added two African Navities; one that we purchased and one that was a gift. We missed opening presents with children and grandchildren.  The highlight of the day was getting to talk to each of our children, especially Timothy who is serving a mission in the California Riverside Mission.


Most of the time between Christmas and New Years was spent in interviews with missionaries.  I interview each missionary every six weeks, usually in conjunction with Zone Conferences, but since the last round of Zone Conferences were also Christmas parties, I did the interviews separately.  Being with these great missionaries is such a wonderful, uplifting and priceless experience. 


On Friday, the 30th, we said goodbye to the Harrisons who have worked in the office since we arrived.  It was hard to see these wonderful people go home, but we know their family was excited to have them home.


New Years Eve was spent with our new best friends – the Assistants to the President.  Happy New Year to each of you.