February 1 – February 4

On the first day of the month, we were thrilled to welcome twelve new missionaries to the South Africa Johannesburg Mission; one Sister and eleven Elders.  As usual, they came from many lands and states: South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Swaziland, Reunion Island, Illinois, New Hampshire, Arizona, Texas, Iowa and Utah.  Only four missionaries left us this transfer; three returning home after completing their missions and one transferred to the California San Bernardino Mission because he needed to return to the United States to maintain his permanent resident status.  Because we received eight more missionaries than we lost, we were able to open or reopen four proselyting areas.


The most exciting new area is Botshabelo (meaning “a place of refuge”).  This is a township between Bloemfontein and Lesotho.  Botshabelo is the second largest township in South Africa and has about one million residents.  Only Soweto is larger.  As far as we know, missionaries have never been assigned to Botshabelo.  It seems that during the end of apartheid and in subsequent years, Botshabelo was a hotbed of ANC (African National Congress) activity that occasionally erupted into violence.  However, the township has been calm for a number of years. We are excited to finally have missionaries there.  The missionaries report that they are finding great interest in the Church and that they teach continuously.  Currently the nearest branch is about 12 miles away.


We also assigned two Elders to a deaf outreach program.  Unfortunately, deafness is common in South Africa.  We have many members who are deaf and have not had full access to the blessings of the Gospel.  These two missionaries will teach sign language to a few hearing members in units with numerous deaf members.  The hearing members will then sign for the deaf members at Church meetings.  By the way, South African Sign Language is somewhat different than American Sign Language.


February 5 – February 11

On Sunday, we attended the Bedfordview Stake Conference.  Both Jane and I spoke.  This stake covers the southeastern part of Johannesburg and extends some 350 miles to the south including the whole country of Lesotho.


Elder Gama, who had spent almost three weeks in the Mission Home recovering from lung surgery, was able to return to full time missionary work on Monday afternoon.  Without the operation, he would have probably died a young man from complications resulting from a bout of tuberculosis he had as a child.   We spent most of the rest of the week making final arrangements and plans for the upcoming Zone Conferences.  Jane also spent considerable time in the office, filling in for the office couple that had gone home early.  She made letter templates and did other things to make it easier for the new couple that will arrive on the 19th.  She continued her efforts to clean up the baptism and confirmation records.  Our mission, as do many, have problems getting confirmation records returned from the wards and branches.


On Wednesday, we met the new Johannesburg MTC president and his wife.  President and Sister Hill are delightful and will do a superb job of training new missionaries.  A few years ago, they presided over the Madagascar Mission.  Although the MTC is in the same building as the Mission Office, we do not see the Hills often because we both have busy schedules.


On Friday, we held the Bedfordview Zone Conference.  In addition to training provided by the Zone Leaders and Assistants, I spoke twice; once on improving Gospel Principles classes and once on gaining wisdom and understanding.  Jane spoke on personal and apartment hygiene using a true or false format.  The missionaries really enjoyed her talk.  I also continued my training on the proper completion and care of baptismal and confirmation records.  I also interviewed each missionary.  Saturday we attended the Worldwide Leadership Training Broadcast.


February 12 – February 18

Sunday was the Benoni Stake Conference.  Benoni covers the eastern part of Johannesburg and extends about 250 miles to the east.  Elder Dallin H. Oaks was there to reorganize the Stake Presidency.  We invited President and Sister Hill, the new Johannesburg MTC President and his wife, to ride with us to the conference which was held on the east side of Johannesburg.  During the rest hymn, Elder Oaks came to where I was sitting on the stand and asked me to be the next speaker.  Luckily, I only had to speak for 3 minutes.  Elder Oaks provided wonderful and uplifting counsel.


That evening there was a six-stake fireside where both Elder and Sister Oaks spoke.  You can guess that the building was very crowded.  As Sister Oaks got up to speak, she said that Elder Oaks had asked her to tell how they met.  Elder Oaks’ first wife had died and he had been single for two years.  Sister Oaks said she was being interviewed for a job at Deseret Book by Elder Ballard.  At the end of the interview, Elder Ballard asked her if she would be willing to go on a date with Elder Oaks.  Elder Ballard asked her if she could cook. She said she could cook three things.  He said “That will do.”   On their first date, Elder Oaks took his daughter with him.  The future Sister Oaks asked him if he always took his daughter on his dates.  Elder Oaks got up and embellished the story.  They were both very funny.  Elder Oaks also spoke about missionary work and the temple.  It was an enjoyable and inspiring evening.


We left the next day for Bloemfontein.  We had dinner that evening with the Means, the senior couple, who care for the missionaries in the Bloemfontein Zone.  The next day we held the Bloemfontein Zone Conference.  Since it was Valentine’s Day, Elder and Sister Means had made Valentine cookies for dessert after lunch.  We spent Valentine’s Day evening traveling back to Johannesburg.  Not very romantic.


On Wednesday the 15th, Jane and I traveled to downtown Johannesburg so I could do a baptismal interview.  Even though this area is one of the worst parts of Johannesburg, it was a wonderful experience.  We went to the home where the family lived.  At one time, it was a grand house in a nice section of town.  Even now after the area had deteriorated greatly, the grandeur of the house still showed through – with hardwood floors, stained glass windows and ornate embossed metal ceilings.  As I interviewed the husband, Jane got acquainted with the wife and daughter.  The wife had been an inactive member.  The missionaries had begun to meet with her in an attempt to re-activate her.  This led to teaching both her husband and her daughter.  We were thrilled to have a small part of bringing this family together in the gospel. 


On Thursday we held the Soweto Zone Conference and on Friday, the Pretoria Zone Conference.  On Saturday evening, we attended and spoke at the Pretoria Stake Conference.


February 19 – February 25

We arose early Sunday morning and traveled to the airport to pick-up the Cornilles, our new office couple.  They came to us from Depoe Bay, Oregon.  Elder Cornilles will be the Mission Financial Secretary and Sister Cornilles will be the Mission Secretary.  We took them directly to their flat and let them clean-up and rest.  At 3 pm we brought them to the Mission Home for a late lunch/early dinner followed by some limited training.


On Monday morning, we left for Gaborone, Botswana.  When we arrived at our hotel, we could not check-in because the power was out.  We then went to the home of Elder and Sister Farris, the senior couple serving there.  However, their power was out.  We eventually were able to check into our hotel.  The power went out again.  When we got to our room, we discovered that the air conditioning didn’t work.  So, they moved us to another room.  Later that evening at dinner, the power went out at the restaurant and we ended up eating dinner by candlelight.  The next day was the Botswana Zone Conference.  Here are pictures of the Sisters and a few Elders serving in Botswana


On Wednesday, we spent most of the day in the office continuing the training of Elder and Sister Cornilles.  We also traveled to Dobsonville in Soweto where I interviewed a wonderful sister for baptism.


Thursday was the Benoni Zone Conference and on Friday we held Zone Conference for the Johannesburg and Roodepoort Zones. Here are two pictures: one of African Elders representing five different countries and the companionship with the greatest height difference.  Zone Conferences are choice experiences.  I particularly enjoy the opportunity to have an interview with each missionary.  However, it is also wonderful to have them over and get a chance to catch our breath.


February 26 – February 28

We attended Church in Krugersdorp. The ward had been recently split, but was still well attended.  Sacrament Meeting was wonderful. Two recent converts were confirmed.  A couple spoke about their experiences and blessings from serving a mission together.  The Gospel Principles class was excellent.  After the meetings, I interviewed a man for baptism.  Later in the day, the Assistants and I put, what are hopefully, the final touches on the next transfers and Jane fed us a wonderful dinner.


Monday and Tuesday were spent in the office.  We have tried to be fully caught up, so we can spent as much time as possible with Scott, Tiffany, Tyler and Brooke who arrive on Wednesday, March 1st.