October 1 – October 6

October started with three more zone conferences.  Saturday evening we watched the first session of General Conference after enjoying our traditional General Conference meal of Navajo tacos.  We felt blessed to be watching the live broadcast as Elder Eyring was sustained to the First Presidency and Elder Cook was sustained to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.


October 7 – October 13

The Priesthood Session of General Conference was re-broadcast on Sunday morning.  I watched it with the assistants to the president at the Sandton Building.  We then returned to the mission home and watched the re-broadcast of the Saturday evening session followed by the live broadcast of the Sunday morning session.


Most of the rest of the week was filled with meetings, doctors' appointments and office work.  On Friday we held zone conference in Pretoria.  The jacaranda trees, for which Pretoria is famous, were in full bloom and the city was splashed with a cascade of purple blossoms.  Following the conference we traveled to Polokwane.


After the Northeast zone conference in Polokwane we drove to Tzaneen.  Just out of Polokwane we passed Mount Moria , the headquarters of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) and the place where up to a million of its members gather each Easter.  ZCC has approximately 4 million adherents in southern Africa.  It is a Coptic Church (a mixture of Christian and traditional beliefs).  As we neared Tzaneen, we took a small detour in order to admire a very large baobab tree.  The tree is believed to be approximately 6,000 years old and is about 47 meters (154 feet) in circumference at the base.  The assistants enjoyed climbing in its lower branches.  Sister Bowden and I restricted our climbing to the lowest crooks. 


That evening we had dinner with Elder and Sister Ellis, the senior couple who work in Modjadji.  They related many wonderful experiences they are having among the people of Modjadji.  Although part of South Africa, Modjadji is still administered by a king.  The king’s daughter is a member of the Church and the king has been taught the lessons by Elder and Sister Ellis.  Although Modjadji was founded by the Rain Queen, it has suffered from an extended drought.  Many of its residents have to walk many kilometers to nearby villages to find water; which they then must carry back to their homes on the mountainside.   The Church, through its humanitarian arm, is investigating the feasibility of drilling wells to supply a more dependable source of water.


October 14 – October 20

We attended church in Tzaneen on Sunday the 14th.  The last time we were in Tzaneen for church there were only three members in attendance not counting missionaries.  Much has happened since then and we found a much larger congregation.


Following the meetings in Tzaneen, we drove to the Kruger National Park by way of Palaborwa.  We drove through a part of the park we had not seen before.  We stayed overnight at the Oliphants Camp.  We started out early the next morning and were soon rewarded with a rare sighting of a leopard – our first after more than two years in Africa.  We called it "our leopard" since no one else saw it.  We do have pictures as proof.


We had a very good day in the park with sightings of elephants, buffalos, giraffes, hippos, a single lion, rhinos and zebra.  We saw one elephant with its hind legs crossed and one scratching its hind end on a tree. We also saw our second leopard and a pack of wild dogs.  Among the birds we saw were ground hornbills, tawny eagles, lappet faced vultures and a group of white-backed vultures eating an elephant one bite at a time. Although not as exciting as the animals, we also saw another nice baobab tree and a sausage tree.  Following a wonderful day in the park, we drove home; arriving about 9:30 pm.


On the 18th we attended the media kick-off for the Helping Hands Project.  The vision for the project was to have on one day more than 100,000 members, neighbors and friends engaged in local service projects throughout the African continent.  The kick-off was well-attended by the media and local leaders.  A significant lightning and rain storm hit during the event.  We were glad someone had the foresight to set up tents.


Saturday afternoon we drove to Mafikeng to formally organize the Mafikeng Branch.  That evening I interviewed and called the branch presidency and Elders’ Quorum president.  Later, we took the four missionaries to dinner at the Arrow Creek Spur.  Spur is a large South African chain of steak restaurants with an American theme. Each is named for a location in the United States or an American Indian Tribe.  Missionaries like Spur because you can get a large quantity of food for a low cost. 


October 21 – October 27

On Sunday, October 21st, I formally organized the Mafikeng Branch.  Elder Steven Tew was sustained as Branch President with Teboho Mapuru and Grey Lapuken as counselors.  There was a sense of excitement and gratitude among the members.  There were 46 members, investigators and missionaries in attendance.  After the meetings we attended a baptism.  The missionaries use a make-shift baptismal font which they had previously filled.  After the baptism it was emptied by collapsing the side.  The Primary boys found a place to escape the flood of water.


Mafikeng was founded in the 1880’s by British mercenaries.  The name means place of stones in Setswana.  Mafikeng, although not within the geographic boundaries of Bechuanaland, was its capital from 1896 until 1965 when Bechuanaland became the independent Republic of Botswana. 


During the Anglo-Boer War in 1899, Colonel Baden-Powell led the defense of Mafikeng against six to eight thousand Boer troops.  During the siege, he used boys as “Scouts” to provide assistance and carry messages initiating the idea of Scouting for boys.  Baden-Powell with less than 2,000 defenders, including the boys, held the town until relief came 217 days later.  The defense of Mafikeng made him a hero in England and enabled him to start the Scout movement a few years later.  During Apartheid, Mafikeng became part of Mmabatho, the capital of the supposedly independent “homeland” of Bophuthatswana.  At the end of Apartheid, Bophuthatswana was reincorporated into South Africa and Mafikeng became the capital of the Northwest Province.


On Tuesday, Elder and Sister Pemberton arrived at the mission home from Botswana prior to their return to home on Wednesday.  We hosted them at dinner that evening along with the office couples to say thanks for their dedicated service in Botswana. The Pembertons did a great work in Bostwana as they cared for the missionaries and handled the administrative affairs of the Church there.


Wednesday morning we welcomed eleven new missionaries: one each from Kenya, Arizona and Idaho; two from South Africa and five from Utah.  The twelve missionaries completing their mission came to the mission home that night for a going away dinner and testimony meeting.   The next day Elder Walters’ parents came to the mission home to retrieve him.  The other missionaries went to the Rhino and Lion Park for one last visit.  That afternoon we took the missionaries going to South Africa, California, Washington, Kansas and Utah to the airport.  Elder Adams also traveled with us to meet his parents at the airport.  We could not get flights on Thursday for the two missionaries going home to Madagascar, so we took them to the airport on Friday.


October 28 – October 31

Sunday the 28th we attended church in the Centurion 1st Ward.  Zone Leaders Council was held on 30 October.  Four new zone leaders and two new presiding elders were welcomed.  In addition to planning for the next round of zone conference, topics discussed included mission performance, balancing efforts between leadership and proselyting responsibilities and how to correct without offense. 


On the 31st Elder and Sister Hodgson arrived at the mission home after completing their mission.  Their spent their whole mission in the Phokeng Branch, near Rustenburg, where Elder Hodgson served as the Branch President. Through their hard work the branch grew and strengthened.  On their last Sunday, the branch was made into a ward.  What a wonderful conclusion to their mission!