September 1 – September 8

On Saturday the 1st we drove to Kroonstadt to meet Elders traveling from Botshabelo so we could pick up Elder Willem van Heerden.  Elder van Heerden is from Zimbabwe where his family are among the last white farmers left in the country.  Because of the confiscation of the family farm, he left Zimbabwe to begin his mission six weeks earlier than planned.  He came into South Africa on a 30-day visitor’s visa.  We had been working since his arrival in February 2007 to secure a temporary resident’s visa for him – which we were told was possible.  After more than six months of effort, we were finally told that he would have to go back to Zimbabwe and apply for a new visa at the South Africa Embassy in Harare – a process we were assured would take only one week.  We had arranged for a flight to Harare with a return flight ten days later.  Elder van Heerden stayed in the mission home that night. 


On Sunday, we took Elder van Heerden to the airport so he could catch a plane to Harare, Zimbabwe.  I gave him 1,000 rand to pay for an expected fine for overstaying his visa, even though South Africa Home Affairs had had possession of his visa the whole time.


Monday, Elder van Heerden called to report that he was fined 3,000 rand at passport control for overstaying his visa.  We made arrangements to pay the fine so it would not delay the process of getting a new visa.  Monday evening we joined the President of the Johannesburg MTC and his wife for dinner at a local restaurant to celebrate their 42nd wedding anniversary.  President and Sister Hill live in the MTC which is adjacent to the mission office.  We enjoyed the evening and wished we could get together more often.  However, given our schedules this is difficult


Tuesday, Elder van Heerden called to tell us that the South Africa Embassy told him that he would have to pay a deposit of 2,400 rand and that the process of getting a new visa would take more than one month.  I called the lady in the embassy that I had spoken with about Elder van Heerden’s visa.  She told me that the 2,000 rand was not needed and that he should be able to get a visa in a week.  Each day over the next week we got a different story.  In the end, we paid the 2,400 rand and the process took three weeks.


Early Wednesday morning we drove to the airport to pick up Elder and Sister Gittins.  The Gittins came to us from Centerville, Utah.  This will be their second mission as a couple.  Previously, they served in the Illinois Peoria Mission.  Their first assignment will be in Polokwane.


On September 6th our 9th grandchild was born, our fourth while on our mission.  We were happy to have good communication so we could follow the birth and get current information.  The baby had been known as “Pablo” before he was born because a penguin named Pablo was his older brother’s favorite character from Backyardigans.  He was officially named Jack Richard Walker, but is often still called Pablo.


That day I called a new assistant to the president.  Elder Joseph Kearns of Albuquerque, New Mexico was called to replace Elder Grochmal who had requested to finish his mission in the field.


September 9 – September 15

On Sunday the 9th we attended the Soweto Stake Conference held in Pimville.  I spoke, but Jane was spared a speaking assignment this time. 


On Wednesday, we received 9 new missionaries from the Johannesburg MTC.  The group included a Sister and an Elder from South Africa, 4 Elders from Utah, and one Elder each from Idaho, Germany and England.  After their orientation, a meeting with the new missionaries and trainers and our transfer meeting, they began their service in the mission that very evening.


Seven missionaries were going home this transfer: A sister from Madagascar, 2 Elders from South Africa, and one Elder each from England, Germany, Canada and Idaho.  They stayed with us in the mission home that night where I conducted their final interview and we enjoyed a final dinner and testimony meeting together.


September 16 – September 22

We attended church in Daveyton on Sunday the 16th.  We had learned that Bishop Joseph Mokoena was being released.  Bishop Mokoena has been a great supporter of missionary work and one of the missionaries’ favorite bishops.  We also know him well because he is the Travel Director for the Area.


In March we had moved a majority of the mission’s cell phones to MTN from Cell C.  As part of the transfer, we received 42 new cell phones.  We had requested the most durable phone they offered.  They suggested the Nokia 5500 which had a protective rubberized coating.  Within weeks the phones began to fail.  The keypads became detached from the phones and many of the speakers failed.  After months of hard and long negotiations, Nokia finally agreed to replace the phones with a difference model on September 17th.


On the 18th, we held our bi-annual leadership conference for all district leaders, zone leaders and presiding elders.  We have found these leadership conferences invaluable.  They allow us to train leaders on such important topics as baptismal interviews, properly filling out baptismal forms, exchanges, district meetings and leadership skills.  We are blessed to have wonderful, powerful and spiritual leaders.


On Saturday, we drove to Francistown, Botswana so I could preside at their annual branch conference. The assistants traveled with us.  One of the cities we drive through is Mokopane.  Since it was Saturday, many people from nearby villages were in town to shop.  Many had come by donkey cart.  I wish I had taken a picture of the many donkey carts parked in front of the stores.


Just before leaving South Africa , we stopped at a lane that was lined with Baobab trees.  Typically, Baobab trees only grow north of the Tropic of Capricorn.  These are slightly south of the Tropic of Capricorn and had obviously been planted.  These are magnificent trees.  The pictures do not do them justice.


The drive to Francistown usually takes about nine hours.  This trip took a little over 10 hours due to a lengthy border crossing ordeal.  The South Africa passport control went smoothly.  But we learned that everyone exiting South Africa had to have their fingerprints checked.  There was a long line and the process was very slow.  After waiting about 30 minutes, an officer asked for our automobile registration.  Upon seeing that the car was owned by the Church and we had on our missionary tags, he took us out of line and sent us on our way without the fingerprinting.  On the Botswana side of the border, passport and customs went smoothly, until we had to pay the road tax required of all non-Botswana residents.  The line was long.  We waited in the line for more than an hour.  We were then very happy to get on our way.


We stopped for lunch in Martin’s Drift, just north of the border.  While we were eating, an ostrich wandered into the adjoining petrol station.  The ostrich decided it liked the shade of the canopies over the petrol pumps.


We arrived in Francistown a little after six pm and went directly to the church building.  I held a short meeting with the branch president and then interviewed a young man to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and be ordained and an Elder.  His name was Benson Mokaraga.  He had been baptized about a year and a half earlier in Gaborone.  He told us that his friend had a Book of Mormon and was going to throw it away.  Benson asked if he could have it.  Benson read the Book of Mormon, asked to see the missionaries and was baptized.


September 23 – September 30

Sunday morning before the Francistown Branch Conference, I called a new second counselor in the branch presidency and a new first counselor in the Elders’ quorum presidency.  The new counselor in the branch presidency, Brother Hudson, is from England and works in Botswana with a construction company.  I called Benson to be the counselor in the Elders’ Quorum.


Following the Branch Conference, I took a picture of the branch and visitors.  Francistown has 23 members.  The members had brought 25 investigators to branch conference.  Following the meetings we enjoyed a light lunch with the branch.  As we mingled with the Francistown saints, I took these pictures, among others:  the branch presidency; the Elders’ Quorum presidency, Sedze, Percy, another girl and a sister in a Botswana hat.


Following lunch we traveled to Serowe where a small congregation of saints meets.  We had a hand-drawn map.  The final turn was supposed to be onto a dirt road.  After many attempts, we could not find the dirt road.  We attempted to call the cell number we had been given, but found we did not have coverage.  We drove until we had coverage.  Brother Gaeboloke told us he would drive to the turn-off and wait for us.  After missing him twice, we finally found the dirt road which was more of a path than a road.


The group in Serowe had waited to hold their meetings until we arrived.  We met around the dining room table. In attendance, besides us, were Brother and Sister Gaeboloke, Sister Matswagothata and her grandson, Casper.  Another of their group was out of town for the week.  As we held Sacrament Meeting, a rooster crowed just outside the window.  After Sacrament Meeting, I called Brother Gaeboloke to be the presiding elder of the group.  We said goodbye to the group and headed for Gaborone.  The trip was somewhat stressful because we had to traverse an 83 kilometer section of road construction after dark.  During the trip to Gaborone we received a call that a Malagasy missionary serving in Mafikeng attempting to come to Gaborone for the zone conference the next day, was stopped at the border because his Botswana visa had expired.  Using a member who works in Botswana Home Affairs, we were able to get the Elder into Botswana within an hour with only a 500 pula fine.  We arrived at the Pemberton’s flat about 8:30 pm.  Sister Pemberton had prepared an enjoyable meal for us. 


On Monday, the 24th, we held the Botswana Zone Conference.  Unbeknownst to us, the interior of the building was being remodeled and was very torn up.  We succeeded in holding a successful conference in the midst of the construction.  We left immediately after the conference and enjoyed good weather and limited traffic on our return trip to Johannesburg.


On Wednesday we held the Soweto Zone Conference.  Elder van Heerden returned from Zimbabwe after successfully getting the required South Africa visa.  The weather turned nasty with strong winds and heavy rains – the first of the season.


On Thursday we held the Benoni Zone Conference.  During the conference, I received a call that Elder Steven Bogart from the Madagascar Antananarivo Mission was being transferred to the South Africa Johannesburg Mission.  Elder Bogart had been in Johannesburg for medical treatment for the last month.  We were pleased to have him remain with us.


There has been a severe drought in Lesotho leaving many people there with inadequate food supplies.  Recently the Church shipped a large quantity of food for distribution in Lesotho by the Red Cross.  One of our senior couples, Elder and Sister Jensen, helped make arrangements to get the food into Lesotho and for its distribution.  They took some wonderful pictures of the people from a mountain village waiting for the food, loading the mealie meal (cornmeal) on their donkeys and the loaded donkeys leaving. Scenes like these were repeated throughout the day as food was distributed in other villages.


We attended church in the Florida Ward on Sunday, the 30th.  About 1:30 in the afternoon, we traveled to Bloemfontein for the zone conference that would begin the following morning.