Today is the first Sunday in November. Tomorrow will mark two months since we arrived in South Africa and they passed so quickly. It is also interesting to note that we are now nine hours ahead of our family and friends at home, owing to Utah's return to Mountain Standard Time.
In our cluster sacrament meetings each Sunday, we have been singing the hymns a capella. There is no one who knows how to play the keyboard. The cluster has a keyboard but it has been sitting in a storage closet, unused. Today, we arrived at the cluster meeting place early. Sister Allred arranged for the keyboard to be set up at the front of the room and she volunteered to play the accompaniment for the sacrament meeting hymns. This came as quite a surprise to her companion - she has not played the piano for years. She practiced playing during this past week, in the Church Education System building next to the mission office. The keyboard at the cluster does not have a stand so they used three small tables, stacked together, These are plastic tables, splattered with dried paint, that the pre-school children use during the week. The keyboard is also lacking a stand for the music, so Sister Allred stood the hymn book on the table behind the keyboard, between other books to hold it up. She did very well and the music was a wonderful addition to our singing. She will search for another keyboard to use for practice and perhaps to use at the cluster. It is great that she is stepping forward to introduce music into the cluster. This will likely cause others to want to learn to play the keyboard.
Since arriving here, Sister Allred and I have been hoping and praying for an opportunity to go into the Mohlakeng township and meet members of the Church who are not attending meetings for one reason or another. We have been attending the cluster meetings for just under two months now and that opportunity has not arisen yet. We have not been discouraged, but our desire has heightened as time has passed. As we met in our fast and testimony meeting today, I stepped outside the normal testimony format and reminded the members that we need their help in meeting those whom we are not able to meet on Sundays at the cluster. As we adjourned from fast and testimony meeting, the sunday school president, Patrick, offered to go with us to meet a family that he had in mind. Of course, we gratefully accepted that offer.
When church meetings had concluded, we headed into the township for our first time, with Patrick acting as our virtual GPS. Our first view of the township was very interesting. There were many people milling about. We did not expect to see so many people on the streets; this was the trend nearly everywhere. People were in their front yards visiting, some were sitting alongside the edge of the road. There are small shops, crowded with people. There are randomly-located cages that contain live chickens for sale and roadside fruit stands, albeit with a limited assortment to offer. The streets are more narrow than we expected and the houses are very closely spaced. There are many buildings that are in poor repair or totally abandoned. Litter is plentiful.We have no way of finding houses on our own - there is no map of the township available to us and the houses do not have numbers. Without the guidance of a cluster member, we would literally be wandering aimlessly as we searched for a specific house. I commented to Patrick that the township is very large. He laughed and said that this one is rather small. In essence, the township is a very condensed grouping of houses, shops and church houses and it is a microcosm of human life and activity.
Patrick directed us to the home of a grandmother who has a daughter and two grandchildren living with her. We were graciously welcomed in, where we sat down for a brief introduction and visit. After asking this dear lady to tell us a little bit about her, we told her a little of our background. We shared a brief message from the Liahona magazine, which is the international version of the Ensign. We gave her a copy of the Liahona and asked her if she will attend meetings with us next Sunday, and she accepted. After a prayer, we departed her home. This dear sister is so humble and she freely expressed things that tell us that she, although less active, will embrace the gospel fully again with some support from cluster members including ourselves.
We next went to the home of the Relief Society president and her family. Her husband has not attended church meetings consistently. They have a son and a daughter, ages 10 and 7 respectively. They also welcomed us into their home. We exchanged basic information about one another and engaged in brief conversation. Sister Allred challenged the parents to hold a family home evening next Monday, and to use the Liahona as the text for that occasion. They accepted that challenge and the husband accepted our invitation to attend meetings with us. I told him that we will reserve a chair for him. We offered a prayer and departed.
We took Patrick to his house and he invited us in for a visit with his family. He and his wife have three children, ages 11, 2 and 1. They also made us feel welcome and comfortable in their home.
These visits today were the answer to our prayers. We so very much enjoyed being in the company of these good people and we were pleased to offer our support and love to them. We left their homes with an assurance from within that our friendship with them has begun and that it will grow to be strong over time.
As we left Patrick's house, he reviewed directions for exiting the township not once, but three times. He seemed concerned that we did not take wrong turns on our way out.
The gospel is wonderful; the people whose paths we cross on this mission are wonderful. We are grateful for this opportunity to mingle with and help, in some small way, Heavenly Father's children here in South Africa.
To those who read this blog who are in the "senior" age category, we encourage you, strongly, to consider fulfilling a mission if at all possible. Be honest with yourself when you determine the possibility of serving; eliminate concerns or causes for hesitation that are not really valid. You will find that there is no better activity for this time of your life, and knowing the good that you will do for others will help you come to realize that a mission is time well-invested. As an aside, in South Africa there will be at least four couples returning home in the first quarter of 2015, with more to follow as the year progresses. There is much work to do and the number of senior missionaries is far short of the need virtually anywhere in the world, where the Church is present.