February 23, 2012
Dear family,

It has taken me two nights of trying to get "connected" & now it is too late to say much more than every horror story you have ever heard about the Congo was understated!

The poverty & "culture" of the average guy on the street is incredible (imagine a country with 85-90% unemployment). I was separated by a crowd of people as we came out of the airport & was told to "Stop!" by 2 uniformed & armed policemen speaking French. I kept smiling & saying "bonsoir" & in English, "I'm sorry, I cant stop" they kept moving in front of me trying to block me. i was really scared, but kept smiling. I finally pointed toward George & our "formalities" guy in the distance & said "I'm with Antoine!". That seemed to do the trick & suddenly my threatening situation turned around & they shoo-ed away another guy who was not taking "No" for an answer from George..

Driving down ANY roadway is the most frightening thing in the world. I will describe that later, but suffice it to say it is really beyond description & we need your prayers every single day just to survive the "no rules" traffic.

The good news is that the Mission President & his wife are wonderful & they, with the other three couples (as well as the Congolese members) have welcomed us with open arms.. Tonight & every night for several nights we will eat @ the home of one or the other. They also stocked things for us.

So much to tell you but but I really have to get shower & bed.. Mainly just wanted you to know that we made it thru a difficult trip (more later) & arrived safely.

I love you all,
                                                                                                                                           February 26, 2012
(Dear Friends... Because of extreme tiredness due to our 30 hour trip, a very busy schedule this week and having a lot of internet connection problems, I was not able to connect with my family except for one brief message this week, so I wrote this to try and help my information-starved family catch up. However, there is unlikely to be time to re-write another, shorter version for friends AND get pictures up on the blog... so if you don't care for details, don't feel compelled to read this and just know that some interesting pictures will be up on the blog in the next day or so.  Love, Joan

Dear Family,

We have only completed the 5th full day of our first week in the DRC and yet there have been so many new sounds, sights, smells & experiences that it feels like a year's worth of living.

As I briefly told you the other night, the beginning was somewhat intimidating.  It lived up to and surpassed our expectations of a shady, sinister and forbidding airport... worn down and old, filled with people who seemed to be watching you with ominous interest (deja vu of the night I got lost trying to return to my motel in Chicago & ended up on the wrong side of town at dusk/dark).  After a Congolese man named Antoine, who is hired by the Church, although he is not a member, took care of the "formalities" and got our luggage, we all headed for the door to exit.  Outside, you could see many African men crowded up near the door. As George & Antoine went through, there was a sudden surge of other people who came between us and, before I knew it, George & Antoine were quite a distance away.  I am very proud of the fact that, when the two uniformed, armed men stood in front of me and kept moving in front and telling me to stop, I did NOT stop but kept on smiling and told them I didn't speak French and I could not stop.  Finally, I pointed in the distance toward George and said, "I'm with Antoine!" and suddenly that turned everything around.  They made way for me and shouted for others to clear my way.  They also yelled to the persistent large Congolese man who was trying to "help" George, and he moved back, too.

A happy sight then awaited us as we saw, on the other side of the parking lot standing under some trees, not only President Jameson and his wife, but the Office Couple we were replacing (Hatches), the Humanitarian Couple (Binghams), the Perpetual Education Couple (Staggs) & two of the mission office assistants, Aime and Fils.  They all braved the "you cannot adequately describe it" traffic, AT NIGHT, to come and greet us.  Then, we all drove in  two vans back to our various living quarters.  The Staggs live in our same building, the others are scattered.  The trip home was probably the greatest sustained adrenalin-rush I've ever experienced.. and it wasn't NEARLY as bad as the experiences when we drove with various people in the next few days.  Cars, over loaded trucks, taxis, motorcycles, "pus-pus", and even wheelchairs drive on WHICHEVER side of the road they feel will get them there faster.  You can be driving down the road with a car coming toward you in YOUR lane and another car passing you on the LEFT into the approaching car's correct lane.  It is "Chicken!" played for very high stakes.  One truck in front of us was driving faster than we were, which is pretty surprising considering the fact that he apparently had NO shocks, NO lights (front or back) and NO guarantee that the 16 feet of stacked bags which were leaning over to the right about four feet past upright would not fall on any unlucky vehicle that happened to pass him.  By the way, only the Senior Missionary couples have cars in this mission... but in one week, TWO vehicles were involved in accidents here which were not their fault. I cannot tell you how frightening it is on the road!

Our apartment building is desirable because it is owned by the US Embassy.  Therefore, it is considered American soil (if necessary, the Marines WILL pluck us off the roof).  It has heavy security, which includes a concrete fence with razor wire on top, armed guards (one is a woman with a WWII machine gun), two-gates with full security sweep on the car, and more dependable internet than most places.  Our apartment is VERY small, but it does have an advantage in that we have a "wrap-around" roof top, which we access through our sliding doors.  From the rooftop, we can see a couple areas of the Congo River or we can look out over a large section of Gombe, considered to be a "good" section of Kinshasa... but just remember that ALL descriptions in the Congo are relative.

Fast summary:

Wednesday... training with Elder & Sister Hatch in the office, often interrupted by tearful Congolese members coming to say goodbye to them.  It made me cry, too .  In the afternoon, Bishop H. David Burton of the Presiding Bishopric and Elder Dale G. Renland spoke to a gathering in the chapel we attend. I had my French hymn book & did a really good job of singing the hymns in French.  Bishop Burton was here to look at prospective sights for the Kinshasa temple.  We got to meet him afterward.  Later, a delicious dinner and lots of laughs at the Binghams. 

Thursday... training with Elder & Sister Hatch in the office (again, more members making the trip to come say farewell).  A "Sister's Conference" with a nice brunch for all the Sister Missionaries at Sister Jameson's (upstairs in the same building as the Mission Office).  Had my first experience hearing the Congolese sisters sing.  It is incredible.  They sing VERY loudly, on key and with an undertone that is sort of like the alto part, but not quite.  It is a little like the base chord you might play with a guitar.  REALLY beautiful!  Later, a great dinner, homemade custard ice cream & fun at the Staggs.

Friday... The Hatchs left, so we have the first full day working in the office on our own.  No one there because they were all busy taking the Hatches & Church leaders to different flights and that trip can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 4 hours, depending on the traffic jams.  To add to the challenge, there was no internet for the first six hours.  At 5:30pm, we took the elevator up to the Jameson's for a very lovely dinner which they hosted with all the couples to welcome us.  We also had a husband, wife & mother from Geneva, Switzerland as well as Brother George Benot, who has just been called to be in charge of Temporal Affairs in the Southeast Africa Area and will play a large role in the building of the Kinshasa temple.  He is from France. My French tutor from the MTC would have been SO proud.  The whole evening was spent with most at the table alternately speaking French and English with occasional translations.  I was able to understand a LOT and even speak in French at times.

Saturday... We spent about three hours waiting for the office assistant to work with the internet provider and then get our laptop settings fixed after several days without being able to connect on the Wi-Fi.  Then, the Jameson's picked us up and took us to a "marche" or super market which caters to ex-pats (ex-patriots) from all countries.  We interacted with French, Swiss, Muslim, Asian & others.  The man behind the cheese counter had an attitude & purposely waited on about five Congolese who came in line after us, but most people were VERY friendly and helpful.  One American couple heard us speaking and gravitated to us like a magnet.  They are Jehovah Witnesses and he is here to work on communications.  We had a good visit with them & the Jamesons were able to give them some helpful information.  At one point, an African woman in a lovely Congolese dress came over to help me when she saw I couldn't reach something up high.  She had the most angelic smile.  Later, a Muslim woman helped Sister Jameson & me with something (she spoke French, as does Sister Jameson).  When we were checking out, I saw her in another line and went to thank her again and gave her a "Pass Along" card with a picture of Christ on it.  Only later did I realize that that could have been offensive to her, but she seemed to understand that I was doing it out of gratitude.

George & I ended the day by having the sliding doors LOCK on us when we went out to look around the roof.  We were stuck without ability to call anyone or get help for about three hours.  After I called out to a UN worker who was walking into the building, she was able to call another worker who lives next to the Staggs & have her contact them.  Even then, the Staggs could only take us to THEIR apartment because our apartment front door was dead-bolted from the inside!  We eventually got into our apartment about six hours after the beginning with the help of some resourceful Congolese men who literally figured out how to unlock the sliding doors from the OUTSIDE!  The positive side of this is that it was a moderate temperature with a little breeze and I had LOTS of time on the roof to take pictures.

Sunday... Relief Society first.  All in French, but you could feel the sweet spirit of the RS president, the teacher (Bishop's wife) and the sisters.  After that, we had great Sunday School class for the English members, the Staggs, Binghams, Smiths and a single sister (Cecile) from Switzerland who works for the UN & has adopted two Ligerian girls).  Last was Sacrament Meeting.  Cecile offered to sit next to me & translate.  The Bishop explained, in French, that the Hatches had departed and that we had come to replace them.  Then, Cecile's eyes got very big & she looked at me and whispered, "The Bishop wants you & your husband to bear your testimonies!"  At first, I thought, "Oh my gosh... I can't do that!  I don't remember ANYTHING of how to say that in French!"  But, then he said that we could do it in English & suggested she could translate.  We did that and I believe the members could feel our sincerity.  I told about my experience of seeing a vision where "all the faces were black and all the faces were beautiful" and told them that I'd thought it would be easy to recognize anyone from that vision, but when I got here, everyone was beautiful!

After Church, the Binghams invited to take us on a sightseeing tour.  We ended up going by the Embassies, which was interesting, and then drove up the Congo River past what they call "The Falls" which are really VERY fast and dangerous rapids.  We went beyond that far up into areas that are hard to get to, even with four wheel drive and even harder to describe, to see a couple of the "water projects" which the Binghams organized & to meet some of the people (mostly non-members) they got to know.  One is a pastor of a Church.  Elder B gave him a Book of Mormon in French, which the man was happy to receive and which he will most likely preach from.  I've taken a ton of pictures of all these things and will add them asap.

It is way past time to end this... I have to wash dishes in steaming hot, unfiltered water, but rinse in bleached filtered water.  Then George will put all the fruits & vegetables into a sink full of bleach-water.  We have to use the kitchen sink to brush our teeth because it is the only one with the option of the filtered water.  (I actually drank the unfiltered water for 2 1/2 days before realizing that you had to pull out this little knob for it to be filtered!.. so far I'm still alive!)

No one can ever really understand what it is like here without BEING here, but I hope that this gives you just a GLIMPSE of life in Kinshasa.  There are 187 places ranked for poverty in the world.  Kinshasa is 187th.  The unemployment rate is 85-90% and most of the people will do whatever it takes to survive.  And, yet, today in Church, we listened as a wonderful Congolese man taught about Faith and Faithfulness and how challenges come to all, but that we must keep that faith and that we do so by praying, reading our scriptures, keeping the commandments and serving others, even when we are in the midst of trials.  

The people have the most beautiful smiles and radiate so much that is good.  I am thankful that Heavenly Father has given me a chance to learn from them.

I love you all and will try very hard to get  the pictures on the blog as soon as I can.

        Dear Family & Friends,                                                                                                    March 4, 2012                                                                                                                                                
When Elder Smith and I received this call to serve in the DR Congo, some of you expressed concerns about various real and perceived dangers.  As you may recall, both of us were VERY positive in our outlook and laughed at your fears.  That fearless attitude has continued even through the confrontation with the armed policemen at the airport; the eerie drive in the van with the other missionaries who met us at the airport, as we passed hundreds of groups gathered around bonfires of trash alongside the otherwise dark road leading into town; facing the fact that I didn't know to pull out the tab on the sink faucet and therefore drank un-filtered water for the first 2 1/2 days here; not being afraid of disease or pestilence or the giant, multi-colored lizards that are everywhere; or the "Shegues" (street thugs) who frequent the main boulevard we take to work as well as the back streets, who can and will ruin your day in broad daylight. (of course, we keep our doors locked & windows up, which increases our chances for safe passage).  Well, you get the picture!

But, this morning, something happened which shook me physically and emotionally to the core.  Let me preface this story by describing our 1st time, late-afternoon visit to our building's TOP 9th floor roof (as opposed to the roof which wraps around our 3rd floor apartment).  We spent about an hour up there with the Staggs, moving from one side of the square roof to another and commenting on each scene.  They pointed out that, when they were evacuated to Johannesburg (because of rioting, bullets, etc due to a contested election in November), a large part of the "action" was right below us in the Plaza and next door at the government's election headquarters. There were even military tanks outside our apartment building.

Now, imagine going to sleep with that on your mind and fast forward to this morning.  I had fixed my hair & put on my makeup and was JUST starting to put on my Church clothes, when there was a explosion so loud it almost hurt my ears and so powerful it shook the building and rattled the windows till I thought they would shatter.  We have some people in this building who are associated with the U.N. and with the U.S. Embassy (which is just a block away), so my first thought was that someone had bombed our building or the Embassy.    I ran into the front room and, with all the intelligence & wisdom I could command yelled, "That was an explosion!!"  We quickly ran around to the windows on the three sides of our apartment to see if there was any smoke associated with our own building or to see if we could tell where it did go off. 

Then, Elder Smith called to me and said, "Finish dressing, quick!... in case we have to evacuate the building!"  As I scurried to do that, he went out on the roof & soon came back in to tell me there was a huge cloud arising from downriver.  After taking a moment to look with awe at this cloud that was rising thousands of feet into the air, I ran back to get my camera and took some pictures.  At first we thought it might be an industrial accident of great magnitude, but then a second explosion, bigger than the first went off and another cloud of smoke quickly made it's appearance near the first.  In all, there were about five or six with a third large one being so bad that I heard glass shattering somewhere nearby and the force almost knocked me sideways.  After that one, our building reverberated for several seconds.  Believe me, unless you have actually been in a war, it is impossible to describe the noise and the force of these explosions.  At this point, Elder Smith was conjecturing that it might have been a propane plant (they use that a lot here) and I was speculating that it was so massive that it must be a large ammunition storage.

Well, after meeting out in the hall with the Staggs and speaking to "Lillian" (who is with the U.N.), then meeting & speaking with our across the hall neighbor (the military man), we found out that the US Embassy had sent out an alert and was advising all Americans to stay in their dwellings and not go out.  BUT, after a few minutes, the Staggs and Smiths decided that we were going to go forward with our plans to go to Church together and we went downstairs.  As we were getting into our car, one of the guards came to tell us that an initial statement had come out & said that Brazzaville was claiming that it was a planned exercise to "de-activate" some bombs from the wars.  

A short time later, the US & French Embassies sent out a message to "stay home & away from windows" along with the statement that there had been an "accident" at the Brazzaville ammo storage site... so we had the "fog of war" without a war.  The capitols of the two countries (Kinshasa/DR Congo and Brazzaville/Republic of Congo) face each other across the Congo River, but there have been so many wars over the years and the ROC has been so unstable that there is much distrust between the two countries and most people today assumed it was sabotage.  Here's the BBC coverage..

The first Sunday of the month is our Fast & Testimony meeting.  Some of the members were late arriving because transportation stopped for awhile after the explosions.  But, all meetings went smoothly and the members in our ward boundaries were safe and mostly unaffected.  Two members, Chantelle & Eric, who are from Geneva, Switzerland did have a large picture window glass shatter in their apartment, which happens to be right above our Mission President's apartment, so since President Jameson & his wife are visiting the missionaries in Pt. Noire and Cameroon this week, we used the key I have in my office to check their place, which was fine. 

I will tell you that I did not entirely panic today, but I was pretty scared for the first few minutes... and then just overwhelmed to think of the power of those explosions and to imagine the depth of the tragedy in human life.. The pictures don't begin to capture the magnitude of this event, but I'll post them on the blog tonight.


                                                                                                                                      March 11, 2012
Dear Family & Friends,

Because of the tragic events of last Sunday's ammunition dump explosions, I just sent the letter describing the event and only posted the one picture of the 2nd explosion.  So, I am way behind on telling you what has been happening recently, but only have time tonight to post the pictures that would have been on last week and share one story with you.

On the blog tonight, you will read about a touching situation which I witnessed just eight days ago.  That, along with numerous daily experiences finally took their toll this week.

Let me begin by saying that every minute of every day that we are driving or walking among the populace, we are confronted with heart-breaking scenes and countless people asking for money.  We have to stop the car numerous times on the way to and from work, because of traffic lights, police, pedestrians and traffic jams.  When that happens, there are always people who are standing in the median area waiting and when you stop, they come.  The ones who are selling things will usually not linger if you do not indicate that you are interested, but the ones who are begging (usually a younger boy or perhaps a mother with a little baby, or a young boy leading a blind mother or grandmother) will come up to your closed windows and look at you with the saddest eyes you have ever seen.  They will say something and gesture to their mouths and then their stomachs and then their mouths again.  The sad thing is that many Congolese eat only once a day and some even take turns with their children... eating only every other day.  In addition, you see MANY people every day who are in wheelchairs or on crutches with withered limbs from polio or other diseases... or who have amputations from accidents & wars. So, your heart is wrenched constantly because these people have NO government or civic organizations to help them.  

On the other hand, it is also known that the Shegue's (Lingala for "street children") are often older, tougher thugs who will take most of the money that a younger child gets begging.  And, if you give just once, the word quickly spreads and your vehicle WILL be targeted and mobbed every day, both going & coming.  So, I have the painful obligation to try to show them that I'm sorry and still shake my head, "No".  We are counseled to use extreme caution and to let the Spirit guide if we feel to make an exception, but in general we are warned not to.   All of this has a wearing effect on the emotions.  You WANT to help them and it goes against everything within you to deny them.  I try to remember the story about a man who was chastised for picking up beached starfish and throwing them back into the water.  When he was told that there were just too many stranded on the beach and his feeble efforts would not make any difference, the man said, "It makes a difference to THIS one!"  So, I know that there are millions of people in Africa who are in need and our Church's organized efforts may be small in the face of the overwhelming needs, but we ARE helping them... one by one, family by family and village by village!

Nevertheless, all of this built up to impact me in a major way this past week when one brief moment in time made me cry...

We were driving to the Mission Office and, as usual, I was trying to have 360 degree vision to be aware of all the potential driving hazards we have every single day and from every direction.  As we drove by on the boulevard, I saw a uniformed man (I think he was a policeman) turn away from speaking to someone, take a couple of steps aside and bend over to pick up the crutch of a small, slight  and obviously deformed man who had dropped one of his two crutches.  The man was so badly crippled that his body would not allow him to bend over to retrieve his crutch.  You could see that the crippled man thanked him and that the policeman nodded in return.  After seeing all of the disregard and seeming lack of compassion given to these truly needy people, and knowing that the police are not usually held in high regard, it touched my heart to see this.  But, what made me cry was the fact that this little, crippled man NEVER stopped smiling through the whole episode.  And his smile was as big and bright and sweet as only the Congolese can do.  And I thought, "If HE can be so happy, with all that he has to endure, what right have I to complain about ANYTHING!"... and I cried.



                                                                                                                             March 17 & 18, 2012
Dear Family and Friends,

First of all, it has been such a blessing to hear from so many of you.  Thank you for taking the time to check into the blog and also to keep us up-to-date on all the happenings in your lives.  You can't imagine how good it is to still feel "connected" to you this way.  By the way, in case you've lost the address:  www.ldscongomission.blogspot.com 

It's been a beautiful, but hot and humid day.  We are both glad that our first three weeks here were warm, but moderate.  This past week has been more like what you would expect in the Congo.  This morning, in Relief Society, even the Congolese sisters were fanning themselves (no air conditioner and the 1st fan they brought in didn't work). Later, in Sacrament Mtg., the air conditioning still wasn't working so the very high ceiling fans were on, but the heat was energy sapping.  In fact, Elder Smith is lying on the couch, right now, reading his scriptures... Amazing how he can do that with his eyes closed.

There are two editions of catching up for the blog today, first (March 17 posting) are some bits about our trip to check up on wells in Lutendele with the Humanitarian couple (Binghams) our first weekend.  Then (March 18 posting) the next weekend, we went to see and support the Graduation Ceremony of about forty people in the Ngaliema chapel.  They graduated from a Church-sponsored entrepreneurial and business training program in the Kimbanseke Stake (like a diocese). We went to that happy event with the Perpetual Education Fund couple (Staggs).

Just a quick follow up on the explosions in Brazzaville.  At last count, there were probably 300 or more killed, but even more sadly, five thousand homeless and thousands more seriously injured.  The hospital over there has been so overwhelmed that they are turning away people with serious issues saying, "We can't take care of you!"  More continue to die.  Some of our Church members were affected and just this week, the sister of one of our ward members died.  Church headquarters in Salt Lake has sent funds and supplies to help.  The Binghams have been working on assessing further needs with a wonderful Congolese Bishop over there.  He has been an inspiration to them.

We had a couple interesting experiences this week... First of all, we had decided to try out the Jewish-owned "marche" because I wanted to buy a pork roast.  George went off to pick up some items and when I got to the meat counter, there was an older black man, dressed in a suit & tie, who was shouting and pointing and making quite a scene. The Congolese naturally speak loudly, so it took me a minute to realize that he was mad (perhaps because you pay separately at the meat counter and he was mad about the amount he'd been charged on his ticket).  More and more people began to gather as he told his story to anyone who would listen.  Eventually, in the midst of all of this, I managed to get my pork and left to do other shopping.  

When George & I finished, we went to check out up front and I began to hear voices raised again from the rear of the very elongated store, but I judged it to be irrelevant.  However, the number of people shouting increased and they began to became louder and closer. The next thing I knew, two men were running straight toward me with the first one bumping against me as he slipped through the narrow space which stood between him and the exit and which I was mostly occupying.  The other man was close behind, with numerous store employees, security and general customers shouting excitedly or joining the chase. Because we have been warned about the Congolese "mob-mentality" that can turn on a dime, George instructed me to quickly finish paying and get out of there.  As we left and hurriedly got into our car outside the front entrance, I could see that someone had apparently been able to tackle the guy and the crowd had formed a circle around the would-be felon. George and I differ a bit in this story... I am sure that the man who bumped into me was the thief and that I actually helped, inadvertently, in his capture.

The second episode was pretty scary.  I had made my first appointment with "Mansour", a Lebanese man who cuts the hair for a couple of the other missionaries.  George & I left the Mission Office at 4pm, thinking that we'd have plenty of time.  The Staggs went with us so that Elder Stagg could tell Mansour, in French, just what I wanted in the way of cut and color.  This was to avoid a repeat of what happened to his wife when they first came to Mansour.  She had put her thumb & index finger about an inch apart and told him she just wanted "a LITTLE BIT" cut off.  He thought she was showing him how long she wanted it!!  Then Elder Stagg asked us if we were confident about finding our way home and we assured him that we absolutely WERE.  Can you already see where this is going??   The appointment took longer than anticipated (that's a whole other story) and, since we are counseled to be in our apartments before dark, we tried to hurry home.  Well, perhaps we should have gone a little slower, because we took the wrong exit off of a five road circle and ended up driving for miles on a completely dark, narrow, pot-hole-filled, road (and I use that word loosely) filled with hundreds of Congolese wearing dark clothes and walking on the sides, in the middle and across our path).  After what seemed like an eternity we saw... far off... several cars turning into a side road and we agreed that SOMEONE knew where they were and where they were going and we would follow THEM in hopes that it would lead us back to Kinshasa. 

Well, it DID, but first we had to drive through a place with LOTS of neon lights and VERY loud music blasting onto the streets and wall-to-wall bars and women in very short, silver sequinned dresses.  The drivers, even by Congo standards, were WILD!  Three or four drivers, coming from all directions, would try to access the narrow street through this little district at the same time.  And, there was one hole in the road which cannot be described by any other word than "CRATER". In the oncoming traffic, We saw a smallish 4-wheel drive car almost disappear in it, but finally pull up and out with considerable effort.  Within a few blocks, things began to improve and we finally wended our way to some familiar territory and made it home.  The trip from salon to apartment should have taken five minutes, max.  We pulled in an hour after our journey began, DEEPLY relieved at, yet again, having cheated death.  George describes it to his family this way.. "The only good thing about this is that when Joan is so scared that she is petrified, she doesn't back seat drive. She just gets very quiet."  

He's right, and I want to give him some credit and praise regarding this experience.  He told me later that, after we'd been driving for several miles and our surroundings were getting darker and scarier, he said a silent prayer...
"Okay, Lord, we've been lost long enough and it is a bit dangerous out here at night. I think you need to give us a hand at getting out of here and headed home. We're here in the Congo helping you, how about a little help for us." Apparently, the Lord forgave George his slightly irreverent prayer because it was just a minute or two later that we "saw the light(s)" and began the way that took us back home.

We have shared with all of you our mission experiences and sometimes that has included descriptions of "scary" things.  But, we wouldn't want to ever think that our experiences would discourage anyone from serving a mission and going ANYWHERE that the Lord asks them to go. We want you to know that missions are not easy for anyone and they DO involve sacrifices, but they also come with special blessings that our Heavenly Father and His Son are waiting and anxious to give to us.  Those blessings MORE than compensate for any challenges, real or perceived.  We feel His love for us and, in a wonderful way which we could have never understood before, for ALL of His children.  

We see the sad results of the centuries of darkness on this continent, the valiant efforts of Catholic and Protestant missionaries, the good and bad that came with the Belgian colonization, the tribal heritage that shapes the culture of individuals.  And, we see the light of the gospel beginning to come into the lives of good people who are strong and faithful.  Even though, George and I are not called specifically as proselyting missionaries and just work in an office each day, I am grateful for this opportunity to be part of that story.

With love,
                                                                                                                                      March 25, 2012
Dear Family & Friends,

(Today, our Relief Society lesson was based on a talk given by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf which was given last October in General Conference. The title was "Providing in the Lord's Way" and aptly fits the story and pictures of today's blog.  If you'd like to read it, click HERE  or go to (http://www.lds.org/liahona/2011/11/providing-in-the-lords-way?lang=eng) or just read on...

Having once gotten behind on posting our experiences, it seems impossible to catch up because every week is a new and memorable adventure. So, this week the blog will be about our trip two Saturdays ago (Mar 10) with the Humanitarian Missionaries, Elder & Sister Bingham, to attend a "Closing Ceremony" for one of six wells which they helped organize and supervise in the area called Camp Luka.   On the way, we picked up DeDe, who often helps them out as a translator.  I tried to upload some of the video I took of the interesting drive we had just to GET to the location of this well, but it was too large for the blog (AND this letter, too). I don't think the still pictures will show how very narrow and full of trash the dirt "streets" are and how crowded the vendor area is... with people, as well as vehicles. When one of those vehicles happens to be a large truck coming the other way, as was amply demonstrated in the video, getting through can be difficult. BTW, Camp Luka is considered a slum area, even by Congolese standards.

When we reached the river, where they are actually working on making a small bridge for people and cars, we parked and walked across a long, narrow plank which had been stretched across the water.  Some of my family probably knows what a challenge that would be for me. I've always been afraid of that sort of thing and said that I could be offered a million dollars or ANY amount of money and I would NOT walk across a plank between two buildings.  (On the other hand, if one of my children was on the other side and needed help, nothing could keep me from going across it without hesitation!)  In this instance, I decided that if I could just get a good head of steam and cross it QUICKLY, my forward momentum would carry me to the other side before the vertigo could kick in... and the idea worked.  (Unlike the time, many years ago, when I was confronted with a muddy bog and decided that our brand new one-week old car could make it through two pine trees if I would just take aim, put the car in drive and close my eyes).  Some ideas are good.  Some aren't.

From the beginning, we attracted hoards of smiling, enthusiastic children, often with amused parents in the background.  As we wended our way, new ones came out of their open dirt yards and many followed us, all calling out "Mundele" (moon-day'-lay or "white skin person") and stretching their hands out for us to shake.  When we had done so, they would often turn to look at their parents or friends with a happy look of accomplishment on their faces.  Before we left Camp Luka, we shook the hands of many,many Congolese adults, but HUNDREDS of children. We smiled and looked into their eyes and said, "Bonjour" over and over.  They were so precious and touched my heart, every one!

When we reached the home of the family who had agreed to let the well be dug on their property, we saw a small table set up for the Mayor, the Congolese LDS Bishop of our Church ward in that area and DeDe, who was in charge of the program.  There was also what we might call an MC who used a portable amplified megaphone to "liven up" the event.  The Engineer was present, as was Jacques, the Site Manager. We all shook hands with these folks and those occupying the front row seats (the elected Water Committee) and then we went to a special area of some honor on the side, to be seated.  Immediately next to the open area of this yard was a dirt street (path),where there was constant foot traffic during the ceremony.  Many adults stopped to watch and then most drifted away, but the children were the most interested & stayed.

After the excitement of the speeches, cutting of the ribbon and pumping the first water out, everyone had a chance to taste it.  Following that, croissants were served with the favorite soft drink of Congolese.. orange soda.  When all present had eaten, there was a lot left over, so Elder & Sister Bingham made sure that the remainder was passed out to the children and adult bystanders.  Then they went to the special (plastic) table that had all the legal papers set up for them, as legal representatives of the Church, to sign over ownership of the well to the community, under the direction of the Water Committee.  And thus, VOILA!!  We had completed the "Closing Ceremony".

Following this, we decided to walk to a few of the other six finished wells in Camp Luka and many of the people came with us.  Of course, every new site we visited brought MORE people out and more children to shake hands with and then THEY would join us all to walk to the next well. After awhile, we stretched out a block & began to look like a PARADE!  Some of the community leaders and young women who had served at the ceremony wanted to have pictures with us.  The girls laughed with delight when we showed them the pictures on our cameras.  

As we finished the last part of our trek back to the car, we were walking over years of accumulated trash and debris.  I thought about how fortunate we are in America... to have paved roads with concrete sidewalks and even BIKE lanes... and garbage disposals... and weekly trash pick up... and clean water to drink... and bathrooms with running water for bathing and hygiene.  At one point, a sweet, smiling little girl kept edging closer and closer to me, looking up with such an adorable face.  I asked the Binghams if it was OK and then gave her my empty water bottle.  Her sweet face broke out into a surprised grin and she wiggled with excitement, proudly hugging her new treasure to her chest. With all the possessions which we have, do any of them bring us more happiness than that little girl had because of one plastic bottle?


                                                                                                                                           April 1, 2012 
Dear Family & Friends, 

This has been a relatively peaceful week, unless you count the twice-a-day brushes with death which we refer to as "our daily commute".  A couple days ago, George approached one of the traffic signals on Boulevard du 30 Juin from a side street.  The light to go forward and cross the 8-lane road was green, as was the right turn arrow.  It had been green long before we even got up to it.  We turned right and almost got creamed from a car which had, at full speed, willfully ignored the red light on his side.  Now, I can hear some of you saying, "Well, that can also happen in the U.S.", but the difference is that on every single day, most Congo drivers DO NOT obey traffic rules. In fact, one of our Congolese members, who had traveled to Salt Lake City to attend General Conference, came back and told friends, "I thought I was going to die so many times!  In America, everyone STOPS at red lights!"

Tomorrow night, all of the Senior Missionary couples have been invited to President & Sister Jameson's home for dinner followed by a combined Family Home Evening in which Elder & Sister Bingham will give a report on their trip across the Congo River to Brazzaville.  Brazzaville is the capital city of the Republic of Congo, which is part of our mission boundaries (we live in Kinshasa, which is the capital city of The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and is directly across the river.)  This is the only case in the world where the capitals of two countries are visible to each other. 

The Binghams surveyed the destruction that resulted from the series of terrible ammunition  dump explosions a month ago and worked in coordination with a wonderful Congolese Bishop over there to determine and provide for short-term needs (mostly food items) and begin the process for Church funds to be used for long-term needs.  In this part of the world, where there are so many who have so little, it is heart-breaking to have such a tragedy happen and take away even the little that they had.  I am grateful for the fact that each month, along with our tithing, we have the opportunity to give donations to various Church programs, such as the Humanitarian Fund, which takes out nothing for overhead or salaries, but uses missionaries and members (both unpaid) to bless the lives of people all over the world.

This week the blog will record our trip to an orphanage, which we took with Elder & Sister Stagg on March 10th. All of our previous treks with the other couples have been meaningful and enlightening.  This one touched my heart in a special way.

The story starts with a stalwart, faithful Congolese sister named Philomene whose father, many years ago, sent both she and her sister to school to be educated.  The villagers did not approve and tried to dissuade him for "wasting" education on females, but he was adamant and his daughters continued.  When he died, he left his property to her, which consists of the remains of some crumbling concrete walled rooms and some walls without roofs and a couple of small open areas, one of which includes a path through the middle which is used by an never-ending traffic of people.

In her father's honor, she started taking in orphans and tried to provide a rudimentary "school" for them. Before long, some of the neighborhood children began to come and join them.  Recently the police even brought some children who had no parents and were living on the street because they knew she would not refuse to take them in. There is supposed to be a small fee for the outsiders to attend the school, but nobody pays.  Nevertheless, she hopes to put some roofs on those walls and educate not only her orphans, but all who would want to come.  

Because of the "Temple Patron Assistance Fund" (another worthy program) Philomene will be able to go to the Johannesburg temple next month.  This wonderful, loving woman is a great example of the good that one person, with almost nothing, can accomplish in the world.  The children may not get three balanced meals a day and their "school", living quarters and other facilities are pretty dismal by anybody's standards, but look at their pictures on the blog.  They are healthy and happy because they are receiving a LOT of love.  

In the long run, isn't that the BEST gift that any child could receive?

Mom/Joan/Sister Smith

                                                                                                                                          April 8, 2012
Dear Family and Friends,

The blog this week is just a random collection of some humorous or interesting things which are part of life in the DR Congo Kinshasa Mission.  George & I have agreed that literally every day there is something exceptional that we see or experience and much of it is funny.  We want to share that with you. http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=903559894100278705 . We love to hear from you , too.

This weekend, we drove for many, many miles fighting bad roads that challenged our heavy duty 4-wheel drive truck and the six people in it.  We also had more than our share of heart-stopping traffic moments, stopped at a "bakery" out in the middle of nowhere where we watched them make bread in ancient stone ovens, bought several rolls of bread, played with the children, went to the location where the Church will capture a spring so the water can be accessible but not exposed, toured a beautiful vegetable garden, came upon some women and children bathing, hiked up a steep hill to see where the Church is going to build a latrine for an old but nice Catholic school, hiked to another location and finally drove again to get to the Bonobono Primate Reserve, where we hiked quite a bit once more to get to where they were.  Next week I'll describe that great experience and put up pictures.

After returning home, I quickly cooked a chicken... my contribution for an early Easter dinner hosted by a woman and her husband who live in an apartment in our building.  They have a huge apartment that may include the whole floor and it was beautifully decorated with fascinating African artifacts and many candles.  There were about 30 people there.  The food was indicative of those who cooked and contributed... I met and spoke with so many very interesting people (most of the work at the U.S. Embassy).  The hostess is from Honduras, her husband is from South Africa. I met folks from China, India, Kenya, Belgium and many other places.  In fact, a younger man who sat across from me was from Bruge, Belgium where my mother's father was born.  The Staggs and Christopher (from Church) were there as well and we all had a good time.  It really is fun to speak about cultural and political topics with those from other countries and hear their perspectives on life in the Congo.

This afternoon, we welcomed our Mission President & his wife and 10 of our fellow missionaries for a ham dinner. Everyone brought a side dish and we packed into our very small apartment, but it was great food and wonderful conversation and fun... a lovely way to finish a beautiful Easter day.  (Well, it was 100º, so the weather was mostly beautiful if you were inside with the A/C )

It is long past midnight now, so I will close with hopes that you all enjoyed a happy Easter.  I am very grateful to our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, for the love they have for me and for all of us.  None of us can completely fathom it, but we can know that it is real and true.


Mom/Joan/Sœur Smith

                                                                                                                                         April 15, 2012 
Dear Family & Friends,

Most people would not think of April 15th as a "good day", but it is the 4th Anniversary of the day that my former IRS tax man & I got married.  I picked the date for two reasons.. 1) It was just too much of a fun date to pass up and 2) I figured he couldn't possibly ever forget it.  Well,  I was MOSTLY right... he didn't forget the day, but he said something this week about "being married 5 years on Sunday". I told him it probably just SEEMS like five! :) Nevertheless, he is a good man, I'm thankful for him and love him very much.

Last week, we packed six of us into Elder & Sister Billings big 4-wheel drive truck with Elder Bingham driving and Sister Billings sitting somewhat uncomfortably in the middle of the front seat, squished in next to me.  Our goal was to arrive alive at the Bonobo Primate Preserve, but we let Elder Bingham drive anyway.  For most of the drive we saw many of the familiar scenes of life in the Congo, but we also saw a few things we'd not seen before.

The Binghams had told us that, at some place on the way, we would stop to check on some water projects that are just getting underway and that we would also have an opportunity to get some bread from a favorite bakery.  Now, when someone says the word "bakery", what vision come to your mind?  Yes, I know... that is what came to my mind, too. But, instead, we found a small, crumbling, open stone building with a stone oven outside.  An older man was in charge and a young man was doing the hard work of stoking the fire and baking the bread.  

In the front, several children, young & old, had gathered to play a competition game of simultaneous hopscotch. There is some sort of pattern to the jumps they make and the pattern changes with each cycle.  The loser is the one who forgets the next move. We got some great video of them, but unfortunately, I still don't know how to load these videos on the blog.  We ordered some bread and then walked past some incredibly neat gardens and the spring which the Church hopes to capture and make it possible for the villagers to have water that comes from a clean, protected source rather than exposed.  Further along, we came around some trees to find several women and children bathing, so we quickly turned back, although they didn't seem to be bothered by us.  This is surprising since the majority of Congolese women are very modest in their clothing. 

The hardest hike of the day was up the side of a hill AFTER walking over a high, narrow brick wall that had water on both sides... (for those who read the "Trip to Camp Luka" blog, this was deja vu, all over again!).  The dirt path was washed out and a bit steep and treacherous at times. Sometimes, people coming down passed by and we'd always say "Bonjour", but one neatly dressed young man and woman knew just enough English to ask us pleasantly, "Why are you here?" (It IS in the middle of nowhere). Between the six of us, we know just enough French to be dangerous, so we were able to point to our badges (ex: "Sœur Smith ÊGLISE DE JÉSUS-CHRIST DES SAINTS DES DERNIERS JOURS") and explain that we were there to help make the water safe.  He asked, "For who?" and we happily answered, "Pour VOUS!"  He & the young woman seemed surprised and happy to hear that news. They smiled broadly and said very sincerely, "Merci beau coup".

We made it up the gutted, sand & gravel path to the top of the hill without injury and were shown another Church project site.  It is a VERY old, but standing, one-story brick Catholic school built by the Belge, who left in 1960. The Binghams have already begun, through the Humanitarian Fund, the construction of a latrine for the school.
After trekking back down and leaving the area, we also saw an old Belgian train depot and the original narrow-gauge rail track, which is not something you can see very many places in the world. 

Later, we arrived at the Bonobo Primate Reserve and it was like being in a tropical paradise.  Everything was GREEN and exquisitely lush.  If you don't understand that level of excitement, remember that tho' we are in the Congo, we are living in a CITY of 10-14 Million people.  In the Preserve, I just couldn't stop taking pictures of the HUGE bamboo & the trees that arched high over the pathway.  Some day, I'll get this video thing figured out to load on the blog so you can see the animals in action.  In the meantime, there are a few still shots on the blog.

One last thing... thanks to Susan Ehman Steiner, an old classmate, for being the first to let me know about the piece "60 Minutes" did on Easter Sunday about the Kinshasa Symphony.  Our Mission President's wife also brought it up in Staff Mtg. last week and we plan to get their schedule & attend soon.  If you'd like to see the piece, click HERE.  It's more evidence of "The Power of ONE" and "There are NO excuses!".

And, while we're on this, if you'd like to review the fun interview that the late, great Mike Wallace did with our beloved President Gordon B. Hinckley, click HERE (video link at the end of the article).

Gotta go fix a nice filet mignon anniversary dinner and try not to burn it in our "Made in China" oven, which is an evil cousin to "H.A.L.", our antaganistic washer/dryer combo machine.

Love to all,

Mom/Joan/Sister Smith
P.S.  I'm sending this letter out with the explanation that not all of the blog captions got done due to an unexpected invitation from the Binghams to join them in their familiar walking/jogging route along the Embassy Row and the Congo River.  It is hot, but there was a breeze and it was so beautiful.  Afterward, we came home to fix our special dinner and we want to watch a movie on one of our laptops, so that doesn't leave time to finish tonight... but most of those left are pretty simple... Hope you enjoy it!

                                                                                                                                         April 22, 2012
Dear Family & Friends,

English: Hello, how are you? I am fine.
French:  Bonjour, comment ca va?  Ca va tres bien.
Lingala: Mbote, ozalimalamu? Nazali,malamu.
Swahili: Jambo, habari? Salama.

Now, you are prepared to begin a conversation in Kinshasa, DRC... or as the locals would say, République Démocratique du Congo (RDC).  This week's blog demonstrates a few of the interesting challenges we've had with the language differences.

Meanwhile, our activities this week included joining with a few of the other couples at two busy places called, locally, "Thieve's Market" and "The Beach".  Both are large open air markets with the former selling a wide variety of African paintings, artifacts, jewelry etc. and the latter exclusively selling the famous waxed cotton cloth which is used for many Congolese clothes in general and dresses in particular.  Here's a sample picture & a website with additional pictures and information that I found interesting about the cloth... (click HERE).  I've actually already purchased three prints and will go back for more.  This letter is a "heads up" to my family to start getting prepared.  The men & boys are pretty simple (I don't mean that personally), but I would like my five daughters and one adult granddaughter to start designing their very own Congo dress and another for their little girl(s).  I will have these made for you.  Here are the requirements for an authentic Congolese dress.  1) Modest 2) Long 3) Feminine 4) Creative The women are amazing in the variety of styles, designs, patterns, accents and accessories they incorporate into a dress to make it unique.  Frankly, in comparison to the almost-nothing-there clothes that we in the U.S. call "fashion", the Congolese make us look pretty boring. 
Thieve's Market?... well, just imagine walking onto a used-car lot with one hundred salesmen descending upon you at once (and all speaking French).  Whatever they tell you when you ask, "Combien?", you counter-offer 1/4th that amount and if they don't agree (a given), you shake your head and say, "Non merci".  Then they come about 1/2 way down.  You shake your head and walk away.  Guaranteed, they will follow you & they WILL lower the price again.  Then the real bargaining can begin!  By the time I'd looked at all the booths & was ready to leave, I had an entourage of men who had followed me to the car... at which time we agreed upon a price. One of the items was a wooden bowl with small-scale carved, color-stained fruit of the Congo. Another was a pretty jungle scene painting in blues & greens... and finally several sets of a way-cool gift (secret) that all the young male grandchildren and the greats are going to love.  (It has something to do with elephants, so I'm hoping it will get through customs!)

A follow up on a comment I made for the posting a couple weeks ago.  The picture showed a truck with tons of huge logs which were barely secured.  I stated that it was scary being stuck next to that truck for several miles in a traffic jam.  This past week, my fears became someone else's nightmare.  One of those trucks was involved in an accident with a taxi-van on that same road and over 20 people were killed.

And, speaking of traffic... It ALL came to a stop Friday night on 30 Juin Blvd., just as we and the other couples were getting out of our cars parked on the boulevard and walking to a Lebanese restaurant . (We also had our tech friends from South Africa, Graham and Matthew, who have been installing new computers for the Mission Office.) All of a sudden, we began to hear VERY loud motorcycles & sirens.  Then they began SPEEDING by... first one pair, then another pair and another pair, all with sirens blaring... Then came several Army troop carriers with two men and their guns facing forward and the remaining men sitting in the back facing either left, right or backward, all with guns... Then came the expensive SUVs, all black and all with windows down, showing very tough and serious looking men inside.  Only ONE car had the windows up AND darkened so that you couldn't see anything inside.  So, to be very truthful, we can't say that we actually SAW Kabila, but it was quite an experience!  It was, on the one hand, a show of force & power (and the people on the street seemed impressed by it... with one Congolese man in a group turning to me with great excitement and saying, "Kabila!!")... but it was also an indication of the fears that necessitate that type of travel.

I realize that we, in America, have to take many security measures to protect our President, but I'm grateful to know that we have a true democratic republic so that our changing of leaders is not violent and our leaders are, by comparison, very accessible.  America truly is a land of hope to so many people around the world and being here in the Congo has brought home to me how amazingly we are blessed.  So many look at us as a people who are strong and good and capable.  As Alexis de Tocqueville said, "America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."  I believe that our Heavenly Father raised up good men to establish our country so that it could be a beacon of freedom to the world and we have been endowed with so much.  But, along with that comes responsibility.. "For of him unto whom much is given much is required."  D & C 82:3

I love and appreciate all of you.  It has been a joy to receive your emails and correspond with you about the things you enjoyed on the blog and the activities you are involved in.


Joan/Mom/Soeur Smith

                                                                                                                                         April 29, 2012
Dear Family & Friends,

First of all, thank you for all the messages you have sent.  Those of you who have been far from home and loved ones know how much it means.  And, I really love to hear the things which are going on in your lives.  I'm thankful for all of you. 

My son, Jim, called on Magic Jack before he and his family left for Church this morning (which was about 3pm our time). When the connection wasn't really good, he decided to try Skype and it worked wonderfully!  I'd been a little hesitant about Skype and hadn't initiated any calls since we got to Africa, but I can tell you that this will change.  The sight of my son on the screen almost melted my heart.  He is actually a pretty good-looking guy, but he looked like an angel today.. tho' maybe it was also because he was being ordained a High Priest today in his Stake Conference.  I'm very proud of the strong spiritual man that he has grown to be.

I've thought a lot about the talents and strengths of my six children and can honestly say that I'm extraordinarily proud of each of them.  Life has brought challenges into each of their lives, as it has for all of us.  But, I admire the fortitude and determination they have demonstrated, sometimes after many failures, to overcome their challenges and to succeed.  In fact, THEY have taught ME many important things in the process of raising  & being with them in, through and beyond childhood. Because of them... and patience from my Heavenly Father... I have learned (perhaps I'm still learning) the principle of "unconditional love" and the importance of never giving up.  I have known close friends who, as parents, applied those principles & they've witnessed miracles because of their faith.  I can testify of these things from personal experience, too.

Having said that, I must take a minute to praise another determined and successful achievement.  This Wednesday, March 3rd, my daughter Janice will get her Bachelor degree.  Her decision to make this her goal and the perseverance to reach it have been admirable and I want her to know how proud I am of her accomplishment.  And, just a word to those reading this who may have given up on advancing their education... This past week my friend and classmate, Al Nease, let me know that he was receiving his Ph.D. on April 27th.  Isn't that awesome?  We both agree that age is an attitude and we aren't falling for that false doctrine of "you're too old" stuff!

Which brings me to one of the subjects of this week's blog.  Brother & Sister Doucette have been volunteering for years to leave their comfortable home (formerly Utah & other points, now in Arizona) to be special Medical Service Missionaries for the Church in places all around the world.  They are about 80 yrs. old and set up the Neo-Natal Resuscitation Training in the DR Congo previously.  They just returned this past week to train more doctors, nurses and mid-wives so that THEY can in turn train others.  One of the hospitals gave him records of birth mortality since he set this up.  It is primarily a birthing hospital, but they were losing 42% of the babies born there.  One reason is that, when a baby was born not breathing or stopped breathing, it was just accepted as irreversible.  That seems inconceivable to us, but this is a 3rd world country and they not only did not have training, but they didn't have resuscitation equipment)  Now that they HAVE had training and resuscitation materials given to them to use, the mortality rate has gone down to 10%.  

This year, they also brought Dr. Mike Draper of Utah & Dr. Steve Grover of Arizona.  These men are French-speaking because they had served missions in France (they just found that they were in the MTC at the same time, but served in different areas in France)  They are obstetricians and put their names on a very long list of LDS medical personnel volunteers and then received their assignment from the Church.  They came out with the Doucettes for one week and we had the pleasure of their company as we followed the Binghams & Doucettes to travel to Ngaba for the last day of training & the graduation ceremony for the last class (Three 2-day classes were held over the week at the Ngaba Ward). The Church had flown in these students hundreds of miles from all parts of the DR Congo Kinshasa Mission to be trained 

Dr. Ngoy, of Kinshasa, a wonderful, dedicated Congolese man, has an absolute passion about this work and has been involved from the beginning.  His wife is also a physician and they have used their yearly vacation for years to travel and help save African babies.  After the Church built a well last year for the Catholic hospital where he worked, he said to our Church representatives, "Imagine the babies that will live now."  The mortality rate went down 50%.

These examples & others shown on the blog, are mostly just ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  They are each unique in their personalities, talents and abilities, weaknesses and strengths.  Some have lived with privilege and others have lived in poverty.  But they are of one mind in serving where the Lord has asked them to serve and they are making a difference in the world.

Sometimes, I feel a little envious of the various other types of Senior Missionary assignments because working in the Mission Office does not offer much opportunity for proselyting or working with others on projects, etc.  On the other hand, we DO have so many wonderful chances to accompany the other couples and see the wonderful work they are all doing. And, as Thierry reminded me, we are all serving in different ways to bless God's children and every calling helps the work.


Mom/Joan/Sœur Smith

                                                                                                                                                                                         May 6, 2012
Dear Family & Friends,

I'd like to begin with something that happened last week.  To appreciate this story, you have to realize that every day in the Mission Office, I am dealing, almost exclusively, with African names.  Some of these, particularly those from Madagascar, are incredibly long & difficult such as one missionary whose total for first, middle and last name is 32 letters.  Others are short and would seem to be easy, but can be challenging for the tongue, such as a five letter name that begins with three consonants.  One other fact you need to know is that many of the Congolese  people are known & called only by their last names.  Now, the story...

George & I were parked, facing the street outside the Mission Office compound last Saturday.  We were waiting for the Binghams to come so we could follow them to Ngaba for the final day of Neo-Natal Resuscitation Training.  The Binghams work out of the Temporal Affairs office, which is just down the street.  I've only been there once and mostly know the people there by name only.  As we sat in the car, an older, nicely dressed Congolese man in suit & tie passed by.  I idly watched him walking by.  Then the following conversation ensued... George: "Is that Bambu?"  Joan: "I don't know Bambu."  George: "What do you mean you don't know Bambu?"  Joan (repeating with  a little consternation) "I don't know if that is Bambu or not.  I don't KNOW Bambu!"  George: "You're from Florida and you don't know Bambu?"  Joan (completely puzzled): "What does being from Florida have to do with it?".... and then, the gradual realization that George was not referring to the man, but to some growth down the street called "BAMBOO". 

Now, a story that's a bit more tender.  When you volunteer to serve a mission, you know that there are some important events & situations which you are going to miss... births, deaths, marriages, and, as happened this week, graduations.  Daughter Janice happily celebrated the anniversary of her marriage to Justin Payne by getting her Bachelor degree in Health Care Administration at University of Central Florida.  Knowing how deeply sad I was not to be able to watch the simulcast because of low bandwidth, she sent me an email which read "If you can't come, I'll take you with me!"... and with that, the picture below of her mortar board.  Somehow, it made everything alright.
Another story from this week... I received an email from someone I'd never met.  She is a Congolese member of the Church who now lives in Edmonton, Canada.   Her family moved from the Congo when she was just a 1 yr old baby and eventually joined the Church in Colorado. Then they moved back to Kimbanseke (which is in our mission boundaries) about ten years ago.  She has been trying to do some research for Family History records online <https://familysearch.org> and then came across our blog which included our contact information.  She stated that she was concerned about her parents, who have struggled with being active in Church and wondered if someone could reach out to them. It just so happened that that very day, Elder Twikala, a wonderful young man who has been serving most recently as an Assistant to the President, was being released from that assignment so that he could spend his final assignment as a full-time proselyting missionary again. As sometimes happens with "worldly" thinking, it is not uncommon for some missionaries to view such a change (whether for themselves or for others) as a "demotion".  The truth is that we all serve at the will and pleasure of our Heavenly Father and His will is done through the leaders who make these inspired calls.  Elder Twikala was at the Mission Office and I gave the printed email to him.  He was so excited because the address of her parents just happened to be in the area where he is assigned.    I don't think that it was a coincidence that out of ALL the missionaries (in all of the zones/areas/districts) that I COULD have handed that letter to, I handed it to him.  It made him so happy and he is so eager to help these people... I could report to the sister in Canada that her parents will be in very good hands.  It is just another testimony to me of the love that our Father has for EACH & ALL of His children that he can bring about a complex series of events to touch these two people in the heart of Africa.

As was the case across the Church world-wide today, the Relief Society lesson on this first Sunday was taken from one of the talks in last October's General Conference.  The one selected in our ward was given by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, and it just so happened that, through a rather miraculous turn of events, George & I were sitting there in the Conference Center attending that session when he gave his talk... You Matter to Him.  

The story behind that is that George had noticed a stranger working hard on the house next door, which had been vacant for a long time. 
It appeared that it was being fixed up to sell.  Because the weather was hot, George took a large glass of iced water to him and ended up helping him.  The next day, he did the same.  At that time, the man said, "I have three extra tickets to this Saturday morning's session of Conference.  Would you be interested in them?"  And so we ended up, unexpectedly being blessed with the opportunity to be present in the Conference Center with our friend, Michelle Blake, just one week after our mission call, when President Monson announced the location of several new temples which would be built, including one with very special meaning for us...KINSHASA, AFRICA!  In Elder Uchtdorf's talk and again in this situation, you can see the Lord's "tender mercies", which we all receive but often do not recognize.  I fully concur with those who state that "There Are NO Coincidences"

I love and appreciate all of you.  It has been a great blessing to share these experiences and pictures with you and hearing from you, too.

With much love,

Mom/Joan/Sœur Smith

                                                                                                                                         May 13, 2012
Dear Family & Friends,

There was another fun example of "failure to communicate" this week that you might enjoy.  President Jameson asked me to make copies of some papers he would need to pass out to a large training meeting of all the Kinshasa missionaries.  About 1/2 way through, the copier stopped working.  Unfortunately, all the words that came up on the screen were in French, so I didn't know what the problem was.  Thinking that two of our office assistants could help, I picked out what seemed to be a key word, walked up front to their desk and said, "What does 'alimentation' mean?"  They both looked at each other, turned back to me and said together, to my surprise... "grocery store"!  After I stopped laughing and explained why I'd asked the question, we ALL laughed and they told me that it means "supply" and usually refers to food or nutrition.  (There was plenty of paper in the tray, so I guess the copier was trying to tell me that the "supply" of paper had been blocked or jammed.)

A tragic event... Some of you may remember my picture & comments about the old pedestrian walk-over that had lasted at least 52 yrs (the Belge left in 1960), but ended when a Chinese truck driver with a load of rocks hit it last week and brought it crashing down, killing several people.  There is no national data base in the DR Congo, but the estimates of Kinshasa's population range from 10-14 million people and at any given time, they are either crowded together on the streets or packed with as many as 24 others in the old decrepit taxi-vans.  So, when something bad happens, it inevitably affects many victims.  Accidents happen everywhere in the world, but when I see so many conditions here that make accidents more likely and more deadly, it makes me feel sad.

Some good news from the aftermath of the March ammunition dump explosions... Our Humanitarian couple worked with Bishop Gaetan in Brazzaville to deliver the first of several Church shipments and they were so impressed with the outpouring of aid they observed coming in.  Food and supplies came from many countries, religious & civic charities and individuals all over the planet. 

And, speaking of charities, here's an update on the Kimbanseke orphanage.  First of all, I knew when we visited that four of the children were to be adopted within the month and I later found out that seven more were in line to be adopted soon.  I have also heard statistics that are staggering about the total number of orphans.  According to one source, orphans in Africa (due to war, AIDS, abandonment) number somewhere between 30-40 MILLION children.  Here in the city & outlying districts of Kinshasa, it is said that there are 20,000 living in the streets.  Of course, we see some of these "Shegues" every day.  But, for those few children in Philomene's orphanage, there is hope for a good life.  I just wish there were a thousand more with her faith in God, belief in education and love for the children.  As most of you know, my daughter Jennifer & her husband Nate adopted two children from Ethiopia who were close to the age of their two natural children.  They worked through a good program and the children came from a good orphanage with much better conditions than Kimbanseke's. Hunter and Jordyn are 4 and  9 now and have thrived.  They are not only smart and talented, but gifted.   I have no doubt that Philomene's will thrive, too. Meanwhile, we are joining together to help her as much as we can.  The men of our group of four missionary couples have been working on making bunk beds for the kids (who previously slept on ragged mats laid on the floor).  One of the women made a cute little outfit for the girls and will make shirts for the boys. As the women began discussing making more, they asked me if I sewed, I proudly pointed to my blouse and said, "Well, of course, I do...look at this BUTTON!" (I think we'll have to find some other way for me to be useful on this project.)

This weekend was the Kinshasa Stake Conference.  Saturday, when we attended the first (Youth & Adult) session, there were as many in attendance as we would normally see in a very full Sunday conference session in the States.  A young Congolese returned missionary named Boris Kabeya came over and sat between Elder Smith & me so that he could translate for us.  We really appreciated him and enjoyed the talks, which would have been totally familiar topics back home... The importance of Faith, Family, Service, Example, Parenting and not just HEARING the word or even DOING it, but BECOMING Christ-like.

We were told before hand that the Sunday session attendance would be VERY high, so we got to the chapel one & a half hours early today. When we walked in, there were nearly a thousand people seated... filling the chapel, the cultural hall and the stage at the far back. The "late-comers" filled up the wired overflow areas (Priesthood, Relief Society, Primary rooms, etc). to handle the almost two thousand expected attendance. We were issued headphones and Kabeya (as he prefers to be called) was the official translator for the Conference.  It was wonderful to be able to follow the talks without straining to catch a familiar word here or there to follow the gist of the comments.  Over the two days, we were able to hear from many of the stake leaders, most of whom we have met and admire very much.

Tonight, we were invited to a "Returned Missionary" dinner.  The president of this group is our own office assistant, Aime Ngoy.  Stake President Eustache began, followed by representatives of the Church Educational System, Perpetual Education Fund, and Construction Training.  In a country where the unemployment rate is so horrendous, it is encouraging to see these great programs helping young men and women become better educated and trained so that they are prepared to go out in the world and be employable.  

It's been a VERY full weekend and it's far past my bedtime, so I won't have time to upload pictures on the blog tonight and tell you about the "foo foo" and the cooked black caterpillars I helped myself to at the dinner tonight.  Stay tuned.............


Mom/Joan/Sœur Smith

                                                                                                                                                          May 20, 2012
Dear Family & Friends,

The following is a glimpse into the life of a Senior Sister Missionary serving in Kinshasa, DR Congo...(moi!)  This email was sent by me to the female half of the other Senior Couples.  It demonstrates a few of the simple things we take for granted in America.

[SUBJECT:  Green Dye, Potting Soil & Hair

You are probably looking at the subject of this email and wondering what those things have in common.  I will tell you...

Absolutely nothing.

They are simply my way of listing the varied and unconnected questions which NO ONE has answered... primarily because I keep forgetting to ask them.

First of all, my Forest Green rug in the bathroom got bleach spilled on it last month and I'd really like to TRY to restore the color with some RIT or other fabric dye. Has anyone noticed such a thing in any of the stores?  I thought about washing it with my green microfiber towels, which bled profusely on some of mine and Elder Smith's white clothing (due in part to the washer's "hot-enough-to-kill-or-cause-permanent-injury" water temperature), but those articles turned a Teal Green, so I just don't think that would work.

Second, I have two avocado seeds in water which are sprouting so fast I can actually see their growth every day.  There is dirt in several pots outside, but I don't trust it and would like to get fresh potting soil.  Any recommendations as to where would be the best place to get that?  I never thought I'd live to say, "I miss Wal-Mart!"

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I am determined to find a hair dresser who can restore my hair color to the radiant blonde of my youth (or, I'll settle for BLAH hair if he can just restore my radiant youth).  I'd also like someone who would style my hair in a professional way without relying on thinning shears that insure a need to quickly return for another cut. And it would be nice if all of this could be accomplished without using foil that has been used on countless prior customers and without having to hear shouts of "SANDY!!" in my ear as the harried owner tries to deny 101 Dalmatian attempts to come into the main salon where all the action is. Since it is apparent that neither the dog nor the owner ever attended Obedience Training School, it is an effort doomed to failure.

So, does anyone want to go to The Grand Hotel with me and see what they have to offer?  Come to think of it, I could bring my rug to show them, because the bleached out part is JUST the right shade.]

Back to Family & Friends... The above doesn't even address a couple of other major issues of the past week or two.  Have you ever tried to be an office secretary who had to work without any one or all of the following for the past 14 days.. 1) the black & white printer AND 2) the color printer/scanner 3) office Outlook email account 4) internet access.  Add to that the confusion of the last several days from having the whole office topsy-turvy while it's being painted. Can you say "unproductive"? The IT issues have finally, SUPPOSEDLY, been fixed and the painters are SUPPOSEDLY finishing on Saturday, so I will break one of the cardinal Congo rules and make an assumption... that all will be in order on Monday morning.  

Guess I should go get out some of that delicious cheese in my fridge, cause I've already got the "whine"!  But, I've decided that the best thing I can do is... be honest about the hard parts, not sugar-coat the challenges and try to find the positives in all of it. Hopefully, this will be a good true-to-life study of personal progress and growth.  We all know (though we don't like to think about it) that challenges are the very things that help us become stronger.  This happens only IF we turn to Our Heavenly Father to grant us, through His son, the Grace which we need to turn defeats into victories . There's a great picture on the blog of a poster from our office that demonstrates this principle of strength from adversity.  It's "en Francais", but I bet you can figure it out!  You can also look for the promised picture of the delicacy which was served at last Sunday's Returned Kinshasa Missionary dinner... roasted black caterpillars. 

As I finish this letter, having just returned from Church and prior to our Senior Couple's postponed "Mother's Day Dinner" at President and Sister Jameson's, I can report that the world is, indeed, very small.  As we travelled to Church this morning with the Staggs in the back seat, someone noticed that the vehicle in front of us had several white-skinned guys in white shirts & ties.  We wondered aloud if they might perhaps be headed for the same place we were and sure enough, they were.  The Billings & Binghams were arriving at the same time, so we all encircled the group.  Their names are Brother Houghton (the dad) and Brother Houghton (the son) and Brother Hawkins. They are in the construction business and had come to meet with Elder Billings & others to ascertain the status and needs of the very expansive chapel-building that is planned for this next year.  They brought with them a man (Brother Kamosi) who was born in Kinshasa and had previously been a member of Parliament.  But, as has happened so often in Congolese history, he and his family had to flee for their lives. They ended up in Washington, DC. where he met LDS missionaries and was baptized 12 years ago, by the younger Brother Houghton. I was so excited when we found out that the other men are from Orem and told them that Elder Smith & I also lived in Orem.  When they asked, "Where in Orem?" and I told them, they laughed because their office is in an Business Park at the intersection of Geneva Rd and University Parkway... within an easy 5 min. walk of our home. They return to the U.S. this week, but expect to come back to Kinshasa several times in the future.  We enjoyed having the short time with them.

Well, as always, thank you for your prayers and communications.  They are much appreciated and needed.  Some of you have told me of having a life-long interest in Africa, others have adopted African children, while still others have never taken much notice of African happenings.  Most of us probably fall into the latter category. Whatever the case, I hope that you will feel free to offer feedback or ask questions about any aspect of our African experience.  My desire is to gain knowledge and understanding of the African people and their culture and to share that with you (and then to ask for your forbearance when we return home and precede every comment with "Well, in AFRICA...." ).  It IS a life-changing experience and it is challenging us with situations we never would have had to deal with in our very comfortable life back home.  But it has made us so much more aware of the truly poor and the struggle they have to survive; It has made us more grateful for even the seemingly insignificant things we take for granted in America;  We watch an American political campaign from afar (and some of you wish YOU could do that), but be thankful, because yours is a campaign of IDEAS and PHILOSOPHIES... not of guns, force and violence. Being here at this time is a wonderful experience.  Despite the problems and challenges, we DO see the incremental improvements in the lives of individuals and families as the Gospel comes into their lives.  A young woman who has just joined the Church was introduced today in Relief Society.  Afterward, I shook her hand and said, "Felicitations!" She told me in broken English, "I am so very happy to be with all of you.  I am happy to be in the Church".  Her face was just glowing. Americans have been blessed in so many ways that it is hard for us to imagine NOT having the privileges that we enjoy on a daily basis.  I love the poem (and hymn) by Rudyard Kipling which our beloved President Hinckley referred to in some brief closing remarks several years ago... "Recessional" 

Remember... one of the words most oft repeated in the scriptures is "REMEMBER".


Mom/Joan/Sœur Smith


                                                                                                                                          May 27, 2012

Dear Family & Friends,

First of all, this has been a great week due to hearing from so many of you and catching up on what is going on in your lives.  So... the mix-up with the blog group email list ended well!

Second, if this letter and the blog postings don't get finished tonight, we will have to blame it on some of the other missionary couples.  After hearing some drum beats and commotion from the Plaza, George & I decided to go sit outside & watch whatever activities were going on.  Just as we got there, the Staggs walked out on their balcony one floor above and we invited them to come join us.  Then the Binghams called and we told them to come on over, too.  We sat out there all afternoon and saw 1) a bride & groom with their wedding party. (We're not sure if they got married down there or were just taking pictures) 2) a small group of young people with various instruments, including the drum we'd heard.  3) a group of men & women dressed in solid green suits who were being led in some dance moves by a man with a black suit, red shirt & red shoes and being filmed with a movie camera (a commercial?) and then, after dark...  4) a long, long double-lane caravan of cars, with their emergency lights blinking and horns honking as they followed the white car in the lead, which held another bride & groom.  And, we swapped stories.  It's always fun to be with the other couples and share funny experiences.  We never have a lack of stories to tell each other AND there is never a lack of interesting things happening on the Plaza.  Since we don't have a TV, story-telling with friends and plaza-watching has served as a great substitute.

Last Thursday, our sweet French-speaking "Swiss Miss", Chantal, arranged for Sister Billings and me to go with her to The Grand Hotel for a hair appointment at 1:30pm.  Her mother joined us also. What I didn't realize is that all FOUR of us would be using the same man for color and cut, with those of us who were “off track” getting manicures &/or pedicures to fill in the time.  Bless her heart, Chantal didn’t explain to us ahead of time that this man (coincidentally named GEORGE) is the ONLY one who does non-Congolese hair in that Salon and that is why we would all have to share. As a result, I got back to the office SEVEN hours after departing and, although he was good, I will leave it to YOU to imagine just how great a haircut & color would have to be for that much of a time investment!  (At least he wasn't yelling "SANDY!" to a disobedient Dalmatian every few minutes!) J

 Another example of "It's a Small, Small World"... Elder Billings walking into the Bingham's office at Temporal Affairs and said to them, after seeing the pictures of their children and grandchildren on the wall, "Did you know you have a picture of my granddaughter on your wall?"  It turns out that along with their family pictures they had a portrait of Christ with a little girl... the Billings' son portrayed Christ in the picture, with his arm around his beautiful little blonde daughter.  I've posted it on the blog.

Yesterday, George and I, along with the Binghams, drove with the Jamesons to attend the annual U.S. Ambassador's Memorial Day Picnic.  As you can see in the pictures, the grounds are very expansive with huge tall palms, bamboos, bouganvillia and assorted other flowers, along with some magnificent trees called  the "Flamboyant tree".  It was surprising that there wasn't a predominance of American ex-patriots.  I struck up conversations with several folks who work for the U.S. Embassy and have lived all over the world and moved their families to the farthest and sometimes, most inhabitable places you could imagine.  It was nice to see the Marine Color Guard.  Unfortunately, the "almost-but-not-quite- soprano" female singer sang "The Star Spangled Banner" with some difficulty.  And, to top it off, she warbled, "... gave proof through the night that their flag IS still there...", which kind of ruined it for me! 

But, the food was fabulous!  They did offer hot dogs & french fries, which I declined so as to make room for grilled chicken, beef kabobs, capitaine (fish) on a stick, egg rolls, & wontons. These were just some of the good things I ate.  All of that was followed by some very delicious ice cream from our favorite source, "NiceCream" (There were also vendors of every sort on the perimeter of the tents and tables).  One thing I was grateful for was the thatch-covered area that was set up for Americans to receive information on voting from overseas.  I will probably have the opportunity to vote long before any of you, even if you are doing an absentee ballot.  How grateful I am to be able to submit my vote for my country's President, who I truly believe has a responsibility to be the leader of the free world.

Today was our Ward Conference and, as with Stake Conference last week, we had earphones to enjoy a translation of all the proceedings and talks.  One of the most touching parts was that they had a Primary Children's Choir (ages 3-12) who were so precious that we were all just sitting forward in our seats to see them.  The boys had dark fuchsia ties and the little girls had matching bow ties.  They began with "Follow the Prophet", which as some of you know, names Prophets of the scriptures & is probably the longest song in the Primary Hymn Book.  They sang it by memory and with great gusto (in French, of course).  Then they sang, "I Am a Child of God" and I had to wipe away tears as I thought of my own children, years ago, singing that song and now, the little grandchildren following in their footsteps.  There is something so sweet and simple and pure about children.  No wonder the Savior spoke of and demonstrated His love of little children... and said that we must become like them to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.  There is a reason that we often refer to, "The faith of a child."  Now, of course, one of the most selfish beings in the world is a baby or very young child.  But, as they mature a little, IF they are taught about consideration, kindness and serving others, they are very good at it.  Unfortunately, it is so easy for that selfishness to return.  One of the messages today was to be sensitive and observant of the weaknesses or needs of those around us who need help.  As I looked around the congregation, the thought went through my mind that ALL of us face trials throughout our lives and I remembered a favorite quote... "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."


Mom/Joan/Sœur Smith

(When some new friends from South Africa sent their email to me today and asked to be put on the blog alert, I proceeded to do that and found, to my dismay, that my special folder had "0" contacts instead of the 80+ that were in there previously.  I'm not sure if my account has been hacked or if Yahoo is just messing up... and I also don't know if it happened BEFORE or AFTER I hit the "Send" button on Sunday.  But I have painstakingly added each of your emails to this letter, in the order that they were in a former blog alert and hope that it will get to you...  if it's a duplicate, just click "Delete")

                                                                                                                                                   June 10, 2012
Dear Family & Friends,

Many years ago, I walked into our company's tech room and announced that the boss had called and wouldn't be coming in that day because he was "under the weather".  In the room was a very intelligent young Hindu man named Prashant.  He was from Nepal, graduated from BYU, had worked in our company for two years and spoke perfect English.  I will always remember the look on his face as he struggled to make sense of what I'd just said.

Well, that phrase could describe me this last week... as I stayed in our apartment and dealt with the effects of one of the following:
1) a parasite or,
2) an intestinal infection or,
3) alternatives we don't want to talk about, but which would involve a trip home in a hastily made pine box.

The Church doctor for the S.E. Africa area is in Johannesburg, so I emailed him with all of my "symptoms" (who even KNEW Montezuma made it all the way to Africa?) and he prescribed meds for options #1 and #2.  
The good news is... it was JUST a parasite (only in Africa would anyone be thankful for that!)  So, after five miserable days, it was gone.  
The other good news is... that after 3 1/2 months of serious water retention and "elephant ankles", the positive effects of dehydration were the temporary return of two normal looking (if not trim) ankles.  
The blog didn't get done because part of my recovery was sleeping 12 hours on Saturday night and taking a 2 hour nap on Sunday afternoon, just to make sure.  Then, lo and behold, I was able to rise up out of my deathbed and attend a great evening of dessert with Elder and Sister Renlund  and the other couples, hosted by the Jamesons.  Elder Renlund is a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and had come up from Johannesburg to re-organize a stake presidency here and to travel with the Jamesons on a tour of our mission.  

We were all excited because, that day, our own Thierry Mutombo had been called to be a new Stake President!  His picture was posted in the blog last month and again today, but it would take too long to list all the wonderful things about this exceptional man.  In his great talk (recounted to me since I was not able to go that morning), he told the 2,100 members in attendance that the City of Enoch was NOT taken up into Heaven because of a righteous Enoch, but because ALL the people were righteous.  So, reaching the goal of becoming a "Zion People" would not happen because of him, but because the people of the stake were making and keeping their covenants with God.  Thierry is an extremely intelligent but humble man and will be an excellent leader for his stake.

The Binghams invited us to follow them yesterday to a school for the handicapped in Ngili-Ngili, about an hour's hard drive from Kinshasa. They had to continue on for additional appointments after the closing ceremony for the school's new latrine and shower, so the translator (Felix) who knew the way, drove with us in the event that we got separated.  Every time we think we've seen the worst "roads" and "streets" (depending on your definition of both), we drive somewhere that is far worse.  And, every time it seems as if we can't possibly see a group of people more impoverished than the last, we do.  The pictures on the blog will not even come close to an fully accurate view of seeing, not just poverty, but MILES and MILES of never-ending poverty.  I think that is a great deal of what makes it so difficult sometimes.  We have all had times when our hearts have been stretched out because of an individual or a group in dire straits.  But in our daily lives, and perhaps never are we exposed to the magnitude and scope which is witnessed in a place like the Congo.  

The Lord has promised that, in the latter days, His work would be hastened and I can testify that we can see that happening here.  The people are humble and they love the Lord.  They honor the Sabbath and read their scriptures faithfully.  They have been prepared.  And, as they add to the good which they already have and cast aside those things which hold them back both temporally and spiritually, they will become a light to those around them.  And the gospel will change individuals, families, areas, countries and continents.  I love the quote by Joseph Smith:

“The Standard of Truth has been erected. No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing. Persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame. But the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, until the purposes of God shall be accomplished and the Great Jehovah will say, ‘The work is done.'”

Until then, it is a great blessing to be part of the work and to know that God knows and loves EACH of His children, no matter where they are.


Mom/Joan/Sœur Smith
                                                                                                                                                              June 17, 2012
Dear Family & Friends,

I'm writing this on Saturday and it has been a deliciously lazy day.  Every once in a while, you need a day where the biggest decision you have to make is whether to get out of your pajamas or not.  Today, 1:00 pm seemed about right.

And, speaking of "delicious", this was part of a response from my son, who commented on my last week's blog pictures of the infamous "bulbous-eyed caterpillars" with this admonishment...
"Mom, you know you must eat some of those caterpillars before you come home from your mission.  It just won't have been a success if you don't."
Would anyone like to suggest a really good retort to this otherwise sane man? (preferably one which doesn't involve cursing)
A couple times last fall, my French tutor at the MTC couldn't be there and a young woman from Madagascar substituted.  Her first name was Honivah and I don't think I ever learned her last name.  But, we have several Malagasy (that is the correct term for both the people and the language they speak) serving here in Kinshasa as missionaries.  They are renowned for having numerous and incredibly long names and here is an example:
36 total letters in the first and last name.  
68 total letters in all four names.
Andriantolojanahary Tsifolamandefitra Andrianasinavalona Tokineriniaina
Try wrapping your tongue around that!

We had an unpleasant thing happen this week.  There is a phrase that many of us like to use, which is "provident living".  Perhaps there should also be a similar phrase of "prudent giving".  It is human nature to want to ease pain and suffering and it is very difficult to check that natural instinct.  In the past month or so, I had begun keeping a small stack of francs in the glove compartment and giving them through the top of the window when approached by someone who seemed particularly in need... A woman, holding a baby whose arms are sticks and whose stomach is swollen or a young boy leading a man whose eyes are scarred and blinded are good examples.  The other day, two men were approaching the car.  One had only one leg (a very common sight & likely a war injury), the other had a terribly mangled, deformed arm and hand.  I lowered the window a little more than usual and reached up to hand each of them a bill just as the traffic light was turning green.  The first man roughly grabbed my hand & snatched both bills, then ran off as the second man yelled and tried to chase him.  I could only feel helpless and angry as we drove off. It reminded me of what we have been told repeatedly since coming here.  We should be caring but very careful in how and to whom we give.  Sadly, even the blind person being led by a young child, might just be a shill for the "shegues" or street thugs.  We are counseled to let the Spirit guide and I need to remember that.

On a happier note, I've posted a bit on the blog about George and me going to jail.  Well, actually, the Ministère de la Justice office, but the building also houses the jail, which we passed as we were led down several levels into a basement office.  Frankly, that office was probably NOT as nice as any jail in the U.S... wall to wall desks and people crammed in tight as sardines to take care of various issues.  We had to go to get interviewed and fingerprinted for our visas to be extended.  Thierry went with us to take care of the "formalities" and to be our translator.  Two of our Sister Missionaries also needed to have this done and accompanied us.  The older woman who we met with, frowned constantly and looked as if she didn't like US, her job, or life in general. After filling out some forms and answering some questions, she motioned for us to follow her and we went back upstairs and then OUTSIDE!  It was literally a breath of fresh air, but puzzling.  Then she led us to a long table next to a wall and under some large, fruit-bearing trees, where she pulled out long ink pads that looked as if a million fingers had pressed down on them.  When it was George's turn, I suddenly realized that this woman was about to face a difficult situation.  As most of you know, George served as a Service Missionary at the Church welfare cannery for four years prior to our call to come to Africa.  A couple years ago, the hydraulic system for a 300 pound kettle lid failed and came down on his left hand, splitting the middle & 4th fingers down to the bone and cutting off the top half of his index finger.  I wondered what she would do and laughingly mentioned it to the others... You can see the result on the blog.

This was "Transfer Week"... a busy time for our Mission President, his wife and all of us who work in the office.  The in-coming missionaries come on Friday to have their first interview with President Jameson, after which they go to the Mission Home upstairs for some orientation and instruction and a luncheon.  The out-going missionaries come the day before, on Thursday, to have their final individual interviews with President Jameson & a testimony meeting and lunch upstairs in the Mission Home.  Then they are taken to the Temporal Affairs office for job-hunting skills and employment training class before they are flown home. I had the opportunity to speak with some whom I've come to know, as well as others with whom I was only familiar through pictures and files.  How humble and good these young men were as we spoke (in their various degrees of English proficiency) of their return to normal life after two years of serving as a missionary.  They face the future with more faith and optimism than most young people their age... and probably more than most of US could muster, under the circumstances.  They are in a country with an unemployment rate of 85% and tremendous instability, but they have spent two years maturing beyond their years and learning the blessings which come with faith and trust in God.  They love to talk with me, but I am truly blessed by speaking with them.  They are well prepared for life and will go on to marry and raise good families and that is how it works for God to bless a people and a country.  President Ezra Taft Benson said it well:

"The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.  Christ changes men, and changed men can change the world."


Mom/Joan/Sœur Smith
                                                                                                                                         June 24, 2012

Dear Family & Friends,

Most of you who are reading this enjoyed the longest day of your year just a couple days ago.  It passed largely (in fact, ENTIRELY) without fanfare here on the equator. 

In the category of "A Dollar Short and a Day Late"... I found out today that papaya seeds help prevent intestinal parasites.  For the Doubting Thomas, here is the link... for those who don't really care, just skip it: 
http://www.healthdiaries.com/eatthis/4-health-benefits-of-papaya-seeds.html  (Eating seeds seems like a small price to pay considering the alternative).

This week also marked our first bad encounter (as a couple) with the dreaded POLICE of KINSHASA!  All the other couples, and even some who have been here less time than we, have had several major experiences.  George has been an occupant a couple times when one of our Congolese office assistants was driving (this is usually a prime target situation for the police, who assume they can intimidate the Congolese and get a bribe from the "rich American"). But, in those cases and in a couple others where policemen have walked up to the car as we waited in traffic, we have simply smiled and acted friendly and they have not tried to detain us for some trumped up charge. This time was different because we were SORT OF in the wrong.  Of course, as with all things in the Congo, that is a relative statement.  

We were approaching a congested intersection filled with jay-walking pedestrians; multiple cars running through red lights; two or three cars at one time moving broadside to each other as they turned across oncoming traffic to enter a one-lane side street; other vehicles cutting us off from the right AND from the left at the same time... the USUAL.  We were in an inner lane and George had just started to go fast (a fact which I pointed out) when I noticed a policeman from the far right sidewalk start to cross in front of all the traffic.  I called out "Policeman!" just as George spotted him, too.  Even though he wasn't yet in front of us, George decided to slam on the brakes and quickly back up behind the white line over which we'd been warned never to get stopped past.  As he walked toward us, gesturing and yelling, we both waved to him and put on our brightest smiles.  His demeanor didn't change as he came up to George's window and demanded (in French, but with motions) that it be lowered and for George to show his driver's license.  George lowered the window about an inch and put the license up against it.  In the meantime, another policeman had come up and, with equal animation and volume, began to yell at us.  We just kept smiling and saying, in French & in English, "We are sorry.  We don't speak French."  At one point, we could understand the French for "respect" and we assured him that we DID respect the police.  

At this point, I ALSO got animated and said to him loudly & very sternly "We DO respect the police.  We stopped RIGHT AWAY when we saw you!"  As I said this, I chopped my hands downward to show how quickly we had obeyed.  Meanwhile, as all of this was happening, the traffic was whizzing by on both sides and then they began taking turns trying to scare us... first by calling (perhaps pretending to call) a supervisor or someone with a "boot".. and then by dramatically pulling out a pad and walking to the front of the car (again, perhaps pretending) to write down our license. About this time, the frustrated one at our window, who had continued to rattle on at us in French, looked down at George's tag and seemed to be momentarily puzzled. Then, almost stomping his feet in absolute frustration, he blurted out a lot of French mixed with the most English we had heard from him up to then, which was... "You give money!!" Both of us, as if on cue, responded in our best Casablanca-like voices ("Shocked! Shocked!"), "Ohhhhhhh, Nooooooo!  We can't do THAT!  Nous sommes Missionaires!" What can a poor guy do if someone refuses to play the shake-down game?  Finally, the older, apparently senior policeman came back to his partner & told him to stand back and let us go.  After some disagreement, he did and we were waved on.  As we happily left the scene we wondered if the two policemen were discussing the "Dumb Americans"... the ones who had just outsmarted them.

Last night, President & Sister Jameson and all four couples met for dinner at the Chinese restaurant for the second time in just a couple weeks.  Before going in, we walked over next door to the Chinese vase shop again to see the beautiful things there.  As we left the shop, I stopped to speak with a young Chinese man who was watching the store and who spoke a little English.  He asked if I was from America and what state I was from.  When he found out I lived in Utah, he smiled broadly and, with much excitement proclaimed, "UTAH JAZZ!  I LIKE!"  I gave him a high-five and told him that the JAZZ were my favorite team, too!

Now, as for the restaurant... you may remember that last time George ordered "Chicken and Cashews" and was served (with no warning ahead of time), "Chicken and... Canned Corn"!  So THIS time we determined that he would ask ahead.  When he gave his order, the man dutifully wrote it down.  George then asked, "You have cashews?" The answer was, "No, we have no cashews".  Along the same line, several of the people had ordered sweet and sour pork.  When the dishes came, they were all sweet and sour chicken.  When questioned about this discrepancy, the answer was simply... "We are all OUT of pork!"  Another person didn't get their order at all and, after a long wait, when everyone else was eating, we asked the waiter where it was, he casually replied, "We don't have anymore of that dish."  Elder Staggs tried to explain to him that it would be courteous to let someone know these things at the time they ORDERED instead of arbitrarily changing the order or even just not bringing it.

But, despite the excruciatingly long wait for the food, all of the problems with the orders above, as well as several other orders that were mixed up... we ended up sitting in that private room, telling stories and enjoying each other's company for several hours.  At times, I was laughing so hard that tears were coming down my cheeks.  Ahhhhh, it is true... "Laughter IS good for the soul"... and when you are all trying to serve the Lord and are sharing an experience like Kinshasa, Africa there is a wonderful bond and unity that brings feelings of love and acceptance not easily found in the world at large. 

In the category of "Man Bites Dog", we found out that Kinshasa has a zoo, which was initially good news, but we found out that most of the animals are now gone now... because they've been eaten. If you think about it and try to see it from THEIR perspective... Why should there be a place where edible animals are kept when a human being is starving? What would YOU do in a similar situation?

On that same subject, we met a young man this week who truly was starving.  He is a returned missionary who was a spiritual giant on his mission, which he has now completed.  He has come back to a situation in which both of his parents are dead and he has no one but an uncle who lives far out of the city & lets him sleep on the floor. He has barely been surviving.  When I met him, he looked quite frail and had not eaten in three days.  (But, bless his heart, he was dressed in his very best missionary clothes... dark pants, with a white shirt and tie).  He has now been accepted into the Perpetual Education Fund's "Construction Training" project with Elder Billings and will soon have a small, part-time job for several weeks at the Mission Office. This will help him to buy food and have money for the transportation to the training site. When he is gainfully employed, he will make small payments back into the fund to then help some other young man receive assistance through education or job training.  It is an inspired program to help people lift themselves out of poverty in a way that preserves their dignity & then gives them a chance to bless others.
President Gordon B. Hinckley... Perpetual Education Fund

Last week, I ended with a great quote from President Benson which ended with this, "Christ changes men, and changed men can change the world". Here  is another of my favorites:
"True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior."  (From Do Not Fear Elder Boyd K. Packer)

The article expands on these quotes.  In our country and the world, there is so much wrong-thinking about how to bring about righteous goals.  It is so easy to "throw money" at things or think that if we just give enough money to them, people will be better off.  But, to have truly successful results we need to have long-term solutions.   It IS better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish and I think our Heavenly Father is showing this to me in ways I could never have comprehended without this experience.  He knows and loves us all and will give us experiences that will be for our good.  (Doctrine & Covenants 122:7)

I'm grateful that He is teaching me.


Mom/Joan/Sœur Smith

                                                                                                                                             July 2, 2012
  Dear Family & Friends,

Thank you for the wonderful messages over the past four months and especially recently.  You will probably not know in this lifetime how much it means to someone far away to have that connection with the folks back home.  There have just been too many things going on lately to concentrate on putting up the blog this week, but I will try to get it up as soon as possible and let you know when.

It's has been a very difficult week on several levels. physical, emotional and even spiritual.  Last weekend, a crown came off and took some of a tooth with it. I quickly asked for recommendations for a dentist to see, and ended up making an appointment with one who my neighbor found listed on a USAID newsletter.  It seemed like a safe bet, although I had some apprehensions, simply because we have seen so little evidence of trained professionals.  It turned out that those feelings were justified as a a pale, bent-over man with yellow spiked hair peered out over his reading glasses and called for to me to come from the waiting room into his examining room. Next to him, Dr. Emmett Brown in "Back to the Future" would look fairly normal.  

As I entered the room, he was washing his hands (a good thing, to be sure) and as I tried to introduce myself, he abruptly offered his elbow for me to shake (ok, that's understandable).  I handed him the crown and he immediately said, "Your crown has pulled off a part of your tooth, you will need a root canal."  But, he wanted me to get in the chair so he could do a further exam.  As soon as he looked in my mouth,, he repeated what he had said and began to instruct his Congolese assistant.  I said, as gently and tactfully as possible, "I am a missionary and my Mission President told me that, if it was more complicated than simply gluing back the crown, I was not to take any action until discussing it with him."  He argued about this and I had to say it again.  Then, he twice insisted that we take x-rays and again I told him what my instructions were.  (Even without those instructions, I knew that whether President Jameson advised me to find another dentist in Kinshasa or flew me down to Johannesburg, I was NOT ever going to see THIS man again!)  At this point, he jerked his chair away & muttered, "You have wasted my time!", which he angrily repeated as he filled out the medical card.  All of this took not more than five minutes and I had to pay $50 for the "consultation fee", but it was worth it to get out of there.  However, this bad episode shook what little faith I'd managed to muster while contemplating the prospect of a root canal in Kinshasa.

That night, I awoke every hour on the hour with so many fearful thoughts racing through my mind.  Then, around 4am, a very clear thought came to me that turned everything around.  I realized that I was taking counsel from my fears and needlessly suffering all of this mental pain and anguish when the Savior had already suffered it FOR me.  My understanding of the Atonement has gradually grown in recent years so that I now know that He truly has suffered ALL things for us (Alma 7:11-12) just as He has said.  But it is up to us to access the power of the Atonement with faith.  So, I prayed with faith, asked him to take away my fear and give me peace, and I put it in His hands.  He granted my prayers immediately and in just a couple moments, I was sleeping peacefully.  The next day I was fully and calmly prepared to try to look for another dentist in Kinshasa.  But I received the most wonderful news that I'm to be flown to South Africa to have it done.  We were going to leave today, but George is over finances in the Mission Office and simply could not get everything done which needed to be completed prior to his being gone 12 days. So, it is likely that my next letter & blog posts will be from Johannesburg.  The Jamesons, Binghams, Staggs & Hatches (the Office Couple we replaced) were all evacuated to Johannesburg during the Nov-Dec '11 DR Congo election unrest and Elder Stagg calls Johannesburg "Africa Light" because it is so modern and pretty. Anyway, it should be quite an experience.  It doesn't QUITE make a root canal pleasant to contemplate, but it helps.

The next story is one which I have to tell very carefully.  It is personal and very sacred.  To give some background for the late-comers to this blog letter who don't know how the Lord prepared me for Africa, it started in August 2011.  George & I had just completed all the necessary ecclesiastical and medical requirements, as well as the online forms.  We had pushed the "Enter" button to officially submit our missionary papers, with ideas of a nice drive in my comfortable new gas-station-passing Prius to our mission assignment.  Now, you must realize that we put two very important entries on that online form.  We said we were willing to be gone for two years AND that we were willing to go wherever the Lord needed us.  Missions are not for wimpy people because if you put that on your paper, you could end up anywhere in the world.  As we drove to attend the annual BYU Education Week, I told George something which had stayed in my mind all morning.  I said, "I had the strangest vision.  It was different than a dream.  It was as if I were looking through a frame or window and there were people within, some close and others further back.  They didn't speak and all I could see were their faces, which seemed to move somewhat in their relative position.   But the strange thing is that they were ALL beautiful and... they were ALL black.  What do you suppose that means?"  I have had some very powerful spiritual experiences in my life, and some too sacred to share in a public forum.  But, I have NEVER had any spiritual happening that involved a dream or vision.  However, this was powerful enough that I shared it with my family (first to my daughter & her husband, who had previously adopted to Ethiopian children) and some friends. When we received our call a month later with family all around in person, by phone & on Skype, that daughter was the first to remind me of the vision and I knew that the Lord had given it to help me know more deeply that this calling was from Him.  There is an added significance to this part and the second part of the story because African people are known to be very spiritual-minded and the Lord often communicates with them through dreams.  I guess He was helping me to experience and understand that type of revelation.

It is not an overstatement to say that this past week was one of the most wrenching of my life.  Alongside the situation with my tooth came a problem that was both personal and far-reaching.  It pierced my soul and brought more pain than I thought I could bear.  As the days went by, it didn't get better, but instead expanded and grew worse.  I was barely making it through each day and did not know what to do.  As some of you may know, the first Sunday of each month is called Fast Sunday. We fast from food & water for two meals, donate a generous multiple of what those two meals would have cost to a special fund for the poor, and are encouraged to pray often (with a specific purpose) during that 24 hour period.  George & I did so on Saturday night and Sunday morning.  I particularly prayed that the Lord would give me guidance and I would be able to hear and recognize His direction.  When Church was over, I thought to myself, "I can't say that there was anything in the meetings that I felt was the Lord's answer."  We walked out to the car, and as I got in, I saw a Congolese member and his wife walking from the farthest part of the parking lot straight toward our car.  I knew the man, but had only briefly met his wife about two months ago.  They came to my side of the car and we greeted them both.  Then he said, "Elder and Sister Smith, my wife has had a dream about both of you and she wants me to tell it to you."  The moment he said those words, my eyes began to fill with tears because the Lord was confirming to me that THIS was His answer.  She spoke to her husband in French and then he translated to us. What followed was a perfect symbolic depiction of the situation, as well as the answer.  The challenge is still before me, but I know what I must do and I know that the Lord hears and answers our  prayers.  He has not always given me what I asked for, but He has always given me what I needed.  In this case, He gave me both.  

I am so grateful for the love of our Heavenly Father and for the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ, and the incredible blessings of truth and knowledge which God gives to us through a living Prophet and the Holy Scriptures... and sometimes through good  people around us... and for the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost. 


Mom/Joan/Sister Smith 

                                                                                                                                            July 6, 2012
Dear Family & Friends,

First of all, the blog is up!  The next one will be from and about Johannesburg, South Africa!  <www.ldscongomission.blogspot.com

July 4th was a happy/nostalgic day for me... I was raised in St. Augustine, Florida (the nation's oldest city).  When I was a little child, my parents would walk us up to the huge old Spanish fort on a hill overlooking Matanzas Bay.  There, we would enjoy the wonderful fireworks display sponsored by the city.  My father was a military man and I spent many years as a military wife.  I knew people who gave their lives in the military service.  Patriotism has always been in my blood and those feelings were only made deeper as I traveled the world, sometimes to  places like China, where I could see people who had NO freedom, and realized even more how blessed our country is.

Now, being in Africa has added a new dimension to my love and appreciation for America.  It is not perfect, but it truly is an exceptional land, founded on inspired principles.  But, as Thomas Jefferson said, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

I hope you enjoy this short comment by a woman from South Africa who works for the Church in Johannesburg.  It made me feel proud. 

"depending on Sister Smith’s appointment time on Monday .. you could join our office for our Devotional on Monday morning ... we have it from 09h00 and it usually lasts half an hour ... this past Monday was very emotional for the Americans as we had them all say their Pledge of Allegiance and then we all sang the Star Spangled Banner and there were many many tears ... it was so wonderful to be a part of so much patriotism ..."


Mom/Joan/Sœur Smith

                                                                                                                                       July 6, 2012
Dear Family & Friends,

First of all, the blog is up!  The next one will be from and about Johannesburg, South Africa!  <www.ldscongomission.blogspot.com

July 4th was a happy/nostalgic day for me... I was raised in St. Augustine, Florida (the nation's oldest city).  When I was a little child, my parents would walk us up to the huge old Spanish fort on a hill overlooking Matanzas Bay.  There, we would enjoy the wonderful fireworks display sponsored by the city.  My father was a military man and I spent many years as a military wife.  I knew people who gave their lives in the military service.  Patriotism has always been in my blood and those feelings were only made deeper as I traveled the world, sometimes to  places like China, where I could see people who had NO freedom, and realized even more how blessed our country is.

Now, being in Africa has added a new dimension to my love and appreciation for America.  It is not perfect, but it truly is an exceptional land, founded on inspired principles.  But, as Thomas Jefferson said, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

I hope you enjoy this short comment by a woman from South Africa who works for the Church in Johannesburg.  It made me feel proud. 

"depending on Sister Smith’s appointment time on Monday .. you could join our office for our Devotional on Monday morning ... we have it from 09h00 and it usually lasts half an hour ... this past Monday was very emotional for the Americans as we had them all say their Pledge of Allegiance and then we all sang the Star Spangled Banner and there were many many tears ... it was so wonderful to be a part of so much patriotism ..."


Mom/Joan/Sœur Smith    


                                                                                                          July 15, 2012
Dear Family & Friends,

George and I had not even completely gotten used to the idea that we were living in Kinshasa, Africa and now we are even more astounded to find ourselves 2,500 miles away, in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Today's blog will cover just the trip TO the Kinshasa airport, our time AT the airport & arrival in Johannesburg.

A week ago today, we flew out and I was stunned that as far as the eye could see, there was NO end to the small, closely built one or two room dwellings that house the 10-14 million people of Kinshasa.  I've flown over many cities through the years that had huge populations of people, but they were primarily grouped in high-rise buildings and not so extensively spread out.

Speaking of flying, my family has long been amazed at how often I've randomly run across people I knew in airports.. Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Fairbanks, Seattle, Orlando, and of course, Salt Lake City (I think other places, too)  Another miraculous incident was in a department store in Hong Kong (1970), when someone called me by name & I turned to see a guy I'd grown up with in St. Augustine, Florida.  Well, now we have an additional story to add to the list... As we waited in the Kinshasa VIP lounge (an extra $70, but worth every penny), I saw a Muslim woman come to the plate glass window to use her cell phone.  I said "George I think I know that woman."  He spent a couple minutes trying to tell me that, of course I DIDN'T know her and sternly admonishing me not to create an embarrassing scene by going up to her.  Those who know me well, will predict the next part.  As I walked up to her, she saw me, but continued talking on the phone and showed no visible recognition.  Frankly, that made my faith waver a little, but I stood my ground.  When she got off, I said, "Do you own a dress shop and have a sister who has a beauty salon?"  She immediately remembered me and the fact that she had even written down her sister's salon address for me a couple months ago. We enjoyed some fun conversation for several minutes and she explained to me that she was bound for Lebanon and then Dubai for Ramadan.  We each exchanged contact information, (I gave her mine on a "Pass Along Card") and took a picture of her for the blog.

Another interesting part of our wait in the lounge was the fact that on two separate occasions, two "actual" VIPs came to the secure door and were let in with some snap-to-attention salutes & obvious deference.  We'd earlier been passed on the road by an entourage of vehicles with flashing lights and armed guards, so at least one of these men must have been part of that.  The first man was well-dressed and dignified looking.  He came and joined a small group who were sitting adjacent to us. One of the women had the most beautiful "dressy" Congolese dress I've yet seen... an exquisite deep fuchsia silk gown with expensive gold trim and beautiful rings & jewelry... obviously a very expensive ensemble from head to toe.  The second man, frankly, looked more like a pimp, but we assume they were either government or military leaders.  I knew better than to take a picture of either of those, but at one point, I started to take a picture of some unmarked planes outside on the tarmac and a very large man in uniform sitting a couple feet across the lounge table from us quickly gestured and said, "No pictures! No pictures!"... so I took the pictures later when we were in our plane taxiing by them.  It was fun, as we were boarding our South Africa Airlines flight (which I wrongfully accused last week of changing their name for PR reasons) to have a male attendant recognize my badge, smile and say, "Hello, Sister Smith!" I never had the chance to ask him which ward he belonged to in Johannesburg.  Within a short time after take-off, we were served our drinks and soon after that, a delicious hot meal.  Not as good as the Brussels Airlines on our way to Kinshasa 5 months ago, but almost!  Does anyone know why our American airlines are going bankrupt & can hardly survive, much less serve hot meals?

When we arrived at the beautiful, clean and modern Johannesburg airport, we knew we were in a different world.  We wended our way to the line for the thirty or so passport windows (Kinshasa has two) and while I was showing my passport to the young woman behind the glass, I noticed that she said something to the worker in the next cubicle.  I have gotten used to Lingala in Kinshasa (with some occasional Swahili from the missionaries who come to us from Lubumbashi) and I knew this sounded different, so Iasked her, "What language were you speaking just now?"  She told me it was Sutu.  It was interesting to hear another African language.  What followed is a quick insightful look at one of the cultural differences in Africa... As I fumbled to get my passport and yellow fever card back into the passport holder, I apologized for holding up the line of people waiting.  She said, in the kindest and most sincere tone, "Do not worry.  It is OK.  They will understand and they will not mind, because you are old."  So, besides my passport check, I also had a "reality check"!

After this, we trekked to the place where you walk through doors to the public area, which is filled with dozens of people behind a railing holding identification signs. As there were so many people, we weren't surprised not to spot one for us right away.  But, after walking from one end of the semi-circle to the other more than once, we began to be concerned.  We knew that Elder & Sister Callahan had a ward function to attend that night and that they would be meeting us at our apartment after their driver picked us up.  When an hour had passed, we were really worried.  We had no local numbers to call from a land line and our two cell phones couldn't make local calls OR call back to Kinshasa to get the local contact information .  What would YOU do?  After 1 1/2 hrs of standing by ourselves, a very kindly airport employee came up to us with a sad expression and said, "You have been here a VERY long time.  I want to help you.  What can I do to help you?"  We explained our situation and asked her if there was a place we could purchase a SIM card to enable us to call our Mission President in Kinshasa.  She quickly said that there was one nearby & she would take us there.  Long story, short: Despite the efforts of a friendly South African fellow customer to help overcome the deficiencies of a trainee in the store, the SIM card idea didn't work.  I had left George back at our lonely post in case someone came and, as I stood in the store, wondering what we could possibly do now, I said a silent prayer... "Heavenly Father, we know that thou dost expect thy children to do ALL that they CAN do for themselves and thou wilt do the rest when it is needed.  We have tried to do all in our power and we need thy help now."  Within a moment, as I stood in the store, I heard a tapping on the store glass behind me and knew before turning that the prayer had been answered.  There was George with Elder & Sister Callahan (who are completely mortal beings, though they looked like angels at that moment).  When they had arrived at our apartment earlier and found us not there, they checked with the driver and found out that the secretary had somehow neglected to let him know of our new flight day & time.  They jumped in their car, and drove the 45 minutes to the airport, praying that we had not done something which would keep them from finding us.  Although we had been on our feet for 2 1/2 hrs, our prayers were answered with a happy ending. 

Needless to say, they felt very bad about the misunderstanding and to be honest, we WERE absolutely exhausted, but we were fascinated with the things which they told us about living in So. Africa as we drove back to our apartment. We were also frightened to death more than once as Elder Callahan drove on the "wrong side" of the road at speeds exceeding 40 mph!! (which is faster than we have been able to go for the past five months.)

I'm ending the blog today with a slightly out of focus sunrise picture taken the next morning from our window.  Somehow it seems to symbolize a certain blurriness of mind which I felt, but also the anticipation of an exciting new day in a new country.  The rest of our experiences will have to be separate, sequential blog entries because there have been FAR too many new and interesting things to cover in one part.  For example, I ended up taking over 300 pictures JUST on our trip to Soweto and Nelson Mandela's former and current homes on Thursday.  Obviously, the number of pictures actually posted will be far fewer, but it's still a lot of material.  

I will close by saying that living in the DR Congo, which has been devastated by wars, we are very aware of groups which are always on the verge of another war. Though different in specifics from those in the Congo, South Africa has many challenges similar to Congo & other places in the world today, because the forces for good are being threatened by forces which would change & destroy the country.  As strong as So. Africa seems, it is very vulnerable to those negative and even evil forces.  As is always the case... all it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.  But, today, we drove with Elder & Sister Curtis to attend Church in Pretoria, the capital of So. Africa.  Elder Curtis is the Executive Secretary to Elder Renlund (the Area Seventy for the 13 countries in the S.E. Africa area) and was formerly an orthodontist in Salt Lake City.  We enjoyed the 3-hr block of meetings, spoken in various forms of "English" (Afrikaan, Zulu & Sutu accents) and loved meeting the members of that ward. It was an inspiration to hear the humble and sincere talks in Sacrament Mtg, as well as the perfectly given lessons, comments & testimonies in the other meetings.  The Curtis's invited us to join the Larsens (Church Council-legal) & the Greens (Church Auditing) for dinner at their apartment. As we all discussed the history of the countries in Africa and the progress of the Church, it was apparent that those forces for good and evil are becoming more defined and that there are many amazing stories of local African people finding a way to rise above their circumstances and become strong and faithful members and citizens of their communities.  We, in the U.S. should not be guilty of thinking that we have the corner on spirituality and gospel understanding.  It is found in the far corners of God's vineyard and, even though we and many others like us are trying to bless the continent of Africa, it seems equally true that they are blessing us.


Mom/Joan/Sœur Smith

                                                                                                                                        July 22, 2012
 Dear Family & Friends, (this letter was begun on Saturday & completed on Sunday night)

We have arrived home safe and mostly sound (if you don't count our minds).  The astounding thing is that, although it took only four hours to travel the 2,500 miles from Johannesburg, South Africa to Kinshasa, DR Congo (we touched down at exactly 12:00 Noon, waited one hour for the necessary "formalities" to be taken care of before our luggage could be turned over to us), the drive home that SHOULD take only 45 minutes from the airport to Kinshasa... took FIVE hours on the road! There was one full hour when we did not move an inch.  The Chinese are doing the construction of the road and have taken out the middle two lanes of what will be six lanes of highway.  In addition, they often just completely close down this VERY bad and busy highway for hours at a time in the middle of the day.  Heaven forbid that they would consider working on partial segments or at night.  As a result, we literally had.. at times.. cars and large trucks trying to "create" six lanes instead of the supposed two.. and we all competed with thousands of pedestrians walking on both sides, in the middle, across and between the vehicles.  That can make for some very stressful moments, but Thierry drove with his usual good sense of humor & patience, which helped.   I had worried about leaving the relative "paradise" of life in Jo'burg, as they call it, and wondered if it would be hard to return to the crazy world of Kinshasa.  But, the Lord took care of that... after five hours on that highway, Kinshasa was a welcome sight.

In fact, I have returned with an increased appreciation and admiration for Africans in general and DR Congo Africans in particular.  When you think about the reports that rank the poverty of the DRC as 187th out of 187 countries, it is more and more impressive to me to see how resilient and resourceful and patient the people are. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland expressed this and other attributes in a beautiful, heartfelt way with the 3rd part of his series on "Emerging With Faith in Africa"

Of course, the trip to Johannesburg was wonderful.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has twenty American couples who work in the Africa Southeast Area office and another ten couples who serve in the temple, which is on the same grounds.  They all took us under their wing in countless ways, making us feel truly welcome and even part of the "family".  We enjoyed so many fun activities with them, some of which will show up on the blog.  For those of you who enjoy reading, this letter and the blog could easily take up more time than you have to spare.  In one day of touring alone I took over 300 pictures, so editing it down was hard.

Several people have emailed to ask how the root canal went.  In short, President Jameson's recommendation was excellent.  Dr. Raheema Suliman was a really nice, capable and professional dentist.  We ended up having some very interesting discussions related to beliefs of Latter Day Saints and Muslims.  I asked her if it wasn't getting close to Ramadan and she confirmed that it would begin on July 21.  We discussed the mutual belief in fasting, which Muslims do from dawn to sunset during Ramadan.  I told her about our abstaining from food & water through two meals (24 hrs) on the first Sunday of every month.  She taught me how to say "Ramadan Mubarak", which means "Ramadan blessings to you", and she was impressed that I recognized the second word and related it to Hosni Mubarak (I guess most folks in Africa assume Americans know nothing about this continent... and they are close to right.)  

On the day I got my crown, a woman wearing a full burka came into the office with her little boy.  The airport in Jo'burg was the first time I had ever witnessed this.  It was fascinating to me that night to observe the husband, nicely attired in western clothes, being followed by his wife.  Since then, there have been many other opportunities, because there is a very large Muslim population here.  Anyway, I got a cute picture of the little boy and just wish I'd asked her to be in the picture with him.  She told me his name and how old he was.  As we spoke, I looked her straight in the eyes & tried to imagine what it is like to live in such subjection.  I couldn't.

The Johannesburg temple is beautiful and soaring, as all temples are.  There is extensive use of stone, which is common in the area, for the exterior and, although it is a very small temple, the design makes it appear quite large.  We were very grateful for the timing of our visit, because we were able to attend a session before the temple closed for the next nine weeks to put a new roof on.

We had some great "tour guides" who volunteered to take us around various sites.  Our first day (right after the initial dentist visit) we were with Thoba Karl-Halla,  a woman who grew up in Soweto and who knows her Johannesburg history like the back of her hand.  Many of the explanations on the blog pictures came from her.  We were blessed to be together for eight hours of learning from her depth of knowledge and experience...  Thoba Karl-Halla's Story

Sue Potgieter works in the Area Finance office and deals with George by email on a daily basis.  They had become great online business friends, so we were delighted to accept her offer to show us around on our second day.  She took us to a great outside African market, where she tried to back me up in convincing George that I really DID need to buy just ONE more thing... a really beautiful necklace.  Unfortunately, HE had the wallet.  She also introduced us to the best food this side of heaven... Mike's Kitchen, where we took her for lunch.

One night, we were invited to join most of the Area Office couples for a surprise birthday party (again, at Mike's Kitchen), where we met Dominic Tshabalala.  What a wonderful privilege it was to get to know him, even for a bit.   I wasn't quick enough to get a film of the song & dance he did with Thoba that night just before the dinner, but the next week, he and his wife and their five children entertained us all, dressed in African clothing and singing at the all-couples Family Home Evening. 
We didn't even know his story then, but already could tell that he was a very special person.  After the dinner, we stood outside talking with him and his wife and learned even more of his character as he built her up with praise.  What woman doesn't love that!  

Tonight, I am utterly exhausted, not having recovered from Friday's flight and the far-worse drive home.  Today, we went directly from Church to Chantal & Eric Van Hauvermat's for a wonderful French meal called "Raclette", which is both a cheese and a type of dinner.  All I can say is, it will be worth the price to pay for that in the imported cheese section at Costco if you can get it!  Half of the 13 people there spoke French so we had a lot of translating or trying to communicate with our tiny French & their tiny English, but it was fun.  The uneven number at dinner is because Chantal's & Eric are on a Church construction assignment, not a mission... so her mom accompanied them from Geneva.  One fun fact that we discussed will be of interest to my lawyer son-in-law... the word for "lawyer" and the word for "avocado" are exactly the same... AVOCAT.  I bet someone out there can make that into a good lawyer joke!

In closing, I want to share this painting by Howard Lyon.  It is such a beautiful depiction of Christ.  
And, I love the words which accompany the picture on the artist's website.

“I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” – John 8:12
This simple passage of scripture defines much of what it means to be Christian.  To follow Christ means a life of compassion and service.  It does not mean that there will not be heartache or trials.  It does not mean we will not stumble and fall.  Hardship is part of life, but Christ, through His atonement will be there to clear the path back to the light, bringing hope to an imperfect people trying to be better.



Mom/Joan/Sœur Smith
                                                                                                                                     August 1, 2012
Dear Friends & Family,

Well, the blog for Johannesburg II is ready to be posted and it looks as if there will have to be a Johannesburg III.  A friend suggested I use fewer pictures, but I figure that those who aren't interested won't look at it anyway and those who are interested will enjoy it.

Today is a DRC national holiday, "Parent's Day".   Partially because of that and partially because of the threat of planned demonstrations turning into unplanned rioting, we were given the day off. Still, George joined two of the other men to drive to our Kasa Vubu ward chapel grounds to make wooden tables for the orphanage kids to use.  Last Saturday, we joined several couples and helpers to deliver the bunk beds the men had made and other wonderful things for these sweet children, who have so little.

As some of you know, the Catholics had announced that they would be marching today.  Surprisingly, the DR Congo is 95% Christian and, by far, the largest majority of that number are Catholic. They have been vehemently & vocally against the current president and supportive of the man he has kept in jail for some time.  In retaliation, he banned them from access to the very large stadium they'd previously used and denied them the right to march, among other harassment techniques.  Just for them to get permission to march today was a big step. They convened at several of the church locations around Kinshasa and then marched separately to Trente Juin Boulevard, after which each group marched down the boulevard, separately and carefully spaced, to the Plaza just out front. Shortly after leaving this morning, George called me to say that they had seen a couple hundred people blocking four lanes of traffic ahead, along with several trucks full of riot-gear clad police. But, they took a detour and had no trouble.  And, apparently, neither did the marchers.  By the time they all got down here, their numbers were probably about 2,000.  Each group, some with 200 or more, was headed by priests dressed in white with one carrying a cross or long stick with a white flag.  Behind the priests were the banner carriers (I was never in the right position to read them).  Following them were the men and women, singing different songs and waving palm fronds or holding small signs.  After circling the Plaza and passing below me, they marched unto the grounds of St. Anne's church next door and had a short, relatively quiet rally, after which they all dispersed in the four or five directions that would take them home.  It was all surprisingly and happily peaceful.  

There has been no small degree of international political pressure exerted on this country to improve it's record on human rights with carrot/stick approaches in regards to a big conference of African Francophone countries due to take place here in a month or two.  Perhaps this is why, using worldly logic, the march was allowed.  But, I believe that it is just one of many "little miracles" that God,  in seemingly natural ways, is bringing to pass conditions so that His children in Africa can be free and prepared for all of His blessings. 
Today, many of the residents of Kinshasa, DR Congo, Africa successfully claimed their God-given, inalienable right to assemble peacefully and express themselves publicly.  It took no small measure of bravery for them to do that.  Also, today, after a previous failed attempt, I began again the process of applying for my absentee ballot... which, since there is no viable mail system here, will have to be sent to me electronically so that I can print it out and then hand-carry it to the American Embassy.  This does not take bravery on my part, just persistence and determination.  No American reading this message will have to be courageous and few will have to go through much difficulty to be registered and to vote in the upcoming election.  All that is required is to be an informed citizen and then exercise the wonderful right and freedom to vote, without fear or hindrance, when the time comes.  I hope ALL of us will participate in and appreciate that privilege.

As I close this letter and prepare to go to bed, my daughter, Joanne, is waking up in Hawaii on her special day.  In a few hours, about the time that I wake up, she will be.. as she loves to say... "Maui-ed".  Perhaps she won't burst into song, like Barbra Streisand in "Hello Dolly!" singing "Sadie, Sadie, married lady" (after all, her name isn't Sadie) but I bet her heart will be singing and I hope the family and I will soon be seeing pictures of Mr. and Mrs. Jeremy Dailami.  We love you, Joanne! <3


Mom/ Joan/ Sister Smith    
                                                                                                                                     August 11, 2012
Dear Family & Friends,

Before you read this letter, please take the time to open the attachment "Congo Bongo", which is sent out monthly by the USAID government organization.  The opening article does a good job of explaining the benefits of blogging, especially for those of us who are far from home.  As they point out, blogs make it possible to keep family and friends up to date with frequent information and allows time to correspond with individuals, as able . You can also read further and learn how to properly bleach/wash fruits and vegetables.  Hopefully YOU don't have to do that, but we do here.  As our Mission President says, "Rule #1... Nothing is easy in the Congo"!  So, here was my answer yesterday to some who had written to ask what happened to the letter & blog....

"You just wouldn't believe how hard it's been to get the blog up... not just the fact that we have made a couple outside-the-office trips, and have had old couples departing and new couples arriving, and I was a full day sick... but the pictures for the blog (over 100), which took overnight to upload, were accidentally deleted three times!!!  When you are uploading them into a "draft" blog, this can happen easily until you actually are ready to hit the "publish" button.  Somehow, I have managed not to slit my wrists over this frustration.  It will go up in the next two days.

In the past week, we've had a farewell dinner at the Jamesons for those leaving; had dinner with the Binghams (who left Wednesday); drove the dreaded Masina highway (Lumumba Boulevard) three times... (to deliver bunkbeds, etc to the orphanage, to attend a well "closing ceremony with the Binghams, to greet the Moons at the airport) had the Staggs (they are leaving next week) for dinner; and last night invited the new couple (Moons) for dinner.  Tonight (Friday), it's over to the Jamesons again for dinner with all the couples.  I'm making carrot/raisin salad, which I hope will not be too popular, so we will have some left over to bring home. Sunday, we drive the Masina highway to go greet the new PEF Couple (the Robinsons).  BTW, w

hen I was sick with a stomach bug, we'd already had such a full and emotionally/physically tiring week that I slept 30 hours out of 48!" 

Speaking of difficulties makes me think of a wonderful letter received from my son, Jim, this week.  I promised all of you from the start that our letters and the blog were not going to be sugar-coated and so that has sometimes meant admitting that a mission, especially in place like the Congo, brings some real challenges.  While it is true that we have had some difficult times, they really seem petty and do not compare with those who have come before us in Africa and even some who are even here now.  Here is what he wrote that seems to so aptly apply:

"I heard a very interesting testimony at church today.  It was from a guy who lives next door.... He said that he was so thankful for the experiences of his mission.  He mentioned that so many talk of the great time they had on their mission.  He said that for him, the mission was very hard, but that he had been given many rewards for his hard work and faithfulness.  He said that as he sees people going through trials, he secretly rejoices because he knows that when they overcome obstacles and accomplish those difficult things, the Lord will bless them so much with joy and happiness.  He compared it to the Sons of Mosiah and Alma the Younger who saw a lot of suffering, prison and all kinds of abuse on their missions but when they got back together rejoiced with one another."   

Personally, I have always loved that passage in the Book of Mormon that Jim is talking about, which describes the joyful reunion, after 14 years of separation, of Alma and his friends (Alma 17:2)  It helps me remember that any sacrifice, trial or tribulation gives us an opportunity to grow closer to God and then is ultimately swallowed up in the blessings of pure happiness we receive from a loving Heavenly Father.  Another application of that scripture applies in the following segment, because I look forward to a joyful reunion some day with these people...

For several days now, I have fought back tears (not always successfully) as this day approached... knowing that a Senior Couple who I love dearly would be completing their mission and returning to their home in Eureka, California.  Elder (Bob) and Sister (Judy) Bingham will be sorely missed by countless people whose lives they touched, including me. But, the people with the most significant reasons to be grateful to them are some who are unaware... the young, the newly born and the yet unborn children who will have no idea how their lives improved because of this wonderful couple. These children will live longer and healthier lives because of the wells dug, the springs captured, the latrines built, the hundreds of wheelchairs delivered and the neo-natal resuscitation training (as well as supplies given) to doctors and nurses, flown in by the Church from all over our large mission.  God Speed Elder & Sister Bingham... Au Revoir!

My former work-place "adopted daughter", Shelsea Stone, gave lots of praise and encouragement last week about my faithfulness in sharing our mission.  So, here I am just posting it a week late!  After promising last week to post the pictures from our trip to the orphanage on the blog this week, there were just too many fun pictures of our final days in Johannesburg still left over to put up.   It's like Lewis Carroll said in Alice in Wonderland, "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get!" But, next week the precious children of the orphanage will be posted (w/ fun video) for you to see, for sure!    
And, speaking of Johannesburg, our friend Sue emailed us yesterday to tell us that it was actually SNOWING there!  She is 56 yrs old and the last time she saw snow in Jo'burg was 20 yrs ago.  She says that all the people in the Area Office, wearing their short sleeve shirts and sandals, went out to have snow fights.  For many of the younger ones, it was the first time in their lives to see snow.   (Just a reminder for those of you who are currently surviving a record-breaking hot summer and are confused by this report... it is now "dry season" or the equivalent of winter below the Equator)

Correction:  I always try to be accurate in what I write and correct inaccuracies when needed.  The Catholic marches of August 1 were NOT specifically against the current DRC president, but against the government as a whole, especially in regards to the increasing situation in the conflict with Rwanda in the eastern regions.  These people have suffered so much from many years of war and they are afraid that not enough is being done to oust the Rwandans who are trying to take land full of gold, diamonds & minerals and gain a foothold in the eastern part of the country.  I also mistakenly thought that the 1,500 or more people that I saw (in marching groups of 200-300) were the sum total.  Actually, there were SEVERAL groups as big and bigger which met all over Kinshasa and marched to different places.  So the total number involved was significantly higher.  I haven't heard anything to indicate that it all brought any meaningful results.

On Sunday, we attended the Kimbanseke block of meetings with the Jamesons and then drove to the airport to meet up with the other couples so that we could all welcome the new Humanitarian Couple, the Moons.  As an example of something we see constantly, we watched a car driving on the wrong side of the middle barrier going 60mph.against four lanes of oncoming traffic which was also filled with jay-walking pedestrians.  We were amazed that he hit no one and he finally turned off about a mile ahead.  After seeing so many close calls in the past six months, I've often said to Elder Smith that I couldn't believe that we had never seen a serious accident.  But, one of our couples, who have been here even less time than George and me, have already had the horribly sad experience of seeing three separate car/pedestrian accidents which resulted in injuries and three deaths.  The first time it was a young boy and now they have seen another accident which killed a mother and her child. I am so sad for those loved ones who were left behind to grieve. And I am also so sad for our Senior Couple who had to witness such heart-wrenching tragedy. 

But, I am thankful for the knowledge that little children are innocent before God and shall inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, and that death is not the end of everything, but a passageway to a better life on the other side.  This knowledge is very comforting when something so senseless and sad happens to innocent humans because some people choose to use their agency to make terrible choices. Incidents like this bring many thoughts to our minds as we ponder our lives and how quickly life can end.  I spent the first 25 yrs of my life absolutely terrified of dying, probably because of so many "unknowns" as well as a concept of God as an angry and non-forgiving Judge.  I am so grateful for the comfort of knowing that He is my Heavenly Father and that His love for me is unconditional and NEVER ending.  Someone once wrote, "God loves you JUST the way you are.  But He refuses to leave you that way."  I am, so to speak, a "work in progress" and hope that I can live long enough to smooth out a lot more rough spots, but if not, I love the book mark that says, "FAITH includes TRUST and PATIENCE"... in other words, trust in His will and patience in His timing.


Mom/Joan/Sœur Smith
                                                                                                                                         August 19, 2012
Dear Family & Friends,

Putting the blog together about the orphanage has taken up all available time, so tonight I will simply relay something which happened this week.

George & I were standing outside, as we often do, just observing the busy scene below.  It never disappoints, as we see interesting scenes every time. All of a sudden, I became aware that a ragged Congolese woman was crawling from the far end of the large plaza on her hands and knees.  As we watched, she moved slowly and awkwardly across the entire length of the plaza.  Tears of sympathy began to form in my eyes and we both wondered aloud how she would get across the busy & fast moving traffic.  

When she arrived at the end, I thought of the man in the New Testament who was near the pool of Bethesda, but because he was too lame, he could never get into the pool.  Just then, two Congolese men in business suits who were crossing (there is no light) held up their hands to the fast approaching cars and made all traffic come to a stop so that she could cross.  This in itself, was a touching scene for us to witness, because every day we see dozens of terribly maimed or disabled people who seem to have to fend for themselves.   

I continued to watch her for awhile as she then waited for taxi transport, I thought  "How hard her life must be. How I wish I could help her somehow."  Then I thought, "I can't physically help her, but I can pray for her."  And, I prayed, "Dear Heavenly Father, please bless that woman with strength and comfort and continue to bless her with courage. And, Father, please bless others to be touched to help her."  

Just as I finished my prayer, I saw a neatly dressed woman in a Congolese skirt and red blouse walk over to her, very deliberately and from a distance.  And I saw her hand reach down toward the woman and something exchanged between them, presumably money.  Then the donor turned and walked down the street in the opposite direction.  I followed her with my eyes and thought, "You do not know it, but you obeyed a prompting to help that woman and, by so doing, you were an answer to prayer."  

I wonder... how often have we felt those promptings and acted upon them to bless others?  And, on the other hand, how often have we ignored those impulses to reach out and help someone?  Many times we have probably lost opportunities to bless and be blessed by simply not listening. I've also had some instances where I TRIED to ignore that gentle little nudge to do a good deed, only to find that the Spirit's "still, small voice" became quite intense and impossible to ignore.  That was when the Lord needed someone to help NOW, not "someday"!  Answering His call to serve someone has ALWAYS blessed me more than the person I helped and MUCH more than the time or effort that it took.  

Heavenly Father has promised us so much and all He asks is that we keep His commandments, which are designed to make us happy in this life and for eternity.  So, why do our choices so often take us away from the happiness that we all desire?  I am learning a lot about happiness from people who have very little else and I am thankful for the Savior's example of service and love so that I might be an instrument in His hands to bring them even more.


Mom/Joan/Sœur Smith
                                                                                                                                         April 28, 2013
Dear Family & Friends,
A month ago, I was filled with sincere intentions to work on and post a blog about our trip to Zongo Falls.  Instead, the days have gone by without any posting and the road to the bad place has received a whole lot of new paving material.  
There is a good excuse, sort of. After having initially injured my knees on an elliptical machine in February, I furthered the damage by trying to walk every afternoon.  After a couple weeks of that, they were so much worse that one morning I woke in a lot of pain and actually had to get help.  Went to a doctor... had to limp from the parking area to the entrance, which featured steps up AND a raised threshold that had to be gotten over. After a cursory exam, the doctor explained (in French) to Thierry that he wanted x-rays.  So, we drove to a tiny little place on a crowded side street and navigated ADDITIONAL stairs to get IN and then steps down and back up to get to the actual x-ray room.  Long story, short... the doctor later looked at the x-rays and gave a Rx for low doses of Ibuprofen (1 mg) & some codeine and said to see him in five days, which I did.  In all of this, not one word was offered to direct me in care of the knee.  About three weeks later I stayed home all weekend to try to rest what was becoming a chronically hurting situation. The next day, feeling better, I got dressed to go to the office and stepped off a curb, which required a stretch to get over a rain gully.  I heard some "popping" sounds and instantly went down in great pain. Well, after returning to that same clinic and seeing another doctor who wanted yet another set of x-rays (I'm told that this situation called for an MRI, but there ARE no MRIs in the DRC), nothing much changed.  Then, our Mission President emailed Dr. Hoffman, our Church Africa Southeast Area doctor in Jo'burg and he, thankfully, prescribed 600 mg and suggested I go to an Orthopedic Surgeon, which I did two days ago.  Looks like the worst might be that there was a small tear and certainly the ligament was stretched... pain level is about equal, either way.. but long term prognosis, with rehab, is much more positive.  So, playing volleyball when we get back to the USA might still be an option! :)
Today, we are home because they are showing the DVDs of General Conference sessions at the ward.  And, some may ask, why are you not going?  Well, because it is really distracting to watch the projected image of President Monson and others speaking French, not to mention the fact that we don't speak French anyway.  So, we will just go to lds.org and watch the downloaded sessions in English.
In the meantime, though, I can report some exciting news from my "Window on Kinshasa".  I will post pictures on the blog to prove these things.  The city of Kinshasa can now boast of not one, or two or even three... but FOUR little advertisement-with-music trucks.  They drive up & down Trente Juin Blvd. and around the Plaza circle for hours on end with their music playing loudly.  We think they're cute. 
A favorite pastime on the Plaza is having individual or family pictures taken.  Several  photographers are always present and the closest I've ever seen to a real fight here was a couple times when some rogue photographers apparently threatened to intrude on their territory. But, just a lot of high-volume yelling, much hand waving and finger pointing, as well as a few pushes & shoves.  Today, I've already seen photos being taken of one mature man in what appeared to be a turquoise and black animal print jacket, another younger man being video-taped as he performed a Michael Jackson dance routine, and a couple families with men wearing nice coats & ties and the women in beautiful dresses, along with their children who were little miniatures of themselves.  Right now, there is a joyful wedding party down there.  The bride, in her lovely white satin dress and the groom in a dashing white tuxedo.  Darling little children, also in white, as flower girls and ring bearer.  The dark skin of all parties making the white even more stunning.  Happy sight~
We are anxious to see if we get to see a repeat performance of members of a church who have come to the Plaza a couple times lately. They form a large circle of adults and children, doing a simple dance step, singing with and circling the amplified group of singer-musicians and drummers. They've done this for as long as thirty minutes prior to a short sermon at the end.  The lyrics are simple.... "Hallelujah"... and the song repeats in my head for days after.
As for the title of this letter, the trip to Zongo Falls was a rough one.. nine hours of driving total.. and much of it on 4-wheel drive roads. Despite many hills and sharp curves, most drivers drove fast and took many risks.  They often didn't seem to care which side of the line they were on, which meant that, if you were approaching a hill or curve, your heart was in your throat hoping that there was not someone in your lane coming from the opposite side.  One amazing incident was when there was a slow-moving truck, filled with some heavy load, that was causing a bit of back up behind him.  Another vehicle with a couple young men hanging outside, holding onto the roof, was between us and the slow mover.  As we approached a sharp curve, they wanted to pass and came out into the approaching traffic lane.  The truck driver motioned his hand to "go ahead and come around"... Now, in America, this might happen if the first vehicle had a VIEW of approaching traffic... but this man did NOT!  We were now "collateral damage" if there HAD been a head-on collision. But, there wasn't.. and I lived another day with no harm, other than added shots of adrenalin to my already chronically-pounding heart. And, by the way, we discovered why many of the trucks had clumps of green foliage stuck in various parts of their hoods or bumpers. That is because, IF (I should say, WHEN) they break down, they put those in the road ahead of the curve or hill to warn approaching traffic.  So, driving you see lots of clumps of stuff on the road all down & back.  But, you only worry about the ones that are green!
A tragic part of the trip was the fiery scene in the road before us on the way down... For whatever reason (failed brakes?  inattention?) a large truck had hit head-on into another truck filled with charcoal.  At least one other truck was involved as well.  As I've said before, ANY vehicle of transportation... taxis, buses and products... is usually carrying extra passengers on the side or on top of the vehicle. So, besides the driver and passengers of the vehicles, there were likely other casualties.  It was an horrendous crash and, as we narrowly and carefully passed it, we could feel the intense heat of the fire.  This road is the ONLY road between the shipping port of Matadi and Kinshasa, so it is FULL of large trucks.  Those Kinshasa-bound trucks and other vehicles in the northbound lane were stopped up for miles and miles. We hoped it would clear by the time we returned.  On the way back, about six hours later, the crash was still in the same spot and still burning, but apparently the fire was now low enough to allow all those large trucks to go through.
Another feature of the trip was going through the road blocks.  Prior to leaving our apartment compound, Mac Coleman (who would be returning in a couple days to Houston after serving here to "train" DRC soldiers for the US State Dept.) pulled out two large color copies of an official authorization and taped them to the passenger side of the two vehicles we were taking.  This simple act allowed us to get through those road blocks quickly and WITHOUT paying a fee (see: Bribe)
When we finally arrived at Zongo Falls, it was as if we had stepped into a different world.  The pictures on the blog won't do it total justice, but it was clean, neat, organized, lovely and everything that we HAVEN'T experienced in our daily life in Kinshasa.  After we had gathered ourselves and ordered our lunch at the very nice restaurant (for when we returned) we began the trek to reach the spot where we could see the falls.  After that, we hiked even further down and around to a closer spot.  We were still in the rainy season, which is the best time to go, so the falls were very powerful and beautiful.  They are not as wide as Niagara nor as tall as Yosemite, but were well worth the difficult trip to get to them.  Some short video might also be able to be posted on the blog.. which isn't ready.
It is time to get ready to watch General Conference on our lap top.  All four of the couples on our wireless connection decided to pay the for increased bandwidth, so this year, we can actually WATCH it, as opposed to only LISTENING to last April and October Conference. I look forward to seeing and hearing our wonderful Church leaders, both men and women... and I know that their inspired words will answer many questions and provide inspiration, direction and guidance for my life.  I am so thankful for that blessing.
With love,
Mom/Joan/Sister Smith
                                                                                                                   June 30, 2013
Dear Family & Friends,

It's been so long since the last letter &/or blog entry and so much has happened, it is very difficult to know where to start.  So, rather than try to catch up "in one fell swoop", I'll just share a few random things.  By the way, where in the world DO we Americans get all these crazy phrases? (In this case, Shakespeare either coined the phrase himself or gave it circulation in Macbeth). But, we don't even think about what we are saying most of the time when we use idiomatic phrases... UNTIL we are in a foreign country and we say something like,  "He's a bit under the weather" and see the blank look on the face of the person to whom we are speaking.

The biggest event of this week is undoubtedly the departure of our Mission President and his wife, President and Sister Jameson and the arrival of our new Mission President, President W. Bryce Cook and his wife, Karol.  The Jamesons have served faithfully and worked hard. Even though their personalities are almost polar opposites, they've been a wonderful example of unity and support to each other and Christ-like leadership for the 140 young missionaries and four Senior Couples.  He is as patient as Job and she is as fiesty as Peter.  I tried to express my appreciation to them in a letter yesterday, but still didn't do justice to the feelings in my heart.  Today, they spoke in Sacrament Meeting, as did the Cooks.  Afterward, I realized we'd never had a picture taken just with the Jamesons, but George had wandered off, so I got just the three of us, which I'll post on the blog.  I shed many tears as the choir sang the closing hymn... "God Be With You Till We Meet Again" (en Francais of course).  There were many others crying, as well, because the Jamesons have touched so many lives for good.  They will be missed!  

Of course, saying goodbye to people whom you will have a chance to see back in America is a lot different than leaving behind people you love in Africa, whom you are unlikely to ever see again in this life.  I have already shed tears just THINKING about that situation ... and it's still six months in the future!  I'm so thankful for the Gospel of Jesus Christ which give us the comfort of knowing that, if we live worthy, we can share those bonds of love and friendship throughout eternity.  It is hard to fully comprehend the joy we will feel as we are reunited with loved ones from whom we've been separated by time, distance or death.

Speaking of Africa (hard not to do that), we often laugh about the things which would never happen at home (or even in most places in the world), but occur frequently here.  So, I've made a preliminary list of such things, ala Jeff Foxworthy, and will add to it in future letters.

You jump up and down with unrestrained squeals of delight because, after 1 1/2 yrs of trying to find a replacement for the much-needed and almost depleted double-sided tape, (used to attach magnets to board cards, for example), another missionary sister (who knows of the long struggle), holds up a brand new one and declares that she found it in a local store & bought for the office.
You walk into an old, worn-out and slightly dingy store you'd never even dream of frequenting in the USA and say, sincerely, "It's so nice to be in a REAL department store!"
You no longer have expectations of "personal space" in traffic and find yourself thinking about how polite Utah's I-15 drivers really are.
You only cringe a little at the sight of men hanging on by one hand as they ride outside of speeding, beat-up taxi vans.
You WALK down streets to do shopping which none of the men in your family back home would even dare DRIVE through.

You dream of the day that your noisy, bumpy, 4-wheel drive, too-high-to-step-into Toyota diesel truck will be replaced by your smooth driving, quiet, low chassis, comfy Prius.

You don't attend a Devotional because you do not question the "meant-to-be-a-joke" message from President Jameson informing you that a Church leader, whose visit has been expected, will be arriving in Kinshasa on the next day and will speak at a Devotional... in GERMAN... translated into LINGALA!

You have no trouble spelling or pronouncing African names loaded with consonants.  You can differentiate between cities like Kingasani and Kisangani or surnames like Kambongo, Kabangu, Kabambi, Kimbabwa (with 140 young missionaries, 55 of last names begin with "K" and about 1/2 of the rest with "M").  You can also rattle off the very long Malagasy names like Fantenantenasoa or Razifindrianoasola. Perhaps all of this mental exercise has thwarted the onset of Alzheimer's, (tho' some would probably argue that)  But, speaking of aging..

Sister Jameson gave me a great compliment today when I mentioned my age, but my classmate from K-12, Bunny George, brought me back down to reality when she sent this hilarious YouTube parody..  (If you can't hear all the lyrics, let me know and I'll send them to you) "Baby Boomers" and above will appreciate it most.  Enjoy!  www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzSaoN2LdfU 

Meanwhile, today is the biggest national holiday for Congolese... Trente Juin (30th of June) to commemorate the day they gained independence from the Belge.  Last year there was great concern about anti-government demonstrations.  This year, there were additional riot-geared police on hand to serve as intimidation and response, but no hint of trouble.  The Chinese (who built the Plaza) have spent weeks trying to fix the several fountains and finally got them working again (not without at least one night in which they"fixed" them so well that they flooded everything).  But, the brand-new entrance to our apartment building, which took over two years to build, has now been torn up for installation of pop-up spikes to make this building (which houses US AID on the first three floors) a harder target for terrorists.. our government trying to prevent another Benghazi.  

And, speaking of our government, on Thursday, AMERICA'S Independence Day, all the Americans have been dis-invited to the US Embassy's 4th of July picnic, which was so much fun last year.  The Embassy, instead, claims that the guest list was cut due to "budget shortages" and is inviting only local business & government people.  So, the one chance that we'd all have to connect with other Americans in Kinshasa is axed. Our tax dollars at work!

We had an interesting evening last week, which I hope to post pictures from on the blog... When I took George for a belated birthday dinner to the Memling, which is the nicest hotel in Kinshasa, a couple weeks ago, we saw a nice pamphlet describing an upcoming event to celebrate their 75th anniversary.  It was called "Fete de Congo" and was to feature Congolese food & dance.  Another Senior Couple, the Gates, said they wanted to go with us as well as ten Americans who were coming to Kinshasa.  Three of them were LDS administrators for an adoption agency in Utah & the remainder were adoptive parents coming with them.  George & I went to the Memling and purchased $700 worth of tickets, giving the first two to the Gates.  Later, when a raffle drawing was held, they ended up winning a two-night stay w/ breakfast in the Junior Suite at the Memling.  
When we all arrived there at 7pm, we found that the first hour was for browsing the displays of African fabric & wares while dignified waiters & waitresses walked quietly among us with trays of varied drinks.  I knew from glancing at the signs where the drinks were being prepared that some were "sans alcohol". When we were approached, one of the drinks looked like coconut milk, so I pointed to it and asked the waiter (THREE times) "Sans alcohol?" To each inquiry, he nodded.  So, I took the innocent-looking white one and began drinking it.  It didn't taste terribly GOOD, but it wasn't BAD..mostly just really DIFFERENT. Knowing that it most certainly was NOT coconut milk and after downing 1/2 of it, I tried to query another waiter to find out what it was... The man kept repeating something I couldn't initially understand... until finally I realized that he was saying "Palm Wine".  At about that same time, I began to be aware that my head felt "buzzy" and the ends of my fingers were starting to tingle.  I was also giggling just a bit. For those who are worried, I didn't finish the drink.

Also, we were treated to a great double fashion show... First we had a series of "mature" Congolese who were full of personality and fun. Then, we had some models who could have walked in the finest shows in Paris or NYC.  Tall, thin, regal and poised.... wearing incrediblly beautiful long Congolese dresses from Vlisco (see: most expensive shop in the city) gowns.  I've been in that place a couple times and found one dress for over $400 and another over $900.  Anyway, they were gorgeous & I'm hoping some of Sister Gates videos can be posted on the next blog (my camcorder went dead).  I also know that she got a good little video of what happened when, at the end of the dance show, one of the wild African woman dancers came straight to George and had him go up to dance with her... and YES, for those who know George, you are probably saying, "I will have to SEE it to believe it!"  For someone who DOESN'T dance, he did a good imitation.

Finally, we also had a Congolese buffet that featured no fewer than FIFTY dishes from which to choose.  We were leading all the others at our table and trying to pick out things that didn't look absolutely disgusting.  We would ask the servers behind the table... "What is this?" and they would answer "en Francais" ... Porc, Poisson, Boeuf.  I was able to identify one of the hot sauces that is mad w/ Peri-Peri pepper and warned the others. But, at one point in the buffet line, one of the American men, Rusty, came up to us and said, "Whaddevah yauw do, dode ead da Mbtamba.  I cand fel by dongue!"  

However, that was not the last of the surprises that night.  There was one offering in the buffet line that stood out from the others... it was not the usual "goulash" of meat & "unidentifiable stuff" mixed together in unappetizing bowls.  We were all sure it was pulled pork with a little barbecue sauce and we heaped our plates with large servings and ate heartily, avoiding the dishes with caterpillars in the mix, etc. Later, after the dinner was over, we found out we'd eaten MONKEY!  I can honestly say that it did NOT taste like chicken.  Guess we will have some bragging rights when we get home.

Ending on the same subject which began this letter... At the last of today's Sacrament Meeting, our Bishop and fellow Mission Office worker, Aimé Ngoy, gave a little "farewell" to the Jamesons in which he recounted a bit of his early life.  How, as a baby, his father abandoned the family and his mother didn't want him.  Seemingly a very sad beginning.  But, his Uncle, who was a Church member, took him in as one of his own and raised him.  As a result of that, he grew up in an environment of faith.  His Uncle saved to be able to send him to college and when he took his first test, he failed it miserably.  But, it caused him to seriously consider the path he wanted to take.  Long story, short.. he began the study of law and ended up becoming a Magistrate.  Then, he was asked to accept an advancement in assignment to go to the eastern part of Congo.  It was far too dangerous an area to take his family and, after praying about it, he decided that he did not want to be separated from his wife & daughter and he declined.  He remained a Judge, but it took him out of the career path.  He ended up working as a driver for the Mission President at that time and continued in that lowly position when the Jamesons came.  Recently, the Mission Office was authorized to add another employee and he was hired for the position of Office Assistant, for which he is wonderfully qualified.  He bore a beautiful, heart-felt testimony of God's love and His plan for us, if we will listen to His voice.

The moral of his story is that each of those supposed "set backs" actually proved to be great blessings to him... something for us all to ponder as we face life's challenges and inevitably have moments of supposed "failure".  They COULD be critical turning points to put us on a path that will bless our lives.

The blog is not ready.. but I'll try to get it out soon. 


Mom/Joan/ Sœur Smith
P.S.  For those who have been to, or heard me speak of, "Thieve's Market" (Elder Bingham's nickname for a large "Marché" that has a hundred booths with vendors selling thousands of all kinds of African things), I found out today that when the Gates & Moons went there yesterday, some of the vendors asked, "Where is Sœur Smeeth".  This makes me think that my self-proclaimed bargaining talent may not be as good as I previously believed.  Of course, my reputation MAY have been tainted by the fact that I recently bargained a guy down to $2.50 on one little cloth doll.  Then, instead of bargaining again for the 2nd doll (because others were finished and waiting for me), I just quickly said, "I'll take TWO for $5".  Then, I thought, "I really want THREE, but I don't have time to bargain" so I picked up the 3rd doll and said, "OK...how about three for $12?"  I saw his face twitch just a LITTLE and his eyes slightly dilate, but he kept his composure & calmly answered, "Oui."  Just then, Aimé who had driven us women there, politely grabbed the 3" wad of Congolese francs from my hand and counted out the correct $7.50.  My math skills are always "IFFY" and catching me in a time-crunch situation just added to my deficiency. This incident probably made the rounds with all the vendors!  They like me, they REALLY like me!!


Added belatedly.. the stories of Brother Malabi and Da Tarr... wonderful heroes!


Brother Malabi was a college Professor of Sociology
 serving as a Branch President in another part of the DRC
when he was falsely accused of treason against the government
by a person who had something to gain by his imprisonment. 
He was later transferred to the terrible prison in Kinshasa,
where sanitary conditions were dreadful and prisoners
were only given one cup of rice with a few beans each day. 
Extra clothes & food were carefully & quietly provided to him
by the Mission, along with messages of encouragement.
Simiply being imprisoned unjustly does NOT, by itself, a hero make.
But, being an example to the other prisoners; helping them
and teaching them the Gospel, with patience and faith in God;
 and THEN coming out of this ordeal after almost six months 
with strength and gratitude for Heavenly Father's miracles, DO.

This is a picture of the happy reunion with Brother Malabi and his "adopted" daughter.
When Sister Kwizera joined the Church, her parents disowned her completely
and Brother Malabi & his wife took her in as their own.
She was one of the 17 arriving missionaries in Kinshasa for our May transfer
and didn't know before she got here that he'd been freed.
He was still in Kinshasa awaiting his visa and so
she was able to reunite with him before going on to her Mission assignment.
What a wonderful, happy thing it was to see them greet each other.
She, too, has seen adversity and faced difficult situations,
but has bravely chosen to do what is right and can rightfully be called a hero.

Da Tarr's Story

Brief account of Da  Tarr `s life before membership and during his membership in the  LDS  church.
Born  unto to the union of nyeda Chea  and  H.Peter Gordon Tarr  in 1962, 7 of eight children and was adapted  to the family of  David Neal and Annie Thompson in 1964.
I grow up as the son in this home  of David and Annie and I was given the name David as they only have 3 girls for themselves, latter in 1966 they have a son and called him  Vid  and change my name to Da, meaning the both of us together make David .  David  work  for the Liberian Government as  Minister   for many different ministry in the Liberian Government for many  years up to the time the government of William R. Tolbert Jr. was  over  thrown in April 1980 during which time David was killed when I was  going to my 18 birthday and getting  prepare for  my  high school graduation party . Our  family  belongs to the Baptist church.
During the  war  which lead to the over throw  of the Tolbert  government, my cousin and I were beating  unmercifully, which lead to my cousin Emmanuel`s death and left my back with serious fractures for which I stayed  in the John F.  Kennedy  hospital  for  3 months  with the help of the Baptist church missionaries and the missionaries of the Liberia Unification church  as well as the Liberia  Inland Church.  I  received  a  scholarship  from the Unification church to study theology and accountancy  in Nigeria  in 1982, I completed the studies and return to Liberia 1985 to work for the Unification Church as the business Manager . My family owned  a  mining  company  which mine for gold and diamond  that was closed due to all the problems the family had, I met  Moses my biological brother  in 1985 when I return to Liberia and we work together to reopen the company and farm  with help from the Unification church in 1986. Moses latter took foreign service assignment with the government ministry of Foreign affairs. Nathaniel, another brother who use to run the family farm and school    and  I  worked together also on the reopening of the family farm and schools . The  Unification Church  started a  forest corporation business and sign a contract with our company to supply timbers,  gold and diamond  in 1986, raising Me to the position of Managing Director of the Universal  Forest Corporation as the company was called. In December 1986, the unification church proposed that I get marry  to a south  Korean  girl that I never met before  and I refused, so  the church decided that I cannot be the head of the church business if not married so I should resign which I did but we kept the business partnership with the church as was agreed.  Our company was reorganized  in 1987 and  renamed as  the DATARR Mineral Corporation with me as the Managing Director with 24 employees including my two brothers, Nathaniel and John.
     As a student  in Nigeria  I  held  a  little about  the LDS Church from friends and learned a little about Joseph Smith in my theology class. In  October of 1986, a friend of main  who was a police man, came to my office to ask if I could help  his missionaries of the LDS church to get  their  Visa , since I am involve with church activity so I may be able to tell them  what we do to get  visa for our missionaries. We took an appointment and met  the next day with  my friend  Momo  and Elder and Sister Smart,  a very kind couple, they brought me a book of Mormon and a gospel  principle. We talk briefly about their problem and took another appointment for the next day so I will accompany them to the ministry of education where my aunt was the   assistant  Minister in charge of missionary  work. I took  them  the next day and my aunt was very happy to meet  them , according to her  when she was  a student  in the USA  some missionary  couple  from the church was a great help to her. She helps the couple to process all their  visas  without  charge  as missionary visa was free for all churches in Liberia And help them get in touch with our family friend, counselor  Tubman to register the church in Liberia. Elder and Sister Smart and Elder and Sister Palmer became my very  good  friends   from that  time ,  they offered  to teach me the missionary discussion  so I will decide if I want to join the church. They  did  but I did not get baptize until they left at the end of their mission. They gave my name to the couple that replace them,  all the missionary couples  that came  after the  Smarts  continue inviting me to church until I got baptized on March 5th 1988. I was called as a Sunday school teacher after   my   confirmation   and  latter  at the end of the year advanced  as an elder  and called as the elder quorum president  in the Congo town branch. In  April 1989 I was called as first counselor to the mission president,  in  June of the same year I was left in charge of the mission with   12  local missionaries in Liberia when the mission president, Miles Cunningham  Moved to Sierra Leone due to the war in Liberia . The war became very serious in Monrovia  by July 1990 so I sent the 12  young missionaries to Sierra Leone to    join the mission president and the couples. My wife and I got married In March of 1989, We were in the war while expecting  our first child , Messah.  She was born on June 27, 1990, a day before the rebels  took  Monrovia  , the capital city  which became a war zone latter.
I was arrested three time during the war ,one time by the rebels,  accusing me of giving the government solders  missionary batches to spy on rebel position. This was  because someone had told the rebels that those I sent to Serra Leone  were not missionary but government soldiers spying on rebels position. I explained myself and with intervention  of friends I  got  free.
The 2nd time I was arrested by government soldier because according to them my mining concession was built by the rebels so they will live there to  over throw the government, again I explained myself and with the intervention of friends and family I got free. The third times I was arrested, I was not told the reason but I was taken to  the beach where there were hundreds of prisoners accused  of been rebels . they were on line and been killed one  after the other as the line advance toward the point and the killer where when you are killed you will fall in the sea. I wrote my name  in their book and  my  address and  what I do in life and after, the soldier put me on the line to wait for my time to be kill as the line advance to the killer.  I was  very  much  afraid  , I have always  have someone to  reach to for help or intervention when in problem but  at this time I have NO WAY to reach anyone, I concluded in my mind that it was time for my death, my mind went to my child and wife  who had left the country just a few week latter to go and wait for me in Sierra Leone, some of the questions that came to my mind at that point were : will my wife and child ever know that I have died after this day? Will my family  ever know who kill me and  how? I have done  nothing wrong to anyone that should require my death, do these soldiers have a reason for killing me? When my killer will die, will I see him in the spirit world? While these  questions  were going  through my mind ,a soldier  came in a jeep and park on the street, got out of the jeep and begin to  walk  alone the line of people and when he reach to me, he took me by  my hand, walk me away from the line and said something to those writing the names and took me to his jeep ,  allow me in  and  drove  away  toward my house road, I was very much afraid not known what next, he stop in a place between my house and the camp where  the war display families were  and ask me where do you live, I quickly said; in the display camp, can I take you there ? he ask. No,  because if you took me in the camp the resident will accuse me  if any problem that I brought soldier in the camp, I replied. Ok , he said and allow me to get down from his Jeep and he turn around and went his way. A week after this incident I learned that there was a ship at the port to take people to Sierra Leone , I went  there and got on the line around 9 am to get register , by 3:30 pm the registration had not started so I decided to go back home because there was no information as to whether the ship will board.   About  45 minutes after I left  3 rackets drop to the port ,two  in the ship and one where we were on the line and killed several people including the gate man with whom I lift my bag. Most of the people I was with on the line were killed or  wounded .  About a month after this incident, another ship came at the port with soldiers from Nigeria, I went with my nice to get on the ship. The  ship did not reach the shore. It stay in distance   on the sea, for fear that it may be attacked if on the shore, so that if any problem  it will not require more turning before leaving. So to get on the ship, those in the ship will send you a rope that you have  to chin  around  yourself  for them to pull you from the shore  into the ship. My nice and I did, her been the first follow by me  on November  11,  1990  and  29 hours after we landed on the sea shore of Sierra Leone. The day we left Liberia was a thanks  giving day, a holiday according to the Liberian Culture. Since that day that my nice and I left Liberia, I take thanks giving day with great values and understood why on this day each year when we were   young     my  grandmother  had  always make us to go  to church  and  they make us repeat  in church: God is good and God is great let us thank you for this day, A man.
In Sierra Leone, the  mission  president was a great help to me and my  family. While in sierra Leone  I got connected with some family members  who live there, but  the church was a great source of comfort for  me  and my family.  President  Cunningham  ended his mission in July 1991 and the Area president set me apart to continue to supervise the mission until a new mission president will be called. President and sister Gunnell  arrived  in  Ghana  in April of 1992 as the replacement of President Cunningham  to preside over the Ghana Accra  Mission which was to now include  Liberia and Sierra Leone.
I return to Liberia with  my  Family  in 1992 to Liberia and was called as the district President  in May of the same year, at this time we have one child, Messah and we were expecting our second  Child Daange who was born on July 27 1992. The War  became serious again  in Monrovia in October 1993 which left 250 people dead  within one month in  Monrovia  when  three rebel  groups and the government forces each fighting to control the capital, Monrovia. My wife and children left  the country and went to Abidjan just a day before the war stated.
I  left the country  after two weeks of the war, no food , no water, no electricity. A friend of mine who was working for DHL  received a parcel for me from Ghana  with an invitation and a round trip ticket for me to attend the Priesthood leadership  seminar  in   Accra, Ghana  just before the war started and had no way to deliver to me but he took it home just in case he will see me. Just 3 days before the seminar, we run into each other while  going from place to place looking for food and water, we went to his house and he gave me the parcel. When I open it was the invitation and the ticket but no flight to leave the country, So  my friend told me that  there was another friend  who has an airline business was looking for way to take  his plane to Abidjan, Ivory  coast for safety but had been working  on getting authorization to fly so he suggest we go  to  see  him, we went to the friend house  and he had got the authorization the same day and was packing to go to the airport, when I talk to him he said he agree that I can go with him if I am willing to take  the risk because  he is not sure if he can reach Abidjan without problem. Also if I want to  go I must join them now, he has no second  to waste, so I joined him without going back home and we went to the airport. We did what needed to be done when we get to the airport and went on his small plane . While in the plane on the run way the soldier at the airport  got attacked by the rebels and the fight went on for about an hour, we were park on the run way all the time the fighting was going on around the airport, we took up when the fighting went down. We arrive in Abidjan 10pm and went to a near by  hotel at the airport. My family in Abidjan and  church leaders  in Accra had been  listening  to the news  about the situation in Monrovia and concluded no way out for me. No telephone contact.  I appear to my family home in Abidjan the next day afternoon and   no one could  believe it was  me including my wife.  When I called church leaders in Accra to say I will arrive in Accra that evening,  no one could believe me  until I actually arrived. The question everyone  asked me was how did you get out of Liberia when no transport is working, and everything is closed. I attended  the seminar  in Accra and joined my family in  Abidjan where we waited for  the war to go down in Monrovia. While in Abidjan my wife and children travel to New York  to stay with my family there.
In 1994 September , I was appointed to represented the church  Temporal affairs offices  in Liberia and report to the regional offices in Accra Ghana  and was released  as the district president. I had just return from visiting my family in New York, where I  took the opportunity to go to Salt Lake  to go to the Temple for the first time  . I went to the Salt Lake Temple for my endowment  on  the 13 of August 1994. and also have my patriarchal   blessing from the Church international Patriarch at church headquarter in August  1994. I return to Liberia in October to start my new Job. In  this  Job  I represented the church in the effort to support  humanitarian work in Liberia and Sierra Leone  and   provide  temporal affairs supports  to the priesthood leaders  in the  two countries.
In January of   1996 I was  moved to  DRC than called Zaire to help support the priesthood leaders in central Africa, I came in for the first visit in February 1996 for a month , I return  to Liberia to get ready and  return to Kinshasa to start work  in April and got blocked again in the war in Liberia ( the April 1996 war ), the second  attempt  of the 3 rebel groups and the government  fighting among themselves for the control  of Monrovia, the capital city. I ran to the Mamba point hotel for refuge, I was there for two  weeks,  during which time the rebel and the government soldiers looted the hotel and the residents two times. I was  evacuated  by help of the US Embassy where I had worked when I was a student, with assistance from friends in Salt Lake and went Senegal. The church send brother Zadi who was representing temporal Affairs in from Ivory  to come to Senegal and help me get to Ivory  Coast. Zadi and I arrived in  Ivory coast on May  6 and I arrived in Kinshasa Zaire  On may 10, 1996 and begin  work in Kinshasa with the responsibility to support all  church work  in the region. I represent  the church to end the court cases against the church in Zaire 1997, I represent the church to end the legal action against the church Cameroon, I represent the church to rent the first facility in CAR, I represent the church to leased the first member meeting house in Angola, I  represent the church to create contact with the Government in Gabon,  I represent the church to build relation with the government  of the Republic of Congo and the Republic Democratic of Congo. However , all the above were possible not  because of me but the lord, I was only an instrument. The more I am involve , the more I love it and the more I am grateful  to the Lord.  1995 through 1997 we have war in Congo Brazzaville that left more than 5000 people dead, I was there to support and evacuate the missionaries every time it was necessary. 1996 through 2001 the Zaire ,now known as DRC have been in war that had taken  several  lives, I travelled to all the cities where there is a church present to make sure the saints have a place to worship, even with the war the church continue to operate in all the cities of DRC , Cameroon, CAR, Congo and Angola. I never have any major   problem that could not  be  solve  This is why I believe it was not me but the lord.
From these   experiences  It is registered to my mind and I believe that nothing is impossible for the lord and also that this is the lord`s church, Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that we have a living prophet that is leading the church.

I had not included experiences with  Priesthood  leaders,  and special encounters  on  the Job, at time you will read my account which may include  special encounter on the Job  which are not included in this account . In this account  I have focus mainly on my life.


  1. I'm glad you linked your letters on here. I was printing them to keep a "journal" of your mission. Now I can just come here if I need to re-read anything.

  2. As they say on "chat".. GMTA! (Great Minds Think Alike!) That is the very reason I decided to post the weekly letters. I had purchased a small leather journal to write in during our mission, but soon realized that writing a long weekly wrap-up AND posting pictures on our very slow internet connection was going to take enough time & energy. So, yes, the blog will record thoughts, feelings & adventures and hopefully, now & then, some wisdom gained from our experiences. (Maybe it is a good idea to keep a printed record, too)

  3. Just a thought....can you arrange you letters from current to first instead of from your first letter to current. I can just imagine how much scrolling down we are going to have to do with two years worth of letters?

  4. Mom,
    your last post brought tears to my eyes. I am so thankful for the love that sister is giving to those children and for your chance to witness the good things coming from her service. Love and miss you and from now on look before you go through those green lights.