It has been a while since I wrote. I will probably not get things in the right order but....
We put 2 Sister missionaries and 1 Elder on a bus this morning to Lilongwe. Two of them need to be out of Malawi by tomorrow since their TRP (immigration status) expires. They tried to get flights for them but had no luck so this is Plan 'B'. They will spend the night in Lilongwe and then Pretes will drive them to the Zambia border (about 1 1/2 hr. drive) in the morning and Pres. Padovich will be waiting on the other side for them and will take them to Lusaka (about a 7 hr. drive). Sister Lourenco (from Angola) is finished her mission and goes home in a few days. She is really a sweet girl and it was hard to say good-bye. People here don't hardly ever get teary but she did. She was a good missionary. Sister Mhembere got transferred to Lusaka and Sister Sieben (from Raymond, Alberta) is coming here soon. Elder Packer (Provo) goes home in March. He is a REALLY nice young man and we will miss him. He will spend his last transfer in Lusaka since his TRP is finished here. It seems like they are cutting back on missionaries in our mission. One reason is because they don't want so many that we get too many baptisms and overwelm the Branches with new members. I'll bet you wish you had that problem at home!!
The Kauma Branch in Lilongwe that has had so many problems is settling down now that Elder & Sister Prete are there. They have been doing a great work - visiting the members homes, lots of talking and helping them understand the order of things in the Church. The ones who were leading the dissenting group has seen the error of their ways and have apologized and are trying to help the others that followed them to also understand. We went up there last week with Padovich's and Elder & Sister Carl B. Cook (of the 1st quorum of seventy) and held a conference in each Branch. Kauma Branch had almost 100 in attendance (a few weeks ago we were lucky to get 35). The other Branch had 114 there. We bought extra chairs on Saturday in preparation.
When we were still in Malawi the Lilongwe Branch was been split and they had a 'group' meeting in Ntandire. The Group and the Branch were struggling and had a low attendance. That is when we rented the new meeting house (a nice big house) in an area that was more condusive to where the members live. The Group was put back with the Branch because we felt like they could then run some proper programs (primary, YW/YM, etc.) It has turned out well and everyone is so happy to have a bigger Branch attendance. I invited the landlady, Sera, of the meeting house to come last week and she did. I talked to her afterwards and she really felt something and said she had tears running down her face. I explained to her that she was feeling the spirit and that the missionaries would love to teach her more about it. I think she will. She is so pleased to have a 'church' meeting in her house.
When Padovich's and Cooks were to fly here last week - they found out the night before that the flight with Air Malawi had been cancelled (not a big surprise). They jumped in the car the next morning and drove over here (14 hrs. to blantyre). They arrived after dark but safe and sound. We had some good meetings with the missionaries and also some District training and then the conferences in Lilongwe. We really enjoyed Elder Cook. He is certainly open to the spirit in all his trainings. We learned a lot and got inspired to do better. He and Sis. Cook flew back to Johannesburg from Lilongwe. We stayed with the Prete's while in Lilongwe and enjoyed their company and also a few games of Rook one night.
On our way driving to Lilongwe with Padovich's and Cook's on Friday - we stopped in Liwonde and had arranged to meet with the "group" there. We had about 40 or so there and met in Bro. Chisambo's house. It is the first time they have had a General Authority there and they were thrilled. Elder Cook had several of them introduce themselves and tell their 'story'. Several (mostly women) cannot speak English and so we had someone translate for them. It was a great meeting. Some of these people are the first members ever in Malawi and it has been a struggle for them out there. The Branch was shut down a few years ago because of irregularities. Because a man who was a Branch President in Blantyre moved out there in February they are allowed to meet as a Group. Most of the members walk in from Sitima Village (about 6 miles) to attend church each week. The Branch used to be in Sitima Village before but when it rains they get cut off by a river and no one could get to them. We will see how that affects the attendance during heavy rains.
It has started to rain more here but the rains are late. The maize crops are slow to get started and there is concern. If they don't get a decent crop things will not be good here. People depend on their yearly maize crop to survive throughout the year. The Liwonde area is suffering more than some other areas for lack of rain. It gets hotter there than in Blantrye.
We have a young man, Aaron Benjamin, who is getting his mission papers ready to send in. He will be the 2nd to ever go from Sitima Village (the 1st is not there now and is inactive). Aaron's family are members and went to church there before the Branch was shut down. I have been helping him get everything done for the paperwork. The church has paid for his passport, etc. We gave him a ride to Lilongwe so that he could get his Police clearance paperwork done. He stayed with his relatives but while he was there we picked him up and he was able to attend the Missionary Zone conference and also both conferences on Sunday and also the training session that was done with the Priesthood. He was soooo thrilled to be able to listen to a General Authority for the whole weekend. He got his police clearance done on Monday and we arranged for him to get his Yellow Fever shot. I think now we just have to wait for his Passport to come back, have a couple of interviews and we can submit his papers. He can hardly wait. He expressed his appreciation for all we are doing to help him. We also have two young men (members just a year or so) that almost have their papers ready too. One has done most of it on his own (with the Elders help) and I have been helping the other one. We introduced Aaron to them and they seemed to enjoy getting to know each other. They could possibly go on missions about the same time.
When we were in Liwonde the week before -- we took some white shirts and ties with us. Most of the men do not have a white shirt or could they ever afford to buy one. We invited them to the truck and handed them out before the meeting. They meet in a classroom of a school. They all disappeared behind another block to put on the shirts and didn't come back. I sent Elder Bullock to check on them -- I told him that they were probably having trouble getting the ties tied and sure enough they were. Elder Bullock helped them out and they came into Church looking really 'smart' (as they say it here). We didn't have enough so will take a few more next time and I will get a picture. It was great!
Yesterday we bought podiums with a sound system (speaker) built into them for 4 of our Branches (two here and the two in Lilongwe). They will be happy to have those but they must be locked up after they use them so they don't get broken or stolen. We hope they will take good care of them. Jim was out all morning with Gabriel and the District President, President Chinyumba getting the two set up in the Branches here. One wall plug didn't work so they had to go get parts to fix that too.
I can't possibly write a letter without mentioning diesel!! It is still a huge problem. When Padovich's drove here from Zambia we had to use some of our jerry cans to fill their vehicle and also ours to get where we all needed to go. We haven't been able to get any since. Today, however, the fellow who owns the place we rent, has sent someone to Mozambique for diesel and they will be back with it tomorrow. The price has gone up from 420/ltr to 500/ltr but that is still cheaper than the regular black market where it sells for about 600 kwacha. We will get a 200 ltr drum this time so that will help us a lot. The Zone leaders are sitting in a diesel queue today but nothing has come yet and we don't know if they will fill up jerry cans for them or not (if they are lucky enough to even get any). The Pretes have sat in queues 3 days this past week and got nothing in Lilongwe.
The U.S. dollar is exchanging on the black market now for at least 250 kwacha for $1.00 and we have heard that it could be even as high as 300. The gov't has set the bank rate at 167kwacha to $1 so of course, no one wants to exchange the money legally at the bank. We are so glad we brought the U.S. cash with us that we did because if we were getting our money through a Visa card we would only get the bank rate. One thing that is really going to help us and other couples is that as of January 1st we can pay our rent amount for our mission to our home ward 'general mission fund'. What a blessing that is!! Not only does it save the hassle of using our money up fast here and exchanging it -- it also gives us a bit of a charitable donation tax deduction.
I just finished up balancing the financial ledgers again. I have my bank reconciliation, my petty cash, two Zone leaders working fund and now a petty cash for Pretes. Any day now Prete's should have their own church bank account set up in Lilongwe -- we are just waiting for the finance person in Johanesburg to get things all set up. We are still waiting for the new vehicles that we are getting in Malawi -- it takes time ..... a long time it seems. Pretes are using the Zone leaders truck in Lilongwe and I think the Zone leaders will be very happy when they get it back. We do worry somewhat about how we will manage with diesel when we have more vehicles though. We will just have to conserve however we can.
It seems like they are trying to get a couple of the other flats finished here in our compound so perhaps we will have neighbors in a couple of weeks. We do feel safe here and have had no problems so far.
All is well. The Church is true and we are lucky to have a living prophet to lead and guide us. We know he will never lead us astray. We are trying to do more reading and studying now that our lives have slowed down a little. Elder Cook inspired us to do better in that department.
Love, Elder & Sister Bullock/mom & dad/Jim and Nancy