The pace for us has picked up the next few weeks. Detlef has successfully closed five apartments. We learned that in Madagascar every ten years the owner has to renew the interior wall surfaces, repair and upgrade their homes or apartments because the plaster does not last. Exterior seepage of moisture separates the plaster from the cement and the wall surface blisters and breaks off, sometimes in sheets. Repainting regularly helps slow the process but the building materials do not include moisture barriers as in the US. So, the wise thing is to close apartments sooner. We have had owners expect us to renew or return the apartments to them in new condition, no wear and tear excepted. One has been a particularly difficult learning experience. We have learned to make no assumptions about what the law or the common practice is outside of the US. Here a letter cancelling a contract means little except to negotiate the amount of money you will pay in addition to the work to clean and fix it up. Instead, the important thing is to return the keys. Once the owner takes the keys the owner has officially accepted the return of the property and becomes fully responsible for the apartment. The most recent one was yesterday, Saturday. We met the owner at a little after 4 PM. She brought three other family members, a son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. They inspected and complained about work not done such as repainting the entire kitchen even though the owner only asked for us to paint one section and to match the paint color which we did. Nothing was said about the floors but she claimed that we were to refinish and polish the floors even though that was never discussed. When we went upstairs and they checked the bathroom they were not fully satisfied and again talked about the floor. She said the bathroom floor was not clean. Detlef then mentioned the poor water pressure. The missionaries had to carry up a bucket of water to flush the toilet if they wanted to use it. If they wanted to "shower or bathe" they also had to bring up a bucket of water...cold of course. Although we had been told that there was a problem with water pressure, we were not aware of how serious the problem was until recently. The owner said the problem was caused by the utility company who was not providing sufficient water pressure to customers. We had heard that one before. So Detlef continued with how we were only recently apprised of this problem. Missionaries have occupied the apartment for several years and have just lived with the problem. The rent is high. The church has paid the rent with no compensation for the inconvenience of the water problem. Hearing that, the owner had fewer complaints about the condition of the apartment. Then the afternoon rain began and it really poured. Before going back down stairs the lights started going out. A frequent side effect of the heavy rain is losing electric power for a few hours. Then water started leaking at the window next to the stairs, most likely a roof leak. The owner had already accepted the keys and so Detlef reminded her that the roof was the owner's responsibility. Monday she will come to the office to sign and receive some papers and receive a check for the remaining rent and compensation for not having the floor cleaned and waxed. Actually we feel that the Lord really blessed us to be able to turn over the key without more difficulty.
The next two weeks will be full to over flowing. Tomorrow, Monday, another pair of elders will move out of their apartment. It is located in a swampy area. There have been two attempted break-ins. The first time they poisoned the guard dogs before coming in and cutting the security iron grating at one of the windows. The second time they came in and took a four wheeler that belonged to someone else. Not only are there major water problems, but the house is located in a slum. The "vasa's" or white people are targeted as wealthy. So the missionaries will stay at the apartment until the move is completed. We think it will take three trips with the van. Detlef and I will go up for the first trip to bring out the personal belongings of the missionaries. We have already painted the walls on the 2nd floor. The main level has too much water damage to paint the walls.
Tuesday we will send the van down to Antsirabe, three hours South to take the first load of furniture to the new couple's apartment. The lease begins February 1st and the senior couple coming from French Polynesia will be arriving on the 1st, so everything must be prepared ahead of time. Roger will drive that load down, unload and drive on to Ambositra, two hours further south to pick up a refrigerator, table and six chairs, washing machine and linens. The bed and mattress are currently stored at one of the other missionary apartments in Antsirabe. Then probably Wednesday evening Detlef and I will drive down the last load of kitchen supplies and dishes. We will stay over-night, set up the apartment and drive back Thursday. Friday there are several people coming in for council meetings Friday and Saturday. Saturday we have a branch presidency meeting, RS presidency meeting and then branch council meeting. Sunday both Detlef and I are speaking. The following Sunday I also teach Relief Society. That week we will also have representatives from the General Relief Society and the General Primary as well as our Area President visit for a one night training session. We take them to the airport the next day and pick up seven missionaries, including the couple. After signing multiple visa application forms and a general missionary training session with President Donnelly, all seven will be assigned and move to their respective locations. Of course, I will still be entering the baptismal information and preparing the President's monthly report and Detlef will be paying all the end of the month bills, reconcile the monthly bank statement with the bank journal and send the weekly unit financial reports to South Africa. So it will be a very full two weeks. The rains and floods that are coming at this time of year seem to have spilled over into our missionary duties!
We are not complaining! That is just the reality right now. There are some wonderful people coming into the church. Baptisms include very humble people who feel the spirit and act with faith as they are taught the gospel. Many of those coming into the church are facing every imaginable challenge including loss of jobs, under employment, illness, substandard housing (to us but common to them) and rising rice prices, etc. In teaching these members, Detlef has often referred to 2 Ne 2:27 where Lehi tells his sons that God provides everything that is expedient for us. In other words, if we don't have something that we want then we don't need it. If we do need it, God will provide a way. We have learned over the years that when something doesn't happen the way we want it to happen it is probably not in our best interest or it is not the right time. The Lord is aware of everyone, even these people in Madagascar.
Looking at all the poverty in the African Continent and elsewhere in the world, President Hinckley made a very interesting statement. He said that he did not know how to solve the problems these people face. He only knows that if they will pay their tithes and offerings the Lord will open the way to meet their needs. We all must have faith and be patient. There is one family in the branch where the husband/father has a good job but it only pays 130,000 Ar ($65) per month. They are a family of five and live in a very small two room house (we would say - shack). We are amazed at how little these people live on. On the other hand, fruit grows everywhere. There are mango trees, banana trees, leche fruit, jack fruit, oranges, apples, pears, peaches, etc. There is fruit in every season. Every level or terraced piece of ground is under cultivation. In their small yards they have chickens and ducks. Some people have goats or cattle. The Lord really does provide for their immediate needs. They do not pay taxes. Only the more wealthy or salaried people purchase things that are taxed. In the end it is all a matter of faith and waiting on the Lord. I am amazed at the childlike faith that some of these converts have. They do the best they can with what they have. They are willing to learn to participate in the gospel as asked. They are open to learn whatever we can teach them. At the end of February I will be teaching the sisters to sew baptismal clothing, which includes teaching them to make a pattern, cut cloth, pin fabric and sew. One sister today said that I have so much to teach her. She wants to learn to sew and wants me to teach her how to cook. They are doing quite well in learning to lead music, give prayers, teach lessons, bear testimony and give talks. They seem hungry to learn and I am amazed at how few homemaking skills they have that were skills commonly learned by girls when I was growing up. So I will teach them what I can. They are sweet wonderful women, daughters of God and my sisters.
We can bear testimony that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true and that God loves and blesses all of his children, each in different ways. We are much less likely to criticize or try to mold others into our image than we might have been before. We can learn from everyone. These people persevere and are happy. Their expectations are different than ours but we all want to return to live with our Heavenly Father, together with all our family. What a beautiful plan.
We have now been in Madagascar for nine months. We are beginning to feel that there is not enough time to do all we have before us. Our new assignment - the closing of old missionary apartments, opening of one new apartment and renovating those we are keeping - has become a very big job. We do have four English speaking returned missionaries who do not have regular jobs and who have become our work crew. They wash walls, paint, wax floors and anything else that we ask of them. The first apartment took four days to complete. We have two more lined up for the next two weeks. Seila started making drapes with the intent to make a sample and give the job to members who know how to sew and are out of work. However, no one has been found so she completes one drape every other night when she is working on them.
In addition, Seila spends some time verifying old baptismal records. She would like to complete this review next year. Detlef is now the Mission Executive Secretary as well as the Finance Secretary and 2nd Counselor in the Sabotsy Namehana Branch. President Donnelly has asked him to help train local leaders, especially regarding the new Handbook of Instructions. He can also does finance training. Our first trip is next weekend to Tamatave, a major port city on the north east coast of Madagascar. It is a six to seven hour drive with one very curvy section of about two hours. Once we pass through that the drive will be on flat roads. It will also be very hot. Today the temperature got up to 37 C = about 98 F. It was hot in the sun but we were in the shade of the building for our regular Sunday meetings. As the afternoon turned into evening the temperature dropped. It is nearly 7:30 PM and the temperature is 25 C or 78 F. So the nights cool off. Tana is in the "mountain" region. Although it looks like hills all around, the plateau is about 4000 feet above sea level.
It hardly seems like Christmas with temperatures in the 90's. For those of us who grew up with four definite seasons, snow and/or cold weather means winter. Summer here will last through March next year. We are just beginning to get into the hot time of year. We haven't had much rain but the local people assure us that it will come.
We are sending along some photographs of new members that were baptized in the last two months in our branch. Most of them were converted through the Book of Mormon. It is interesting to see how so many of the recent converts seem to be particularly touched by the testimony of Christ and the restored gospel as presented in the Book of Mormon. Abraham's descendents truly have been dispersed to all corners of the earth and the isles of the sea as Isaiah and the Book of Mormon prophets prophesied. And now they are being gathered before the Second Coming of Christ with the rest of the House of Israel.
If anyone wants to shed some pounds here are some suggestions: cut back on the sweets, especially cakes, cookies and ice cream. Keep away from animal fats - eat meat sparingly, as the Word of Wisdom advises, but eat beans for protein. Stick with carbohydrates - rice, potatoes, vegetables, fruit and grains. Carbohydrates give you lots of energy but do not fill up the fat cells in your body. Cut out eggs and milk products. Follow this diet for about three to four months and watch the pounds disappear. Detlef has lost and kept of 55 lbs since eating primarily plant-based food since May 2007. He eats some meat
occasionally, and low fat cookies. He is down to 172 lbs from 227 lbs. and feels great. He exercises every day with the goal in mind of going up Longs Peak (14,400 ft.) in the Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park in July 2012. Would anyone like to come along?
We love you and wish you a wonderful Christmas by remembering the true purpose of celebrating our Savior's birth.
Seila and Detlef
The Missionaries at Thanksgiving
Manivo, Sitraka, Fabien,and Kevin Baptism Dec 2010