Hello to our friends,
We have been in the Congo for over three months now. Things are pretty much getting routine. We have adjusted into our lifestyle. However, we still see something new and amazing nearly every day. There is much to be critical of in this society but the people we meet give us much to praise as well. We are getting to know enough French that we can stumble through some simple conversations. It is actually kind of fun to try several different sentence structures and words in order to express ourselves. Sometimes it is futile but those we talk with seem to accept our deficiencies. They smile, shake hands, and tell us we are doing very well. If we do get several sentences in a row close to right they celebrate and so do we.
We have had meetings, with some key individuals, that have resulted in progress in each of our specialties. We met with the Church architect a couple of weeks ago and had the opportunity to discuss some redirection for the construction training. JoAnn has been able to help some of the local Family History Directors to get their work moving in the right direction. There are some terrific things in the works for the future of the people we are serving.
Our first class of construction students will be completing their training in a few days. We will have a new class of ten students early in July. The students who are now completing will enter a second phase of their training where they will act as tutors for the students in our next class. They will tutor for half of each day and then they will work on one of the church buildings for the remainder of each day. Another big difference in the first phase and the second phase is that the second phase students will get paid for what they are doing. It is a job! They are happy, beyond belief, about that.
We are healthy. We eat almost as well as we did in the U.S. There are a few markets that sell U.S. and European brands of food. That is where we shop. We have a very comfortable apartment. We have running water, flush toilets, electricity, air conditioning, and the internet. What else do you need? It might not always stay that way if we are moved to a different city but conditions are very good right now. There aren’t a lot of mosquitoes. However, the ones we have, they know right where to bite. We have had them make their attack at the precise location where The Red Cross would insert a needle to draw a pint of blood. They are well fed. We, faithfully, take medication to prevent malaria.
We do miss a lot of things about home. We, especially, miss all of you. What replaces that is a one-time experience of a lifetime. Before long it will be over and we will be home. We feel fortunate that, at our age, we are healthy enough and have the means to be able to do what we are doing. We will be able to make a little bit of a difference. To some, it may even be a lot of difference. Who knows?
Please take care of yourselves and each other. Also, please write back if you get a chance. Thanks to all of you who have written. With love, Elder and Sister Billings
Reply from Sister S.
It’s so good to hear about your work in the Congo as many of your experiences there mirror our own. We are beginning our 13th week in Port Elizabeth and it’s nice to finally be in a routine. Though we did not have to learn a language, we still struggle to understand some people with heavy accents. Many of the English words used here have different meanings so I sometimes find it difficult to understand what is being said. However I have found people to be kind and helpful.
We enjoy working with the youth and visiting the units (wards and branches) of Port Elizabeth Stake as we travel around promoting the PEF program. We have been impressed by our “Planning for Success” teachers including Mosia in Cleary Estate Branch, Stokwe in Kwanobuhle and Ntshebe in Kwa Magxaki.. These black teachers are outstanding. It is difficult to see so many in need of help and only be able to assist the few that are temple worthy and qualify. We hope we are making a difference.
It is a blessing to be a member of a church committed to blessing the lives of people. So many Africans want a better life but lack the means and opportunity that these programs can provide.
Our work reminds me of the story by Loren Eisley. "One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, "What are you doing?"
The youth replied, "Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them back, they'll die."
"Son," the man said, "don't you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?
You can't make a difference!"
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish,
and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said:
"I made a difference for that one and I can make a difference for all the others that I through back into the ocean.”