Sunday, August 5, 2012

Dear Bishop Farmer

Bishop Farmer:

     Thank you for the update on the ward.  We appreciate you taking the time to write and inform us.  We enjoyed hearing from you.  It’s was good to hear about events in the ward and the Madsens going on a second mission.  I would go on a three mile walk in the neighborhood and run into Dave coming from the opposite direction approximately a mile and a half from where we both live. There we would chat for 10-15 minutes about missionary work. Now we are half way around the world engaged in it.

     Speaking of distance and relativity to church and attendance.  There are three temporal things that affect church attendance in this country and that’s distance, weather, and the lack of transportation.  Some live close to the church building, but for many it takes 30 minutes to an hour or more to walk to church. Some enter sacrament meeting with beads of sweat on their brow having walked a long distance in the hot sun.

      Now when it rains, it’s a different story.  You need to know about the rain here. There are days when it rains all day.  There are times when it rains three days in a row with hourly breaks here and there. On these rainy days hardly anyone comes to church and I don’t blame them. When you have no transportation, why walk for an hour in the rain, get wet, sit wet through a three hour meeting, then walk home for more drenching in the rain? The same occurs for seminary, institute classes, and church activities during the week. A few may be fortunate to have a raincoat or an umbrella.  Very few members have cars.  In the outlying areas you may see ten cars in the church parking lot and 1/3rd of them belong to missionaries.    

      Due to the distance factor and lack of transportation some members quit coming to church and become inactive. Some newly baptized, after a while, fall into this category.  Consequently, our young missionaries have been instructed not to baptize anyone who lives more than 45 minutes from the church.  It’s a challenge for these distant new members to sustain activity.

       There is strong faith in the wards and branches in South Africa and many have excellent knowledge of the scriptures. There are also some excellent teachers.  We enjoy rotating to different wards and branches on Sundays.  It’s interesting to be in a congregation where we and 4 other missionaries are the only white faces in a congregation of 250 Black faces. We really enjoy visiting with the people.  The members are very warm, congenial and friendly from the little children to the adults.  The saints really sing out in church and the choirs over here are truly excellent.

        Bishop, there is a ward here of Black saints that has a unique priesthood opening exercise
after Sunday school.  They sing 2 hymns, all verses, as a prelude.   Then the bishop or a counselor gives opening remarks, covers business and the priesthood sings the opening song - all verses. The prayer is given and the brethren disperse to their respective classes. When they sing the prelude hymns and the opening song, there is no holding back.  They sing with gusto.  It’s good to see the smiling faces and white pearly teeth of the saints. Whenever we visit the wards and branches, women and young girls are constantly hugging Sister Stokoe.  There is a genuine spiritual love here.  The handshake of the Africans is a triple shake: you shake hands, then hold and shake thumbs, then handshake.  

       A ward announced that on a following Saturday at 4 p.m. there was going to be a special
Thai Kick Boxing Class in the recreation hall with visiting instructors from a gym.  All interested should come. They had never had this before.  I walked into that class of Black saints and it was rocking.  Around sixty ward members were kick boxing.  The people here are very athletic.  The instructors only showed once what to do and they all caught on. The session was very strenuous and the participants loved it.  They whooped and cheered.  I was surprised to see a couple of Relief Society sisters around 250 lbs each, go all out non stop for the entire hour. I kept thinking they would quit but they never did.          

       We really enjoy our association with the young missionaries.  They are very dedicated, hard working and committed. They are out tracking every day, making appointments, teaching and fellowshipping the inactive.  They have excellent rapport with families and the youth.  They are doing a commendable job.        

        Bishop, you asked what would a ward like our Willowcreek 3rd ward be in the mission field?  The answer is, “Dynamite, absolute dynamite.”  Thanks for giving the statistics on our ward.  We can appreciate the numbers we have in Willowcreek.

        We attended a ward a month ago that has 151 members on its roll.  I saw the bishop preparing the sacrament table and trays so I asked him, “Where are your Aaronic priesthood boys?”  He told me his ward has 1 deacon, 2 teachers when they show up, and no priests.  I saw his bulletin board with a list of sacrament speakers assigned for the entire 2012 year.  I was surprised.  I commended him on doing that and asked if all the speakers showed up. He said he had to do that because he has no secretary and that 90% of the assigned were faithful and fulfilled their speaking assignment.

         That Sunday was ward conference.  The sole deacon showed up minus a tie.  The bishop removed his and placed it on the deacon so he would look appropriate passing the sacrament.  The bishop sat on the stand throughout the conference with no tie.  My heart went out to him for his goodness.

          The works moves forward in this part of Africa.  A branch became a ward two weeks ago and they are about to split a ward to form two.  There are baptisms regularly and some reactivation is occurring.

As for a little TRIVIA here’s what’s what:
# We accompanied the elders to teach a family that had a daughter named Beauty and a grandson named Gift.
#  We have a young elder in our PEF class whose name is Prescious
#   And the young man at the Pick N Save store in charge of the vegetable department is named Passion.
#   When I pay for groceries the cashier asks “Packet?” meaning plastic bag.
#    When I ask for a loaf of French bread the pastry lady says, “Short or stick?”  If I say stick I am given a thin loaf about 2 feet long.
# When seeking driving directions I was told to, “Turn right at the 3rd robot.” meaning streetlight.
# When requesting sauce to put on meat I was offered tomato sauce, worchester, or monkey gland.
# On the menu at a restaurant were garlic snails.
# Everyone has to pay for electricity in advance or they get none for their home.  Hence, there are no unpaid electric bills in this country.
# And whenever you say thank you to anyone they reply, “Pleasure.” which is the equivalent of our “You’re welcome.”    

Bishop, thanks for the communication and thanks to Peggy Chastain for sending us the monthly ward newsletter.

Elder & Sister Stokoe


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