Friday, November 29, 2013

Mission Report - Willow Creek 3rd Ward - Nov. 24, 2013

Sister Stokoe

We are Tom & Diane Stokoe, both retired educators.   For those of you new to the ward, I’ll begin by saying a little about us.  We have lived in Willow Creek for 35 years.  We raised a family of six sons here.  My husband taught history, speech and drama at Skyline High for 31 years and was the voice of Skyline football and announced games for 13 years.  After retiring early from Granite District, he taught at Mountain Ridge Jr. high in Alpine until 2010.  I taught at Skyline and at Kennedy Junior High and served as librarian at Granite and later at Olympus High School.   I was elected president of the Granite Library Media Association and from 2001 to 2004 I served as president of the Utah Library Media Association.

We were released from our mission in South Africa on October 15th and spent the next eighteen days touring Turkey as we followed in the footsteps of Paul. We visited the cave on the Isle of Patmos where John the Revelator had the vision recorded in the Book of Revelation and then we flew to the Holy Land and walked in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior.  We saw people from different denominations being baptised in the River Jordan and contemplated the many baptisms we witnessed in South Africa as we served in Motherwell.  
Baptism of the Mdlele Family including missionaries and President Zitzu on Right
When we came home we went to the Draper temple where we performed baptisms for the dead.   We are the only church on the face of the earth that performs baptizims for the dead.        But they were performed in Christ's time for we know that Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Else why are they baptised for the dead if the dead rise not at all?” (1st Corinthians 15:29).  This is the foundation of our faith.

I testify to you that John the Baptist delivered the keys to baptism and the authority to Joseph Smith.  We belong to the same church that Christ organised when he was here upon the earthIt .  It has been restored in our day in all it’s purity and power.

 Our primary assignment in South Africa was to work with the Church Educational System as CES specialists and to assist with the Perpetual Education Fund.   We spent our first eight months presenting PEF firesides and sponsoring “Planning for Success” classes in the wards and branches from Port Elizabeth to East London; but did not have very much success generating  loans.  If we’d worked for a bank we'd been fired.  I found it hard to reconcile being a loan officer with my patriarchal blessing which states, “You will take the gospel to those who know not God nor the purpose for which they have come to earth.”

My first few weeks on mission were very hard.  I was not happy with our tiny flat.  It needed painting and repair.    I blew up a couple of appliances by plugging them into the wrong outlets.  Our washer did not work and the Internet went down every time it rained. 

For me everything changed the night before Mother’s Day.  Four young elders knocked at our door and brought me a cake.  These young men will probably never know what a blessing they were to me.   They invited us everywhere. We went with them to teach investigators.  We visited in-actives with them. Elders Acton & Pack were particularly attentive.  This dynamic duo signed their area book “Action Packed” and they were.  I fell in love with the young missionaries.  
At District Conference in East London

In December President Wood got approval from area leaders for us to do member service work in Grahamstown.  President and Sister Nyes were leaving and the new couple that had been assigned there had visa problems and were sent to the Phillipines.  

We moved into the flat in Grahamstown.  Elder Stokoe presided over the branch until the end of January and then something historic happened.  A new all black branch presidency was called and Elder Stokoe served as executive secretary.    I sent their picture to the local newspaper and wrote an article explaining that the Mormon Church in Grahamstown is now led by local leaders.   

 Khaya Ketani, 1st Counselor, President Budaza, 2nd Couselor
          Nathan Johnson with Elder Stokoe & Mission President Wood

I taught Institute and helped with the activities.  We organized a Valentines dance in an effort to promote romance in this branch of mostly single young adults who were attending college but had not much more success than we did in generating PEF loans.

Grahamstown is a college town and it has many universities and boarding school.  It is the same distance from Port Elizabeth as Logan is from Salt Lake.  I know this because we maintained two flats during this time and drove back and forth between them a couple of times a week.  Thank you for keeping us in your prayers.  Many of you know that Elder Stokoe loves to drive fast.  I just closed my eyes and tried to sleep while he whizzed past construction sites and dodged the cows, sheep, goats or baboons that wandered into the highway.

Grahamstown is also home of the National Arts Festival so we got to enjoyed some plays, musical productions and art exhibits.  Elder Stokoe loved watching the native African dancers.   But often I got tired of stomping Africans so went off to enjoy the award winning films. 
In the projection room at Settler's monument with the
professor who chose films for the yearly Art's Festival.
The mid-winter festival happened while you were all celebrating the 4th of July.   

 Each Sunday evening we invited our four young missionaries to dinner along with Alan Bamford, who is a widower and the only white man in the branch.    We went with the elders to do service at the Thomas’ 600 acre farm.    Sister Thomas was the only white woman in the branch.  Her husband is an Afrikaner and a non-member who owned a from outside Grahamstown so she could only attended every other Sunday.   

On March 3td the branch had a “finding the lost sheep” activity and we divided up into  groups and went to the townships looking for members-of-record who were not attending.   The biggest problem was distance.  Many black members had to walk 45 minutes to get to and from church every Sunday and 45 minutes home.   Few blacks own cars.  Most must walk everywhere.    It takes a lot of commitment and stamina to be a good Latter-day Saint in Africa.    

We moved back to Port Elizabeth and continued our work with the PEF program.  By then it had merged with Employment Services under Provident Living. The new program was just being introduced so we had down time.    We sponsored a service project at the Lorraine Frail Care Center. Tom bought the seeds for a vegetable garden. 
 The young missionaries dug up the ground to plant the seeds.  Elder Stokoe decided that we should have a talent show for the patients there.  Twice he put together awesome shows with our very talented young missionaries.  They loved it!  We always ended each show by singing the mission song.  I would have liked to have had some of our young missionaries come and sing it for you but it's holiday season and it did not work out.  

President Neku with his two counsellors
Stake President Neku called us in April to go out and assist Elder Zitsu in a town-ship called Motherwell.  There were six members there.  It was too far for them to walk to the ward building in KwanaMaxi.  So they decided to organise a group there.   The stake  rented a vacant classroom in an elementary school. Group leader Elder Zitsu was a one man show.  He he prepared the sacrament, conducted the meeting and  taught lessons.  More and more people began attend.  There were so many investigators that President Wood sent out two missionaries.  Members were making appointments for them.  They were so busy that President Neku called us to go and help out.
With Elder Zitsu in Motherwell

Luckily in May the church was able to rent three more classrooms.  These four rooms were painted, broken glass windows replaced and new copper wiring strung to replace that which was stolen.  Now we had electricity and rooms for the relief society, the  primary and our young adults.   President Zitsu told them, "Now you will not have to meet with the old people.  You will have your own room and Sister Stokoe will be your teacher." I taught young women's and the 12-17 Sunday School  class.  

Going to Home Affairs so Boswella's aunt could testify.
It took two visits and mountains of paper work.
We helped some of the members.  It took five  months to get Boswella a national identification number.   Until then she was a non-person in South Africa.  I thank my friends who prayer for her and put her name in the temple.  It took all our efforts to establish her citizenship.  Now Boswella can get a job and be legally married.  This is huge.  Many people were not issued birth certificates when they were born so they are locked out of the system.  We helped Zim Mdlele get back into college and assisted Paul, a 26 year-old, complete classes so he can get a job as a security guard.

Every Sunday we had the best of both worlds.  At 8:00 a.m. we attend Sacrament Meeting in Port Elizabeth Ward; which is an old, established white Afrikaans ward with a few blacks.   After that meeting we drove to Motherwell and attended the block and served.

Nicole & Neil Fourie, Deng Gatluak, Phuti Rukia with Erin Palmer seated
On Wednesday nights I taught Institute to young adults in Port Elizabeth.  Those youth are so committed and dedicated.  They were such an example to us.  I had two engineering student from Nelson Mendela University.  Puti invited Deng, a classmate from South Sudan, to attend.  He was baptized.   I worried about Deng because he is returning to South Sedan after graduation in January.  I thought he would be the only member there until I learned that there is a small branch in Juba he can attend.

Four young men in East London leaving for missions.
  I want to share Sifundio Beja’s story.  It demonstrates what is going on all over the world. Africans do not learn to swim but enjoy going to the beach and being in the water.   Sifundiso went to the beach with his soccer club when a huge wave came in and swept them out to sea.  Seven drowned.  Sifundiso survived.  A little after that his English teacher introduced him to the gospel.   Grahamstown has only 135 members but they have five missionaries in the field.  We took Elder Maxoli (far right) to leave for his mission.
 Sifundiso (shown with his English teacher) was baptised on May 4th, He spent many many hours helping the missionaries which is typical for many devout young Africans who are baptised into the church.  Often they are the only member of their family to join.  Some are teased, persecuted or shunned by their peers.  But they remain faithful.  

We took Sifundiso  to get his patriarchal blessing and discovered that he had been was fore ordained to serve in many important callings in Africa.  When Motherwell became a branch in September this nineteen-year-old  high school senior who was called to serve as the 2nd counciler in the branch presidency.  We served with Doctor Scott, a senior who had been of five other missions and he told us about teaching five young Muslims.  “How can we know that what your are teaching us is true,”  they wondered.  “Pray about it.  Just ask God,” he told them.   Today every one of those young men are serving missions.
Sister Frieda Palmer, Sifundiso, Patriarch Palmer, President Neku and Paul

Thank you for your faith and prayers in our behalf. I testify that the Lord keeps his promises. My patriarchal blessing was fulfilled as we were called to serve in Grahamstown and Motherwell.  During the first few weeks of my mission I wondered if the brethern had made a mistake. What I felt prepared to do and what my experience and training had taught me to do was not what I had been assigned to do.  I was not successful as a loan officer but because of being assigned to area we had wonderful opportunities that we would never have had if we'd been called to another position.  Senior missionaries are told that they are to be "the guide on the side not the sage on the stage."  Often they are not given teaching responsibilities.  But Elder Stokoe and I had lots of opportunities to speak, to share, to lift as we participate in those branches."
Motherwell Branch Presidency
Elder Mdlele, President Zitsu and Sifundiso Beja

Will a senior mission be easy?  My answer is "no."  But it will be worth it.  Will it be what you expected?  "Probably not."   Think of a senior mission as boot camp for eternity.  Tom and I had separate careers which took us in different directions. We were busy raising our family.  And did not have time to work out some of our relationship problems.   Companionship training in Zone Conference and being together 24 hours a day chaned that.  helped.  Things got a lot better when Elder Stokoe figured out who the senior companion was.

Marriage is not easy.  Patriarch & Sister Palmer spoke at a P.E. fireside for the young marrieds.  “I deserve a metal ” Elder Palmer said.  Sister Frieda Palmer responded with: “I deserve a monument."  I love my husband more and we are more compatible having had a mission experience.  I am happy to have had a willing, worthy, healthy husband to take me on a mission.  It was a privilege to wear the mission badge.  It reminded us that we are all disciples of Jesus Christ. 

President Wood told us about going out to the Cape of Good Hope in his missionary gear--white shirt, tie and suit.  Everyone else was in sports clothes.  He wore his badge.  As he walked passed tourist he heard him say to his friend:  “Did you see that man?  That was Jesus Christ.”  We not Jesus Christ but we are his disciples.  It was a great blessing to serve and represent him in South Africa.  

The church is truth.  This work is real.   Joseph Smith was a prophet.  We belong to the church that was established by Jesus Christ in ancient times.  Serving a senior mission blesses us now and blesses our family.   My kids are an independent lot and they get along pretty well on their own.  But each could see the hand of God in their lives as we served.  I love our Heavenly Father and say this in the name of our beloved Savior, even Jesus Christ, Amen

Monday, November 18, 2013

Billings Congo Update

Dear family and friends, 
       After having been gone for 20 months now these are a few things that we don’t have here that we are looking forward to when we get home.  Some items are specific to George, others are specific to JoAnn, and most are shared by both of us.  Close analysis of the list should pretty much tell you of our present conditions.  Those who have been here and experienced it are the ones who can really identify and get the full impact of what is being said.  We are living in the best of circumstances that are available here.  There are thousands of people
who have it much more difficult than us.  Yet, they have the strength to live with what they have.  America and home is more beautiful than it has ever been.

With our love for each of you,
George and JoAnn Billings

Hot water heater
Washing machine
Toilet that flushes without chasing it down with a bucket full of water
Electricity more than 3 ½ hours a day 4 days a week
Water that flows more than 3 days a week
Stove for other than the night meal 4 days a week
Warm water for bathing
Drinkable water from the tap
Air conditioner that doesn’t cost $40 a day to run
Comfortable chairs.  Television
Internet that will stay on for more than 5 minutes at a time
Reliable telephone service
Ability to keep rechargeable electronics charged
Well maintained paved roads other than Main Street
A banking system where you have immediate access to your money. . .
Family and friends who can speak English
Anyone else who can speak English
Police who are not corrupt
Mechanics and technicians who know what they are doing
Less than 50% of the people around you begging for money
Red meat without the cloud of black flies
Arctic Circle brown topper
Cold Stone Creamery chocolate ice cream
Traffic rules that people obey. . .
Gasoline that costs less than $10 a gallon
A safe and free environment
Customer service lines where people wait their turn and don’t butt in
Durable tools that aren’t made to break
The ability to leave the house when George is gone for 8 hours
Snow.  Mountains.
Neighbors who don’t have a confused rooster
Mosquito abatement
Clear water lakes and streams
A house free of scorpions and cockroaches. . .
Straight lumber
Wild game animals
Grass lawns.  Colorful flowers
Someone other than George to cut my hair. . .
Sawdust that smells good such as fir, pine, oak, cedar, walnut, ash,
alder, and even poplar. . .
Four seasons in the year
A full selection of groceries at a nice grocery store where even the
eggs have been washed
Daytime temperatures less than 90 degrees F
Garbage collection
Sanitary sewage systems
Non-threatening airports where one can find his way around without
getting ripped off
Cities that are well planned
Enforced building codes
Flour I don’t have to strain the weevil out
Qualified medical professionals. . .

 After twenty months in South Africa I can relate to many of the items on George and JoAnn's list. There is 90% unemployment in the Democratic Republic of Congo; compared to 50% unemployment in South Africa. We were both called to help the young people in our church prepare for careers that lead to employment.   Our assignment was PEF.   George's assignment was to teach building skills so that the church could use young returned missionaries to build chapels in Africa rather than flying in contractors from the U.S. and Canada.  

George described the commitment of a young man named Jeff at his December 27th homecoming report.  On a day of a torrential rain storm George waited at the building site but none of his students showed.  Finally Jeff finally came limping up totally drenched.  He said that the taxi he was riding in was hit broadside and the man seated next to him was killed.  Jeff sustained some injuries but was still able to walk and did not want to miss class.  He limped the last few miles in the downpour.  George decided that rather than cancel class that day he would reward Jeff's determination by providing a learning experience for him.  George ended his report by bearing testimony of his calling,  "Jeff and  other young black men like him will become Africa's building contractors of the future," he concluded. 

Tom and I were pleased to be home for the birth of our new grand daughter.  Little Gabrielle Stokoe was born at 6:30 a.m. on November 15th.  She was a week early and weighed just six pounds and is 20 inches long.  Gabrielle is the daughter of our son David & wife Nikki Stokoe and joins sisters Sophie and Lola and her brother Cole.