This week was a busy and stressful week for everyone here in the mission home. It was transfer week—many missionaries would be coming, going, or transferring within the mission. We had 10 missionaries leaving, 16 new missionaries coming, and what seemed like countless missionaries being transferred to new areas.
The 10 missionaries who were finishing their mission arrived at the mission home for their final interview with Pres. McMullin, and stayed at Golf apartment—the local ‘hotel’ that has been created out of a home, that has a dorm room with about 20 beds in it. Everyone was excited, and worried, about the transition home. Excited to see family and friends, and worried about the prospect of finding work, and starting a family.
There was one missionary that had no place to go home to…his family had disowned him for converting to the Mormon Church, and had told him he could not come home. He has been spending extra time here in Lubumbashi in an effort to find someone who will take him in. He eventually found some friends in another town that were willing to take him in and aid him in the transition back to the ‘real world’. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon here in the Congo. More than a few missionaries go home to face serious problems: unemployment, family crisis, or simply have no home to return to. And because the Church is in its infancy here, it has limited resources to provide Church members with problems.
As usual, we held a farewell dinner and testimony meeting with the departing missionaries. It is always a special time, and a few tears are always shed. This was the first such meeting where Terri and I knew some of the missionaries. We had worked here long enough to develop relationships with them, and therefore the meeting was much more poignant for us.
The 16 new missionaries came in the next day, full of hope and promise. Fourteen elders and two sisters were ‘processed’ in the mission home to prepare them for the work ahead:
- They each had an interview with Pres. McMullin.
- They each had an interview with Sister Clawson, the medical specialist. The two of us gave them each a quick physical, eye test, and had them fill out a medical questionnaire—an effort to get a ‘base line’ for each missionary, to use to track their progress, or lack thereof, and health on their mission. Terri spoke to each one privately to discover any health problems they might have brought with them, or specific needs they might have. As usual, we found some with high blood pressure, and a couple who needed glasses, and a couple who had special needs.
- They each had to learn how to use a computer, receive a log-in name and password, so that they could write the President an email/letter each week of their mission.
- They each received a bag of ‘goodies’: items the mission provides to them to make their stay in the mission more comfortable: sheets, pillows, blankets (it really does get cold in Africa!), an emergency light, mosquito net, notebook, etc. All the items are placed in a large bag for easy carrying, as they will need to take these items to each and every area of their mission.
- They have a welcome dinner that night, and the next day they go through a series of orientation classes. They each get a phone, learn how to use it (we try to get them to text us rather than call us, as it is easier to read French than hear it over the phone—and we have a record of what they wanted). They also learn a little about cooking and keeping a clean apartment. Terri has a class about their medical needs: how to contact her, how to deal with illness, how to pay for medical care if needed, etc. Elder Wright has a class on mission finances: how to receive their monthly stipend, how to budget, the need to keep track of costs, keep receipts, etc. It is a full day for them. They get a late lunch, then for most it is off to their sector to work with their new companions, or back to Golf to prepare to leave the next day for their sectors.
- As there were more missionaries coming into the mission than leaving, it was up to Elder Eastman, Emanuel and I to find and prepare a place for each ‘extra’ missionary to live and sleep. This meant finding new apartments, furnishing the apartments with beds, tables , chairs, kitchen equipment, etc. We estimate that we will need to find and furnish 8 to 10 new apartments in the next 6-12 months! We recently opened apartments in Likasi, Upemba, Gecamine 2, and are working on a new apartment in Kakonda (we are fixing up an annex next to the local LDS Church for use by the missionaries). We still have to find new apartments for Kolwezi, Luputa, Mbuji Mayi, Kisanga, and Mwembila; as well as finding apartment ‘upgrades’ for Bongonga and Macameno. That’s just what we have to do NOW, we are still waiting to hear how many new missionaries we are getting in the next transfer!
I can’t even imagine what it must be like in some of the missions around the world, that are receiving, not just a few, but many new missionaries as part of this overwhelming tide of new missionaries that are arriving in the mission field. We are struggling to find apartments and furnishings for just a few new missionaries…what is it like to receive 20 or 30 new missionaries all at one time! It boggles the mind the work that must be taking place at all levels of the Church to facilitate this massive infusion of laborers in the Kingdom. And the amount of money that it must be costing! For those who are NOT serving in the mission field, the most useful thing that you can be doing right now is aiding in the financial end of the work—send money into the General Mission Fund to aid in paying for this wave of missionaries! Our church leaders, to their credit, rarely, if ever, mention this aspect of the work—the need for money to make the work happen. It is usually couched in subtle terms we have all been used to hearing: pay your tithes and offerings. But make no mistake, there is a great need for each of us to do more RIGHT NOW to aid in paying for the additional 20,000 to 30,000 missionaries that are being processed and moved into the mission field. For example: each apartment, besides the rent, cost about $5,000 to set-up with beds, shelves, tables, chairs, kitchen equipment, etc. If you assume we would need just 10,000 new apartments to house the missionaries, we are talking about $50 million dollars just to provide them a place to sleep when they arrive in the mission field! I think you get the point.
On top of all of this activity surrounding transfers is the normal day to day running of the mission:
- For Elder Eastman, Emanuel and I, making sure the missionaries have apartments to live in, and keeping them functioning by fixing broken toilets, plugged-up sinks, water and electrical problems, etc.
- For Terri, daily messages from sick missionaries (about 2500 messages a month, and about 200 times a month missionaries are sick—mostly simple things, but occasionally they will be sent to the hospital), working with clinics and hospitals caring for the sick, ensuring the correct medications are taken, follow-up, etc.
- For Elder Wright, making sure the missionaries get money to live on, dealing with money problems and issues, and, most importantly, the move to M-Pesa (the ability to send money to missionaries over the phone!), a HUGE project for him that he has been working on for months and months, that is about to reach fruition (no more having to deal with cash, just a money transfer to each missionary using their phones). It is/will be one of the most profound leaps forward for this country/this mission! The ability to send and receive money quickly and easily, and be able to track the money and payments electronically, will revolutionize the country and the mission. And it would not have been possible without the hard work of Elder Wright.
- Sister Wright aids Elder Wright in the financial work, as well as inputs all of the baptismal records into the Church system (250 baptisms a month?), as well as keeping all of us in the office from going off the rails… I call her the great Swami—she has the ability to keep all of the movements of the missionaries in her head somehow. Whenever I am confused about where an Elder is living, or moving to, or which apartments are opening or closing or who’s moving where when, I go in and ask the Swami (Sister Wright), who can always explain what is going on. Because of her ability to see the big picture, we go to her when we need to decide where to locate new apartments and/or how to rearrange the sectors when new Elders arrive (the Mission President has final say on all of this, of course, but he is usually spending his time trying to decide which missionary to move and where, and leaves the logistics of travel and where they live (which specific apartment they will live in) up to us).
- Sister Eastman spends her time as the President’s personal secretary (she handles all mission correspondence) and is in charge of logistics (with the help of Justin, a local who works in the office). They have to arrange all the transportation and travel, including hotels, etc., for visiting General Authorities. During transfers she has the mammoth job making sure Elders come and go at the right time and to the right place, arranging travel and places to sleep, etc. She also makes arrangements for visiting General Authorities and their entourages—sometimes a very complicated process! In the next few months we will be having quite a few General Authorities visiting, and Sister Eastman has been in charge of making sure all the travel, sleeping arrangements, and meeting schedules go off without a hitch.
With this week over, we will just barely have time to get our heads above water when a series of General Authorities will begin to arrive in the coming weeks. One prominent General Authority will be arriving just about the same time as the next transfers… so picture this week times two, as we are handling missionaries coming, going, transferring, etc., as well as General Authorities visiting, meetings, scheduling, traveling, wow! If we all make it through the next couple of months and into next year…I was going to say we will have it made, but then I remembered that the couples we rely on so badly will begin to go home next year! The Eastman’s leave the first of the year and the Wrights leave in the spring.
A pang of fear just gripped me: If we don’t find replacements for these marvelous couples…well, it will be Terri and I doing everything! Really? Come on! There has to be a few of you out there that want to come to the Congo and help us in the work, right?