The Authorities come to the Congo

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Left to right, back row: President and Sister McMullin, Terri and I, Elder and Sister Christensen, Elder and Sister Atkinson, Elder and Sister Wright.

Left to right, front row; Elder and Sister Bednar, Elder and Sister Eastman

Elder Bednar’s Visit

We have had a good weekend hosting a number of General authorities, including Elder and Sister Bednar (Apostle), Elder and Sister Christensen (one of the seven Presidents of the Seventies Quorum), Elder and Sister Renlund (Area President), Brother and sister Causee (Presiding Bishopric).

They came in Friday morning with a large entourage, including security, photographers, and journalists. They had lots to do on their agenda. Elder Bednar went to visit the Governor (who was not available), and then came to the final session of a Zone Conference with all the local missionaries, most of the couples and all the Zone Leaders from the entire mission. For about 3 hours he presided over a meeting where he taught and asked and answered questions. It was quite inspiring.

Using the scripture:  D&C 88:122 “Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesman at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege.” He taught that this was one of the proper methods to teach. Using this technique, he began to ask questions, and permit questions to be asked of him. After each question and answer a short discussion would take place, led by Elder Bednar.

He had prefaced this question and answer period with the admonition to ask ‘appropriate’ questions, and questions that only he could answer—in other words, you have an apostle in your midst and have the opportunity to ask him anything you want…so ask appropriate questions, and think of questions that only an apostle could answer. Interesting.

Most of the questions from the missionaries dealt with their missionary work that any leader could answer. In those cases, he asked the other leaders and their wives to answer the questions. On a few occasions they asked specific enough questions about the church organization or apostleship that he answered them directly, stating that they were questions ONLY an apostle would have the knowledge to answer.

For example, one Elder asked how the Prophet was chosen and ordained. Why was it always the oldest apostle and not perhaps one of the other apostles, etc.? He then gave a discourse on how the prophetic mantle transitions from one prophet to another—with the insight that the selection begins years before, when the person is first called to be an apostle. In President Monson’s case, he was chosen to be Prophet over 50 years ago and has simply been waiting and preparing for the day when the mantle fell upon him. God makes that choice at the calling of an apostle and then ensures the choice by the death of any and all that are NOT to be Prophet.

The other question was how was the Prophet ordained and who ordained him? After a short discussion about who holds the keys of the Priesthood (each apostle holds ALL the keys, but does not exercise the rights to use them until called upon to do so), explained that ALL the apostles gather together, lay their hands on the head of the senior apostle, and, with the next in line actually saying the prayer and blessing.

The fact that everyone knows who will become the next prophet, and the line of succession is so clear and simple, is actually one of the signs that this is the true church. God does not want his church or his Gospel to be a mystery (as some churches teach), but wants people to understand both Him and His Church with ease and clarity. It makes no sense for God to reveal Himself and His eternal plan to man, only to shroud it in a mystery that no one can understand! When the prophet dies, there is no arguing, debating, in-fighting, political maneuvering, etc.; the transition goes smoothly, with love, respect and honor.

Terri and I sat up near the front, while the other couples sat in the back, for two reasons: Terri was there with medical equipment in case anything should occur (one Sister missionary had already fainted during an earlier session with President and Sister McMullin and we had been called to come early to take care of it); and we were both there to assist President McMullin should he, or the other authorities, need something done. Two things minor events occurred. Chairs needed to be moved, at the request of Elder Bednar, and with a nod of his head towards me, I understood Pres. McMullin wanted me to take care of that.

The second came at the end when Elder Bednar wanted to give all the missionaries the opportunity to shake hands with the authorities. One never knows how that might go in the Congo. Normal Congo culture is to simply do everything you can to get to the front—there is no such thing as lines. Often at the store, at the airport, or other places where one normally gets into lines, people simply move past you to get ahead. The same is true on the road—witness the insane transport drivers as they will even drive on the opposite side of the road to get ahead! So, normally the missionaries would simply all push forward in a tumult. In that case, we were warned by Elder Bednar, he would end the process and simply leave (he has done it before). So after the closing prayer Terri jumped up to guide the missionaries row by row to meet Elder Bednar (in an orderly manner, like at the Temple), and I was at the other side guiding them back to their seats. All went well.

After the meeting all the couples returned to the Mission Home to eat dinner with the General Authorities (except for the Atkinsons and Renlunds who stayed behind for another meeting—they had a graduation ceremony for members who had been learning construction techniques in the Church’s program here). To our surprise and delight, the three couples were sat at the same table as Brother and Sister Bednar. We had the opportunity to talk and share stories and ask questions.

After dinner there was more time to talk to Elder Bednar, and there was some lively discussion between President McMullin and Elder Bednar about the Church in Africa and some of the general trends in the Church—where the Church is going from here, how it will change to meet the needs of the world-wide church, etc. Some of the comments were personal and Elder Bednar requested they not be passed on (in fact he teased us, in a joking manner, telling us it was in his power to completely wipe our names off the Church roles if we disclosed what he told us…). And, in fact, it was absolutely eye-opening and jaw dropping…but sorry, my lips are sealed!

The Wrights and Eastmans played and sang songs for entertainment (they are getting to be well-known in this part of the Church, and no one comes to our Mission without requesting to hear them!).

Just before the evening ended the Atkinsons arrived (the Renlunds had gone back to their hotel), and ate some dinner. They had the chance to meet the Bednars and the Christensens and hear the great blessing that Elder Bednar gave at the end of the evening.

Finally, as the evening came to an end, Elder Bednar asked to give the closing prayer, and in the prayer gave all of the couples a marvelous blessing for our service.

After the Bednars left, Terri and I sat with the Atkinsons and talked while they ate, then helped clean-up for the McMullins.

The next day was a Priesthood Leadership Meeting and a Women’s Conference. Elder Bednar attended one, while his wife attended the other. The Elder missionaries were NOT invited to the Priesthood meeting, but the Sister Missionaries were invited to the Women’s Conference. I drove Terri, and Sisters Wright and Atkinson to the Conference, then came back and spent some time with Elder Atkinson until we returned to pick them up. So I have no idea what went on.

Terri called just prior to our leaving, having a local member that had some medical problems at the conference, and needed to go home. So I drove to the Stake Center, picked up Terri, the woman, her child, and one of the ushers to take the woman home. Afterward we returned to the Stake Center where the meetings were just about to end. [Terri’s edit: I’d love to tell you what happened at the Women’s Conference, but a woman collapsed about 20 minutes into the conference and I stayed with her and then took her home, so I missed the entire thing. I was happy to be there – I was sitting on the stand when one of the ushers (protocole in French) came up and asked if I had medicine for “tension” (blood pressure). I asked him if he needed me to come, and he said “yes.” Off we went down off the stand and into a back hallway. The woman was collapsed on the floor with her child standing next to her. Time passed and all was well, though I felt the sister needed to go home, which is why I called Kevan . .  . and on with the story.]

We then came home and had a free afternoon. We watched a movie, took a nap, and prepared for Sunday when we would be driving the Christensens to Conference at the Lubumbashi Stake Center. There were a number of meetings the Authorities held while here:

Friday: Zone Conference with the missionaries

Saturday: Priesthood Leadership Meeting/Sister’s Conference in the morning; Single Adult Conference in the afternoon

Sunday: Two Stake Conferences in the morning (Christensens went to Lubumbashi Stake, Bednars went to Katuba Stake); Young Adult Conference in the afternoon.

Monday: they all leave for the next country on their agenda!

So on Sunday we got the van and made sure we had everything in it possible: snacks, water, trauma kit, etc., and picked the Christensens and Renlunds and a security man at the local hotel. There was also an FM man there in a second car (they requested that there be two cars available at all times—part of the security protocol). We drove them to the Stake Center, which was already full to capacity. Emanuel was working there that day and I had asked him to save us two seats, as we were bringing the Authorities and would need somewhere to sit—he had two seats up front for us.

The meeting was great. The Stake President, his wife, and Elder and Sister Renlund spoke in French (which we understood!); while the Christensen’s spoke in English with Desiree as the interpreter (I work with Desiree as part of the buildings and FM).

Elder Renlund spoke about the calling of a Seventy, which was interesting, and noted that they always travel in twos (he and Elder Christensen for example). Elder Christensen being the presiding authority as he is a President of the Seventy, while Renlund, though an Area President, is a Seventy under his authority.

After the conference we took them back to their hotel to eat and rest, and picked them up again at 1:30 to return to the Stake Center for a meeting with the Young Adults in the Stake.

We picked up the same group for the afternoon young adult conference: the Christensens and Renlunds, with one security man. We briefly saw the Bednars, but they were on their way to a young adult conference in the other stake.

When we arrived the building was about half full of youth. Terri and I sat in the back, while the rest went to the front. They used a similar format that Elder Bednar used at the Zone Conference: speaking for a while, then opening the meeting up to questions from the youth. There was only one odd thing that happened during the meeting: one young man was supposed to answer a question about tithing…but when he got to the front to speak, he said something in Swahili and everyone totally broke up laughing. Since we don’t speak Swahili, neither I nor Terri knew what was said. Elder Christensen disregarded the question/answer and answered the initial question about tithing.

After the meeting, which lasted about 1 ½ hours, we took them all back to their hotel. They all leave tomorrow morning sometime. Before leaving, Terri asked Sister Christensen if she knows Bruce and Susan Porter (he is a Seventy also). She said “yes,” and promised to pass Susan a message from Terri. Susan was one of Terri’s roommates in college, and Terri and I and the Porters double-dated in college before we were married. We used to call Bruce “plant Porter” because he was so tall and thin and looked like a plant the girls had in their apartment. Bruce also gave my new/old car a name: der schwarze haufe (he spoke German, and it means ‘the black heap’). Well, it was an old car…

Anyway, it was a good weekend and everything seemed to go well for everyone. Tomorrow it is back to the daily grind of the mission: medical for Terri and apartments and fixing stuff for me.

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