Saturday, July 4, 2015

"Eat, drink, and be merry, for Monday we die!" --Elder Nthengu


Quote of the night last night from Elder Nthengu... Ah man. Being with him, Elder Sarai, and Elder Haas these last couple weeks has been a blast. We started together (except for Elder Haas, who started his mission in Liberia but was booted so he didn't get ebola and die and stuff), and we're ending together. No better way to go out.

Where to begin, where to begin... I guess no better place than the beginning, right?

So for the PMTC this week, we spent Monday to Thursday working at the Williams Hunt dealership in downtown Durban. It interesting experience to say the least. I've been around Afrikaaners, Sothos, Tswanas, Zulus, and an occasional Xhosa, but this last week we've been around the French. And when I say French, I'm not talking about the ones from France. Remember Cam from Ferris Beuler's Day Off? "Pardon my French, but you're an @#$%!" Yeah, that French. Yoh, those guys know how to swear. And they loved asking me how many ethnicities I've broken the law of chastity with since coming to South Africa. Eish. But, we ended up learning lots and lots of good things about cars. Whereas a few years ago for mutual I found myself pouring motor all over the engine instead of into the right hole, today I'm the champion of changing oil. Hee yeah!

We were each assigned one of the technicians to work with for the week, and my guy was named Nash. Short for Nashir. It was kinda funny... On mission we have our babas and sons (trainers and trainees), and he was kind of like my baba at the dealership. By the end of the week he was calling me "my son" and "my boy" whenever he needed tools. We made a great team. Nash was the man though. He's a Muslim, and it's Ramadan right now, so they're fasting for a month straight. It's a little different than the way we fast. It's from sun up to sun down for the whole month. I was asking what the religious significance is, and I guess it's sort of a spiritual cleansing. Islam is cool. Nash's buddy was telling me about how they greet. "As-Salaam-Alaikum" is like hello, but it translates in Arabic to "may the peace of the Lord be upon you." The response is "Wa-Alaikum-as-Salaam," which means "and upon you peace." Islam really is a peaceful religion... And they make very nice food. It's just a shame that the extremists have given it a bad name.

But anyway, the dealership was fun. The last couple days Nash and I replaced an engine, so I'm no long as car illiterate as I was a week ago. He showed me this nice place to get bunny chow on the beach too. (Not like food for bunnies. A bunny chow is a Durban creation. It's like a quarter loaf of bread filled with curry. If you've been to Durban but you haven't had a bunny chow, you haven't been to Durban.) And at the end of the week, we got certificates for our efforts. Hurrah for Israel!

So during this whole time, we've still been missionaries (duh), so it's been on our minds to share the gospel with the people we've been working with. And now, I see why it's so difficult for members to share the gospel with their friends. When you're tracting or street contacting, you know you've got a short time to get your message across, so you just jump right into Jesus stuff. But with your friends or people you're around a lot. It's different, but I think in a good way. It doesn't really make sense to sales pitch them. So what do you do? As Greg Prince put it to me, "Be helpful to all, but force none." Be a friend, be as Christ-like as you can be, and if over the course of your relationship you see a need that the gospel can fill in their lives, offer to help. So that's what we did. Most of the guys there didn't have any interest in what we have to share, but I feel like we ended up really good friends with them by the end of the week. And maybe...just maybe, one day, the gospel will be able to bless them. Elder Poelman explained something to us called "the butterfly effect." The idea is that a butterfly flaps its wings in the Caribbean, and a couple weeks later a hurricane hits Florida. Essentially, it's the little things that make the biggest difference for good or for bad. Be excellent to everyone all the time, because you never know when your small acts of goodness will make a big difference later on down the road.

So that was fun. Yesterday we had our last little meeting as a PMTC group with the Z Man himself. He offered us a few pieces of wisdom. What he wanted to address is the fear that most missionaries have of being successful and effective in our returns home. He gave us three reasons why he knows we will. Number one, the Lord keeps his promises and will not forsake us. Number two, we've skills as missionaries that will benefit us the rest of our lives. Planning, talking to people, learning, being exuberant, etc. And number three, the practical role the Holy Ghost plays in our lives. Elder Ellis told us a story at zone conference about Elder Russell M. Nelson being helped by the Holy Ghost while performing a heart surgery. "The Holy Ghost knows heart surgery!" He'll be there to help us not only in spiritual things, but in temporal things too. President Zackrison is the man. There is no one else I'd rather have had as a mission president these last two years. What a blessing he's been to every single one of us missionaries.

The Rowberrys took us to dinner last night at a Chinese place. You know, since we're in Africa... Yoh, it was nice though.

And then that brings us to today. Looks like this'll be my last time emailing at this super sketchy email shop. (It's kind of like Vegas here... You can't really look up, down, left, or right because the other people here that aren't missionaries don't use their computers for the most wholesome of activities.) Gonna get one last haircut from my Indian friend. We've got our exit interviews this afternoon. And then it'll be time to pick up Baba and Mama Johnson from King Shaka International airport. Am I excited? Eh, just a little...

So that means this'll be the last of the emails too. I'll come with my stories to that Mormon church on Mountain Road in Fruit Heights on the 19th of this month at 9:00 AM. Don't expect food or anything after because I'll be sleeping for about a week straight. (OK, I guess there will actually be food... If you want me, though, I'll be asleep in the hammock in the backyard.)

Sizobonana maduze, abafana namantombazane.

Thanda kakhulu,

Captain America
(That was my name at the dealership all week. Happy Fourth of July!)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Shared 6/27/15 - PMTC in Durban, Electricity, Plumbing, and a Birthday

Happy Birthday President Z!

 Electrical circuits



iziNsuku ezimnandi

Kinda weird emailing on a Saturday... But hey, I've done weirder things on mission. (See for clarification.)
Anywho, this week has been great. After experiencing it for a week, we're finally able to tell people what exactly this PMTC thing is. Post Mission Training Center... Elder Poelman keeps making it very clear to us that this is not a church sponsored program, but it's something that the Z Man asked him to organize for the African elders to make the transition from mission life to home life a bit smoother and give them a bit of an advantage when it comes to finding work. I believe he's been doing it for a little more than a year now, and until recently, it was exclusively the African elders that have been doing it. But, a couple American elders were interested a couple transfers ago and had a very positive experience going through the programme. Turns out that the stuff we learn can be very helpful for anyone adjusting back to home life. Let me explain...
We started last Monday being treated to lunch by Elder Poelman. Over lunch, he explained to us his whole background and where he comes from. He actually has a pretty incredible story. Went from being a hooligan in high school (graduating only after agreeing with the staff  that he'd never come back), to joining the military, to marrying Sister Poelman in a Catholic church, to inviting the missionaries from the Mormon church (which he'd been inactive in since he was a child) to teach her the gospel, to being re-converted himself, to eventually owning a multi-million dollar company, and then finally to where he is today. And along the way, he gained a pretty darn good amount of experience and wisdom --  a portion of which he'd share with us over the next couple days. He taught us about Maslow's heirarchy of wants and needs, people skills, how to recognize the spirit, how to brainstorm, how to think outside the box and set yourself apart from other people, and about the mysteries of God -- which are essentially all the things we don't currently know. It was truly fascinating.
So that was the first couple days.
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we spent time learning specific skills. Andre Slabbert is the resident go-to handyman the mission office uses whenever there's problems at any of the boardings. He's also in the bishopric in Berea. But he was our instructor Wednesday and Thursday and taught us about electricity and plumbing. This is all really good stuff. Now when I'm married and there's a water or electrical problem, I won't have to immediately tap out in front of my wife and go right to the phonebook for a repair man... I'll be the dream husband that knows how to fix it! Hee yeah! Basically by the end of the day we had to wire a circuit board from nothing, and if it turned on the light at, we knew our stuff. Turns out Elder Sarai and I now know our stuff. Plumbing was cool too... But I think the four of us agreed electricity is a bit more exciting. Plumbing won't really boil all your blood within seconds in you touch the wrong wire.
Yeah and then yesterday we did a self-reliance course with Elder and Sister Snell. (They're serving here from England, and Sister Snell's claim to fame is that her and Eric Clapton were playmates growing up in primary school. So that's pretty sweet.) We learned the importance of planning your life, how to interview, how to network, and all that good stuff. The future is nerve wracking, but hey, all the help you can get is great!
So at the end of the week, I think all four of us are really enjoying this PMTC thing. And in my opinion, it'd be good for ALL missionaries to do something like this before going home. Make the transition a little bit easier.
That's been the majority of the week. Usually we've finished at around 5, and our time after that President's asked us to use for proselytizing. Well, it's kinda hard to proselyte when you don't really have a specific area... So what Elder Haas and I decided would be the best use of our time would be to visit members in our old areas that are relatively close and try and seek referrals. Kill two birds with one stone. So that's what we've been trying to do... But man. When it's four elders, and we're finishing our missions in a week and a half, and we're visiting people we haven't seen in months... It makes it hard to do much more than catch up and enjoy your moments together. But I think we're all ok with that. One of the personal goals I made for myself these last couple weeks is to make sure Elder Sarai and Elder Nthengu finish their missions as happy as ever, and I do believe that's happening.
A couple other things we did this week...
President Zackrison's birthday was on Tuesday! Our instruction was at the mission home, so naturally we had to buy him a cake and a card. He's seemed stressed lately, so we tried to put a smile on his face. The bakers at Pick N Pay had already gone home when we bought the cake, so we had to ice it ourselves. President's full name is John Alma Zackrison, so he signs a lot of his emails and embroiders the sleeves of a lot of his shirts with his initials, JAZ. Hence, his cake was iced with "Happy Birthday JAZ!" written on it. And his card... Might have referenced breaking the Word of Wisdom on the front, but our note on the inside read:
"...well, maybe not the booze since we're Mormons! But your favorite juice or cool drink should do the trick! We love and respect you!
the PMTC Elders"
Hmmm... Come to think of it. A lot of this may only be funny if you're serving in this mission. Eh, oh well. President got a kick out of it and I think that's what's important.
And then one more thing... I found this t-shirt that, again, you may only find funny if you've been living in South Africa. It says, "LOL: Lots of Loadsheding. Let's braai!" So loadshedding... Let me explain. South Africa's been selling a lot of electricity to other countries, which is great because it brings in money. But the thing that sucks is that we don't keep enough for ourselves before selling. So, in two hour blocks, to cut down on electricity usage, there's something called loadshedding. Basically, different blocks will lose power for a couple hours, then a different block will lose it, and so forth. It happens too frequently in Durbs. Usually at really inconvenient times. But braaing is essentially barbecuing, and you don't need electricity for that. Anytime is braai time!
So yeah! That's been this week. We're attending in kwaMashu tomorrow, so that should be fun. Then most of the week we're learning car stuff at the Williams Hunt dealership. And Saturday will be the 4th of July... What better way to celebrate America's birthday than picking up Mama and Pop Pop at the airport that night? Should be lekker!
Sala kahle, stay positive, and love your lives my friends!
Thanda kakhulu,
Umdala Johnson