Our weekend was a busy one and a good one. We visited this institute class on Saturday morning at 8:00 when most young people would prefer to be asleep. They live in old Johannesburg in a very low economic area, and the teacher and all but one of the students were immigrants from French speaking countries. They spoke heavily accented English and we had to listen carefully, but the comments from both teacher and students were humbling. They spoke of challenges that make many we experience seem like small inconveniences. The students were searching and hoping for jobs, dreaming of getting an education, doing whatever they can and relying on faith that their lives can be better.
The instructor said that his family came to Johannesburg to try to get work but they were unemployed for many months. They had little food and slept on the floor with no mattress. He finally got a job that didn’t pay much but was grateful to work into something a little better. His wife looked for a job for two and a half years before she found one six months ago. Now he says that her starting time is 7:00a, but he said she is there every day at 6:00a. He said that is how you know if someone has really worked for a job. They would always be there early no matter what the situation; the person who was given the job might show up a half hour late. He talked a little about political situations and of not having freedom. He gave the example of many black people who “ran away” as he put it, during apartheid, but were now having trouble getting back into the country. He counseled his students to never run away and to never complain even if they are hungry—and he didn’t mean if you missed lunch—he meant really hungry. We complain over so little sometimes.
We went from Johannesburg to an outlying city called Cosmo City. It is also very low income housing, but not as compact. Cosmo City is a small branch and they meet in what they call a “container chapel” which is several mobile home type classrooms put together. We were supposed to visit a seminary class at 2:00p but we discovered it wouldn’t be held because of a stake girls’ camp. Since our 4:00p visit was in the same place, we just waited and watched some amazing birds in the field near the chapel. A little before 4:00p, the instructor showed up which was great, but then African time began. He explained that some of the class members were gone to help with girls camp, but said a few were coming and that he would go pick up one of the class members “right over there.” We thought he was pointing to some nearby houses, but then he disappeared into a field and we watched his white shirt until he was at least half a mile away at which time he disappeared behind some trees and was gone a very long time. About fifteen minutes later, two young men showed up for the class but then one said that he was going to go pick up another one. They also disappeared down the same path. Finally the instructor came back alone—the girl had to work and could not be at class. We waited until almost an hour past starting time and then said we would visit at another time. As we were pulling out of the church, we could see the other young men coming in the distance. J
Today we went to another outlying village called Ennerdale. They also meet in a “container chapel”, but it looked like they were about to outgrow it as every chair was filled in sacrament meeting. I would guess there were at least a hundred members there. A nice thing about the Ennerdale Branch is that they have a really nice garden that helps feed the needy members. It also gives them a place to work if they are receiving church assistance. Except for difference in skin color, it could have been a sacrament meeting anywhere in the states. The girls had just returned from girls’ camp and talked about their experiences through a few tears, after which the high councilor spoke encouraging members to attend the temple. The YSA meeting was well conducted and well taught; 16 in attendance. The youth here are really sharp. Young Women’s meeting was just like home—music, theme, some giggles, and a lot of participation from a bunch of cute girls. They had won a trophy at girls’ camp for the best skit and they were pretty excited about that.
After the meeting, a young man was baptized in a brick font that has been built in the center of their courtyard. When he bore his testimony he said that his conversion began with a knock on the missionaries door. I thought he had made a mistake and meant that it began when the missionaries knocked on his door. But no, he went on to say that when the missionaries moved to his neighborhood, he knocked on their door to ask them “what they were about.” When they explained a little, he asked them if they could teach him. Those were probably happy missionaries! But we have found that people are very open here, we have received several missionary referrals that we got just by talking to people in the stores, and we’ve also given out a bunch of pass along cards; 16 so far. The people who take them are sincere—they ask questions and want to know if we have a website and make sure that we have their addresses correct. It seems there really are a lot of people looking for the gospel here in Africa.