Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Happy New Years from Africa! 

Christmas Day

Christmas Day in Johannesburg was warm and sunny, not a snowflake in sight, and even though it did not quite feel like Christmas, we had a great time helping to prepare and serving breakfast to about 170 missionaries here in the Johannesburg Mission. The mission president and his wife and all of their Christmas "helpers" worked hard to make the breakfast, the fireside and the Christmas gifts special for the Elders. They are all so far away from home and this year, and because of the mail strike, they weren't able to get packages from their families. Generous members and even non-members in the Johannesburg area baked, gathered gift donations and contributed funds so that a gift box could be given to each Elder.  After breakfast, we had a nice fireside which included the first-in-Africa showing of "Meet the Mormons." The film was really well done and did a great job of introducing the church as the world wide church that it has become. After the breakfast and fireside, the Elders changed into their P-day clothes and were free to hangout and play games until they had to go home so that they could make their Christmas day call to their families. In the evening, we had dinner with a South African family here which was also very nice and included a gift exchange afterwards. Unfortunately, I neglected to take any pictures of the event.
 Merry Christmas from South Africa!
Elders are beginning to line up for breakfast.
We helped to assemble & bake 20 of these breakfast casseroles. The elders also enjoyed Cinnabons, muffins, fruits, juice and chocolate milk. I don't think any went away hungry.
 Some of the things that the gift boxes contained--journals, CD's, flashlights, etc.
 Opening their boxes and having breakfast on the lawn--see? no snow!
 Lots of elders everywhere.
 This Santa a.k.a. Elder Hanson, actually turns out to be a cousin somewhere along the line. We are both Kunz's from Bear Lake, and look, he isn't any taller than I am! Must be in the genes.
The chapel was packed to overflowing for the devotional--what a great sight for Christmas day!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Traditions in South Africa

It has been interesting to spend the Christmas season in South Africa. First of all, it’s way too hot for Christmas with way too many flowers blooming. People are zipping around like crazy but part of the reason is that it is summer break for school children here as well as Christmas break for most of the workers. Some business areas are oddly quiet while others are crazily busy. Like in America, Christmas is a big eating season so the grocery stores are so busy that you’d almost rather just eat what’s in the cupboard than to brave the huge crowds of shoppers. We needed a couple of things this morning and you didn’t just have to wait in line to pay; you had to wait in line to even get a basket to shop. The big malls are even worse. We have wanted to see "The Hobbit" since it came out but have driven to the mall twice during times that we thought it couldn’t been too busy and left again because the parking lot just looked too menacing.
A description of holiday traditions would vary depending on the culture of the person and there are a lot. Some people we’ve talked to celebrate somewhat like us, but with the English slant since many are English. Father Christmas comes to these houses and he looks pretty much like an older version of Santa Clause but usually gifts are for Christmas Eve. Celebrations include crackers—the little popping rolled presents like you might have seen in the animation of Snowman. When you open the popper, there’s a paper crown inside that you’re supposed to put on, a corny joke and some kind of a little toy.

Some families we’ve talked to keep the celebration strictly spiritual. A little girl explained that her family didn’t have Santa Clause because they don’t worship Santa Clause. I thought (but didn’t say) we don’t worship either, but we really like him because he’s cute and jolly and brings presents J Some people have trees, but evergreens don’t grow in enough abundance to waste on Christmas—they use “plastic ones” as they describe.

Others we’ve talked to have very simple Christmas traditions—visiting friends, inviting someone who is lonely to dinner, maybe a gift, but something practical. A couple of the people we worked with who grew up in tribal cultures said that they would always get new clothes for Christmas, but they were almost always the school uniform they needed for the next year. They were very happy to get that gift and early Christmas morning, they would put on their new clothes and then walk around the village to all of their friends’ houses to show them their new clothes. Their Christmas treat was different too. Since bread was not usually eaten in their diet, on Christmas day, their parents would buy a number of loaves of white bread and slice it. The slices would be spread with jam and the children could eat as much as they liked throughout the day.
Since they can’t build snowmen or go on sleigh rides, Christmas is a big beach and picnic day in South Africa. Braais are almost expected for both Christmas and New Years Day. I would say that a braai is the same as a barbeque, but South Africans would tell you that they are definitely not. I haven't yet determined the difference, but I do know that it wouldn't be a braai without boerworse, meaning farmer sausage, that always comes rolled up. A lot of vendors on the streets are selling picnic baskets and decorative nets that keep the flies off the food. Boxing Day is also celebrated here, which is the day after Christmas. From the definition I see that it is a day when servants and tradespeople receive gifts from their employees. I’m not sure if that happens as part of that celebration, but almost everyone here in Johannesburg has a maid and a gardener so I hope they all get some presents.
We’ve attended several nice holiday programs that have helped us get at least some Christmas spirit. On Monday, one of the teachers we supervise invited us for a Christmas home evening. Tomorrow we’ll be helping with a Christmas Day activity for all of the young elders and in the evening we’re invited to the home of a South African family for a Christmas dinner and gift exchange. It has admittedly been lonely being away from family for Christmas, but we’ve appreciated the generous nature of the people here during the holiday and always.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Christmas Spirit from Ten Thousand Miles Away

We've been listening to Christmas music and watching some old Christmas videos to try to feel some of the Christmas spirit so far away. Here's a really nice one--a lot of people really like the piano guys and David Archuletta. They made this very nice one, along with a few hundred friends :) The guy on the cello is Steven Sharp Nelson. If you love cello, he has some great CD's that we have listened to many, many times.

Monday, December 8, 2014


As the culmination for an entire year’s efforts by students, teachers, priesthood leaders and us, our seminary graduation took place on Saturday. We had been getting ready for weeks. The event is similar to a small high school graduation—in our case, about 150 students were receiving a little over 200 different recognitions including diplomas, certificates of achievement and course completion certificates. Preparing the certificates and inserted diplomas into covers is definitely the easy part. What takes time is making sure that each student’s record for this year AND for all of his/her prior years is accurately reflected in the recognition. Thankfully, the WISE program does most of this for us, but since we found a few errors in what it generated, we had to check each student to make sure that they weren’t given a recognition they didn’t deserve, but especially so that they didn’t come to the ceremony expecting a diploma or certificate and be disappointed. Kids really feel bad if they come all dressed up expecting to receive recognition and their name isn't called. We also had to generate a number of recognitions that were the result of last minute makeup work—WISE doesn’t consider those. All of the time spent paid off. We had only one single girl who wanted to have her certificate reprinted, but that was only because she has changed her name and the name she is going by isn’t what is in the church records.

The ceremony was only part of the day. Last June at our Seminary Super Saturday, the stake presidency promised the students who finished successfully a breakfast cooked by the presidency. Since the presidency made the decision to have the breakfast and the graduation for both seminary and institute on the same day, the invitation was extended to the institute students as well, and then of course to all of the families who would be attending with them. The stake presidency and their helpers, including high council representatives, bishops and some of the young men were very busy flipping pancakes, scrambling eggs and cooking bacon. I’m sure we fed over two hundred people, and miraculously, the pancakes multiplied so that everyone was able to enjoy breakfast.

During the ceremony, when the stake president shared his remarks, he set a goal for 100% completion this year by all students. We didn’t end up too badly for this year—about 70% for both seminary and institute, and while 100% is a lofty goal, we’ll be glad that the students, leaders and parents will be given that expectation. In all the graduation, was a wonderful success, bringing closure to a wonderful year.
President deKock flipping pancakes
Our high counsel representative on the bacon
Seminary students cracking eggs and there were a LOT of eggs!
All the guys are busy--I brought an apron to help, but the guys had it handled.
A creative way to cook a lot of eggs--it worked very well.
Takes concentration to make this many pancakes.
Some of the institute students eating breakfast.
Seminary students from one of the wards sung accompanied by cello and violin.
 The chapel was full
Lots of happy kids got certificates and/or diplomas