Saturday, May 30, 2015

Johannesburg Temple

          Some things about living in big Johannesburg are challenging, but one thing that we’ve really loved about being here is that there is a temple, which means we have attended often. About six months ago, we were asked to serve as ordinance workers and began to work in the temple every Friday morning. By morning, I mean seriously morning. We get up at about 3:30 to be there at 5:00 for prayer meeting and then patrons start coming at 6:00. It is a small temple, but there it stays pretty busy and there is always a big variety of assignments depending on what individuals or groups are coming that day. Because Johannesburg is the only temple on this side of Africa, people will travel sometimes for days to get here, usually by bus or taxi (mini bus.) For those with little means, it is often the only time they will ever be able to come to a temple. Unlike in other temples where there may be a few new endowments on any given day, here there may be many because of the members who travel together to come for that purpose. Another challenge is language--there are so many languages spoken in Africa, and those from other African countries do not always speak English. There are language cards and headsets that help them follow the ceremony, but sometimes in addition to not understanding English, they don’t read, so you just hope that the spirit of the ceremony will transfer somehow. Something that is especially fun is seeing the little children come to be sealed to their parents. The picture included show only part of the many children and families that were sealed one day when we were working. We will definitely have fond memories of the Johannesburg temple. For those of you who may not know about temples, here’s a link to a page with a video that explains more. Why Mormons Build Temples
Everyone wears white inside the temple. Pictures aren't taken inside; this is in the foyer, just outside the temple.
The temple president's wife took this picture in the inside stairwell leading up to the foyer--a little bit of an odd angle, but you can see the angel Moroni on the spire through the glass ceiling.
This was part of a large group of families that were sealed one of the days we worked. They are waiting for everyone to gather so they can take some group shots. The little kids all look so cute dressed in white.
This is outside the temple. Just like in the states, ward primary programs bring their children to the temple so they can walk around the grounds and get to know the temple.
These little girls were waiting for the parents who were attending a sealing. I thought it was cute because Elder Davie wanted the big sister to put her arm on her little sister's shoulder. She thought he wanted her to touch her shoulders :) She probably thought, "white men are pretty crazy." :)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Andrew and all of the Other Andrews


           Only a few weeks after we arrived in Johannesburg, we met a young man named Andrew. We were giving him an orientation about the PEF program (Perpetual Education Fund, which doesn't mean a person will be perpetually educated J but that he/she will eventually repay the loan so that others can use the returned funds for education) Anyway, Andrew is a nice young man who wanted very much to get an education, a good job, and start a family, but he had been home from his mission a couple of years and was still unemployed. The employment rate here is high anyway (over 25%) but he had the added handicap of being born in Malawi. I’m sure Malawi is a beautiful country so it isn’t the country itself; it’s any country that’s not South Africa. Just like in the US, there are strict laws against hiring foreign-born people unless they have the correct documents and permissions from both countries. I have learned that these are expensive and time consuming to obtain here in South Africa, and in order to get the ones in Malawi, he would have to travel home and according to him, have some money for bribes. Some of you may have been following the news here in South Africa and understand that the attitude of South Africans to immigrants is less than accepting. Even with those problems and with the high unemployment, there are apparently more opportunities here than in other parts of Africa, so they keep coming.
            Andrew hadn’t let his challenges stop him from trying, and all during this year, he has been going to job interviews and placing applications. Because he has had no income, he doesn’t have money for transportation, so it has been difficult for him to make progress.  Many times he walked miles to interviews, to part time jobs, or to schools to check on programs and prices. Sometimes, we have given him rides to interviews and also to the schools so that he can continue his goal of getting an education. The lack of transportation not only presented a problem in getting to interviews, it was also a barrier to the interview resulting in a job.  Some employers that would have hired him would not because they knew that he wouldn’t be able to get to work regularly. It’s a problem for many young people here. Few have cars or are educated for more than entry-level jobs. Kentucky Fried Chicken, for example, has about a hundred stores here in the city and is often advertising for employees, but the wages they pay are not even enough cover the cost of the taxi to get to and from work. The advice given is that they should take the job, even though they won’t earn a dime, and then to work hard in hopes of being promoted to management where they will earn enough to get to work and maybe buy groceries.
            We were all happy when Andrew finally got a job a couple of months ago. I’m not sure how they got around the citizenship requirements, but he was hired at Game, which is a store similar to Walmart, stocking shelves on the night shift. His starting wage is the equivalent of about $1.50/hr. US, which will be enough for his taxi fare and food but not a lot else. For the days before he got a paycheck to pay taxi fair, Frank took him to work several times, but most of the days Andrew walked to and from work. The distance between where he lives (in a little tin structure in one of the townships) to the mall where he was hired is 25 kilometers or about 16 miles. It takes more than an hour to drive the distance; it takes him five hours to walk one way.
            The reason I’m sharing Andrew’s story is because it is so typical of most of the young people in Africa, including many of the young people that we work with. Like Andrew, their job search may take years before it pays off. I remember one of our teachers saying that you can tell which of the people at a work place have had to struggle to get hired like that. He said those people are always at work an hour early, work really hard while they are there, and never leave on time.
            He is still working; and he looks so happy when we see him. He called a few weeks ago to say that he has finally been able to finish the application process so he can start a course in project management (studying while he continues working) and just the other day, we received a text telling us that he wants us to meet his girlfriend. We are very thankful for his progress even though it has been and will continue to be challenging.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Pass Along Cards and Car Washes

Since we have been here, Elder Davie has always carried a number of pass-along cards in his pocket. I have given a number of them away, but Elder Davie has given out scores of them. He is very comfortable talking with people, and because he is a convert to the Church and believes that the gospel has made a huge positive impact on his life, he is always eager to give others the chance to at least hear about it. It is actually pretty easy to share information about the church here. Most people are Christian and not just casually so. When they see the name of the church on the badge, they will often begin a conversation themselves, telling us that they are also Christian. When the pass-along cards are shared, especially ones with pictures of the Savior on them, they gladly accept them, and if there are other people around at the same time, (like at a checkout counter for example) those people will often ask for a card also. A number of times, we haven’t had enough with us to give out to those who ask for them. (I'm including a picture of this cute little boy who wanted pass along cards AND the badge :)

Elder Holland talked about this quality of the African people when he said,
“It is easy to love the people of Africa,The memory I always have is the spirituality of the people. That is a little hard to convey, unless you have been here, unless you have seen firsthand their goodness, their faith, and their spiritual gifts.” He goes on to talk about Africa as being a place where, “you get to see the glory of the Lord, the wonder and the miracle of the Restoration, quite literally unfold before your eyes.”

Like Elder Holland, I would have a hard time describing the sincerity, openness and spiritual sensitivity of the people here, but as a result of those qualities, the church is growing all over the continent. Two of our supervisors are area seventies who have already created three new stakes just in their two areas this year and are preparing to create another two. The branch that we attended Sunday began only six years ago as a “group” with two families. It won’t be long until it can become a ward.

After the meeting at Cosmo City Branch, four people were baptized in a little cement font on the patio area of their “container” chapel (mobile homes put together). One of these was Daniel, a young man who works at a car wash where we have our car washed. Elder Davie had talked to him several times as he has waited for the car and had shared a pass-along card with him. When he seemed interested, he put him in contact with the missionaries who began to teach him. Daniel was thrilled to find the Church and to become a member, and says that it has already made a big difference for him. That would be another thing that would take a while to explain, but you can see it so clearly here—the difference that joining the church can make in the life of an individual or a family, most importantly the spiritual benefit, but people are also blessed by the other programs and supports the church has to offer that impact every part of a person's life.

Because we seldom see the people again that we share pass-along cards with, it’s hard to know if the impact of that sharing is ever more than a chance to discuss the Savior for a moment, but we know that it was more than that for Daniel.