Saturday, December 5, 2009

Update 11/23/2009

This is a beautiful morning and we are thinking of friends and loved ones at home. We know in our minds that it is the week of Thanksgiving, but the temperate climate here (60-72 degrees so far, both day and night) makes it hard to imagine the change of seasons! Just know we are thinking of you with love and wishing we could join you for the day! We will be eating at the Mission President's home with the other couple missionaries and having a meeting after. A couple from Mombasa (on the Indian Ocean) will be staying with us in our flat. (I'm making apple dumplings.)

This has been another full and eventful week. The young mother we mentioned last week as being in the hospital died on Tuesday of complications from premature childbirth. She leaves a husband and 6 young children. She was baptized (by Elder Blake) and confirmed just 1 1/2 weeks before she passed away.

Saturday we attended the funeral which began at the hospital where they had kept the body (no embalming here). We then traveled to their home (way back in the hills, probably 3-4 kilometers) for the funeral and burial. (They don't use cemeteries but bury their dead at the homes.) The family asked that Elder Blake take pictures so they could have them to remember her. The casket was a plain pine box which the pall bearers carried up the hill to the home after the van went as far as it could go. The casket was first taken into the small home where the immediate family was. The rest of the group stood, or sat on slab-wood benches in the yard (sort of like around our fire pit at the cabin), near the cooking house and overlooking the open grave site; for about an hour and a half. Sisters were busy cooking over open fires in big pots. Before the service began they served bowls of rice with what they called stew on top.The stew was mostly broth with a little meat - Rich says the meat was cow tongue. They also served ugali which is made from corn flour and water. We weren't sure if we should eat as our stomachs aren't used to the same things their are, but we wanted to be joiners with them, so we prayed we would be okay and ate a little. [Note: We felt a deep sense of humility and honor to be included in their intimate family gatherings on such a solemn occasion. They - both members and non-members- show us great love and respect. It is humbling to us.//To our great astonishment, we saw no tears (zero tears!) in the two days we were with them. The death was totally unexpected; Bro. George, wife and children have love in their home, and between them; but there were zero tears during these solemn hours - including closing of the casket, and burial with dirt. They are very brave and loving; and have total faith in accepting God's will above our own. It is hard for us to imagine.]

Next was the funeral itself conducted by a village elder, with the church helping with the songs and talks. Elder Blake gave just a short talk (the only one in English) and other leaders spoke and prayed. This was all out in the hot sun and was quite long. About 200 people attended from the village and branch. We were the only white people there but they were very attentive and kind to us. We then moved to the grave site where the casket was lowered into the ground. We had brought some roses from town and they had each of the family take one and put it in with the casket. They then placed some local flowers in the grave and the prayer was said. After the prayer they covered the casket with a piece of corrugated metal roofing, then filled in the grave with dirt as people witnessed.

The gospel gives hope for the eternities and is such a blessing, but our hearts were heavy for this young father. I don't know how he will take six children and walk an hour to get to church each Sunday. His brothers and their wives live in the village and hopefully they will help raise the children. They aren't members of the church, but are good people. He will need a lot of support which is hard for the branch members at that distance.

Above: Pictures of the funeral procession and Brother George and his family. Bottom picture is Mitini Branch in the background with two Relief Society sisters and Sister Blake with flowers brought from Nairobi for the funeral.

Yesterday we took the TV and generator to the Mitini Branch so they could watch general conference on DVD's sent from SLC. They had sacrament meeting first and then watched for several hours. We are learning (the hard way) to be prepared to speak at any time a we are often called upon! This was the case yesterday. Elder Blake gets along okay but it is stretching me and helping me learn to lean on the Spirit to teach me what to say! (Just like the scripture says, "I will give you words to say in the moment of your need." We are gaining trust in this.)

Since the Oct. 2009 general conference was spoken (translated in SLC) in Swahili and the room was full anyway, I went outside and was sitting trying to read the Liahona. When I looked up there were about 10-15 children gathered around me sitting on the ground, all just watching me with their big dark eyes. I smiled and greeted them and they smiled and just continued to watch me..., not making a peep. They are so cute I want to hug them all. I didn't get much reading done!

Classes are going well on the overall. We had about 13 people show up for keyboard class on Friday. There were 5 keyboards. The branch president announced that next time we would have two sessions of the class. How do you teach 13 beginners anyway, and without enough keyboards? We're giving that a lot of thought. ' Many investigators continue to come to be taught - the major struggle is that they must understand English to be baptized. Therefore, we have selected 6 members who speak English best, and are training them to be English Teachers for the people. We feel that they can be more effective to zero-English speakers than we can.

One of our biggest concerns is our travel - 5-7 hrs. driving each day. We have been looking for some place closer where we would feel safe to stay. When we went to the hospital for the funeral we visited the Precious Blood private girls' school (dormitories and classrooms for 200+girls, ) next door, and met (Catholic) Sister Mary Joyce, the principal. She was busy with District dignitaries who were visiting, but had one of the teachers show us around. He was most cordial. There is a living area for the teachers there, including the convent, that is quite nice and it is a gated area with a guard. We are meeting with Sister Mary Tuesday after class and thought we might offer to teach something and get acquainted. As she gets to know us we might see if we could spend a night or two each week there. We'll see what happens, but we feel very good about the prospect.

Better run. Sorry to be so long again, but Elder Blake had to add his perceptions, so just skip read...

P.S. by Rich: We were standing around the open grave during the final prayer to dedicate the grave. We were on the mound of loose dirt, I standing behind Sis. Blake. During the prayer, I felt her starting to lean forward (down the slope), and I wondered if perhaps she was light-headed...starting to faint; so I grasped her shoulders to steady her. As I did, she was sort of thrashing around, sideways, up and down moving her feet, etc.; so I opened my eyes to see what was going on, and I saw a great big centipede on the ground by her foot (Here centipedes are big, like gigantic nite crawlers at home--this one was a centimeter in diameter, and about 15 cm. long.) I saw her kicking at it, and by now some other ladies near her were kicking to move it away from people (all during the prayer). After the prayer ended, Carol told me how she felt something crawling up her leg at her knee level (where her "cheater" socks ended) and brushed at it until it fell to the ground under her. Boy did we have a laugh-later. My companion is so brave, and such a good sport!

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