We were picked up in Johannesburg by the church van and taken to temple patron housing for more new experiences including indoor toilet facilities, electricity, running water, washing machines, can openers, toasters, and especially microwaves! A few “accidents” occurred in the toilet rooms before the housing director, Sister Taylor, gave a thorough training! Groceries were provided and the young women and YSA's took over food preparation with the mothers just helping as needed! We encouraged the young men and dads to help with dishes which isn't quite within the African cultural, but they saw Elder Blake pitching in and decided it must be an acceptable thing to do. Meals were mostly rice or ugali and stew for bigger meals; eggs, bread and maize porridge for breakfast; and sandwiches and apples for small meals. They were mostly used to maize and beans for their dinner staples (except for special occasions), so this was a little different diet.
Monday we settled in our rooms and had a special temple home evening together, where we watched a short video on temples and then shared feelings about what we were expecting to experience on the morrow and in coming days. It was a tender and memorable time, with new and often strong emotions brimming to the surface from time to time.
Most Important Memories – The mornings were spent in preparation as most temple sessions began in the afternoon. Each couple had completed a pedigree chart of their ancestors and visited the Family History Center located in our same building where they were helped to prepare family names for temple work. They all enjoyed this experience and were excited to begin.
Tuesday afternoon we went to the temple where the three young children (4, 2, and 10 mo.) were kept in the nursery until time to be sealed to their parents, while the parents participated in the temple which had been their dream for so long. Many months, and in some cases, years had been spent in preparation for this day. When we arrived we found they had a power outage and were using a generator which they weren't sure would last until we were through! Also, the only temple recommend we hadn't checked (the returned missionary) was found to only have one signature as he didn't know he needed the Stake President's signature! We waited with a prayer in our hearts. After some time the recommend was cleared and the generator lasted long enough since they turned off the air conditioning! As we shared this experience with those we have come to love so much we could feel a warm spirit of peace. The crowning experience was to see the expressions as families were sealed for eternity – two families with teenagers and young adults, and one family with three precious little girls all dressed in white dresses and white headbands contrasting with their beautiful black skin. We haven't seen many tears of emotion since we have been here – not even during family funerals – but tears of joy were shed. What a blessing to witness and be part of this special time.
During succeeding days the youth were able to be baptized for their ancestors and relate to them as they could see where the names fit on their pedigree charts. The fathers and Elder Blake helped conduct the baptisms and confirmations.
The week flew by as the couples attended the temple as often as possible, knowing that they will most likely never have the opportunity again. We also attended sessions, and helped with the children during other session times.
The young people spent a lot of time playing Chicken Foot with dominoes and games with Phase 10 cards which really helped during the wait times. (Elder Blake is a good play maker and makes games fun!) The little girls were amazed and excited to find little white and black baby dolls, each about 10 inches tall, in the toy box. (They've never had or seen a doll!) They immediately found the little blankets and tied “the babies” on their backs with kangas, like the moms always carry their babies. They were patient and all got along well and assisted each other. As we visited in their dorm-type family rooms we found things neat and tidy and saw copies of the temple Liahona and other such reading material around. What an example they are to us! (We slept upstairs in smaller “couples” rooms.)
We had heard of some people going to the temple and then going on shopping sprees down town. Nothing of this nature occurred with this group. In fact, the only trip to a mall was by taxi with Elder Blake and one father and his daughter for some needed medication! We also passed around a 24-hour flu bug but that didn't seem to stop anyone. Elder and Sister Blake had been invited to Thanksgiving dinner with the Johannesburg Service Center couples but food didn't look or smell too good that day (flu bug) so they missed that opportunity!
Shaking Hands With General Authorities - Another wonderful opportunity occurred Thursday as our group attended the temple together and found Elder Kolliker, S.E. Africa Area 70, and his counselor Elder Watson, and their wives. After we all attended the endowment session together, these general authorities shook hands and greeted everyone warmly. That will also be a special memory.
“Small” Miracle on the Way Home – Friday we checked out of our rooms, attended the temple one last time and began our journey home arriving at the airport two hours early. It took a long time to check in and then we were directed to the departure gate. An airport employee assured us that we had satisfied all check-in procedures; and said the gate wouldn't open until ½ hour before flight time, so he directed us to where we could all sat down to wait. As the time grew short and no one came to open the gate, we checked with another official and found we had been given wrong information – that our departure gate was in a distant terminal – and that we probably would miss our flight. We all sprinted in the direction we were shown, only to be confronted by a long line for immigration clearance, before we could even got to the correct gate which was an 8 minute fast walk away! We just couldn't miss the flight and sit in the airport all night, especially with the young children! Sister Blake and one of the young men cleared immigration first and ran for the departure gate where Sister Blake explained the situation and pleaded with them to hold the flight as 19 people were involved, including three young children. She explained the misinformation that was given but still didn't expect much help – they never hold flights except maybe in the movies! After checking in at the gate we still had to board a shuttle bus to transport out to the plane. There was a lot of silent prayer going on. Miraculously, they helped and we all got on the plane which departed 15 minutes late with all on board. Whew! That was a miracle.
Highlight of Our Mission – We've had many wonderful experiences here on our Kenyan mission; but even counting our amazing safari trips with beautiful scenery and animals, this would have to be the “crown jewel” event, the likes of which we will probably never experience again in our lives. How blessed we are.
Have a good and safe week and know you are loved.