As we send you our final post from Ethiopia and return home from our mission during this month of Thanksgiving, we are reminded of a quote from Oliver Cowdery, a scribe who assisted the Prophet Joseph Smith in the translation of the Book of Mormon in 1829. Subsequent to his baptism and while reflecting on the many incredible days filled with spiritual enlightenment he said, “These were days never to be forgotten – to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom….and I shall ever look upon (the) expression of the Savior’s goodness with wonder and thanksgiving.” (JS-History 1:71)
We echo Oliver’s words of thanksgiving for having the privilege of serving our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ this past year and a half. There have been truly glorious days and some very difficult days. There have been moments of pure joy and moments of real sorrow. And we can honestly say that we are thankful for every day and each person who has touched our lives forever.
It seems particularly fitting that as we leave our mission there have been some wonderful missionary moments. Two recent baptisms were especially meaningful. One was during our last trip to Hawassa and his name is Iyea. Elders Neff and Cooper, two of our Ethiopian elders who were adopted as young children and have now returned home as missionaries, have had more baptisms this year in Hawassa than there have been in over two and a half years previous to their arrival. Iyea is a young man who joins many others there due to the efforts of these good young men.
Our other baptism was a couple of weeks ago in the Bekulobet Branch and was particularly touching. Emiyu, which is Emma in Amharic, is totally blind and was rescued from a tragic home situation which, through abuse, caused her eventual blindness at the tender age of five years. She is now 15 years old and in the safe surroundings of Sister Yeweinshet, our blind District Relief Society President, who has provided her with shelter and schooling at her NGO for disabled women. We first met Emiyu about two months ago. She was taking the missionary discussions from Elders Tesch and McLain and was, understandably, very shy and reserved. We just held her hand as we spoke and it was difficult to know if she even had an inkling of what we were saying as there was no expression on her face. But at her baptism we re-introduced ourselves and she opened up with a huge smile and would not let go of our hands. It was a wonderful day for her and a joyous occasion for all of us. Had she not connected with Sister Yeweinshet she would have had two years of Braille school offered by another NGO and then would be sent out, perhaps to beg on the street as so many disabled people are forced to do here. The government has no programs or safety nets for people like Emiyu. Instead, she is attending a mainstream school with seven other blind young women who live at Sister Yeweinshet’s home. Since she was not permitted to go to school in her village she is essentially at a third grade level scholastically but she is now making huge progress and loving the opportunity to learn.
We also sent Birhanu on his mission to Liberia Monrovia this month. Lloyd set him apart and then Birhanu thanked him for his “set up.” He is a very special young man who has lived a life time in his short 24 years as he was on the street and found rescue in a home called “Jason’s Home.” Jason was an LDS young man who had come to Ethiopia to do humanitarian service with his parents some years ago. That trip inspired him to begin “Jason’s Home” and it has been a haven for several young boys who were living on the street. Many of them have joined the Church and Birhanu was one of the first ones in the home. He is now the first Ethiopian to ever serve in the Liberia Monrovia Mission in West Africa.
We are especially glad that we were able to be here for the annual Mission Tour where a member of the Area Presidency comes to see how things are going. Since our Uganda Kampala Mission encompasses Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia and South Sudan it involves a bit of travel. The UKM is the second largest mission in the world, after a huge one in Russia, and we are usually the final stop on the tour. Our missionaries have still not been able to go back into South Sudan due to the continuing civil war but the other three countries were visited by Elder S. Mark Palmer of the Seventy who is a counselor in the Africa Southeast Area consisting of 28 countries on the continent. Elder Palmer is a very kind, positive and dedicated man. He is one of those people who is “present” with whomever he is talking with so people connect very easily with him. He taught and inspired us at our missionary Zone Conference and then led a wonderful discussion with a group of our most recent converts and investigators. We spent a lovely Sabbath day with him visiting some of the members of the Megenagna Branch and were sorry to see him go back to Johannesburg.
Solomon was one of those recent converts who shared his story of being in a Community Center opposite our Bekulobet Branch building. He said that he saw a “light” surrounding the building and looked at the name sign posted outside. He asked a person standing next to him if he saw the light. The person said he didn’t see it. A few days later Solomon was on a bus when two missionaries boarded and handed him a pass-along card. He recognized the name on the “lighted building” and asked to know more. A few weeks later he was baptized and is one of those people with a “million-dollar-smile” and a huge heart. He is just always happy. But he will tell you that he is even happier now that he has “found the truth.”
We recently learned that a new couple will be coming to replace us but they will not be able to come until March 2018. In the meantime, Elders Tesch and McLain will cover our office responsibilities. These young elders are WAY more computer literate than us and we are so grateful for their service.
Truly these have been “days never to be forgotten” and we will take home many wonderful memories of our time here in Ethiopia. We have enjoyed sharing this adventure with all of you. It has been an incredible journey and we have learned so much. Above all else, we will cherish the relationships we have forged with so many amazing Ethiopians who face some pretty daunting challenges with hope, humor, love, faith and fortitude. They have taught us much and we only hope we can follow their examples.
Lloyd and Nancy