Our blog title is inspired from our trip to Uganda last week where we enjoyed the annual Senior Couples Retreat for the Uganda Kampala Mission. (Many pictures and videos are included in this blog.) It was wonderful to meet the other couples serving in Uganda and Rwanda and to be able to share experiences and ideas on how to better move the work forward in our different areas. Our mission covers four countries including Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan. It is the second largest mission in the world after the Siberian area mission in Russia. Currently, we are not in South Sudan due to the civil war and unrest there. Each of the four countries is quite different culturally, language wise and missionary wise. We are deeply grateful to our Mission President and his wife, President Stephen and Sister Tracy Collings, for the countless hours of service and love they render to all of us. We thought you might like our first dose of Uganda style Christmas music from a little band outside the grocery store in Kampala. They may never play with the Philharmonic but their cacophony started our Christmas season. Sister Collings helped donate to their cause in helping the needy. Uganda band & Sister Collings video 12-20-16 143 The Collings are truly amazing and we can see why missionaries come home recounting how much they have learned from their mission presidents.
Uganda, unlike Ethiopia, was colonized by the British so everyone speaks English and driving is on the “opposite” side of the road. There are some 50 different dialects but a second language that is more prevalent is Luganda. In Rwanda they speak three languages. Rwanda was colonized by the French so in addition to French there is their native language of Kinyarwanda (pronounced with a “ch” sound for the “k”). But English is also widely spoken. Ethiopia was never colonized so Amharic is their national language but English is also the second official language. Good thing our “spiritual language” doesn’t rely on fluency in all of these languages!
For westerners Rwanda is more recently remembered for the genocide of the early 90’s when the warring Tutsi and Hutu Tribes almost annihilated one another and the world looked on in horror but did almost nothing. Over twenty years later it is one of the great success stories in Africa. It is a modern day story with the application of “no –ites among us” as illustrated in the Book of Mormon when the Lamanites and the Nephites had a brief respite in their contentions and wars after the Savior came. Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame, who also fought in the war, wisely plead for the people to come together and call themselves Rwandans, not Tutsi or Hutu’s, and they have rebuilt communities and fostered a vibrant economy complete with fast Internet (fiber optics), clean roads and many services much of Africa still struggles to provide its citizens. One day a month, everyone in the country cleans the roadsides and their residences. Elder and Sister Gillette serve there as the senior couple and are doing a great job. Interestingly enough, they are from Mapleton, Utah and are very good friends with McCaye (Tobler) Harline’s parents. McCaye married our nephew, Andrew Harline. Andrew and McCaye are living in our home while we are on our mission. The Gillette’s also know our dear friend, Mary Ellen Edmunds. Small world!
All twelve of us “retreated” in two beautiful safari lodges as guests of the local hippos, giraffes, elephants, warthogs, cape buffalo, kob (beautiful deer), oribi (small antelope) and watched in awe as “the deer and the antelope play[ed].” The giraffes were especially active and we had never seen so many giraffes running in what could only be described as a whole lot of flailing legs and necks! Giraffes video – 12-21-2016 199 We went on three game drives and were even lucky enough to spy a lioness with her cub at dusk out on a hunt.
That was our last evening game drive with a great guide, Emmanuel. He lived up to his name! It’s always just so wonderful to be out in the wild, wide open outdoors and hear only the sounds of nature.
We also took a boat ride up the Nile River and watched elephants watering, hippos submerging then peeking up to twirl their ears at us while occasionally flashing the biggest molars ever. They are touted as the meanest and most dangerous animal to encounter and they have the size to back up that claim. But they really do look rather docile and cute as they twirl their ears full circle. Hippo video – 12-21-2016 074 Crocodiles also slithered in and out along the banks of the river. “Crocodile Rocks” video – 12-21-2016 116
The highlight of the boat ride was the final destination of Murchison Falls.
Lloyd hiked to the top and said the view was spectacular. I made it half way and took his word for it. Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa and is the headwaters of the Victoria Nile which flows into Lake Albert. The British influence is unmistakable as you may remember this famous couple, Queen Victoria of Victorian Era fame and her husband, Prince Albert, from English history. These lakes are their namesakes and could easily represent their deep and abiding love for one another. They were happily married for 21 years and had nine children together. He was only 42 years old when he died. The Queen mourned his passing for the rest of her life and never wore anything but black to symbolize her undying love for him until her own death 40 years later in 1901 at age 82. She was on the throne for 63 years and was the longest reigning monarch until last year when Queen Elizabeth eclipsed her. But we digress. Back to the Nile saga. The Albert Nile then flows into the White Nile in Uganda. In another significant union, the Blue Nile from Ethiopia eventually “marries” the White Nile from Uganda but the ceremony is held in Khartoum, Sudan where both the Blue and the White Nile converge. And here you probably thought, like us, that there was only ONE Nile River! Actually, it all IS one Nile River eventually and is the longest river in the world flowing northward through Egypt and emptying into the Mediterranean Sea after a long journey of over 4,000 miles. Murchison “falls” for about 100 feet creating a tremendous volume of cascading water amidst a spectacular view.
Murchison Falls video – 12-21-2016 095
We came back to Ethiopia this past weekend and are now looking forward to Christmas Sunday. If for some reason Santa can’t find us in Africa we have another opportunity on the 7th of January. THAT is when the Ethiopians celebrate Christmas since they have a different calendar than our western one. NO Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on December 25th and their celebrations on January 7th will probably be much more subdued than in the western world. The focus for Ethiopians is far more spiritual than commercial. The families go to church and then gather with neighbors and friends, kill a goat to cook and add plenty of injera and wots for the feast. Gift giving may or may not be a part of their Christmas. If gifts are exchanged it is mainly with immediate family and would be one small gift. The tree is put up a couple of days before Christmas and is usually decorated with paper ornaments made by the children in the family. Many families do not have a tree since a fake one would be too expensive and a real one is hard to come by these days due to the fact that the government has “strongly encouraged” the people NOT to cut down the few “Christmas” trees they have. We have included a picture of a very typical Christmas tree as to size and height. So, SOME families will cut off a branch of the tree and prop it up in the corner of their living room and call that the tree. But many will not even have a tree. Most Christmas trees are in hotels and some shopping areas. There are no Santas in malls and VERY LITTLE emphasis on Santa. He has only appeared on the scene in very recent years and is not a big part of Christmas here.
The Ethiopian Christian Orthodox Church members begin their Christmas season with a 45 day fast leading up to January 7th. The fast involves no meat or dairy products or things made with meat or dairy products during that period. They do have “fasting menus” in restaurants and “fasting pizzas” for take- out (mostly vegetarian fare) and even “fasting cakes” for birthdays or other celebrations. We will discover just what the “fasting cake” is like this Saturday as we are ordering one for Lloyd’s birthday on Christmas Eve and we are having some Orthodox friends over to celebrate with us. I may have to learn how to make a fasting cake if he starts to prefer that over my regular chocolate cake!
Along with pictures of our Uganda trip we are including a wonderful traditional cultural show we attended a few weeks ago where most of the tribes in Ethiopia were represented in delightful dances with colorful costumes. There are over 80 dialects in Ethiopia and there are several different tribes and ethnic communities. Each has its own music, dances and cultural traditions. It was a fascinating evening and we probably ate some of the best injera and variety of “wots” (sauces with meat, chicken, kale, vegetables, etc.) that we have yet experienced.
These past few weeks we have also been excited to have three people receive their mission calls and one actually leave on his mission. Two young women, Israel and Tigist, received calls to England London South Mission and Ghana Kumasi Mission respectively. They are the sweetest young women and will be absolutely wonderful missionaries. Both of them come from supportive families so that will be helpful as they go so far away, fly on an airplane for the first time in their lives, and learn many lessons of life in their service to the Lord. The other is a young man named Abenezer who has left
for the Ghana Cape Coast Mission. He is Somali but has lived on the Ethiopian side of the border all of his life. He used to be a pastor for an evangelical church and part of his ministry was to South Sudan before the war escalated. He has wanted to go on a mission for a long time and is so excited that his day has finally arrived. He is the only member in his family but his grandmother came to hear him speak before he left. His Branch family gathered here in the office and Lloyd set him apart to serve his mission. It was a very sweet experience and we have already heard that he is doing well and learning a lot. As we have mentioned before, many of these young adults who serve not only from Ethiopia but other countries in Africa, serve at great personal and financial sacrifice. Fortunately, the church helps with most of the financing but asks them to make some personal financial sacrifice as well.
This is certainly the most unique Christmas letter we have ever sent but we do want all of you as our family and friends to know not only how much we love and appreciate all that you add to our lives, but that we are so very grateful for this beautiful time of the year. It is always an opportunity to reflect on the many blessings we have received throughout the year and, most importantly, to express our love and deep gratitude for the birth of our Savior. Because of Him everything is possible. We are truly learning that on our mission here in Ethiopia. We echo the message of the angel unto the shepherds in the field the night He was born as he brought “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” And we know that unto them and unto us was born that “day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11). We are thankful to have the opportunity to declare these glad tidings in Ethiopia at this time in our lives and we wish for each of you, and for people everywhere, to have more peace on earth and more good will toward others in the coming year of 2017.
Merry, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year as we send our love,
Lloyd and Nancy