Saturday, November 23, 2013

17-23 November 2013

Beautiful African Trees

It has been an exciting week. Teaching people how to be more competitive in finding employment is a challenge but a rewarding one. It is all about honing skills, developing poise, gaining self-confidence and having the determination to succeed. This past week we were invited to teach these skills to a group of university students that were in their final week of school. They heard about the workshops we put on through church friends and wanted to see for themselves if it would help them to improve their competitive edge. At the end of the course, they expressed their amazement at what they were able to learn. One individual who had already had the opportunity to have several interviews stated he wished he had had the workshop prior to the interviews – he felt he would have been much better prepared to respond to the questions he was asked.

At the conclusion of the course and after sharing some peanut butter sandwiches, one of the students asked us to take a seat; he had something he wanted to say to us. He explained, with solemn sincerity, that he/they could not understand why we would be willing to come and teach them for two days the tools they needed to be better equipped to get employment, feed them lunches and not ask anything in return. Such treatment they have never experienced and were truly thankful for it.

They were a great group (there goes those superlatives again). They were smart, energetic and ready to tackle the world and the world will be a better place because of them.


 Deng, a university student from South Sudan, posing with Lee in front of this very unusual 
tree trunk.

In another setting, we spoke with two entrepreneuristic young men who had taken the self-employment workshop. As a result of the course, one of them is being trained on how to be an appliance repair technician (by the fellow in the next story below) and will soon have his own business operating in the township where he lives. His vision is to service several townships and have employees. The seed of self-reliance was planted and nurtured with guidance and encouragement and it will soon bear its fruit to provide for his family and perhaps many more.

The other individual is determined to be a motivational counselor with hopes to work with schools to help their students to more diligently apply themselves while there. He admittedly did not and as a result struggles to pull himself out of poverty. However, with his newly gained insight and self-confidence, he has set his goals and knows what he must do to achieve them. He knows he has a long way to go but believes if he can have mentors like us beside him, he will succeed.

These are the ingots we are allowed to store in our sack of gratitude as we work with these people struggling to find light in a gloomy world.

 Joshua's story:
“Joshua, you must make up your mind what you want to become, this is the third time you have chosen a different path to walk in life. You have studied at major universities to become a professional but have always changed your mind. The Lord has blessed you with a great mind and he has called you to the ministry but you have not obeyed. You have studied to be a doctor, a lawyer and a preacher of the good word. You have a congregation of over 500 people who love to hear you preach; you mesmerize them with your humor, body gyrations and music. The music is loud but it causes people to feel of the spirit, the spirit is with them as they dance and sing and howl while you play. They all love you, my son, and now you say you are thinking about leaving the ministry, I don’t understand you any more.”

“I just don’t feel that it is right”, Joshua explained – “there is just something missing – it is not what the Lord wants and I must find out the truth and preach that.”

Joshua can still hear his father rant as he tried to convince him of the errors of his life. His mother, in support of his father, reminded him again, as she had so many times of late, that he is, and always has been, a “naughty” boy. And he will never forget the stunned look both of them gave him when he told them that he was taking lessons from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints’ missionaries. Incredulously, they both stared at him. When emotions exploded unchecked and words finally came from his father, they were venomous and cutting. Red faced and shouting his father demanded that he immediately stop participating with this god-forbidden, heathenistic cult group.

Choked with emotion of his own, Joshua tried to explain to them both that for the first time in his life he felt that he had found the true gospel of Jesus Christ and that he just had to find out for himself if it was true. “If it is true,” he explained, “then I have been teaching false truths to all these people who you say love me. I have got to know the truth.”   

“You are no longer my son,” his father shouted. “Get out of my house and never come back; I don’t want to see you again – never.”

Joshua recalls that it has been many years since that dreadful night and though he has not seen his father since that day, his mother has visited him occasionally. The last time she came, she turned on the TV only to have her 7 year old granddaughter get up and turn it off. Turning to her son, she questioned, “What did she do that for?” “That movie is not appropriate for us to watch, it is PG-13,” he said. “But I am an adult,” his mother fired back, “and I can watch it if I want to.” “You can, if you choose to, mother,” Joshua responded, “but not in this house.” “Joshua, you sure have changed from that naughty boy you used to be and I am proud to say you are now a “good boy,” his mother responded.

Joshua told this story as he spoke in church last Sunday. He concluded by saying, “I lost part of my family and my means to make a living when I decided to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And although the choice was difficult to make emotionally, I knew I had to do it or reject the truth. God had shown me the truth that I had prayed for all my adult life and now that He had shown me, I had to make a decision to accept it or reject it. The day that I entered into the waters of baptism witnessing to God that I was willing to take upon me His name, was the happiest day of my life and I have never regretted it.” 

I have heard others say they had heard people tell such a story as Joshua’s, but I have never heard anyone tell it first hand. As I listened to him, the story much more complete than I am able to remember, the Holy Ghost bore witness to me that what he was saying was the truth. We must all, in some way, sacrifice to know the truth of the gospel but it seems some pay a higher price than others. But is the price ever too high to pay to know beyond any doubt the truth? I don’t believe so and I am glad to be among those who know the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. 

Joshua has gone on to have his own appliance repair business. While not repairing appliances, he is busy helping the poorest of the poor start their own business and serving others in any way he can.

Friday, November 15, 2013

12 November 2013

I want to start this week’s blog update with a couple of stories that have had an impact on my life. While in Cape Town, I had the opportunity to attend a Sunday meeting with 5-6 other men. The individual conducting the meeting was a black doctor from Uganda. At the beginning of the meeting another man, just making conversation, asked him how his week was? The gentleman paused for a moment and said it was a stressful week but one that turned out well. He then related the following story:  A young, mid-twenties, man who was big, strong and in good physical condition fell unconscious in his mother’s home. The ambulance was called and he was taken to the hospital. The medical staff there worked on the man for a couple of days trying to revive him and diagnosis his problem with no success – he was totally unconscious throughout this time. The man’s heart beat was extremely slow and his blood pressure was low but they could not determine the reason for either. They then called the doctor (the person telling this story) who evidently is a heart specialist to solicit his help. He responded immediately, but after reviewing all the records and tests preformed and consulting with the other doctors, he could not determine the man’s problem either. He said he was greatly puzzled and decided he needed to go ponder the case and pray about it (Which he said was not common for him to do). During his prayer, it came to him that he should do some additional blood work. which he did. They found that the man’s lungs were completely full of pneumonia but he had no symptoms of it.

The doctor asked his mother if she did not notice him being sick. She said no, he always went to work and when he got home he said he was tired but that was all. The doctor explained that the man was so large and strong that his body was able to fight the disease until he just collapsed.

In order to catch the full impact of this story you have to have the picture of a very humble, refined looking man in his early sixties in your mind who was speaking in a calm, low voice, giving no credit to himself, but rather all the time giving credit to God for His guidance.

While emotionally I was moved as he told this story, I was more greatly impacted a few moments later as he continued. After pausing for a few moments, collecting his composure, he indicated how grateful he was that the missionaries had found him and his family years ago in Uganda. He said, “Now we are sealed in the temple and I know that we will always be together.” How he loved his family and was so thankful for them and for the knowledge that they will always be together as a family.

As I looked at him during all this time, I could see his cheeks began to glisten as tears seeped from his eyes. What I witnessed had impact on my soul but what I felt, had even more of an impact on me for I knew what he was saying was true and came from the very depths of his heart. I rejoiced as I sat there and marveled at how the gospel is able to touch people’s lives no matter where they live, who they are, their skin color or anything else; they are all Heavenly Father’s children and He cares for them equally. I am not able to express in words adequately what a profound gratitude I had for the privilege of being present in that meeting.

The next story involves an elderly lady who attended one of our Self-Employment Workshops. To understand the significance of this story you also must know a little bit about the lady. She does not know when she was born, she has been told either 1911 or 1914. On the church records she is listed as dead. I don’t believe either of those dates are correct and by my estimate, she is in her mid to late 80s. She lives in one of the Townships about 2 miles from the church building. She does not drive and walks to and from church unless some kind soul gives her a ride. She is faithfully there, never missing a meeting. She just recently came home from serving a 3 yearTemple Mission in Johannesburg, South Africa. She learned to speak English while serving in the temple. While at the temple, she said, they asked her to assist in a session that required the French language. She told them, “but I don’t speak French”; they said that is alright you will do fine. She went and said she understood everything and was able accomplish her duties.

And now, she comes to us wanting to start her own business. The business she wants is to make bead necklaces, bracelets, belts, ties, wedding dresses etc. When the class began she brought some samples of her work – Angie could not resist and bought a necklace.  She cannot read nor write so she asked us to help her out in doing what was necessary in getting started. One of the things we stress in the class is that they need to work carefully through their desired business finances to make sure it is a viable venture. Since she did not have the technical ability to work through finance statements, budgets or profit and loss statements, etc, we sat down with her and asked her the questions so we could do it for her. About a third of the way through the process I suggested that we did not have to continue. The lady may not have the technical skills to fill out forms but there was no question she understood finances and what it took to be profitable. It was hilarious to hear her answers and how she arrived at the asking price for her products. I even tried to trip her up and that went no where. If one could follow her convoluted path from beginning to end, it was rational (well perhaps that is stretching it some) and very clear in her mind. I gave up.

The one stumbling block she had was the means and knowledge of how to market her wares. So Angie made her business cards for her to hand out and posters to hang up in the local businesses (One is attached). I inquired if she had food and about her home. She said she sleeps on the ground in her house, i.e., no bed – remember she is 80+ years old, but she says that is ok as that is where she needs to be to say her prayers anyway. Concerning food, that is no problem; she sometimes doesn’t have anything to eat but she doesn’t worry because God takes care of her – she has many blessings she says.

She gave Angie two necklaces for her kindness. She wants no handouts but will accept donations so we “tipped” her for letting us help her with her business plan. 

This past weekend we got invited to go to Grahamstown to do a Career Workshop. As the town is one of the oldest in South Africa, we decided to do a little sightseeing and do a little research about the town. Below are a few pictures and some historical notes of the area.


Town Hall built in 1812

 Grahamstown is a city in the Eastern Cape Providence of the Republic of South Africa. As of 2011 the population of the city (including townships) was 67,264, of whom 78.9% described themselves as "Black African", 11.3% as "Coloured" and 8.4% as "White".
Located some 130 km from Port Elizabeth, Grahamstown is also the seat of Rhodes University and a diocese of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.
Grahamstown was founded in 1812 as a military outpost by Lieutenant-Colonel John Grahams as part of the effort to secure the eastern frontier of British influence in the then Cape Colony against the Xhosa, whose lands lay just to the east. The military outpost was named Fort Selwyn. A museum has been built at the site portraying the history of the outpost.

Fort Selwyn

On 22 April 1819 a large number of Xhosa warriors, under the leadership of Nxele (or Makana), launched an attack against the British colonial forces. This was one of countless attacks launched on the nascent colony by the marauding Xhosas. The Xhosas, with a force of 10 000 troops, were unable to overpower the colonial garrison of some 300 men. Nxele surrendered, was taken captive and imprisoned on Robben Island. On Christmas Day, 1819 he tried to escape, and drowned.
During the 1820s Grahamstown grew as many settlers and their families left farming to establish themselves in more secure trades. In 1833 Grahamstown was described as having "two or three English merchants of considerable wealth, but scarcely any society in the ordinary sense of the word. The Public Library is a wretched affair." As of 1833, it was estimated that the population of Grahamstown was approximately 6,000. In a few decades it became the Cape Colony's largest city after Cape Town. It was traditionally the capital and cultural centre of the Albany area, a former traditionally English-speaking district with a distinctive local culture.
In 1872, the Cape Government Railways began construction of the railway line linking Grahamstown to Port Alfred on the coast and to the developing national railway network inland. This was completed and opened on 3 September 1879.
In 1904 Rhodes University College was established in Grahamstown through a grant from the Rhodes Trust. In 1951 it became a fully-fledged University. Today it provides world-class tertiary education in a wide range of disciplines to over 6,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students.
During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Grahamstown was an accommodation point for all matches played in Port Elizabeth. 

Church Square

 St. Michael and St. George Cathedral is the seat of the Anglican Diocese of Grahamstown. Grahamstown also has Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Ethiopian Episcopal, Methodist, Baptist, Pinkster Protestante, Dutch Reformed (Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk), Charismatic, Apostolic and Pentecostal churches. There are also meeting places for Hindus, Scientologists, Quakers, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Muslims.

For historic reasons, particularly the vibrancy of evangelism during Grahamstown's heyday, the City is home to more than forty religious buildings, and the nickname the "City of Saints" has become attached to Grahamstown. However, there is another story which may be the source of this nickname.
It is said that, in about 1846, there were Royal Engineers stationed in Grahamstown who were in need of building tools. They sent a message to Cape Town requesting a vice to be Stores. A reply came back, 'Buy vice locally'. The response was, 'No vice in Grahamstown.’



 Grahamstown is home to the oldest surviving independent newspaper in South Africa. Named the Grocott's Mail, it was founded in 1870 by the Grocott family, and bought out a pre-existing newspaper called the Grahamstown Journal, dating from 1831. Robert Godlonton, a previous owner of the Journal had used it and his other papers to oppose Stockenstrom’s treaty system and advocated seizing more land from the Xhosa.It is Rhodes University, and still retains its name.