Sunday, June 28, 2020

And We Carry On -- Weeks 10 - 20

We have been getting questions from some friends and family about our status, so we thought we'd write a brief blog to catch everyone up.

We have been home in Palo Alto since April, and should be for awhile.  When we came home on March 25 through Salt Lake, where we quarantined, we were hoping we would be able to go back in July or August.  Then it was August or September.  Then it was sometime in the Fall.  Now it's looking more like January.  With COVID-19 cases rising in both USA and South Africa the lockdowns carry on and migration between countries is difficult-to-impossible.

But, we are still serving.  We discussed with President Lines the possibility of being released and he could find someone else, but he discouraged that.  He can't bring anyone in from another country, and there are few South African senior couples in a position to serve full-time missions.  And we can still do most of our work from home on our computers. Thank you Zoom, WhatsApp, TeamViewer and OneDrive.

So, what are we doing?

We are online from home nearly every morning with the new Office Elders, handling travel, finance, phones, housing, vehicles and miscellaneous matters. The 27 (of 130) Elders, and our Mission President and his wife who remain, continue to serve and teach via smartphone, even though they are not permitted to return to the office where much of the paper records are stored.  Our apartment was turned into the Office.  The Elders live in three other apartments in our building, and they can travel that far to the Office.  The 'real' office is still closed for the foreseeable future.

This morning, dressed in our Sunday best and wearing our Missionary name tags, we attended a devotional via Zoom with the whole Mission, now redeployed to a few apartments within thirty minutes of the Mission Home.  The regular Sunday Evening Devotional for the Mission is at 6 pm in South Africa, so that's 9 a.m. for us -- just the right time.  But on June 18 we went to Zoom Zone Conference -- from midnight to 3 a.m. our time.  It was worth it!

To this day, we have not been able to evacuate all our non-South-African Elders, even those whose two years is stretching past 27 months.  We did get our seven Brazilians home, finally, on 3 June.  It was their third set of plane tickets -- earlier flights in April and May were canceled.  We received South African Elders in our Mission on temporary assignment as they were evacuated from their assigned country missions. Newly called non-South African Elders are being sent elsewhere temporarily, and newly called South African Elders are coming in to our vacant houses to received MTC remote training.  We have one Elder called to Ukraine from Durban, but he's serving in Durban for now.

While here at home, Elder Allen (Ken) is following our 100+ Russian returned missionaries and various friends on Facebook, tending to a modest garden of corn, squash, tomatoes, potatoes, artichokes, berries and beans, picking fruit from three trees, and walking at least a mile a day with Sister Allen (Sue). 

Ken built the new raised bed in the middle, then filled it with home-made compost and planted corn, beans and zucchini.

We won't be "knee-high by the 4th of July."  We will be eating our corn on the 4th of July!  And we are already giving away zucchini like crazy.  Look at those huge zucchini leaves!

Ken has taken this unique opportunity to digitize and edit old video tapes of historical interest, which may take thousands of hours to complete…if at all.  He has given away hundreds already and will be disposing of hundreds more at some point.  Here is a list of some of the latest works:

All these shoe boxes are full of tapes and DVDs, and there are file-cabinets full in the garage.  

He has posted shows of various concerts to the local cable channel and links on FamilySearch of some of the family who are no longer with us. The latest effort was of his mother’s funeral.

Sue remains busy but semi-bored.  Besides working on Mission secretarial duties, she reads scriptures (as does Ken), listens to a lot of audio books, and volunteers at her old job in the technology department of the East Palo Alto Schools.  She is continuing the project she started last Fall of getting old tech recycled.  

She is baking sourdough bread twice a week using flour Ken grinds from our food storage wheat.  And he does the dishes.

It has been a great Spring for roses.  Our garden is wonderful, and we enjoy eating out on the patio.  Anything to get out of the house, right?

During lockdown, our Friday night dinner 'out' was Chinese take-out in the back yard.

But, as of about two weeks ago, local restaurants are allowed outdoor dining.  The two main shopping/dining streets of Palo Alto have been closed to traffic for a few blocks each, and restaurants are setting up tables in the street.

This week we ate in the garden of the historic Rossotti's Alpine Inn, a stagecoach stop in the foothills established in 1852.

The plaque on the wall commemorates this as the spot where SRI scientists ushered in the Internet Age in 1976.  It honors the first transmission from here to MIT.  One of them, Dr. Don Nielsen, the SRI historian, now 85, is in our ward!  We asked him today if he was there, and he said, "Yes.  I took all the pictures.  So, I'm not in any of them."  They all knew it was a big-deal-day.

A few weeks ago the gardens at Filoli opened for limited visitors and we took advantage of a few hours in this beautiful place, with a nice hike, even crossing the San Andreas Fault.  

Each Sunday morning we have our Mission Devotional, then watch the live concert from the BYU Jerusalem Center and then have Zoom church with our ward.  It’s gorgeous outside, and life goes on.

We are blessed with good health, a wonderful family, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives.  Especially during times like these we are grateful for the Eternal perspective the Gospel gives us.  "This too shall pass."

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Addendum -- weeks 8-9

Dear Friends,
  We thought we had done our last report from Durban, and we have.  But we need to do one more to end the saga for now.

Yesterday, Wednesday 8 April 2020, we drove the long trip home from Utah to Palo Alto.  We so appreciate our daughter Rachel and her husband Dave Dimmick letting us crash at their house for two weeks until we could come home.

We both seem to be healthy.  Now we are just unpacking.

This is a difficult time in the world.  But this weekend we think of an even more tragic time, that had a glorious result.

Tomorrow is Good Friday and Sunday is Easter.  This is the time of year when we reflect the most on our Savior Jesus Christ and his amazing sacrifice and atonement and resurrection for us.  We tend to focus on the glories of this time.  He was resurrected and we will be too!  And our families can be forever.

But tomorrow we would like to invite all of you to join us in another Fast Day.  We will all be praying together for the end of this pandemic, and that life can go back to normal.  And we can go back to South Africa!

More information is here

And if you are missing attending a Messiah sing-along or concert this year, you can still enjoy it virtually.  The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square is presenting a virtual concert.  
Good Friday evening, 7 pm (MDT That's 6 pm here in  Calif.)  Join in and sing along!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Out of Africa--Weeks 6 AND 7

First, we are back in the USA and safe and sound. And we seem to be virus-free. It's been a wild two weeks, so we had no time to write a blog last Sunday.

We want to give a comprehensive description of the process. Some of this is a duplicate of the emails we've sent, but we need it all written in one place. This blog is our journal of the Mission.

Sunday 15 March

We wrote the last blog post on Sunday, 15 March. It was a normal Sunday under instructions to stay at home:  we had church service with just ourselves and Sister Damon. The Missionaries were all instructed to do their own church service -- not gather in groups. The one exception was Sister Damon because she is the only Senior Sister in the Mission and the only one without a priesthood holder in her home who could administer the Sacrament. She lived upstairs from us, so she came down to join our church meeting. The rest of the day was normal -- we wrote the blog, video-chatted with children and grandchildren, etc. 

Sunday night we watched the nationally broadcast speech by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. He announced that no new visas into South Africa (ZA) would be granted, and that existing visas would be cancelled. We didn't know if this meant us? Or was it only people who had not yet arrived? He also announced that schools would be closed until after Easter, and people should try to stay away from others. At that point there were only 61 known cases in the whole country, and people were not too worried.

On Saturday night, President Lines had called all the Elders to tell them about Transfers coming up. (Once every six weeks new Elders come in and those who have completed their two years of service go home.) This means that a lot of other Elders have to move around. This week we had only two scheduled to go home, but eight coming in. Trainers are chosen for those eight. This means throwing about 105 people up in the air and having them come down differently. Then figuring out how to physically move those who are moving to new apartments. They may move across town, or they may move an eight-hour drive away to Bloemfontain, or to Lesotho -- another country! It's a big process. 

Monday 16 March

We took Elder Hiatt to the South African Visa Services office at 8 a.m. for his visa extension application interview. (Some of the Elders only got 18 month visas, so they had to apply in person for an extension.) We had a group going for appointments the following Friday, but Elder Hiatt was to be transferred to Lesotho on Thursday, so we were sneaking him in early. After we went inside he was told that the person who had filled out his paperwork in Johannesburg Church Area Office had checked a wrong box, and he had to start over! AAAARRGGG. But the Visa Office was operating normally at that point. No talk of canceled visas -- a good sign.

When we arrived back at the Mission Office, things had changed!  President Lines had been up most of the night on the phone with the Salt Lake Missionary Department, parents of Missionaries, and the Johannesburg Area Office. First, Salt Lake said that the ten Elders we had with health issues (mostly asthma) needed to go home immediately. President then made a lot of calls. Then early Monday morning he got the message to stand down, they were not going yet.  

So, we went back to preparing for Transfer Week -- the busiest time in the Mission. Sue prepares "Arrival Packets" with the info new Elders will need, instructions for their Trainers, and checklists when we do the orientation after they arrive on Wednesday.

At 10 a.m. we were all glued around the computer screens watching the news conference with various government ministers (Cabinet members) explaining the details of the President's decrees of the night before. Those already in the country would not be kicked out. Only new arrivals would not arrive. Whew!

Tuesday 17 March

President Lines got notice that we were only going to get three new Elders, not eight. The five coming from the Philippines would be staying in their home country. And President Lines still was not sure what would happen with the ten Elders with health issues. Rather than re-do all the Transfer plans he decided to keep almost everyone in their same places and just do enough changes to accommodate the three new arrivals and two departing Elders. That meant more phone calls to tell everyone the new-new plans.

Sue went to the grocery store and found each cart handle had a sanitary wipe draped over the handle so everyone would wipe. Hand sanitizers are everywhere. Each check-out clerk had a bottle and would clean between customers. It was good to see.

President Lines sent out the first of almost-daily emails to parents about the situation. Actually, Sue sent them out. Sue writes, President edits, Sue does the mail/merge with the missionary online system to send to everyone. Just like any good secretary.

Sue had also noticed on the news that Kenya had closed its borders to all non-citizens. Oh dear! Elder Mabiala was due to be released on Friday because it was at the end of his two years. His flight was through Nairobi, then home to Brazzaville, Republic of the Congo. The reservations are made, normally, two to three months ahead. Sue couldn't get through to Kenyan Airlines to find out if a pass-through was OK. She finally emailed the travel agency that does our tickets and asked them. They answered back that they couldn't find out either, so they changed his ticket to go through Addis-Ababa instead. And hoped it stays open....

Wednesday 18 March

Elder Hiatt had his next appointment at the Visa Department at 8 a.m. again. But he lived about an hour north. On Sunday night the Assistants to the President had driven up to pick him up and his companion, and they stayed with the Assistants overnight. (They live in our same building, so it was easy to get him from there for the Monday appointment.) The Assistants did not have time to do this again, so we left our apartment at 6 a.m., drove to Stanger to pick up Elders Hiatt and Cooke.

We were back down to Durban by 8 a.m. This time there were bottles of hand sanitizer everywhere in the Visa Office. First thing before registering at the entry desk was to sanitize hands. Then there were bottles on the desks inside where paperwork was checked and interviews done. All went well and we were back out in 45 minutes.

Luckily! Elder and Sister Lund had an appointment up north of Stanger that morning, so they were able to take the Elders back to their area and we didn't have to drive it twice in one day.  It's a nice drive, but.... South Africa has some great freeways, with usual speed limit of 120! That's kph.  About 75 mph.

Elders Gardner, Call and Ntlhare arrived, as scheduled, from the Johannesburg Missionary Training Center.  

They walked into a lot of chaos! Not the usual start to a mission. We managed to do most of their normal orientation.  Ken took the two USA Elders for their driving tests -- we have to see if they really can stay left.

On the day new Elders come in we order pizza for their lunch. This week was no exception. And we also ordered in lunch on Thursday and Friday. No one had time to leave the office for lunch!

At some point on Wednesday we found out that the ten Elders with health issues would be going home almost immediately, and a couple of others, too.  Pearl is our travel/visa person in the Johannesburg Area Office. She and Sue are great phone/email buddies. If we ever meet her in person we'll bring her flowers and candy and take her out to dinner. She has been amazing. There were probably a couple of nights when she never went to bed. She was working so hard to get flights for first these ten, and then later in the week for everyone!

Wednesday afternoon we also went with the Lunds to pick up the rental trailer. One is always rented for Transfer Day. It is stored overnight at the Mission home, ready for the Transfer Day. Getting it up the sloped driveway to the backyard is a trick, made easier with the help of lots of young Elders.

The building behind is called "the bunk house." It was once the Mission Office, but it is now full of beds. Elders who are new coming in sleep there Wednesday night, and their Trainers come in, too. Then the trailer is packed and they are shipped out to their new areas. Thursday night those who are going home stay there, have their last dinner and testimony meeting with President and Sister Lines, and go to the airport on Friday.

Thursday, 19 March
The "Durban Express" (mission van pulling trailer) leaves Durban about 5:30 a.m. and drives west about 4 hours to Ladysmith and Bethlehem. Elder Lund was driving. He's good at that. Depending on the amount of people and baggage a bakkie or two may also tag along.  (Bakkie is the South African word for pick-up truck. The mission has several with covered beds -- see in the photo.) There the "Durban Express" meets up with the "Bloemfontain Express," a similar caravan, which is bringing Elders down from the western part of the mission and Lesotho. They have a big exchange of people and baggage, then turn around and go back, arriving in their cities in the early evening. The trailer is returned on Friday morning. Not this week!

We received an email from the Area Presidency (Southeast Africa) that Senior Missionaries, especially over age 60, were "encouraged" to go home. We talked and prayed and decided that we would stay, at least a couple of weeks, to get President & Sister Lines through the emergency and chaos. Ken showed President Lines the app from the YMCA where we worked out at home. It measures your 'age' by how much weight you lift on the various machines. Ken is very proud of his age:  44.

The other Senior Couples and Senior Sister from the USA all decided to go home. So Pearl started making plane reservations for them, too. Two other couples had gone home in February and March. One was scheduled for 7 April. That left only four couples anyway. One of them is South African, so would stay, but they were up in Lesotho.

We thought the early-departing Elders were all going over the weekend, but Elder Cooke got a ticket for Thursday afternoon, with almost no notice! Ken was available and drove him to the airport, with his companion.  For some reason, Elder Cooke was already down in Durban, but his stuff was still up in Stanger, so the Zone Leaders brought it down and met them at the airport, which is about half-way between Stanger and Durban. This was one of the minor logistical crazies of the week. But Elder Cooke did get on his flight and got all the way through to Brisbane, Australia.

Sue worked like crazy doing Departure Packets for those going home. It's about 10 personalized pages with letters to Missionary, to family, to Stake President. It has information about watching out for Zika and TB. It has the home contact information for all the people you have served with during your time in the mission, etc. She got them done for those 13 going home over the weekend.

Friday 20 March

First thing Friday morning we took four more Elders to the Visa Office to apply for their visa extensions. Elder and Sister Gordon were also scheduled for the same time, but since they were going home there was no point applying for the extension. The entrance is in through the parking garage. We were there early and had to wait outside for the 8 a.m. opening. What a difference two more days make. By Friday all the workers not only had hand sanitizer, but they were all wearing masks and gloves. We got all four Elders through the application and interview and headed back to the office.

The trailer did not go back on Friday morning. There were eight Elders with Friday plane tickets home, and two others for whom this was their 'normal' release date. Elder Hyer and Elder Mabiala had been planning for this day. The other eight had a two-day surprise notice. Elder Chen ran off for a last-minute shopping trip, but we got this photo of seven Elders leaving us. With ten going to the airport and all their baggage, the trailer was still needed.

Elder Lund did heroic duty driving the van and trailer on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The Lunds are really called as Humanitarian missionaries. They are supposed to just be coordinating special projects for humanitarian purposes. But they do double-duty in supporting the young missionaries, too.

Friday after the Elders were gone to the airport, President Lines called everyone who was in the Office to come into his office. Sister Lines was there, the Lunds, Sister Damon, the Assistants, and us. He said he had a feeling he should pull all the missionaries out of Lesotho immediately. It was a big step. There were 16 young Elders and the Evans. He wanted to know how we all felt about it. We all talked and prayed and everyone felt good about that decision. He called all those serving in Lesotho and told them to be on the road out of the country by 7 a.m. on Saturday.

Sue also got a phone call from Elder Freitas on Friday afternoon. He had just heard that his US visa had come through! He is from Brazil, but his parents moved to the USA last Fall. He applied months ago for a visa to the USA so he could go home to his family. It came through in the nick of time! But the Consulate said it was being delivered by DHL before noon on Tuesday. That might be too late. There were rumors that Elders were all leaving on Monday or Tuesday.  

Lots of rumors flying. President Lines was almost constantly on the phone with Johannesburg or Salt Lake. No one knew anything definite, but there were plans floating around. So frustrating!

Late Friday night we got a call from President Lines. Elder Chen was stuck in the Johannesburg airport. His flight to Australia had been canceled! Sue wasn't surprised, because when she went to make his seat assignment, there was almost no one else on the plane! When the Elders leave they don't have a phone. Their mission phones are left behind. So he had to borrow one from someone in the airport to call President. A call was made to Johannesburg Area Office, and they sent someone to pick him up and keep him overnight until he could get a new flight.  

Then Elder Mabiala called. He was also stuck there, too. He could fly to Addis-Ababa, but the Republic of Congo was totally closed down. He also was picked up for an overnight stay. He flew back to Durban the next day and returned to missionary life. President Lines had to make arrangements to reverse his "Released" status. It took a couple of days, so he's now a missionary until 24 July! If things open up he'll go home before that. But he can't just be released in South Africa. He has no visa, no money, no home. If he stays a missionary he is watched over and has housing, etc., until he can go home again. The Church is being flexible during these times! As are all the Elders.
One Elder with a plane ticket home on Saturday was Elder Alberto Gomez, from Mallorca, Spain. The only problem was he was still out in the western part of the Mission!  President Lines asked his counselor, President Mkhize, if he could go pick up Elder Gomez on Friday afternoon. President Mkhize left his job and drove the five+ hours out and the same back. But he lives west of Pietermaritzburg, and that is an hour west of Durban. So we told him Ken and I would meet him at his house. It was after 11 pm when we got there. We picked up Elder Gomez and brought him back to stay overnight in the Assistants' apartment. Thank goodness for the previously-mentioned good freeways!

Saturday 21 March

Saturday is P-Day (Preparation Day). We normally sleep in, clean house, go shopping, do something touristy, etc. Not this week! We had two more Elders leaving, and another going on Sunday. Everyone was in the office, working.

But,President is under orders to have a regular P-Day. He had a P-10-minutes here. Just to show that he can relax -- with all his Assistants and the Sword of Laban. This was such a crazy week that he called back in two of his previous Assistants and appointed two new Assistants who are both South African, so they won't be going home. It's taking six helpers to keep things afloat at this point.  

At some point in the morning the Elders leaving Lesotho at Maputsoe called to say they couldn't get out. The border was closed into South Africa! But those who went out through Maseru, the capital, had already gotten out. So President Lines told the Maputsoe group to drive the 2.5 hours to Maseru. A Branch President there is also a police officer, so President called him, too.  The group was able to get out at Maseru, but the border there closed shortly after that. One of our miracles of this ordeal. They all went to Bethlehem, awaiting further developments.

Transfers were being re-done almost hourly as we got plane tickets for Elders to go home, or got emails and phone calls about South African Elders who had been serving in other countries being returned to South Africa and assigned to the Durban Mission.

Elders Gomez (Mallorca) and Flood (Scotland) were scheduled to fly out on Saturday afternoon. Elder and Sister Lund were going to take them to the airport, leaving the Mission Office about 1:30. At 12:45 Sue got a phone call that there was a South African Elder getting on a plane in Johannesburg to come to our Mission and he would arrive about 2 pm! We told him to sit in the central waiting area, right outside the doors from baggage claim. It's a pretty obvious spot. The Lunds found him, got Elders Gomez and Flood on their way, and all was well!

That afternoon, we learned that we would be coming back to the USA. It was no longer a choice. All the North Americans were being flown out on a charter flight on Tuesday. Now the logistics got crazy again. How to get everyone to Durban and Johannesburg by Monday night?

And we had a hitch. Our passports were at the Area Office in Johannesburg. When we arrived in South Africa in February we went through the wrong line. Normally US residents don't need a visa if they stay shorter than three months. We went through the "Countries not needing Visas" line. The clerk gave us the standard 3-month stamp, even though our visas say 25 months. We sent the passports back to get the stamps corrected. No passports! We wouldn't even be able to get on a plane from Durban to Johannesburg. Maybe we would be staying after all!

Sunday 22 March

We again had our little church service in our apartment with Sister Damon. It was a good time of peace and spiritual renewal amidst all the chaos. We partook of the Sacrament, and read together the beginning of King Benjamin's speech in Mosiah 2. It's about gratitude and service. We need reminding about what is really important and the amazing blessings we have.

But, by 10 am Sunday everyone was back in the office. The Ox was in the Mire!  

Those serving out in Bloemfontain and those who had just left Lesotho and were in Bethlehem were actually closer to Johannesburg than to Durban. Again President Mkhize was called on to help. He drove out west to help move 15 Elders and the Moodys to Johannesburg. He got the trailer and van on Saturday afternoon, and also the passports for some of those 17 people. Unless someone is serving in Lesotho, passports are kept in the Office safe. He went to his house, then left very early Sunday morning, picked up people in Bethlehem, drove to Johannesburg, and then back to Durban. Each of those legs is 4-5 hours! But while he was in Johannesburg he stopped by the Area Office and picked up our passports! So we had them back on Monday morning. (We had told him he could forget them if he wanted. Then we would have to stay.)

That group was housed overnight at the Johannesburg Temple patron housing. The Temple was closed, so that was easy.

We spent Sunday training our replacements. Ken had done that a lot on Saturday -- training Elder Swift.  

But on Sunday President Lines said he'd decided to make Elder Swift his new Assistant, so Elder Mananga would be Financial Secretary instead. Ken started over.

Late Saturday afternoon Elder Mbaki showed up and Sue started training him. He knows computers well and is doing great.

And Sister Damon was training Elder Ntlare to do the Housing Coordinator job. But then President decided that he'd only been on his mission three days and he shouldn't be stuck in the office. Sister Damon is going to do most of from home in Oregon, with help from Elder Lubelwana -- former Assistant, and Assistant again because he is South African and will stay.

Sunday night we listened to another speech by President Ramaphosa. He announced mandatory shut down of the whole country starting at midnight on Thursday 27 March. Only grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and medical offices could be open.  We were then glad we were heading home.

Monday 23 March

This was the day to try to get everyone ready to go and to prepare for the lockdown.

Sue was working with Pearl trying to get plane tickets for all the Elders who needed to leave the country before Thursday night and were not North American. She got two more out on Tuesday and one on Wednesday, but it seemed like flights were being canceled as fast as she could make reservations.

We called the US Consulate about Elder Freitas' visa. They had called DHL and were told it was being held and he could pick it up. Two Elders with a car got him and they headed for the DHL office. Shortly after that Sister Damon picked up the phone. It was DHL saying they had a delivery for us. Almost the same time the doorbell rang and it was DHL. With Elder Freitas passport! Sue called him and told him to turn around and come home. No need for the pick up. And she quickly scanned the visa and sent it to the Church Travel Department. They needed the proof that he could go on the Tuesday plane to the USA. Hooray!

We didn't try to do whole departure packets for everyone, but we made a smaller envelope for each person leaving with passport, immunization records, and anything else they would need. We had a pile for those going on the charter flight, and a pile for everyone else. The envelope also included a page with emergency phone numbers, and information about which Travel Zone they were in.  

The Mission is divided into seven geographical Zones. We decided that herding 70+ people around the airport would be impossible.  So we created seven Travel Zones, named after the Zones of the Mission. President chose two Zone Leaders for each group. And each Elder in each Zone also had a companion. They all knew the rules:  never leave your companion, and your Zone Leader should always know where you are. On Monday morning, Sue made/printed all these lists, and we stuffed them into the envelopes.

Monday afternoon we learned that the 15 young Elders plus Elder & Sister Moody who had driven to Johannesburg were going on an earlier charter flight on Monday night! Good thing President Mkhize had taken them all their passports. That messed up the zones a little, but we tweaked and made it all work -- down to six zones. We put a sticky label on the outside of each envelope with new zone, companion and zone leaders. Sue does love mail/merge.

Somehow in all this -- maybe Sunday night? -- we found time to pack. We had flown out with 23 kg/bag (50 lbs). Going home we were only allowed 20 kg/bag (44 lbs). That was OK. Sue had brought some of the 'necessities of life' that could be left behind. She gave Sister Lines the stash of brown sugar, chocolate chips, taco seasoning, and ranch dressing mix. Ken left behind sneakers, slacks, a belt and some white shirts because there are always men who need those.

We went to bed sometime after midnight on Monday/Tuesday morning and woke very early.  

Tuesday 24 March

How do you get 48 people to the airport when there are only four people who can drive the cars home again? Sister Damon had the brilliant idea to hire a big, big Tour Bus. It was great! A 65-passenger bus meant we had enough room in the empty seats for all the luggage. 

On the bus we also had two Elders who were going to Australia on Tuesday. When Pearl was making their reservations she was going to send them on a 6 a.m. flight to Johannesburg to catch long flights home. Sue told her NO! They needed to go after 8 a.m. so they could go on the bus with us. There would be no one to take them to the airport earlier.

We met at the Durban Temple about 4:30 am. It was a good place to meet because it has a big secured parking lot where we could leave the cars until they could be moved. The Temple is closed for awhile, like everything else. It is also only about 15 minutes from the airport, so it was on the way for most people.

We got to airport by 6 to board our flight to Johannesburg, leaving at 8 am.  We had no idea why it had to be so early!  However, 17 bags didn't make it because the plane was too full/heavy.

The plane was not full, but they made us all sit in the front, because all the heavy baggage was in the back.

We arrived in Johannesburg about 9:30 a.m. and the flight out was scheduled for 8 pm.  So, we spent most of the day sitting in the airport. We had our 7 Seniors, 5 Temple couples that we didn't worry about, and 39 young Elders. The young ones were divided into 6 Zones with ZLs, so they kept track of themselves, mostly.

We walked around shopping, and couldn't help but notice the newspaper headlines. We knew the shops and airport only had two days to keep going.

And Elders can always eat, of course.

There were Elders and Seniors from our Mission, and also from Capetown and Johannesburg Missions in South Africa, and Botswana, Kenya & Tanzania. Everywhere you looked in the airport there were Elders. It was quite a sight. Especially since the airport was pretty quiet otherwise.

We met up with Elders from other missions in the airport. Some thought the plane would leave at 8 pm and some at 6 pm. We found out that the charter was always on UTC time and ZA is +2, so that explained the confusion. Since we had arrived before 9:30 am, it was a long day.

The gate opened at 4 pm, and it was a zoo. The 17 bags we had left behind in Durban were supposed to arrive at 5:40 pm, so those people waited and went to the baggage claim. But after 6 pm they found out someone had off-loaded them and put into storage! So they had to proceed home without. One Elder had two bags missing, and the Moodys (Senior Couple) had 4 'crates' instead of bags, and they were all stuck behind.

On a normal flight of 325 people, some will have little baggage and a few have the maximum. On this flight, everyone had come to stay two years, so almost everyone had the maximum weight. The flight the night before had the same problem: Too much baggage. So the rule was, if you were a young Elder and your final destination airport was Salt Lake City you could only check one bag. For our mission we had 24 stopping in SLC and 28 going on. That was 24 bags left behind.  Plus the 17 stuck from Durban flight.

We got everyone through check-in and security and were ready by 7 pm, but the plane wasn't ready. No idea why. But we all got on and the flight left about 9:30 pm. It was better than the Monday charter flight which was supposed to leave at 11 pm, but it left at 2:30 a.m. Evidently there were some Elders from another African country in a plane at the airport, but they didn't have South African visas, so the airport people wouldn't let them deplane long enough to get on another plane! It took a couple of hours to straighten that out. Once they left they stopped in Togo and in Washington DC for refueling.

Our flight was better organized than the gate agents. 
Sue, with the help of Elder Stoker of the Area Office and Elder Lund, convinced the gate agents that assigned seats were arbitrary and inappropriate. So after an hour, we got almost all the dignitaries into first class, while we checked boarding passes and sent Elders in order of mission and zone to the back of the plane, filling up the whole plane. Sue got an aisle seat near the front, so she could help out. Ken got a window seat on the next row with the Lunds.

I guess they learned from the night before. After a five-hour flight we stopped also in Togo for 90 minutes to refuel. This is Ken's picture of Togo.  Sue mostly slept through the stop.

From Togo, the plane, a Boeing 777 of Ethiopian Airlines, flew relatively slowly (about 430 mph) so it could save fuel and make it all the way to Salt Lake City without another stop -- another 15 hours. The crew people were so nice! It was the first time they had ever been there, and it was only the second time Ethiopian Airlines had flown to SLC. The first was the day before. We sang them songs and applauded just before we landed. Here are a couple of videos made shortly before landing.

360 degree view of plane singing

Video of Missionaries on the second charter flight

As we landed Wednesday afternoon, we had an organized and swift entrance at Salt Lake International Terminal. We don't think there is any airport in the world that does baggage as swiftly as Salt Lake City. They set up a super-system for the 2002 Winter Olympics and they still do it.

Elder and Sister Lund stayed in the baggage claim area until all our Missionaries were out.

Ken and Sue breezed through passport control and went out to the lobby in hopes people with connecting flights would get them correctly. We also had put our USA SIM cards back in our phones, so t Elders with connecting flights could use them to call and tell families when they would be arriving.

 Church Travel learned from all the bad publicity on Sunday when 1600 came in from Philippines and their parents and families flooded the arrival area in the airport. That was a PR and social-distancing disaster.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, families who came picking up at the airport were directed to the 3rd floor of the parking garage and told to stay in their cars until their Missionary could join them. No hugs!! At least that was the admonition.

Church Travel handed out the connecting flights quickly and even brought a bunch of phones for people to call their families to say what time they were arriving. Each phone was wiped with disinfectant wipe between users. They wanted a photo of their 'crew' after everyone was gone, so Ken took it for them while they modeled social-distancing.

We were the last ones out. So far 92 Missionaries have left the Mission from the US, Canada, Spain, UK, Zambia, Australia and Brazil. There are 22 from other countries who couldn't get out due to canceled flights or closed borders. The Mission now has 15 South Africans who continue their Missions and six South Africans who came to Durban from other Missions in Africa. All of them are in doubled-up apartments in lockdown for the next three weeks. All are in safe places close in to Durban, and they are in daily contact with President Lines. They all have food and access to funding, 

After the Elders left the Salt Lake airport we waited while our son Keith brought our car from Lehi. We had loaned it to our son Tim and granddaughter Eve while we were gone. It's a Ford C-Max hybrid, so it couldn't just sit for two years. Sorry we had to take it back so soon! But luckily Tim hadn't gotten around to registering it in Utah yet! It still has the SUZVANN California plates. The registration expires the end of March, so Sue went online and paid it up the day it expired, and so we're good.

So now we are at our daughter Rachel's home basement in South Jordan, Utah, doing our two weeks of self-isolation. She and husband Dave are gone down to a cabin in Southern Utah for a week, so this worked out well.  

Ken has set up his 'office' in the basement. He is working the computers in Durban remotely.  He is keeping the bills paid and the missionaries funded, so his job goes on.

So also with Sue. She is working at the kitchen table.  But her job is mostly over, for now.  She did Arrivals, Departures, Supply ordering, and Visa renewals.  None of that is happening.

But we are not always working. We take care of the dogs, too.

We are not going to be released as missionaries yet. We are staying on as 'live at home service missionaries.' That's a fairly common thing, although most people who do that have a service area close to home -- not half-way around the world. We will continue to support the office and train our replacements. There are some projects we can do long-distance. Sue spent most of Saturday this week sending out all the departure packet materials via email, including individual Certificates of Service Appreciation for each Elder with his dates of service in South Africa Durban. Several had mentioned that they didn't want to go home with no mention that they had served in South Africa.

Those with more than six months left on their missions will probably be reassigned to a mission in their home country. This is a world-wide issue. It wasn't just us. Most missionaries in the world are being returned to their home countries. There are currently about 67,000 Elders and Sisters serving. We've no idea how many of them are in foreign-to-them countries, but a lot are. Elders from Mongolia come to California and Sisters from Oklahoma go to Madagascar. Russians go to Texas and Africans go to Brazil. It's an amazing cross-cultural experience for everyone.

And so we are in Utah. We are staying sort-of on South African time to support the office. We awoke shortly after midnight on Thursday morning and started working. We video chat over WhatsApp and screen share using TeamViewer, and it's practically like being there. The poor Elders are housebound due to the 24 hour curfew. They moved all the computers to the apartments in the building where we lived. Had we not moved it would have been very crowded.

But about 5 am on Thursday Sue finally looked out the window in South Jordan. Snow!! That's a far cry from the 80+ degree, 80% humidity of Durban in the summer.

And the best news out of all of this is that we have a healthy new baby granddaughter! Born to Reed and Jen Allen in Henderson, Nevada, on Thursday 26 March 2020.  

We are hoping to be able to go back to South Africa when all the pandemic dies down. The Senior Couples were going together for a conference at the Nambiti Game Preserve next week. Sister Lines said we couldn't get our deposits back, but we can reschedule. We told her to schedule it for 8 September. We hope to be back by then, since it is our 50th Wedding Anniversary!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Lots of changes! -- Week 5

We have to start this week by saying that we are grateful for living prophets. With all the news about the Covid-19 virus, President Russell M. Nelson is uniquely qualified to evaluate the situation. In his 'previous life' before becoming one of the leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints he was a well-respected doctor and surgeon.  

All Church meetings have been canceled, world-wide! No Sunday meetings, and only very, very small Temple ceremonies in limited circumstances. Couples with scheduled weddings are now limited to 8 guests. 

We started the week with admonitions to wash hands and not shake hands. By Friday we knew life had changed, even here in South Africa. There are very few cases here, so far, but we know that will change. We appreciate the clear, concise and reasoned directions from the Prophet we are receiving.

So we had our own Sacrament meeting this morning. President Lines asked the Missionaries to do that, but not invite anyone else. We were the one exception. Sister Damon is the only single Sister in the mission and she lives upstairs from us, so she came down to share our meeting. Ken blessed and passed the Sacrament. He hasn't done that in a long time, so it was a meaningful experience. Usually we rely on the young men in our Church congregation to do that part. And we had our own testimony time, and study of Jacob 1-4 in the Book of Mormon.

It's been about 18 months since the Church announced a change to more 'home-centered, church-supported' Gospel study. Now this pandemic happens and we are ready for it.

Our missionary Elders are still out proselyting, but keeping their distance from those to whom they speak. No quarantines, yet. Senior couples are still staying in place. Last summer we were talking to the Munich Germany Mission office about perhaps coming there to serve. If we had gone to Germany we would be home by now. All Senior missionaries in Europe have been sent home and are doing what they can to support their missions remotely. And our friends in Russia report that the missionaries there are banned from all public transportation--taxis, buses, subway, etc. That mission only owns one car, for the President, so things are curtailed there, for sure. So far no such drastic measures here, but it may happen. There are few buses and no subway here, but our missionaries take lots of taxi-mini-buses.

Now back to the 'normal' stuff.

We started out the week doing 'Boarding Checks.' Otherwise known as Apartment Inspections. There are eight apartments of young Elders in our Stake/Zone, and their apartments are supposed to be inspected every six weeks.  

Just so you get a flavor for the international scope of our mission (and most others) we'll put the country of origin after each Elder.

We saw the Molweni Branch's Elders on Sunday morning before church, because we always pick them up and take them to Church anyway. Here are Elders Zimmerman (USA) and Turner (England).

Monday morning we did four boardings (apartments). They were the ones closer in to us. First we went to Queensburgh (pronounced Queensboro). Elder Batista (Brazil) and Furtado (Cape Verde Islands) live there, but we forgot to take a photo. We were glad to have Elder and Sister Howell with us to find them.  To drive into it the path is on the back of a mall, past the loading dock, and then there is a gate into their apartment complex. It's a nice place--just hard to find.

Next stop was Kwa Dabeka.  Here live Elders Mananga (South Africa) and King (Australia). There are lots of photos with Elder and Sister Howell, because this was their last week in the mission!! Here is Elder King, but that's not his companion.  Elder King had someone give him this little bit of Australia for a friend.

We drove to Chatsworth, inspected the boarding for Elders Andrade (Brazil) and Raralevu (Fiji). Then we took them with us to our next stop.

In Umbhedula we met Elders Brunt (Australia) and Krupp (USA. His Mom grew up in San Jose!) These four Elders were getting together because Monday is their preparation day--cleaning, shopping, and getting together to play some rugby.

All that took us most of the morning, but we started at 7:30 a.m. South Africa is an early-rising country. This is hard for Ken, but he's coping. The afternoon found us back in the office doing normal paper-work stuff.  

 Tuesday morning we did the last three who are farther out west--almost to Pietermaritzburg. 
First stop was Hillcrest.  Their boarding is amazing!  

It sits down in a park with a lovely pond right outside their front door. There are ducks and birds and beautiful flowers all around.

We took a picture of Elders Nichols (USA) and Carvalho daSilva (Brazil), but put this one of just Elder Carvalho for our soccer-loving children and grandchildren.  

Second stop on Tuesday was Mpumalanga to visit with Elders Phelps and Whiting (both USA), and the Howells. Their boarding sits up on a hillside with an amazing view over the valley.

And finally we drove all the way out to Imbali. If we were to drive straight there it would take about an hour and 15 minutes. Elders Bingham (USA) and Valerio daSilva (Brazil) are doing well out there!

By-and-large the Elders do a pretty good job of keeping things clean. Sue had to tell them to stand on their heads a bit when cleaning inside the microwave oven. They tend to skip the ceiling.  Also, the inspections are by appointment, so they spruce things up before we come.

Wednesday President and Sister Lines went down to pick up their new second passports. They go back and forth between Lesotho and South Africa so often that they are running out of pages in their original passports. But the new ones are only good for two years!  President and Sister Lines are here for 2.5 more years, and need to get new South African Visas for their last 18 months. You have to have at least 6 months left on your passport after the end of the visa. This wasn't going to work. Sue's knowledge from all the visa and passport issues in Russia is coming in handy! (But where are Genady and Veronika when we need them?) She wrote an email and explained the problem to the US Consulate. They were very nice and said just to drop off new applications and they'd do four-year passports. No personal visit needed. No extra charges. Bless their hearts! So we can do that this week. (More about visa adventures next week.)

Our sad news this week is that Elder and Sister Howell went home on Friday. We are replacing them in the office, and they did a great job. We got to overlap for a month, so we hope we've learned all we needed to! It's already too quiet around the office. Luckily we still have Sister Damon. But she goes home at the end of May. We need help!!!

We think it is time to do a little commentary on driving here. As a former British Colony, South Africans drive on the left side of the street. It takes getting used to, but we are getting there. We take turns driving monthly. Ken drove in February. Sue is driving in March. We had a Toyota Corolla--steering wheel on the right side, turn signal on the right side of the steering wheel & windshield wipers on the left side. It's so easy to turn on the windshield wipers instead of the blinkers! We have the cleanest windshield in town. Only once did Sue get in the car and actually sit down on the left side, then realized there was no steering wheel. She usually realizes before opening the car door.

We also got a 'new' car on Friday. It's the Howell's Renault hatch-back. It's a little bigger and higher off the road, so that's good. The only problem is that the blinkers and windshield wipers are 'American' even though the steering wheel is on the right. So now Sue is totally confused and turns on the windshield wipers instead of blinkers in that car, too!  

We thought you might like to see a few photos of why we can't walk to the office, even though it's only about 3/4 mile away. Major freeway construction project.

That big pile of dirt is going to be an off ramp one of these years.

That's our office building on the left.

You'll notice various people walking IN the streets. They do that all the time. But this is my favorite. It's hot and bright here, and women often walk under umbrellas for shade.

And cars stop anywhere at random times and places. Especially taxis, which are 15 passenger vans. They think they can do anything as long as they put on their emergency flashers.

But you can see below what a beautiful country this is. Green and lush. Our upstairs neighbor came down this afternoon to visit. She's East Indian, but born and raised here. She's worried about the COVID-19 virus. We talked about how everywhere has something to worry about. At home it's earthquakes. Others have tornados or hurricanes. South Africa really has no regular natural disasters! It's an ideal climate with lots of natural resources. The only irritaion is inadequate electric power capacity. Hence load shedding. The regular intersection panhandlers do an excellent job directing traffic at intersections when signals are out and earn their tips. And it was hilarious when a service worker stopped by the office to check for burned out light bulbs during a load shedding hour.

Tonight we hosted a dinner at our apartment of sour cream chicken enchiladas. We were supposed to have them for the farewell lunch for the Howells before they left on Friday. But the cooking had to be delayed due to load shedding that morning.

Here are the Lines (on the left), Sister Damon (enchilada provider), the Lunds (on the right) and us.

Speaking of COVID-19: we watched and listened to the live broadcast of the South African President. National State of Emergency. Schools closed until at least after Easter. There were four cases here a week ago. An hour ago there were 61. He also announced a travel ban from many countries--USA, China, Europe, etc. He said no new visas would be granted and existing visas would be canceled. We don't know if that affects those of us already here, or only those who haven't come yet. We hope to find out tomorrow morning when we take one of our Elders to the South African Visa Office for his renewal request.

This is Transfer Week coming up. Two Elders going home. Eight coming in--if we get the five Filipinos who are due to arrive from the Philippines Missionary Training Center! They are supposed to come on Wednesday, and that's the day the travel ban starts. Not sure if Philippines is on the list. Guess we'll find out soon... The other three coming in are in the Johannesburg MTC.  One is South African, so he'll come for sure. The other two are from USA and have only been in-country for three weeks. Not sure about their status.

We feel like we are writing a serial where the plot changes mid sentence and this is the cliff-hanger. Will we still be here in a week? 

Stay tuned, read and find out!

And We Carry On -- Weeks 10 - 20

We have been getting questions from some friends and family about our status, so we thought we'd write a brief blog to catch everyone u...