LDS Church & Missionary Work
Nate (Zimbabwe Harare Mission)
–Paraphrased from Nate’s mission interview–
What The South Africa MTC Is Like
My sister went on a mission right before me and she went to the Provo MTC. She told me all about the food there and how they have a general authority come to visit every so often.
When I went to the Johannesburg MTC, instead of there being thousands of missionaries, there was a total of maybe thirty missionaries and the food is not quite what the huge Provo MTC cafeteria is like. The food is good but it is definitely African. The first day, I am looking at this plate and there is this big thing of white and it looked to me like mashed potatoes and I am thinking excellent…I love mashed potatoes. So I get my fork and I poke it and it jiggles like jello and I say, “this potato has gone bad.” The guy sitting next to me (I think he was from Durban) grabs my fork and he throws it away and says “no, you don’t eat pap with a fork. You eat pap with your hands.” So I take off a piece and I throw it in my mouth and it is the most tasteless thing I have ever had. “I say “why do you eat this?” He says “no, no, no” and he takes a piece and he dipped it into some type of gravy and I ate it and that was much better. You begin to crave it after a while. It settles in your stomach and it fills you up more than anything else. Eventually your body wants it pretty constantly. It is not an addiction but for a missionary, it is really good food. In Zimbabwe, it is called sadza and it is delicious…eventually.
The cool thing about the Johannesburg MTC is that because there are so few guys, you get to know every single person. You get on a very personal basis with everybody.
I had President Christensen at the MTC. He and his wife were amazing.
There are like five or six teachers who are all hand picked, great people. It was definitely a different experience than I would expect the Provo MTC to be. It was very unique and basically every teacher knows that you are going on like 5 or 6 missions so they say “Okay, so this is what your mission is going to be like”. Either they served there or they have talked with guys who have come back from there and this is what you are in for.
The LDS Church In Zimbabwe
When I first went there, the Zimbabwe Harare Mission was Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi. Six months after I arrived, they split the mission, so all the missionaries in Zimbabwe stayed there and all the missionaries in Zambia stayed there and it became the Zambia Lusaka Mission.
When I first got there, there were maybe a hundred, maybe a little bit more missionaries and when they split, it went down a lot. I think they were aiming for maybe 150 with so missionaries in the field.
Beginnings of Church Growth
In the past, it used to be part of the Africa Southeast Mission. President Dube, my Mission President, served in that mission. He served in some of the same places that I did. Back then the mission was gigantic and very few missionaries.
There were several people that had a huge impact on whether or not the church would be successful there. The Neal’s were a very well known family with the people and with the government because he used to be a Rugby star. When the church was getting started there, he had good influence with the government and made sure that everything was all right with the church’s growth and that nobody was out rubbing shoulders too tightly or causing problems.
Africa Southeast Mission started out as a little district, with little branches and not very many members at all. At some point, it started to grow and more missionaries would come in. When I was there, there was a stake in Bulawayo and in Gweru. When I was in Vendura while I was there, it became a district and they organized district presidencies there and another district in Mutare where there were two stakes in Harare. I know they have split them at least once so now there are two more stakes since I was there. It is one of the fastest growing missions in the world. It seemed like every stake conference you went to, they were announcing splitting off another branch or another ward. It was growing like crazy.
From Missionary to Church Leaders
President Dube used to be a Stake President there. He is now a member of the Seventies. President Mkhabela…he was in Bulawayo. He was in charge of the CES program and then was the Stake President and now I think he is an area Seventy as well. Elder Cook came and I remember him saying that some of the men in Zimbabwe…some of the Priesthood leaders were…I guess he was just impressed with how dedicated they were with helping the growth of the church there.
The missionaries there could asked the Branch President to go and tract with you and they would go and tract with you. People were very willing to help you in the church.
Life in Zimbabwe
So every mission has the apartment that they envy and think is super nice, and then there are apartments that you refer to as outer darkness. My mission president wanted us to live with the people. One of the places I stayed in was a side apartment that used to be the servants quarters. Carpets aren’t that popular because vacuums aren’t a thing there. Electricity and water come and go so you can’t always depend on them. They apply this stuff called cobra to wax the floors. Make sure you don’t sit on it quickly because it will leave red streaks on your pants. Most of us would store water around the apartment if the water stopped working. We would take bucket baths if the water and electricity went out. It’s not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I was spoiled with my showers at home. Bucket baths are pretty fun. Some missionaries hate them. To get into town you take these VW buses that hippies in the US would drive and they cram maybe 25 people into one. You have like four to a row. If you see a large person getting in you get scared because it’s gonna get tight. Otherwise it’s a ton of fun. The drivers will yell what the destination is going to be. A lot of the times the drivers will fight with each other to pick you up. You get to town and there is this hub of all of these vans yelling where they are going to go. Some of the zone leaders would have cars, but we would pay those guys. The hard part is going shopping, because you can’t buy too much food at once because there won’t be room for it in the van. They use American dollars there because of inflation and problems with currency that they had. Bills are a lot easier to transport than coins, so you don’t really get change. They’ll give you lollipops or candy instead of change. A lot of people will see missionaries and they’ll think you have money. If you’re buying something in the market, you have to barter down because they will try to get you to pay a higher price.
Culture and People
There are a hundred things I love, so I’ll have to pick my favorites. Zimbabwean people are naturally friendly and polite. I don’t know what makes them that way, but they’re willing to take time out of their day to speak to you. As a whole, the country is friendly, and they smile more than I was used to. It was fantastic. As a missionary there, you kind of get spoiled. You can talk with them about anything. You invite someone to church and most of the time they say yes I will be there. They’re just so friendly. If you go into a house, it’s part of the culture to offer you something to eat. I remember people that didn’t like what we were doing or teaching, but when we were in the house they would still give us something to eat. You call the women mamas. They will call you son as well. I loved that and I felt like I belonged when people would say things like that. They would discipline me like a mom as well. It was funny when it wasn’t happening to me. We love food, so on holidays they cook special meals, and they sing cultural songs. I guess the biggest example of that is when you go to a funeral and the family provides food for everybody. We would be fed, and sing songs, and they would talk about the life of the person. It was an occasion to be together and it was a very unifying feeling. They’re good at remembering that we all come from the same place and we are family. In church it’s fun when they translate the hymns into Shona. They also have their own unique ways of singing the hymns and I love it.
Paul (Zimbabwe Harare Mission)
–Paraphrased from Paul’s mission interview–
LDS Church In Malawi
When I went to Malawi, it had been open to missionaries for about 4 years but the growth was very, very slow. When I got there, there were about 25 to 30 people meeting in a branch or group. They actually met in an office complex…that’s where the branch would meet. While I was there, the church purchased land to build the first chapel in Malawi which is now there and I believe they have or are about to have a stake there now. When I was there, there was only one branch. It has now grown to four branches about to be wards.
First Missionary from Malawi
When I was there, the first missionary who left from Malawi, his name was Noah. It was a great experience to work with him as a branch missionary and see him become the first missionary to leave Malawi. He was very hungry and excited to be the first missionary and very proud to be the first missionary to leave from Malawi.
The church had just opened up, in 2003, the Lilongwe area. The church originally was in Blantyre, which was a bigger city, but the capital was Lilongwe further north. The church had just opened up Lilongwe as I was leaving the mission. The mission was opened up by Jonathan Weaver and they put two missionaries up there. Then after that, the church had to reduce the size of the mission so I believe they may have had to pull them out after a while.
As far as Malawi goes, it is great. It’s the third poorest country in the world. When you go to Zimbabwe, you get a bit of a culture shock as far as the economic status. Malawi is even more so. They almost seem fourth world because there is so much poverty there. There are very few paved roads. Lots of dirt roads. The towns that the people live in are just thrown together…not really structured…there is no rhyme or reason. The country of Malawi used to be called Nyasaland which means ugly in the local tongue. They kind of did that because it is so beautiful. Kind of like the Iceland/Greenland thing. Africa is an ugly land so people would want to go live there because it was so beautiful and fruitful. Lake Malawi is one of the largest lakes in Africa. Malawi is a small skinny country and it runs along the border of the lake.
Growth of the Church in the Area
The growth there was a lot of hard work. We had more success in Zimbabwe and Zambia even because the church was so young and getting some to buy into the idea that this a new church in their country was very, very hard because you are meeting in a small branch. It is amazing what a few strong Melchizedek Priesthood holders and families can do for an area. So really the church was focusing on trying to find and establish those Melchizedek holders and families in the area they opened up because they are such a great base for the church to grow off of. So that is what we really focused on…trying to find families with good, strong priesthood holders that can lead a branch and can lead the people and help them to become self sufficient There were four elders and two sisters in the area when I was there. I don’t know how many are there now but I am sure that it has grown quite a bit. When I left, there were about 40 people attending. We did have success finding people and in reactivation.
Government and Connections
In townships in Malawi they have a different governmental system where they have what they call a chief and that chief is someone the people go to for advice and to solve small problems or issues within that small township. One of the members was the chief so we all called him Chief because of the title that he had. He was someone that was partially active. He would go a lot to church but at the same time he was pretty busy. He was someone that I tried to create a special bond with so that we could also get into the local tribal system and help with the families that would be a more established base in the church so we created a really unique bond with him and became really close to him. It was pretty neat..the day that…after I had been there 4 1/2 months laboring, I set these personal goals for myself to attain such as so many people I had to contact every single day and I would try to break these records of contact that you could do every day. It was a lot of hard work and wasn’t as fruitful as far as baptisms. It was definitely fruitful as far a blessings that I saw and experiences I had. One of those was for the Chief that I had put so much effort into all those months. He gathered up all the members and he had a small farewell party for me. You spend 4 1/2 months with someone and they take you into their home and they want to love you unconditionally.
It is very black and white…not a lot of grey there. In America you have a lot more things you can justify. In Africa, you are either someone who is doing something very wrong or they are trying their best to do what is right. The same thing…the temptations are very black and white. It is almost refreshing to go there and to see the wickedness or the righteousness. There is not a lot of grey. I think that happens because of all the trials the Africans have with the poor government that they have and the unrighteous dominion that the leaders do as they go along and pretty much in every African country, there is a lot of political turmoil and because of that political turmoil, it is like you read in the scriptures where the people have been compelled to be humble because of their circumstances…their living circumstances, their lack of freedom and their lack of ability to have a successful life like most people experience elsewhere so the people in Africa are very humble. There is a special Spirit that you can’t deny. The Spirit they bring. The light of Christ is so heavy on them. It is humbling to anybody who is able to experience that because of the lack of things that they have. Being in a first world country, they say that you have to have this, this and this to be happy in life. Once you realize that when all that is taken away, your relationship with God becomes that much closer.
Life and Death
You are watching people count on God for the next meal and count on God for their health. When you are in Africa and they get sick, people are genuinely worried about you. When they find out an elder or you are sick, they genuinely are worried about you because there, if you get sick, they don’t know how bad you could get and you could possibly pass away which is very normal for them. So life and death, black and white are very large. Age is a huge issue in those areas especially in Zimbabwe and Malawi and Zambia and South Africa and because disease is rampant funerals are just part of their life They have funerals at the chapel every week. It seemed like someone was always passing away because the rampant disease that is going on there.
Ready to Hear
Because of all that humility, it makes your experiences look like their time is right now to hear the gospel. They have been compelled to be humble by their political circumstances and the lack of worldly items that they have in their life. Expect when you go into a home, they will let anybody come talk to them. When you are going out as a missionary, and you are tracting, especially in the high density, lower income areas, anybody lets you into their house. That is when it is different because you are not being rejected, you are asking and praying in your heart for the Spirit to guide you to know if this family is ready to hear the gospel which is something that you don’t get anywhere else and is probably unique to that region of the world.
Description of Area/People
Malawi is a great place because it is green with a lot of hills. It is very humid. A lot more green grows there than in Zimbabwe. The church is very young. Lots of people don’t even know what the Book of Mormon is whereas in Zimbabwe and Zambia, the pastors are doing a pretty good job of telling the people what the Book of Mormon is or what it isn’t is a better way to say that. Malawi is very young and the church is very new and people have not heard much about it.