"And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up." D&C 84:88

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Our Christmas Letter

December 2013

Dear Family and Friends,

Our first two months in the mission field have been a bit of a whirlwind but let us start from the beginning.  This past year has seen significant changes in the Thomas Family.  Mark retired from work in January, which came as a bit of a surprise but in the end has proved to be a true blessing for us.  Then as quick as we could get all the check-list items completed, we turned in our names to serve as full time missionaries. 

In the background we sold our home in Denver and we bought a new home in Draper, Utah.  We are now believing this new home is our long-term go-to-place in Utah.   We are fortunate to have Trisha and Jeff and their family along with Chelsea living in this home and granny flat while we are away.  This house and yard needed a great deal of work to get it cleaned up and fixed up prior to our moving in.  It was a full summer’s worth of work.  In fact, there was so much effort put in by everyone that when we came to trying to think of a name to call it, Brody (one of Trisha and Jeff’s boys) promptly suggested that we call it “the Second Shift”.  The reason he gave for the name was because “we work so much around here that it takes two shifts!”

Heavenly Father was mindful of us over this summer because when the call finally came we were asked to report on October 7th.  When the truth is told, we would have never been ready earlier given what we needed to accomplish.  It was an exciting day when we finely received and opened our mission call.  Our personal thanks goes to our Stake President in Denver, President Carpenter who was kind enough to walk down to our house and check the post for us on a daily basis because the mission call was mailed to Denver and we were in Salt Lake.  He put it in an overnight package and it arrived in SLC the next day.  (I think I still owe him some money for that.) Our family was with us, either in person or on phone or via Internet video links when we opened our call. Trisha and Jeff were actually on a cruise ship leaving port with the cell phone signal fading and Tara’s family was parked in the Wal-Mart parking lot in between errands, with Erin in the Dominican Republic and Chelsea in person with us in Draper.  When everyone was connected it came time to open the large white envelope.   It was the warmest feeling, mixed with just a bit of excitement, as we read that we were called to the South Africa Cape Town Mission.  Simply put, we were thrilled to be called back to South Africa where we spent so much of our life.

When we arrived President & Sister Wood and Elder & Sister Petersen met us at the airport.  We spent a couple of days in Cape Town while the President was involved with some Zone Conferences.  When we met with the President he assigned us to the town of Queenstown in the Eastern Cape.  Queenstown has not had a Missionary Couple assigned there for several years.  We were instructed that we would need to arranged temporary accommodation, find an apartment and then get it furnished.  We had the opportunity to drive from Cape Town to Queenstown - a
driving trip of some 1200 kilometers.  We were able to stop along the way and were able to meet with several of the Sr. Missionary couples.  This trip was fun because even with all the time we lived in South Africa, we had not driven this complete trip from Cape Town to East London.  The views along the garden route are spectacular and can be highly recommended.   Look closely at this picture, line up the first point jutting out into the sea in the lower left of the picture and the first large breaking wave toward the top of the picture and you will see a large group of surfers in the water.

When we arrived at Queenstown, it was clear that we do not have a view of the ocean.  We do have a view of one of the mountain peaks that sticks out from all the others.  It has been named Hang Klip by the local’s decades ago.   It is in the far distance in the picture.  Just to convince you we are in Africa there are some White Rhinos in the picture just past the bushes up on the grassy plain.  The mountains that surround Queenstown are named Longmount (on the right) and Madiera (on the left).  It is a nice assignment and the members are wonderful. 

One of the first teaching experiences we went to when we arrived in Queenstown was to join the Elders teaching an inactive member and his fiancée (Daryll and Lianet).  They are both in their mid-20's.  While we were speaking, I asked Daryll where he went to church in Johannesburg when he lived there.  His reply was somewhat remarkable because it was the same building where I was the Bishop between 1995 and 2000.  I asked him if he could remember the Bishop's name and he couldn't.  I then asked him if it was either Andy DeKock or Mike Perry, who were the two bishops that were called in the Sandton Ward following me.  He told us, “No, it was the guy before Bishop DeKock”.  I leaned forward in my chair and told him I was that "guy".  

Daryll’s reaction was remarkable and he actually put his hands over his face and paused for a minute as he remembered me.  We did not remember him clearly as he was primary age or had just become a Deacon at the time.  You can change a great deal over that time period.  We told him that it was statistically impossible that we would end up coming into his home, to teach him and his fiancée.  When you consider all of the missions we could have been called to around the world and of all the places that President Wood could have assigned us and of all the places we could have been on this night; when there were choices made by Elder Mahoney and Kupka and finally by ourselves so that we would be with the Elders to come to this teaching appointment, it could have only been divine intervention.  We were there for a reason and that was so Heavenly Father could put us in a place where our paths would cross one more time.

It was simply an awesome experience. As we sat in the room teaching, we realized with total clarity and new enlightenment the true meaning of D&C 18:15. “And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!”   We are grateful to be here and hopefully we can continue to be a positive influence on them.

Since our first teaching appointment, the Elders committed Lianet, to be baptized and Daryll has committed to get worthy so he can take Lianet to the temple.  In one of our subsequent teaching visits Daryll told us he had spoken to his mother and she reminded Daryll that it was Sister Thomas that helped his mother (who is a long time member) to find her way back to the Church.  Daryll’s mother was walking in a parking lot in Rivonia close to where we lived in Johannesburg and happened to look into Carolyn’s car and saw an Ensign laying on the back seat.  She stood there next to the car and waited until Sister Thomas returned so she could find out where and when the Church met in the area.  That was Daryll’s mother’s first step back into activity.   

This experience also brought peace to our hearts about the city and the region where we have been called to serve in the South Africa Cape Town Mission.  We recognized and had a witness that President Wood is an inspired leader of our Heavenly Father.  When we told President and Sister Wood about this experience they responded as follows: Sister Wood said, “The story is so inspiring.  You were supposed to be in Queenstown!” and President Wood’s simple comment was: “This is evidence of the inspiration in your assignment.”

We are working with the Sada ward.  If you can find Queestown on a map, which inland from East London and then look South you will find the small town of Whittlesea. The Sada Ward covers this area and you can see Sada on the map as well.  We have found the Ward warm and welcoming. 

Sister Thomas, with me in support, attended the function for the Elderly women in the ward. It was done to honor the older sisters of the ward.  Sister Thomas gave them a talk explaining that they are not the elderly they are the “wise ones”.  It was wonderful to see the love expressed for these women who are for the most part unable to come to church due to their infirmities.

It has been a special experience for us to be here in South Africa as Nelson Mandela passed away.  It has been 13 years since we left South Africa and there is an unanimous praise for what Nelson Mandela accomplished in his life.  It was simply awesome to be here and see the reverence that was expressed and shown to Nelson Mandela.  Sister Thomas and I, along with the Relief Society Second Counselor, Sister Xalabile (also the Bishop's wife) had to go to the store for some last minute items for the Relief Society Function mentioned above.

This function was on the same day as the memorial service for Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg at the FNB Stadium. President Obama, President Bush, President Clinton and many more attended.  Sister Xalabile's dress is a reflection of joyous spirit and feelings of gratitude for the life of Madiba. (Madiba is Nelson Mandela’s clan name) These feelings exist here, far away from that main stream, in the very small country town of Sada. Such is the influence and life of Nelson Mandela

Now for a bit of a Xhosa Lesson for everyone, I would like to teach you how to pronounce Sister Xalabile’s name.  She is Xhosa.  They are the group that speaks with different clicks.  There are different kinds of clicks that are used but to keep it simple the name is pronounced as follows:

First tell your horse to go
forward by putting your tongue on the roof of your mouth and sucking in air around the side of your tongue.  (Like when you tell your horse to go forward just a little) It is the clicking sound you make after you say giddy-up).  I hope you can tell what I mean. Now to pronounce the name it sounds like this...

click (make the sound)-all-a-bee-lay.

Thought that would be a bit fun for you. You have just learned your first Xhosa word.  That is right, your second word (Xhosa) is pronounced:

click (make the same sound) -hose-a

Well done.  Please share this with your family for Christmas!  It should be just a bit of fun.

We had our Christmas Social on December 14 at the Ward building.  The Ward Christmas social was quite the experience. We have arrived early only to be beaten to the church by some on the primary children. It is however a nice way to begin the day and the kids are excited because they are going to do the nativity story at the social. These children came to the church without any supervision and then got on all their costumes and practiced the play along with the songs, speaking parts and actions. They went through it four or five times by themselves with no leaders at the church. It was a wonderful thing to watch.
Some of these children have walked well over 6 kilometers.  To give you an idea it is much farther than from our old house in Draper to our new house on 300 east.  Their homes are on the far side of the valley on the hillside in the picture.
We picked up the meat, bread and ice cream on the way to the ward building.  We had a typical South African high cholesterol meal of pork chops, beef steaks and boerewors. Had to go pick up a braai in the back of the car. Cooked food, ate and then had a primary presentation, YM/YW songs, Carolyn then led everyone in the Orchestra song and then the Elder's sang How Great Thou Art.  It was good a good day. We had the opportunity to see four generations of Sister Xalabile's family. She was with her mother, her daughter, and her granddaughter.https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/images/cleardot.gif (lower right picture)

This last week we taught some investigator lessons in Sada with Elder Kintu and Elder Steele.  Elder Kintu is from Uganda and Elder Steele is from Nephi.  It is a thrill to work with them.  We are teaching the young lady with the colorful hat on. 

We are grateful to be on a mission for our Heavenly Father and while we miss our family and we miss being close to our grand-kids, we do feel like we are making a difference in what we are doing in the mission field.  We are grateful for your collective influence in our lives.  We are grateful for our testimonies of the Gospel and pray for all of us to stay close to the faith with one hand firmly griped to the Iron Rod as we move forward.

Our Love to all, 

Mark and Carolyn Thomas 

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