March has seen the progression of the New Bell Branch building.
We have been excited to watch the progress because building here in Africa is very slow. At building sites in America, there are the busy sounds of electric tools. Here in Africa, the only sounds are those of hand held tools and hand saws, thus the pace is much slower. So to have such progress done in a relatively short time has been exciting to see.
One of the most exciting things in the building was to notice electrical outlets for air conditioners in almost every room. However, as the building neared completion, no air conditioners were installed. When we inquired of the builders about the air conditioners, we were told they had not been told to install them, but instead had installed fans. Fans would probably be very helpful in some climates, but here in Douala the temperature is often in the low 90's with about the same degree of humidity. We asked the building committee in Brazzaville why no air conditioners were being installed. We were told that in order to conserve energy, that was now the policy. I decided to take action, and knowing a policy for one area does not always best serve another area, I wrote the president of the Africa Southeast Area, Elder Hamilton, pleading for an exception to policy. He kindly wrote back that they would consider the request.
My hope is that in the next blog I will be reporting that we are meeting in a new building with multiple air conditioners. My disappointment for the lack of air conditioners went beyond Sunday meetings. I have felt impressed to teach a class on speaking English. I asked the New Bell Branch president and he has given his approval and asked when I would like to begin. I told him when the building was completed. However, I knew without air conditioning, I did not know if I would be able to teach a class.
Elder Call and I continue to train in every organization on a branch and district level. March was a particularly heavy training month. I have not counted up the number of training meetings we have given, but it has been a lot. Not only do we do scheduled training meetings, but we train almost every time we visit a class. During class, we will raise our hand and say, "Can I give a suggestion?"
Elder Call after doing some ad hoc training (and ad hoc babysitting) in an Aaronic Priesthood Quorum.
I also try and do training as I visit the Primaries. Sometimes it is after Primary with the leaders and sometimes it is during Primary.
After listening to a member of the Primary presidency read from the manual for about 10-15 minutes, the children were asked to sing a song. Trying to get some "excitement" in Primary, I looked through my purse for anything that might help. I had two small notebooks, each with a different color. I raised my hand and said our familiar "Can I give a suggestion?" :) I then went up to the front and explained (in my very basic French) how we were going to sing the song again, but his time when I held up the green notebook, the girls would sing. When I held up the blue notebook, the boys would sing, and when I held up both notebooks, both girls and boys would sing. The joy on the children's faces was amazing with just that small added activity. The good news is, the branch president asked me to come and train his branch presidency AND the Primary presidency in organizing the Primary. After giving a short explanation, we did a mock Primary...I think they "get it". We will return to that branch in a few weeks, and I hope to see a difference.
When we went to Yaounde, we had some scheduled training with a branch on how to do a budget. We met with the branch council after the block schedule, but that did not stop us from doing ad hoc training as we visited the classes.
The teacher in this class was having the girls read the whole chapter of Alma 40 where it speaks of what happens after death. After several verses, I raised my hand and said, "Can I....." you know the rest. I then went up to the chalk board and suggested the teacher make a diagram of what they were reading. She hesitated, so I began and she added to it. We then read some more in Alma, then I suggested we stop, and the teacher and I again went up to the board.
After class I visited with the teacher about the advantages of using the chalkboard for more than just writing down the scripture verse.
Sometimes Elder Call and I get a bit discouraged and wonder if the training we do is helping. Then this past Sunday we went to a branch where we have given some ad hoc training in the youth classes. To our great pleasure, we were surprised to watch them use some of the teaching techniques we had modeled.
Besides trying to improve on the stand-and-lecture teaching technique used here, we have been encouraging the branches to have activities for their youth. The New Bell Branch has had several activities for the young women, but no other branches were holding activities...until March. In March, the Village Branch decided to do a combined young men/young women's activity. Fortunately, I attended that branch for the planning meeting to give some much needed direction. The girls learned how to make some food dishes and set a table, while the boys were learning how to wash and iron their white shirts. Then they came together to eat the food the girls had made. It was a great success.
Cutting the plantain
Cooking the carrots
March was also a month of Birthday celebrations. Sister Mbengue had approached me about having a surprise Birthday party over at our apartment for her husband, Pres. Mbengue. The tricky part of a surprise Birthday party is getting the person out of the house. However, since President Mbengue is the kindest most accommodating person, Elder Call just called him and said he thought something was wrong with the new building and asked if he would come with him. He of course agreed. While the president was gone, the family was able to leave their home and come to our apartment. Additional guests had also arrived at our apartment. I then called Elder Call and told him I really needed him to come home...which he did....and surprise. Pres. Mbengue thought everyone had forgotten his birthday.
In March we decided to get more serious about our French. We were told by a former French tutor of a senior sister in Yaounde, that he had given her 3 lessons/week. (She also happened to be married to a French speaker). With the hope of greater French fluency we hired an additional French teacher. So now we have two. Not real sure of the results, yet. However, it must be noted, the poor results are not due to the French teachers but to the French learners.
I feel like I barely scrape the surface with these blogs. There is so much more we do, I haven't even mentioned being with the missionaries. However, I do want to end and I will end with an experience that again confirms to me the watchful care of a loving Heavenly Father.
One Sunday we were driving home from church when we heard some noise that seemed to be coming somewhere from the car. We pulled over and noticed we had a totally flat tire. Elder Call began rolling up his sleeves and looking for the jack. I stood outside and noticed a man slowing walking by who seemed to be assessing our situation. I said, in English, "We have a flat tire, do you know someone who could help us?" Not only did he understand English, but he said, "Yes, wait, I will be back". He ran down the street for a short pace and quickly returned. He told us to put the car in reverse and follow him. We did, and sure enough, about 50 yards down the road, was a tire shop. As we brought the car to a stop, a young boy took the jack that Elder Call had found, and as if he had changed tires all his life, jacked up the truck and removed the tire. The others in the shop checked the tire to discover it had a large hole in it. One of the men got an instrument, put some filler in it, and pushed it into the hole. They then pumped up the tire and we were on our way. The total time spent from the time we heard the noise to the time the tire was remounted on the car was about 30 minutes.
Now you can say it is a coincidence that a man who spoke English just happened to be passing by at that moment, and that a tire shop just happened to be on the same side of the road 50 yards down the street, and was opened on Sunday...but I don't believe in coincidences. God does not prevent "bad" things from happening, but He sure does help resolve them. This is His work, His hand is over His work, and He will help those who engage in His work. To this fact I testify.