Monday, January 27, 2014

Two Mission Highlights and Pretending to be a Plumber - January 27, 2014

I’m alive and ready to tell you some pretty awesome stuff.

To start I will write about the opportunity of meeting with Elder Bednar and listen to him speak to the members of Kampala. This past week we handed out about 30 invitations to less-active members to go and listen to Elder Bednar speak. Elder Stewart and I were so excited to go and listen to an apostle that we could barely keep it in.

After working in the morning we came home and got ready so that we could be early and get a good seat. We went straight to the chapel in the heart of Kampala to sit and wait for him to come. We thought we were pretty smart because we arrived 1.5 hours early, thinking we would get a nice seat. Wrong. We were in the back-back section for sure. After waiting for some time, he eventually arrived up and we had the opportunity to listen to him.

After the opening prayer, song and other jazz, Elder Bednar stood up to speak and said, “This is going to be a different meeting than any of you have ever seen before. In fact this is the first time that anything like this has ever happened in Africa”. He then said, “I will not be standing up here and giving you a talk on a given topic. I am going to let the topic come from you”.

“You will be raising your hands and asking any question you have about the assigned reading topics that were given to you prior to attending this meeting.” I was shocked. Wo. No topic at all??? Well, it made an amazing meeting. Real questions and concerns were answered. The most important question that was raised in my opinion regarded the church’s stance on marriage dowry (paying huge money to a woman’s parents such as cows, goats, furniture or whatever). As this question was asked you could just see and feel the tension in the meeting surge.

Elder Bednar smiled, stood at the stand and said, “Well, to answer that question I think it would be best to let a leader from Uganda answer who understands the Ugandan culture. He then invited the Kampala Stake President up to answer ‘The Question’.

President Okot stood up. He is as straight-forward and blunt as a man can be. He said that, “participating in Dowry goes against the teachings of Christ. It is not acceptable in the Lord’s eye. It is an evil and a wrong practice”. I was stunned. I sat in shock while he went on to say, “everyone should move away from such habits and stop them now. Now is the time to use church marriages (which are free by the way)”.

The crowd just exploded and went crazy. Then Elder Bednar stood up and everything went silent. Elder Bednar came to the pulpit and said "as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles I know what your Stake President has said is true. I am a witness of it!" The crowd remained completely silent. He then said, “It is time for the members of Uganda to be pioneers and to step away from the traditions of their past. It is time to move to the Culture of Christ”.

It was just amazing to there. It was just the thing that Elder Stewart and I had been hoping to hear. This false tradition has caused a whole lot of members to become less active. Since they can’t afford to pay a dowry, they just start living together. In turn, they feel guilty and move away from the church.

This is awesome. I could not have asked for anymore.

Funny story.

Over the past week or so, our house has been flooding on a regular basis with sewage. The pipes to our house are the pipes that the whole apartment complex converges into. Basically, all the sludge and stuff from the apartments in the entire complex passes by our house. Our sink drain finally called it quits a few feet below our sink. The blockage is just downstream from our place, so as all the houses in the apartment use their sinks it all drains right through our house and stops right at the clog. The clog that is just far enough away so that we can’t reach it with a snake or anything like that. Gross.

As people use their water it piles up and floods straight up our sink and right onto the floor in our kitchen. hahah We have told the landlord a bunch of times. He does not really care about it so we decided to take matters into our own hands. In Uganda, most of the plumbing is done on the outside of the house. There are pipes running up the walls of the apartment that go to each unit. We found the one that connects to our apartment and there is a huge screw off cap to get access to the pipe. We screwed it off (a feat on its own). And as soon as we unscrewed it, we knew why it was clogged. This pipe was about two inches across and it was stuffed with gray soupy sludge that smelled like death! What did we do? We sent one person up to our sink to started plunging water through the sink and force it down the pipe. The other person below was shoving a broom stick into the pipe to break the sludge free.

After doing this for some time, a huge amount of gunk just spewed out like a sideways volcano. It was about 5 gallons of thick gray/black sludge. Yum. We thought we had fixed it!!!! Go team. We screwed the cap back on and left it alone. Long story short, we were wrong. It is still clogged but just quite as bad. The sink now drains not but still is super slow. Our kitchen still floods, so not too much has changed. Every day we come home we squeegee out about three inches of dirty, nasty water out of the kitchen. We finally convinced the land lord today to hire a plumber and have him come out and fix it. The good side is that the plumber is coming tomorrow to fix it! Nice.

One more highlight.

In conclusion, I will tell you my highlight of the week above and beyond the experience with Elder Bednar.

When I served in Jinja, my companion and I taught a man named William. William was known for persecuting the church. His wife was a less active member and a daughter of a former branch president. William would openly make fun of and persecute members of the church who attended the school he worked at. We were told that he could use a gospel message. Apparently many missionaries had been told the same thing but had not been able to connect with him.

When we started teaching William he really started to change and began welcoming us and was happy to see us. After we had taught him for about 4.5 months he accepted a baptismal date. The only problem was that he was traveling to China prior to his baptism date.

He flew to China and stayed there for about 3 months and I was transferred. When he came back he had read the Pearl of Great Price and a good chunk of the Book of Mormon. He was baptized the fallowing Sunday after his return. He was baptized on New Year’s Day. After his baptism, he sent me a cool Christmas gift -- a homemade "African Shirt".

My hearing that he had followed through on his baptism date and continued on the path that he had started was the greatest feeling ever -- and the shirt was pretty dang cool as well. I had not seen him since before his baptism. When I showed up to listen to Elder Bednar, there was William with his wife (who was reactivated along the way). I was so pumped to see him. I gave that guy the biggest hug in the world! I took pictures with him and his wife. A perfect day.

They are now preparing to go to the temple when they hit their one year mark to be sealed for time and all eternity (with all of the members of their family). I feel like I came to serve a mission in Uganda for a few specific reasons. I feel that I came to meet them and have the opportunity to teach them. They are the best thing that has happened to me so far.

This does not mean that my mission is over or anything like that. I do feel like that this is a huge part of my mission. I can’t send any pictures on this computer because it is a junker. When I have a chance, I will send you the pictures of these great people. They are awesome. I sure love Sister Faith and Brother William.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am.

I love you all and hope that all is well back home and that your being taken care of.

Sorry for the long email but I had a lot to say.

Love You Mom and Dad.


Elder Bitter

Monday, January 20, 2014

Marriage of Michael and the Coming of Elder Bednar - January 20, 2014


I’m back again. I hope that my emails aren’t repetitive. I can only write about what I experience and for a missionary there is a lot of repetition.   I’ll just write what happened and you can tell me if it’s repetitive or not.

This Wednesday, Elder Bednar, of the quorum of the twelve apostles is coming to the Uganda Kampala Stake to speak to the members. We decided to really try to find as many less actives as possible in the Kabowa ward and invite them see Elder Bednar and listen to what he has to say. President Chatfield explained how this is a perfect opportunity to rekindle the spirit inside of the members in the Kampala stake.

After my companion and I heard this, we went right to work. Throughout this week we have been finding less active after less active and have invited them to listen to Elder Bednar. It has gone very well. As we spoke to people who have not attended church for years and told them that a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is coming, they all became were very excited. They couldn't believe that they will have the opportunity to see him and listen to him speak in person.

I don't know why Elder Bednar has decided to come and speak to the members of the Kampala Stake but I know that it will have a huge impact. The opportunity for them to see an apostle speak will be once in a life time for them. This will help them become more grounded in the gospel now and forever. I believe this will strengthen our ward a lot.

On top of that, we had another baptism. We had the opportunity to arrange for a family to be married (I have lots of pictures) followed by baptisms. This was a part-member family where the father and the oldest son have now been baptized. With this marriage and baptism, the whole family has started coming to church. The father’s name is Michael. He is 46 years old and wholesales potatoes for a living (does a pretty good job at it too).

After the wedding they did a lot of marriage traditions that I caught on video/photo. One of the traditions I really like is similar to the U.S. where you feed the spouse a glass of juice and a slice of cake. The difference here is that say some specific words and get down on one knee as if they were proposing to each other again.

After the celebration finished, they invited us over to their home for some food and for us to conduct baptism interviews. When we showed up, everyone was dressed to the ‘T’. There was enough rice and potatoes to feed an entire School. It was really fun and we all enjoyed ourselves. What a great feeling it is to see a family come together like this. I hope to be able to attend a marriage like this again. We just arranged it and the Bishop did a great job with the actual marriage.

My story for this week: Over the past two weeks or so my companion and I have been trying to bring the Kabowa apartment back to life. Today was the final step. When I first showed up to Kabowa, the apartment was destroyed and I was flying solo when I came to cleaning it since my companion wasn't all that interested in working on it. When Elder Stewart showed up to Kabowa he was on the same page as me and joined forces to just redo the whole house. What did we do? We literally scrubbed every inch of the entire place.

For this serious deep cleaning, we stacked all the furniture up and started working to clean everything from the nasty bathrooms all the way to the filthy kitchen. And as of P-Day today our house is awesome. We have officially placed all the furniture back down where we want it and finished cleaning every inch of the house. The only thing that is left to do is fix the sink in the kitchen which is beyond clogged. I have have been working on it for some time now and have come to the conclusion that there is a pipe in the wall somewhere that is clogged up. We have taken apart the sink completely and it is clean as a whistle. The only other option is a pipe in the wall somewhere is plugged. I finally called it quits when it started clogging up again.

The best part is that now I can sit down and not feel like I’m going to get sick from all the nastiness. When I sit down or just move around the apartment I just feel good and I enjoy it. Life is really good now and everything is moving forward smoothly in a clean place. :) Elder Stewart is awesome and I really enjoy serving with him. He knows how to work.

So, all is well here in the land of the Crested Crane. I hope all is well back home as well.

Love you all.

Elder Bitter

Monday, January 13, 2014

Too Much Water, Except Where You Need It - January 13, 2014

I hope you are all doing well and enjoying life.

I had an awesome week interspersed with some funny events. I cannot tell them all so I will just share my water stories.

On Friday we were doing our weekly planning when it started pouring rain. Now when I say pouring rain, I mean streams from the sky. Everywhere you looked it appeared as if water was running down a window because there was so much rain. It was impossible to see!

Lucky for us just as we finished our planning, the rain stopped. This was a relief because it is not fun being soaked through walking around talking to people. As we left the house for our first appointment, I instantly realized that getting to our appointments today was going to be a challenge!

It had rained so much in such a short period of time that everything was flooded. Our entire proselyting area had 6-12 inches of standing water while other areas had a flowing river, walking had become a test. After thinking about what we should do, we finally came to the conclusion that we would use the ledges on homes and the walls around the homes to get to and from appointments. Just imagine what we looked like—two white guys’ bodies mashed against someone’s home, tip-toeing on the ledge that protrudes off the outside of their home (it is about three inches wide) or jumping from security wall to security wall so that we do not have to walk in the flowing river of water below.

The water challenge aside, this week was AWESOME! My new companion (Elder Stewart) and I have spent a lot of time trying to find some new people to teach and it has been going really well. This week we found a family open to the gospel and they welcomed us into their home. They were still willing to meet with us after the message of the restoration. Happiness!

To top that great experience, Brother Kennedy was baptized. We have been teaching him for a quite a while. We kept pushing off his baptism because we really wanted to make sure that he was ready to make this life time commitment. This week he was finally ready! He made the commitment and was baptized! It was a very spiritual baptism. A lot of people attended the baptism which made it even more special. The other elders in Kabowa baptized a family at the same time. This resulted in an awesome turn out.

My second funny story about water relates to the baptism. We had filled the font earlier so we were ready to go. The tap was turned off and the hose put away. After church was over, everyone filed into the room for the baptism. Brother Holmes and I were doing the baptizing. Brother Holmes (a guy from Canada that is starting a business in Uganda) was standing at the door smiling and happy. After chatting with me for a minute, he jokingly said, “Well Elder after all your work, all we need is the water!” We laughed and opened the door to the font. Then the words, “Oh crap!” slipped out.

Someone had pulled the plug and had drained the entire font! I just stood and stared. I felt paralyzed! After feeling sorry for myself for a moment or two, I said, “Alright, Steven get moving.” I ran into the room where everyone was waiting and grabbed our chorister and told him to sing hymns until I told him to stop. I then grabbed all the people in the ward that were older than 18 and told them we needed to fill the font now! So we used every single water device in and out of the church filling trash cans and pouring them into the font.

Those poor people had to sing hymns while we filled the font. With the combined effort of four missionaries and a bunch of Ugandans, we filled that font in about thirty minutes. Impressive. Normally it takes a few hours. What a blessing that it worked out. Great baptism service.

I am out of time. Got to go!

I love you all and hope all is well!


Elder Bitter

Monday, January 6, 2014

My Few Possessions - January 6, 2014

Well, Hello!

Things are moving forward again now that the Holidays are over (people leaving the cities)! Today I am emailing from "Breakers Cyber Cafe". It is really hot but I’m under neat a fan so all is well to email.

This week it started off a little bit slow. Since everyone is coming back to the city again, the work has really picked up.

To start, I will tell a little bit about transfer news. My companion Elder Cockbain, has been transferred to Iganga. This is close to my last area. He is really excited to go to Iganga since he has been in Kabowa for 28 weeks and was ready for a change. I am a little bit sad to see him go.

Watching him pack up went a little bit something like this. Wo, the fridge is empty! Wo Wo, the cupboard is empty. Holly cow, all the games in the house are gone! It turns out that everything in the house was his! I do believe that it is all his, but seeing how much stuff he had and how much he packed up was a little bit on the crazy side. He still hasn't finished packing quite yet, but is still working on it.

I now realize how little stuff I have. I got so used to having all this nice stuff around the house and now, wham it all vanished into thin air. All that is left are the little trinkets that my family and friends sent me for Christmas, my Frankenstein weight set that I recently had welded together, my cloths, and my suitcases. Besides that, pretty much everything is gone. Kind of funny.

I haven't received my new companion yet. He is coming on Wednesday and his name is Elder Stewart. He is an American and from Utah. I don't know all that much about him but I am excited to work with him.

If you all remember back when I was in Jinja, there was a man named William who had a wife named Faith. William left for China just prior to being baptized and then I was transferred. He returned from China just about three weeks ago and was baptized and confirmed. Just awesome. I’m so grateful that he held up the whole time he was in China and was able to continue on progressing in the gospel and finally get baptized. When I was working with him, he had already started making goals to get married in the temple. I hope that he continues on.

Some other pretty awesome things happened this week as well. We have been visiting all the people who are progressing in the gospel. As of yesterday, two of them have committed to move forward.

The first is Brother Michael. He is the father of a part member family. Brother Michael has committed himself to be married to his wife in the church this Saturday and get baptized on Sunday. His wife and one of his sons have been members of the church for years. They have been trying to help him along and during these past 8 weeks, Brother Michael has been progressing. He is now ready for his baptism and is also ready for his marriage. I really know that this man is set and ready to go in the gospel.

The second is Kennedy. Kennedy is the same guy that I talked about a few weeks ago. Over the past few weeks we have taught Kennedy all of the lessons and he is ready to make the commitments for Baptism. He was supposed to be baptized this last Sunday but we pushed it off for one week just to cover some things again and also allow him to be interviewed without a rush. Kennedy is a great man has been very successful. He will really help this ward move along. He is smart, quick on his feet, sees way past the moment, and has a great capability to discern things. I know that these talents and his desire to learn will really help this ward thrive and grow.

One additional great thing happened yesterday. In the Kabowa ward, the last bishopric has been completely inactive. The Bishop, the first counselor, and even the second counselor have not participated in a very long time. Since I have been here, we have really been working with them to get back into activity. They are so important to this ward and they can play such a key role. After meeting with all of them, they all came to church this Sunday for the first time in a very, very long time! They participated and were very engaged with everyone. It was awesome to see them all come, dressed up and ready for church. I hope and pray that they will continue on and make it a life-long choice.

I know that I have been slacking for the past few weeks when it comes to writing good letters home. I blame the slowness of the holidays. Now everything is back into the swing of things and it is awesome again.

Hope that all is going well and that goals are good for the New Year!!

I love you all. Thanks for all you do!


Elder Bitter