First … and the only

DAY 2 – 2014 Zimbabwe International Convention

The brotherly association continues. We exchange gifts with many that me meet. We brought post cards that featured a picture of a congregation in Alabama and it had a link to a video that showed a sample of daily life of the friends there. We also had small bags of candy and pens labeled with this event; small mementos that would call this occasion to mind whenever they saw the gift.

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Attendance increased today to a number of 74,694. This was the most people in attendance of any event in Zimbabwe history. This was also the first International convention in Zimbabwe and the only one in Africa for 2014.

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10 baptismal pools were provided for the 1,568 that were baptized Saturday. The youngest was 7 years old and the oldest was age 97.

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The way the final prayer was given was also a convention first, as the prayer wasn’t 4 separate prayers from each language group stage. It was one prayer spoken in English and then translated at the other language group stages. The prayer translation is supported by 1 Corinthians 14:13, 16, 28.

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“I’m Marvelous and he is Clever”

DAY 1 – 2014 Zimbabwe International Convention

We wake with excitement as the first day has arrived for our reason of traveling 8000+ miles – Christian fellowship and Bible education with those from many nations, languages and ethnic groups. After another excellent breakfast provided by the hotel, the group at our hotel makes the bus trip to the stadium I visited a few days earlier. It looks far different from what I remember. The brothers and sisters really did a great job cleaning, repairing, painting, etc. Their efforts are greatly appreciated by all in attendance and the Zimbabwe National Sports Stadium personnel.

Before the session starts we enjoy the time to meet and greet our brothers and sisters from all over the world. Some Zimbabwean names really stood out as unique to me…Beauty, Godbless, Marvelous, Clever, Pretty and Simba, to name a few.

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You may wonder how people of varied languages will be able to listen to discourses with the same content. Well, the stadium had 4 stages and sound from each stage was directed at each group in the language that reaches their mind and heart. The four languages were Ndebele, Shona, Zimbabwe Sign Language and English. The morning number in a attendance blew our minds…66, 791. It was amazing to see people steadily flowing into the stadium. You may find a source that says only one other event has filled the Zimbabwe National Sports Stadium to capacity. But as you can see from the numbers and the pictures below, this was the beginning of a historical event for Zimbabwe. One to be talked about positively, for years to come.

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People had to be seated on portions of the track and field. We enjoyed an excellent discourse by Bro. Geoffrey Jackson that was also translated into Shona. He used many illustrations that Zimbabweans could relate to from backgrounds of agriculture and love for soccer.

During lunch I had time to meet many brothers and sisters from the 30+ countries represented at the convention. Some were faces I’ve seen and met and some were new. While venturing around, I noticed the revised New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures was already in the Shona language. We read about it being available in 120+ languages, but to hold the Bible and see this different language, you really see how it’s made available for so many people to learn the truth held in its pages. The afternoon attendance was 68,916.

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Agri-cultured

The next day’s experience is visiting a market and one of the villages some distance from Harare. The market is similar to what we would call a flea market. Carvings, men’s and women’s clothes, traditional attire, music, household items, food, souvenirs. Of course, I bought a dress for my niece 😉 . IMG_4044

Our group then had a wonderful lunch at a nearby restaurant before making the trip to the village. Vaughn and I were dropped off at the market by some friends so we caught a bus with other brothers and sisters en route to the village. I ended up sitting in the front, above the driver. So I’m looking out of the front window on the second level, taking in all the sights. I dozed off until waking on a dirt road that led to the village. We take this road for quite a while before stopping and being greeted by some of the young children of the village. They are laughing, smiling and waving. Walking up a path leading to the main area, we pass a brick oven which is used create the structures we will soon see.IMG_4048 IMG_4049IMG_4051 IMG_4053 IMG_4054IMG_4055

We are divided into groups and each group starts learning about the village at different areas. We start with the task of plowing a field. After a demonstration of a young boy leading the cow and how to keep the plow straight, Vaughn volunteers to try it out. He does well enough that one of the father’s wanted him to stay in Zimbabwe to help out. IMG_4056Next, we moved to some tasks that many of the women of the village engaged in. These, too, were serious labor. I gave my hand in grinding corn and and making peanut butter. Now that was real organic peanut butter. No chemicals, just peanuts and grinding until you like crunchy or smooth. No sugar, no molasses, no salt, no … whatever else is usually in the brand I buy. I tasted some of this finished product and it was pretty good!Photo Aug 21, 9 24 19 AM Photo Aug 21, 9 24 05 AM IMG_4057 Photo Aug 21, 9 25 16 AM IMG_4058

Continuing to kitchen duties, we went to a small building where meals were prepared and cooked. I just realized that long sentence is the definition of a kitchen, lol. Anyway, we pass some of the village animals that end up on plates and we hear how some of the meals are made and proper ways that the women and children handle things in the kitchen awaiting the men to come in from working the fields. IMG_4060 Photo Aug 21, 9 38 40 AM IMG_4062IMG_4063

The women also demonstrated carrying pots on their heads. I had seen this earlier in the week of many other things being carried on the head. I gave it a try and did my best just standing in one place! This talent has to be taught from an early age. The balance and appearance of being effortless is amazing.

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The village was yet another excellent experience in Zimbabwe. When it was time to leave the village, we were escorted back to our bus enjoying their voices singing in a cappella. The next day will actually be the first day of the Zimbabwe International Convention!

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יהוה fo esuoH

…Yes, that’s right. A gathering at the rainbow – the Rainbow Hotel. We have arrived to enjoy food and fellowship. We are treated to a show of Zimbabwean music and dancing. One dance told a story of daily life in the village and on the farm. You could really grasp the importance of family and hard work. Once again, we were entertained by a choir (not the same choirs we heard earlier in the day at Good Hope). Strong male and female voices in Shona and English. I struggle to enumerate all of the types of food on hand, but I do remember “cleaning my plate” and going back for more.

We also get to hear some interviews from brothers and sisters that were around when this land was Rhodesia. Very encouraging accounts of integrity during times of civil strife. Night has fallen and we make our way back to our hotel to prepare for the next day. IMG_4031 IMG_4036 IMG_4037

It’s now the next morning; I’m showering and begin to smell pancakes cooking for breakfast! When our bathroom window is open, the aromas of the kitchen drift in. Mmmm…I can’t wait to taste the sweet syrup and rich buttery flavor. I exit the bathroom yelling at Vaughn, “Hey man, do you smell the pancakes?!” He looks at me straight-faced and somewhat upset. He had burned his shirt with an old iron we were given. Smh! Arrgh! No pancakes…just a maple-smelling dress shirt with a burn mark.

Today we are going to the Zimbabwe branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses and an Assembly Hall. For known reasons, my shirt will be slightly wrinkled but it’s ok, I’ll wear a jacket. As we arrive, it is just as the scene at Good Hope, we see a crowd of our brothers and sisters singing and dancing for a jubilant welcome. After some introductory words and thanks, we are divided into groups for the tour guides. We get to see various support services – workshops, computer department and landscaping. The highlight is the departments that support God’s kingdom-preaching work – service, translation, hospital information, relief, literature, mailing and Kingdom Hall Construction.

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We also try different foods and snacks that were available. Some appetizers before our lunch. The worm was an interesting morsel. Vaughn tries it first. It is dried and has the flavor of beef jerky. Yet, it’ll take a while before I’m not throwing ’em back like peanuts.

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An excellent lunch was provided and we ate till full. However, the meal has come to an end and we say our goodbyes. We now board the buses and head to the Assembly Hall. Quite different from what we are used to in the States, this is an outside construction. It’s warm but the cool breeze is nice.

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Our scheduled activities for the day have ended and we sing kingdom melodies on our way back to our hotel. We need of a few items from the supermarket, so the brother that originally picked me up from the airport comes to assist. He tells us how many areas are still figuring out the worth of the U.S. dollar. Zimbabwe experienced hyperinflation in 2008 to the extent that their central bank introduced a 100 billion dollar note (Zimbabwe dollars). In 2009, they suspended the Zimbabwe dollar and now have the U.S. dollar as official currency. So I experienced paying $1 for Dove for Men soap but $16 for shaving cream. Prices at a local movie theater were eye-catching also.

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My day ends with getting a chance to drive in Zimbabwe. This brother is too nice. The steering is on the right and the regulation is left-hand traffic. I put the car in Drive and begin to leave the parking lot. I tell the brother “I’m going to have to really concentrate to get this ‘right'”. Immediately, Vaughn laughs saying, “Are you sure about that focus?! Because you are on the wrong side of the road ‘right’ now!” I drive for a bit and then Vaughn gives it a shot. Between the two, we make it back to the hotel safely. Whew!

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Good Hope

Rise and shine! Time to break my overnight fast. We head to the hotel restaurant, joined by other delegates. Ever heard of sadza? It is a cooked cornmeal that is the staple food of Zimbabwe and usually made from white maize. And yes this was the first of many times we would eat sadza while visiting Zimbabwe. This morning we had sadza with bacon, eggs, beans and some fruit of choice. Today we are going in the field ministry with an English congregation – Good Hope English.

As our bus is arriving to the Kingdom Hall, the brothers and sisters are in the parking lot arranged as a choir, waving and singing Kingdom Melodies. The young children are smiling, laughing and waving. After we are all out of the bus, we rush to our Zimbabwean brothers, hugging and greeting each other. I start realizing just how far I am away from home. Yet, I’m embracing strangers knowing that they have the same hope, way of life and beliefs as I do. Everything starts going in slo-mo like a dramatic movie scene. It was like two waves of people clapping together. This interchange goes on for a while and we then meet for service. The junior and senior choirs have me in awe. Just as the senior choir, the junior choir of young kids sing praise in Shona or English and without using the songbook. We receive instruction as to what will be our agenda for the day and some words of encouragement before being divided into groups.

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The area we will preach in is a short drive away. Upon arriving, we talk to some boys that are selling candy, fruit and vegetables. Very humble, ambitious also.IMG_4006 IMG_4009 IMG_4010IMG_4007

 

So we begin our door-to-door ministry, which I should more appropriately say is gate-to-gate. We meet a few that greet us in Shona and the brother I am working with speaks to them. I also get to preach as we find some English-speaking. We spend a while at one house conversing about the Bible, life in Zimbabwe, life in America and what these gentleman have experienced with many preachers. I invite him to the International Convention, stating that he won’t see anyone trying to advance themselves monetarily to someone else’s  detriment. As we leave, he says, “I’ll try to attend.”

We find our group and it is time to return to the Kingdom Hall to hear about everyone’s encouraging experiences. Little do I know that I will be asked to give my experience. I was surprised that I was chosen but the friends there enjoyed listening to what happened. (I also didn’t find out till later that Vaughn was videotaping me…smh.) I can only upload pics, no vids…sorry. 😉

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After a wonderfully provided lunch cooked by members of the congregation, Christian fellowship, joking, laughing…we enjoy more choir singing. Our day with Good Hope is coming to an end and we really do not want to leave. One of the brothers at Good Hope is also a hospitality overseer at our hotel. He invites Vaughn and I on a city tour and to visit some of his family at his home. Of course, we say yes. So as our bus is leaving with our fellow delegates, we join Good Hope and wave goodbye to the bus. It was funny watching them think we were getting left behind. 🙂 The day isn’t over. We have a gathering at the Rainbow?

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,200 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 20 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Im·pressed

My first full day in Zimbabwe begins in search for an iron and ironing board. I packed my clothes so tightly in one duffel bag and a carry-on sized suitcase; every bit of clothing is wrinkled. I call to the front desk for an iron, but there isn’t one available. The brother that picked me up from the airport is on his way to pick me up. So, I send what I’m going to wear to be pressed. We are going to see the work that the brothers are doing at the National Sports Stadium in preparation for the first ever International Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Zimbabwe. Maybe a bit of sight-seeing. And don’t forget we have to make our way to the airport later to pick up Vaughn.

So I’m pressed and ready. We venture around a bit observing the busy areas of central Harare, visit some markets and then head to the stadium.  IMG_3973

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Brothers are unloading boxes of what will be new release publications. Some are painting. Any painted cement within the seating area of the stadium was being repainted. Bathrooms are being cleaned. Tarnished fixtures are being restored to original beauty. There is a thatched-roof structure being built in one corner of the field. I’m guessing that will be for one of the stages. Different brothers stop their tasks to come over and meet me, excited to meet one of the delegates. They tell me that they have waited 2 years for this convention and to be hosts for the many delegates from various lands. I hold back tears by smiling, laughing and saying “Thank you. I have longed to meet you all also.”

We leave the stadium headed to the airport. Along the way the brother tells me that the unemployment rate is very high, explaining to me why I see so many people selling fruits, vegetables, crafts, fencing, materials for building a house; all being sold along the sides of various streets.

We are now at HRE again. Emirates usually arrives ahead of schedule, so Vaughn should be here soon. A choir of brothers and sisters is loudly singing to Jehovah for the delegates as they come out of the airport. Beautiful voices, beautiful harmony. I’m wishing I could sing as well as they are.

 

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As we are standing around waiting, some American delegates approach me with a gift. It’s a pretty cool pin that I can wear on my suit lapel. They thought I was Zimbabwean and wanted to give me a gift. I told them I was visiting from Florida and we all laughed. Thanks for the pin though!

IMG_3990Vaughn has arrived! He too gets the warm welcome I received just a day before. We get some necessities from a supermarket and now it’s time to eat. Dinner is at the restaurant within our hotel. We enjoy laughter and upbuilding conversation with a few of the delegates and the local brothers. One of the young local brothers is a fan of the NBA and says he wants to play Vaughn and I in basketball on one of our “free days”. Somehow, I don’t think we will have a free day…

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TPA, USA –> HRE, ZIM

IMG_3947August 15th, 2pm. It’s time to check in for my flight itinerary. Tampa to Washington, D.C. is the first leg of this trip. Well…Dulles International, but that’s close enough. I begin to check in and see that my flight for tomorrow leaves at 9am! What!! Has to be an error. I’ve planned for months to enjoy my Saturday morning with Karina and family and get to the airport around noon for my 2pm departure. So I call the airline. My 2pm flight was cancelled and I was put on the 9am flight (w/o being notified of this update). Ok…adjust and keep it movin’. Gotta finish packing Friday night.

I wake early Saturday morning. There’s a lot of anxiety because I will be over water a loooong time for the D.C. to Johannesburg flight. I fear crashing into the ocean but not crashing into land. Weird, I know. Karina, my sis and niece see me off. Hugs and kisses. As I wait for the train to the terminal, I wave a dramatic goodbye as I won’t return until August 28th.

After landing safely at Dulles International, I begin to meet brothers and sisters that will be on the same flight to Harare through Johannesburg. I meet a couple that used to be in my same District when I was living in Alabama. I actually know their sons and vaguely remember playing basketball with the dad. They also have friends in Tampa Palms. As with the Atlanta International…it’s a small Witness world. So we make our way from Dulles, stop in Dakar, Senegal and then finally arrive in Johannesburg. Now I have to make my way to the terminal for Harare. For some reason, I think the flight to Zimbabwe is domestic because of being in the continent of Africa. So I stood in line for 20+ mins waiting for my passport to be checked only to find out I’m in the wrong line and should be somewhere else for international flights, lol. Duh, Zimbabwe is a different country. I take off running for the international flights and I’m allowed to pass a line of people because the flight is scheduled to leave in 10 mins. I get to the gate for Harare, sweating and wondering why all these people are standing around…the flight is delayed. Nice. On the flight over, a sister from Sao Paulo tries to preach to me before I inform her that I’m a Witness also. We end up exchanging iPhone cases, I had a jw.org phone case.

Arriving in Harare the night of August 17th, we are greeted by the Welcoming Committee of brothers and sisters.

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I’m picked up in an E-Class Benz, the steering wheel is on the right and the driving is on the left side of the road. Great convo with the brother that is taking me to my hotel. Dark streets, no street lights. I head into the hotel and I’m surprised by another welcoming committee.

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I’m given some gifts, coffee, cookies and a seat cushion which I will find to be necessary for the International Convention. Other friends also arrive and check in.

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After some some encouraging talk back and forth, it is now after midnight, so I’m shown to my room. The other brother from my group, Vaughn, arrives tomorrow. His itinerary includes a stop in Dubai with enough time to spend the night. That should be interesting to hear about. Time to get some zzz’s.

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私はパラダイスでお会いします!

The final morning of the 2014 Atlanta International Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses has arrived. I scarf down a sweet red apple. Our luggage is packed and already in the car. We have checked out of the hotel and our journey to the Dome starts earlier than the past two days; we’re trying to beat “the traffic”. Ha! Yeah right! Everyone has the same idea. There are still many Witnesses packing the MARTA and enjoying each other’s experiences during this unique train ride. I overhear one brother say that the train ride is SO tight that he was trying to put some money in his back pant’s pocket but put it in someone else’s pocket! Smh…LOL!

The spiritual meal that spanned this Sunday was excellent, despite a loud thunderstorm that arrived mid-afternoon. Bro. Morris and the convention overseer instructed us not to leave the Dome immediately following the afternoon session. Safer to let the storm pass before making our varied routes back to our homes. And making the best of this situation, of course we all used it to spend more time with our newly-met international brothers.

It’s so nice to sit back and observe a true brotherhood. To observe the interaction of the many friends. Who knows when we will see each other again? So much contact info. is exchanged. Maybe I’ll finally get to visit Asia by way of Miyako or Tokyo. Some know that it may not be in this system of things, such as the Japanese delegate that told me “See you in Paradise!” And that’s fine since we’ll be under far better conditions, enjoying each other’s company and talking about the wonderful time we had in Atlanta back in 2014.

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July.19.14

It’s Saturday morning, breakfast is a banana and a protein bar.  I stand at the hotel room balcony…14 floors up…pondering and staring at the Georgia Dome in the distance.  What encouragement will we receive today?  Any new releases? How many will get baptized?  Will the MARTA ride be less or more crowded?  Well, time to go!  We make our way among the hustle and bustle of other Witnesses, arriving at a different station today because of a slight drizzle of rain.  Once inside, we head to Club Level.  Softest seats in the building.

I get a call from a brother that my Dad studied with in the late 60’s while in NY.  We had already come to know each other and become good friends.  The brother is at the International and I just have to go find him and converse a bit.  The walkways are full of brothers and sisters laughing and talking.  Today, I had a pleasure of meeting those visiting from Yorkshire (located in Northern England), London, Finland and Japan.

Interviews were related by missionaries from Africa that mustered up boldness during times of ban and physical persecution.  Some talked of walking and hiking up rough terrain in the ministry 5 miles or more to reach villages. One sister, that served with her husband for 30 years, survived cerebral malaria, being stranded in the bush, a poisonous snake bite and times that the militia would attack vehicles.  This helped us and the baptismal candidates to see that endurance is possible with the help Jehovah provides.  Two hundred fifty four were baptized at our International in Atlanta; and combined with the regionals that tied-in, the amount totaled 752!

Split-screen viewing of baptismal pools

Split-screen viewing of baptismal pools

baptismal pools

baptismal pools

The attendance was 31,892.  An additional tie-in on Saturday, bringing the total to 107,723.  A wonderful afternoon session, as we got to listen to Bro. Lett and Bro. Morris hold our attention for a sound drama and experiences relevant to the past 100 years of Jehovah’s organization.

I treated my mom to dinner at Mary Mac’s. Some fine “southern food”.  “Atlanta’s Dining Room” was a great spot to take in some physical food as we talked about the day’s spiritual food that we were still digesting.  Mmmmm!

Interpreter assisting w/ experience of a Bethelite from Japan

Interpreter assisting w/ experience of a Bethelite from Japan

Sister from London

Sister from London

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Brothers from Finland

Brothers from Finland

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