First of all, sorry for the incredibly dismal email last week. It accompanied an equally dismal week. But, one Christlike attribute is honesty, and as an ordained representative of Jesus Christ, it would be unfitting of me to be less than honest in my emails.
I have heard it often said that each missionary goes through their own Gethsemane. That is, each missionary deals with some traumatic experience that leaves a lasting and visible effect upon them. What I just went through last week may very well be my Gethsemane. Or, maybe it was just a temptation post-40-day-fast kind of thing and I have the real Gethsemane ahead of me. Nevertheless, last week taught me something I’ll never forget.
The past three months have been a roller coaster, corkscrews and all. I’m not the most observant person, so sometimes I don’t see a drop until I’m in the middle of it. I hope you understand the metaphor. Last week, I realized I was in a huge drop. I mean truly massive. Like the Lex Luthor ride at Six Flags massive.
Adapting to an entirely foreign culture has its challenges. Some are seen and conquered quickly, while others take time to discover. I realized that Sierra Leone was different, and I adapted fairly speedily to the external differences. It’s the hidden, internal differences that really got to me.
Something about the people here is that they don’t think. Now, don’t mistake that comment for prejudice, racism, lack of understanding, or otherwise. I have spent most of my waking hours having in-depth discussions with Sierra Leoneans. In my first month of being in the field, I realized that humans are all basically the same, and that the gospel applies to everyone. Well, in my second month, this month, realized that humans are all uniquely different, and that teaching the gospel to their needs requires a truly incredible teacher.
Tuesday, I had the beginnings of sickness. Stomach pains woke me up around 5:30 am. I took some ibuprofen pm to help me sleep, so I woke up around 11. I stayed in bed most of the day. I didn’t eat much, as with the few days previous. I was weak physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I used this day to reflect on my mission so far. I have been faced with a lot of temptations up to this point. I have fallen a few times, and that makes me weak. But, every time I fell, at some point I got back up. That makes me strong. I seem to have forgotten a lesson I had just recently revisited: Matthew 14. I lost my focus on Christ and let the torrent of the world sink me. The coming week probably would have been better if I actually took this to heart that day.
On Wednesday, we went to conduct baptism interviews in town. We came back and I wasn’t feeling much better, so bed again.
Thursday means meetings. We had a zone meeting for the month. Elder Samche was horribly sick, so he and Elder Carlson were not there. Elders Anku and Afful were hilariously antagonistic. There was some discussion on tithes (giving money or other valuable things to elders who are going home). This idea is apostate, so me and some of the other young missionaries opposed it. We exchanged some funny banter. Sister Clawson called me and told me that Elder Samche was in the hospital for Malaria. Apparently I am someone who came to mind as responsible and able to take care of hospital affairs. Elder Okpara and I left the Freetown stake center for the hospital in Waterloo where Elder Samche was being housed. When we got to the hospital, I took Elder Carlson to our apartment to feed him. They had been at the hospital all day. Elder Samche was not in good shape. He was too weak to walk and was unconscious most of the day. I cooked up some rice and potato leaf for Elder Carlson and I to eat. He ate a ton. We headed back when we were done. Elder Carley, a senior missionary, arrived shortly after we came back. He asked if Elder Samche had been administered to. He had not. Elder Carley reprimanded us for neglecting our responsibility as priesthood holders. We moved Elder Samche to a semi-private room for the night. Elder Carley stressed the importance of blessings in a way that I will never forget.
He asked us if any of us felt prompted to administer during the evening. Most of us said yes (at this point there were about 9 of us), including me. He said that if we continue to ignore those promptings, we will stop hearing them. He then asked if any of us felt prompted to bless Elder Samche. I did, so I sealed, and Elder Ikegbunem anointed. Afterwards, Elder Carley blessed me with comfort since I was staying the night with Elder Samche. I sat in a chair awake until midnight as is my tradition on the eve of my birthday. I passed out as mosquitoes ate me alive.
Around 2:00 Friday morning, I moved to the concrete floor because that became more comfortable than the chair. I laid out my sheet and pillow and drifted in and out of sleep until 6. The nurse came in to give some medicine, so I moved back to the chair. I called my Waterloo companions to come relieve me. I went back with Elder Okpara and ate some breakfast and bathed. I also opened my birthday package (thank you mom and dad I love you guys). When we returned, Elder Samche had fully recovered. We saw him discharged and left back to the apartment. I read some of The Blueprint of Christ’s Church, a really wonderful book in my package by Elder Tad R Callister, until I passed out from lack of sleep.
Saturday for a zone leader usually means baptism interviews, and this was no exception. I was dragged to Goderich were I participated in a baptism as a witness after interviews were done for next week. They thought the water was cold. I found that funny since both of my experiences have been in the colder rain. On our way back, a guy called me “your highness” to get me into a taxi. I’m serious. I didn’t relent. My sickness that had taken leave for the past couple days (no doubt divine intervention allowing me to serve) came back with a vengeance. I went through stages of visiting the bathroom and sleeping for the rest of the day.
Sunday morning wasn’t any better. I slept past 9, so church was out of the question. I read and slept a lot of the day. This is exactly what I needed for my physical and spiritual health. As I studied, I came to the conclusion, more of a realization of applicability of truth I already knew, that the Atonement is real. It applies not just to sin, but to all worldly problems. John 16:33 says that Christ overcame the world, not just sin. I also read Isaiah 61:1-3 that says He gives beauty for ashes. I went through my own Gethsemane these past two weeks. My confidence collapsed into ashes, as did my health, expectations, and many other things. I really thought “my God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” But in Christ, my ashes can be made into beauty. I did some serious repenting that night and covenanted with my God to do better in continuing prayerful, humble, and obedient in all things.
What is weak can become strong. I am reminded daily of what I lack, but in the midst of my shortcomings, I can’t forget what I have – a testimony of Christ’s power. His power is unlimited in reach, in scope, in depth, in accessibility. All I need to do is ask. Ether 12:27 says ” I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will i make weak things to become strong unto them.”
I became so focused on what I don’t have that I lost sight of what I do have. Yes, I have weaknesses. They suck sometimes. But at least I have another guy up there who is ready and willing to help me if I just set aside my passions, ideas, and will and fully submit myself to His will. I can become a powerful tool in the Lord’s hands – even one that breaks through this barrier of spiritual dullness I find many people suffer from. I have faith that someone greater than I is up there and has a perfect idea of what I must do to help these people. All I have to do is submit myself and say “not my will, but thine be done.”