The “Area Review” that many leaders came to conduct (Elder Stevenson of the Apostleship, Bishop Davies of the presiding bishopric, Elder Soares of the presidency of the seventy, Elder Stanfill of our area presidency, and Elder Madu of our area seventy) was captivating. Missionaries from the provinces and the capital alike came to the Freetown Stake Center (it was nice seeing my TC’s in Bo, especially my DL and trainer MTC companion Elder Badoo) to have a special meeting with all of them. This is going to take up the entirety of my email because if I were to include any other detail, you would miss out on the importance of this meeting. Never in the history of Sierra Leone have we had such a level of leadership visit.
We received some more information on the missionary accident and were told of the literal miracles that attended each of those involved in the accident. Priesthood blessings and mere chance (however, those spiritually in-tune know it as divine intervention) saved lives. An elder who was involved spoke to us and bore us his testimony of the goodness and mercy of God, and of the power of the priesthood that every worthy male in this church bears. The spirit bore witness to me that day of the truth of that elder’s testimony. I bear you my own testimony of the power of the priesthood. I have seen its effects in my own life and in the lives of those I have had the opportunity to bless through that power that I hold. I know this is more than just an assertion of authority: it is a promise of power from God.
Difficulty comes, but it also goes. And depending on how you approach the difficulty, you will either come out better (God’s desire for you) or worse (Satan’s desire for you). I recently listened to a talk by Elder Bednar, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite Apostles. It is titled “Accepting the Lord’s Will and Timing” from the August 2016 Liahona as recommended by my Mission President. My new favorite thing in the world is listening to Apostles and Prophets. Elder Bednar particularly has a way of saying things that cuts right to the center of whatever question or concern I have. This talk has a story where a couple recently got married, and a few months later, the husband found out he had cancer. It focuses on the subject aspect of having faith not to be healed. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:9), so we need to rely on Him when other powers come into play and we realize we don’t have control over what happens.
I also read a book my mother sent me by President Eyring entitled “To Draw Closer to God” that talks about several different things. One of the most important lessons I learned from that book is that God is always there to help. We just need to be prayerful, humble, and obedient enough to grab on to His hand and accept His will in our lives. That is literally the ultimate struggle of this life, but it produces the greatest benefits of any choice or collection of choices we could make. It takes a spiritual eye to see God’s hand in your life. It is sometimes very easy to see divine intervention, but other times, it takes great perceptive abilities. My duty as a missionary is to help people draw closer to God and be able to see Providence in their lives. This carries with it a charge to draw closer to God myself. That is a continual struggle that feels like a burden at times, but is in reality a blessing of humility.
In my studies recently, I have repeatedly come across the discourse of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon. Mosiah 2:22-25 says
22 And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.
23 And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.
24 And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?
25 And now I ask, can ye say aught of yourselves? I answer you, Nay. Ye cannot say that ye are even as much as the dust of the earth; yet ye were created of the dust of the earth; but behold, it belongeth to him who created you.
This is one of my favorite sayings of an ancient prophet. All God requires of us is to keep His commandments. He promises us blessings as we surrender to Him our will which, as our creator, is rightfully His. We are indebted to him twofold. Thus, we are not even the dust of the earth. Helaman 12: 7-8 explains why…
7 O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth.
8 For behold, the dust of the earth moveth hither and thither, to the dividing asunder, at the command of our great and everlasting God.
When we keep in mind that God is merciful, and that He has power over the dust and the mountains alike, and that we owe everything to Him, the logical and intelligent course of action is to submit to Him. He is more than a king, for a king does not have parental ownership of his subjects. He is our God.
One thing said to us at the Mission Training Center was to start with the end in mind. Well, I would like to end this mission with the ability to totally submit to my Father in Heaven. I want to do the right thing. I want to have the blessings of a God’s powerful hand guiding my life. More than all of that, I want to show God that I love Him.
I bear you my testimony that God is our Father. He watches over each of His 7.5 billion children on this earth with a care that surpasses even the most loving earthly parent. He wants nothing more than to see His children happy.He also fully respects each person’s ability to choose. He will never force our hand. He will never stop a tidal wave of evil from destroying you. Not until you choose to reach out to Him first. You make the first step, and He will carry you the rest of the way.
It feels like this week lasted a month. I can’t possibly share all of my thoughts and feelings here, but in 20 months, when my service is completed, you bet your booty I will tell you everything if you will listen. I have learned an eternity’s worth of truth in just the past four months. I look forward to the next four months which will undoubtedly have even more greatness in store. I love this work. I really do. I love and pray for you guys back home as well. I thank you for your prayers on my behalf, and on the behalf of the other missionaries around the world.
Excerpts from other letters:
I have a love-hate relationship with my weaknesses. I appreciate that I have them in order to humble me, but I hate them because they are consistently difficult to overcome. Life ain’t easy. However, if it were, there would be no point in living it. Nothing worth doing is ever easy, and nothing easy is ever worth doing. We were sent here to learn things we could not learn as spirits because we had already “maxed out” our progression there. That thought sometimes scares me because I still have so many flaws – I must have been really screwed up as a spiritual infant.
BUT God always provides a way out. Usually that way out is through. I find this incredibly difficult to accept at times. It would be so much easier if God just pulled me out of my trials. But then life wouldn’t be worth it, would it? We rejoiced in heaven when we saw the difficulties we would be subjected to because we knew what the end result could be – eternal life. A life of infinite progression and unlimited joy.
I typed that mainly for my own benefit. I always try to put my thoughts down on something. You already know all of that, as do I. I already know everything that everyone says in general conference too, but I listen for a new perspective or a new chance at hearing something profound.
Sorry for putting you through that transcribing. I sent voice recordings again, but I also put my thoughts for the week.
I weighed 162 in the beginning. The picture in the email I sent to you was of my current weight. I get to work out, but I get a very tiny amount of protein so it doesn’t do much good other than remove fat.
People get mail by going to post offices in various areas I guess. I’m not totally sure. I live by a post office. I am not clear on how it works.
MLS stands for Member and Leader Services. All ward and branch clerks use it for membership things like recording baptisms and other stuff like that. It is an electronic application. The change is an area thing. I think that most missionaries already do that, it is just hard here because we don’t have proper infrastructure (i.e., computer equipment at branch buildings, spotty internet, etc.). As a missionary, we don’t schedule an interview until we see that they are committed, so I find this waiting difficult. But, our area is trying to modernize. It’s growing pains.
There are 89 missionaries in this mission. That’s still less than we had two decades ago. The last old missionary will leave nine months before I do. He was pretty new in his mission before he came to this one.
I sleep okay. Definitely a blessing from Heavenly Father. I sleep on what could be compared to a really big sponge. My pillow is super flat. I sweat during the night. Bugs are everywhere. Considering all of that, I should be tired every day all day, but I do surprisingly well. My neck has been bothering me a lot recently. The work the chiropractor and acupuncture appointments did has worn off. I am incredibly grateful to you that you provided the means whereby I could receive help that sustained me for the past few months.
The cafe is closing now. I have to go!
Transcriptions from voice recordings of daily reports from past week:
Today was a rough day. We got out of the apartment around 9:00 and took the “scenic” route to the mission home; which means instead of going our normal more straight forward way, we went past it and then had troubles figuring out where to go from there. But eventually, we made it after spending a lot of money on transport. At the mission home, Afful got a haircut from elder Samche who is now an office Elder with Elder Jones. I got a new set of scriptures because mine were falling apart just after four months. It’s pathetic.
I talked with the Miners [senior missionary couple who serve in the office] for a while. I had Sister Miner order for me a magnetic name tag because mine is lost. [Really, she ended up calling Fawn to tell her how to order tags for him.] Once we finished up at the mission home, we left to go to the café. As we were heading to the café, a couple of Elder Afful’s friends came and fake jumped me. They said, “Your money or your life.” I thought I was going to die. They were just joking. But my heart wasn’t joking. So that was fun [said with sarcasm].
We got to the café, I sent Hannah some smack talk since she’s a Ute now and BYU was playing them next. It’s awesome we won against AZ last week. I really want to watch that game when I get back home. I want to watch every football game when I get back home. I miss football and BYU a lot…and my family and my friends. Another year and 8 months, no problem. Me and Elder Curriden and Elder Bloomfield went to the chapel and we talked for a while until my companion got to the stake center. It took a long time and then we went off to go get dinner at the Gunion restaurant. Apparently, they only had one bowl of fufu available for me and they only had fish and they only had palm nut soup. The fish was a bit too dry, same as last time. I wish they had meat instead. One bowl of fufu is not enough to fill me. Palm nut soup isn’t the greatest but it’s better than rice. I couldn’t go with eating rice for one more meal. Otherwise, I probably would have told President Clawson I want to go home. Just kidding.
By this time, it was almost dark and I wanted to go to St. Mary’s to get some stuff. We tried getting a ride but it was impossible. We waited forever. Eventually, we got a ride to ??? Cross which is too expensive. And then we took bike up to Clover Forrest (??) because we didn’t want to wait. It was just too expensive. Then we took taxi to Juae which is normal expensive. Then we took a bus to the side of a road somewhere because it broke down. We got on another bus to hospital stop which is near post office, which is again too expensive. It should have been 1,000 L ($0.25 US) not 2,000 L ($0.50 US). When we got back it was 9:30 so we spent basically 12 hours away. I am both tired and exhausted and not in a very good mood because of all the delays. And I didn’t get to collect my subsistence today because we didn’t have time. And the GT bank that we would have gone to, the ATM was out of cash. Probably because all of the elders went and withdrew 500,000 L ($125 US) from it today.
Next Day: Yesterday, Tuesday, we did some good proselyting. We went out around noon and tried to go see Sis. Jeneba but she wasn’t there. So we hung out with Joseph across the street for a while and talked about some of the gospel questions that he had. Then we went to go see Bro. Daniel to see how he is doing with everything. He told us his uncle who is Muslim is still not too fond of him being in the church. His uncle has always had this problem when Daniel goes to church. So it’s not specifically the LDS church, it’s just any Christian church. On the day of Daniel’s confirmation, his uncle told him he had to go wash the car. Daniel tried to get out of it but he couldn’t and thus missed all of Sacrament Meeting. I’m proud of him for trying and standing up to his uncle. His heart is in it.
Then we went to go see Ester’s father but he was not there so instead we taught her mother, Agnes who we met for the first time at Ester’s baptism interview. She only spoke Krio which made it difficult for me to get across to her, but we had Joseph with us because he was going around with us today to help translate. We also had Elder Afful who is also good with krio. We taught her about the gospel of Jesus Christ. She seemed to really understand it. She’s been coming to church occasionally and knew some of what we talked about. After her, we went to go see a lady, Mary Domena. We had a little bit of trouble finding her house but we eventually found her and she took us to her house. We taught her about the Restoration. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a Book of Mormon to give her but we had a good discussion. She is Born Again Christian so she had some questions about following the mosaic law. She wanted to know why the women don’t cover her hair and stuff like that. I explained to her, “do you plant cocoyam and casava in the same garden?” She said, “yes”. Then we said, “well then you’re breaking part of Deuteronomy 22 where you got the law about covering your head from. We also read from, I think it was 2nd Corinthians where Paul was talking about people covering their head and he said it’s not a tradition in the church. So we cleared up that concern. She actually recorded our lesson for some part of it which I thought was interesting. She’s either really serious or she’s planning on taking it to her pastor to address questions. So we’ll see how that goes.
Then we went and taught Avine and Mata who live some ways away from 5-5. We had a lot of trouble finding their place actually. We had to go all over the place asking for directions. Finally, we arrived at their house. They had been taking the lessons before. They only needed to know about a few of the laws in one of the lessons. So we taught them about the gospel of Jesus Christ and we committed them both to baptism on September 24th. Next, we had rest time. We took a second to go eat dinner and then after that we taught Bro. Jonny at the church. We discussed the law of chastity and the Word of Wisdom. He had pretty cool life experiences that helped him realize those are important things to know. I enjoyed listening to his account of his boss not obeying the law of chastity and it causing problems in his life. And then of his father who is an alcoholic and smoked and the doctors told him that those two things are bad and then he died an early death because he didn’t listen to the doctor’s counsel. We also explained to him why the other parts of the word of wisdom are important. We also told him that none of the medical aspects were known at the time Joseph Smith received this revelation and that we are to follow this word of wisdom not just because of the effects things can have on our bodies but also because the prophet told us to follow that. I like him, he’s pretty serious about learning.
After that, it was getting dark so we decided to leave. And then a guy came up to us asking if we also have a church in Kenema, which we do. He said, “yeah, I’ve seen you guys around there. I just moved here and I want to know more about your church.” So we referred him to Bro. Joseph (since we had to leave) who went and saw where his home was and we’ll get back to him and start teaching. His name is Mohamad like half the people in this country. Then I worked on marking my fresh new scriptures.
New day: Today we finished up some administrative stuff and then went to Freetown to get the apartment subsistence and also I found out I weigh 138 lbs which is 22 lbs less than 4 months ago. That is shocking and terrifying. I need to start eating more meat or just eating more in general I guess. (sigh) So after the mission home, we went and ate fufu. That was delicious. I ate two balls of fufu because I need to start eating a lot now that I’m a tiny person. Then we walked down to the far away GT bank ATM to collect my subsistence that I was not able to get on Monday. That was a lot of walking. Then we got a ride to Freetown Mall which isn’t really a mall. It’s more like a quarter size of Walmart. So it’s not like different shops opening up all over the building. It’s just one building that sells various things like a bigger supermarket than the other ones here. Most of the stuff is really expensive. There were 24 ounces of smoked salmon for 495,000 L ($124 US)! That’s insane! I know Elder Ashby was trying to find a way to spend the subsistence that he had right before going back home. If I had known about Freetown Mall earlier, I could have told him to go buy some salmon. The only thing that was cheaper there was the milk. It was 16,000 L ($4 US) as opposed to 18,000 L ($4.50 US) at other places. So we went and got some apartment supplies that we can only find there, like steel wool and dish soap and stuff like that. I also saw a sign board for PIZZA! Oh my gosh, I got so excited when I saw that. Next Monday, I am going to eat pizza and I’m going to take a picture of it and I’m going to look at it every day for the rest of my mission, rejoicing in the fact that I can find pizza here. I hope it’s legitimate pizza. Next, we went to another market in Freetown which is a lot better than the one we have here in Waterloo. Less crowded, less smelly, less dirty and has more stuff. So it was all around a better experience. The first thing we did was get some goat meat. We saw butchers with 2 foot-long, 3 inch-wide machetes that they just smack on the meat and cut it. They were extremely accurate. They would smack it and then pull it up 3 or 4 feet away and then smack it right in the very place they had just smacked it before. It was incredible. They were very experienced. I also saw some nice smoked goat heads and one lady went up to buy one. I don’t know what you would do with that. You can’t eat it. Well, I guess you can but that’s nasty! After we got the goat meat, we got some peppe and started taking off the stems to have the peppes crushed. I used my handy dandy knife to remove the stems. Then we left back to the apartment. The stuff I was carrying was ridiculously heavy so my arm got pretty tired. We had some police and military guys in our taxi on the way back so we were able to take it straight back without all the stops which was nice. It was less expensive too. We came back, we cooked everything, and then I studied a little bit in the Henry B. Eyring book that my mother sent to me. It’s really helpful. It talks a lot about being a listener which is something I’m finding a little bit hard to do. I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable person and it’s hard for me to listen to people whom I think are less knowledgeable than I. But everyone has different experiences and I certainly don’t know everything in the world, so I can always learn something from everyone.
New day: Today I led the discussion in District meeting on Preach My Gospel chapter 6 which is Christlike attributes. I really focused on how the rest of PMG teaches what you’re supposed to do as a missionary, but what is at the basis of being a missionary is who you are. You can know everything about being a missionary but you’re not a good missionary until you’re a good person. That is something I think a lot of missionaries struggle with. Especially here. They know a lot of ins and outs of missionary work but they don’t know deep gospel and how it applies to them, I guess. They good at pointing it out to other people and are very good at teaching, but they’re not working out their own salvation. I also focused on faith in Jesus Christ and what it means for us. I really enjoyed studying that to prepare last night. I discovered a lot of things I need to work on myself, especially humility. I studied a LOT about humility.
We recite Doctrine and Covenants section 4 verse 5 every week, but I don’t think many of us really think about what it means. It talks about qualifications to be in the work, just like a resume. Like, you’re not going to be able to get the job if you don’t have certain qualifications. One of them is keeping an eye single to the glory of God. That is something that is mentioned a lot in my patriarchal blessing. So obviously it’s something I really need to work on. Instead of giving yourself the glory, which is human nature, you have to give God the glory. Satan tries to take the glory from God by saying, “I’ll do all of this, but you have to give me the glory and the honor.” When we try to take the glory from God, we are following in Satan’s footsteps. Some people think humility is a sign of weakness but it’s not. It’s much easier to boast of yourself than it is to commend others. But better stronger men do harder things, so better stronger men are the humble ones.
District meeting was a good meeting. I think if everything goes well, Elder Afful and I will have 10 baptisms by the end of this month which is really quite amazing. In my studies today, I spent a lot of time on the Plan of Salvation. I’ve been trying to give a scriptural backup to every sentence in each lesson in PMG. As I was doing that, I came across Alma chapter 5. I’ve read this chapter many times but this time, it stuck out to me, especially verse 7 where is says, “Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them.
8 And now I ask of you, my brethren, were they destroyed? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, they were not.
9 And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.”
That’s really inspiring to me, the fact that these people were trapped and had no way out. They were in spiritual darkness and physical bondage, but when they heard the word of God, they were released from their spiritual darkness and eventually also their physical bondage. That is something I think everyone needs, including me. Sometimes I feel that I’m pushing away God because of what I do, and I’m offending him with the thoughts that I take or the actions that I take or the lack of action that I take. Something later on in that chapter in verse 20 & 21, it talks about the blood of Christ. It says that “…they are cleansed from all stain, through the blood of him of whom it has been spoken by our fathers…”So the blood of Christ has the power to cleanse you. But then in the next verse, it says, “…having your garments stained with blood and all manner of filthiness…” So the blood of Christ has the power to cleanse you but it also has the power to condemn you. As you sin, you add upon yourself the drops of blood that Christ sweat as he suffered for your sins. That blood condemns you because you brought on that suffering and initiated the law of justice which Jesus Christ took the punishment for. But also through the law of mercy, Christ has the power to cleanse us from our sins because he has already suffered the punishment. What we have to do is try and access that. Verse 28 says, “Behold, are ye stripped of pride? I say unto you, if ye are not ye are not prepared to meet God…” It’s going to be a long road before I am stripped of pride. A very very long road. I catch myself having thoughts at various times of the day, often, where I think I am better than another person; or I think I am more educated or more knowledgeable or make better choices or I’m in a better position spiritually or physically than another person. (sigh) And that frustrates me and I’m sure it frustrates God too because I am a missionary. I am meant to show an example to the people. They might not see I’m having those thoughts, per say, but I’m sure there is some change on my face or my countenance that tells them I think that I am better than they.
New day: Today was a packed day! I woke up at 5:30 to get ready to go to the Freetown Stake Center. We got there right at 8:00. We chatted with some missionaries that we hadn’t seen for some time. The entire mission was gathered there—all 89 of us and the mission leaders. It was fun seeing everyone. It was weird, though. I felt like I was back at the Mission Training Center when I saw all of them because that was the last time I saw all of my TCs in one place when we were coming off of the airplane to arrive in Sierra Leone. We had a good time. We had breakfast which was bread, butter and jam, and rice with egg gravy, which wasn’t that great unless you had peppe with it. But it was food and I ate a lot of it until I got filled completely. Then we had an opening meeting with Sis. Clawson who told us a bunch of stuff. We celebrated birthdays including mine. I got a jar of Nutella. We got study journals. I found out I have the same birthday as one of the other guys here and he also got Nutella. We high fived. After that, we had a small discussion on the car accident that the missionaries were involved in. Sis. Clawson explained a lot more in depth about it and told us of many of the miracles that happened that saved the lives of those missionaries. She also told us of her own experience of being in a horrible car accident with her parents during Thanksgiving when she was a college student. She and her siblings were fine but both of their parents were in bad condition and had to be in the ICU for several weeks. She invited one of the elders that was in the van behind the one that got crushed who helped the ones who were hurt –he spoke of the miracles that happened there. He bore a powerful testimony of the priesthood power and of God’s watchful care over us and of the power of prayer. It was really quite an incredible meeting. I have not felt the spirit so strongly for that long of a duration of a meeting before. It was amazing. There is seriously nothing like that meeting. Then we had a break. Those of us who wanted to sing went to another room to be a part of the choir. We sang Precious Savior, Dear Redeemer to the tune of In Humility, Our Savior, and also Hymn #41, Let Zion in Her Beauty Rise. It was decided that #41 would be the opening hymn for the meeting with the apostle and other authorities and the other one would be the intermediate hymn/special musical number. After rehearsing, we ate lunch and then prepared for a picture with apostle Elder Stevenson, Presiding Bishop Davies, the Presidency of the 70, an area authority, a general authority 70 and the mission president. Each leader’s wife was also there. We stood and posed for the picture for about 15 minutes, sweating, waiting for the general authorities to come. Eventually, they came and quickly sat down for a nice picture. Then all missionaries shook everyone’s hand as we went into the meeting house and hummed a hymn to prepare. We had quite a packed meeting with everyone there. Every leader and wife spoke except for Elder and Sis. Stanfill who we heard from earlier in July when they came to visit us. I would have liked to still hear from them again as well. The meeting went a half hour late until 4:30 because they just loved talking with us. They involved everyone and made sure to ask questions and made sure we wrote things down and were guided by the Spirit. I learned a lot of valuable things to help me in my mission from that meeting – as well as quite and uplifting and energizing attitude from the meeting before then where we heard about the miracles that attended the accident with the missionaries.
Then everyone split off and I jumped into the spot where zone leaders were planning a tri-zone activity for everyone to have fun and fellowship each other. It should be a fun time. After that, I was still stuffed from lunch so I just took a drink and a couple of muffins and then took the rest of the dinner to go. I played on the organ in the chapel which was really fun. I hadn’t played on an organ in a long time. It wasn’t like an organ you would see in a standard chapel in the U.S. It was quite a less expensive, less featured one, but it still sounded really good playing a few hymns that I know. Then my companion and I and all the Kissy zone packed into PodaPoda to take this winding, bumpy, really really thin thin roads through Freetown until we got to this one that we took all the way to the Kissy town chapel. I conversed a little bit with some of the elders that were talking. It was funny listening to the white elders. I haven’t heard that kind of conversation, both topic, and accent, for a long time– since high school, actually. I’m pretty sure they were right out of high school, honestly. From the Kissy chapel, we got a ride from a nice man whom I was judging at first because he was overcharging every person who got in his van, but after everyone was gone and it was just me and Afful in his van, he started talking to me and I found out he was a pretty cool guy. He just doesn’t normally run that route because everyone has their bright lights on the whole time which blinds him when he’s driving. I’ve noticed that myself, here. So I felt bad for him. He seemed like a pretty decent guy. So, don’t judge a book by its cover – or a man by your first experience with him.