From: Ethan Cade Brimhall [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, October 17, 2016 6:15 AM
So I spent the last of my subsistence money on food at the end of last p-day. It worked out because I live in my proselyting area and there is absolutely no possible way for me to spend money anywhere since there are zero shops in my area. The blessing/curse of village life.
I started this email on Tuesday. I have a small, inexpensive tablet (mission sanctioned, of course) to make things easier at Internet cafés; so I just type up my day each night on that. I’m not really sorry for the amount of detail I put in because I want you to know how intense a mission is.
This was a rough day, but blessings came because I tried. I was stricken with what was probably a sinus infection: headache, congestion, sore throat, ear pain. I got the works. I cooked up some weird meat/pea/egg/soy sauce stuff to put over rice. It actually turned out pretty good. I got the recipe from a book my mom put together. It was supposed to be ham fried rice, but I had to double and there is no pot big enough for everything together.
I stayed in most of the day, but we had two really important appointments to fulfill with a couple solid investigators. Proselyting always lifts my mood anyway, so I decided to give it a shot. We only went out for two hours seeing Sis. Aminata and Bro. Mohamed B.
We taught Aminata Lesson 3 on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She (and I can’t understate this enough) REALLY wants to be baptized. She knows it’s the right thing to do without a doubt. That makes my job way easier. She can’t read very well, and speaking English is about as easy for her as Krio is for me (much to my French-speaking companion’s frustration), but her desire is so strong. I know nothing will move her from doing what she has to do. I did a small test of faith today with her. I took her to the extreme: choosing the right over saving your life. I didn’t expect her to answer me, I just wanted her to think about it. I really think she did think about it and probably still is.
I was about spent after just that one hour appointment, but my lovely trainee Elder Adokou pressed me. The only reason I went is because Aminata and Mohamed are neighbors. Otherwise, I’m out. My companion led most of the discussion since it was hard to speak with a sore throat. We covered the Atonement through the degrees of glory. He asked us a good question: “why don’t you guys do the cross?” I hadn’t come across that question for some time, but I answered him by talking more about the Atonement. We celebrate Christ’s life more than His death, and the greatest work He did was in Gethsemane, not on the cross. He seemed okay with that answer. Can anyone give me another answer? On our last topic, Mohamed said something that I thought was fantastic. We introduced and described the Celestial Kingdom, and he immediately said “ooh I wanna go there!” I got so dang happy hearing him say that. Unfortunately, he cohabitates, so he can’t be baptized yet. I’m looking for a time to talk to him about that.
We got back to the apartment after only two hours, but my energy levels told me it was closer to 20. Somehow our kitchen got flooded. At least I have a bed to rest my tired body on.
Sickness intensity increased tenfold. What a great way to spend my 5 month mark. Pretty much bedridden. The Sherwoods [senior couple missionaries] came by to check out our kitchen sink to make sure a pipe hadn’t burst. It’s all good! I guess someone had just left the water on and the sink didn’t drain fast enough. Being sick is so incredibly boring I’ll tell you that. I think people die from boredom caused by a disease more often than the disease itself; I’m telling you. I was in communique with Sis. Clawson a lot of the day. Good thing I came packed with a miniature hospital that can treat anything short of cancer! I had nasal spray, Tylenol, and ibuprofen to help. Normally, Sister Clawson prefers we take from the provided medical kits, but I had used up the last of the paracetamol (African Tylenol) and there is no nasal spray in the kit. I clocked out early. After all, the best medicine is a good night’s sleep.
We missed district meeting because I needed rest, but we got a little more back on track today with proselyting (more than my body was okay with). One thing in my personal studies that I really liked was Luke 24 when Christ appears, disguised, to a couple of disciples. He taught truth and expounded scripture to them like he had during His mortal ministry, yet they did not recognize Him as their Lord. Verse 32 hit me the most. This is after they were permitted to recognize Him and He vanishes. “And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” I took this personally. I can have that same effect! I am a representative of Christ, basically His disguise. I should be able to prompt a burning in people’s hearts with the words that I say and the Spirit that I carry. People should recognize Christ in me. I also found some neat stuff in the last chapter of John, but I’ll save that for another time.
Today we worked with the life-saving branch missionary Bro. Sweet. He took us around to investigators that came to church today (neither me nor my 4-week-old companion know the area). A couple appointments fell through, but honestly it’s a miracle when we have a perfect day. Sis. Augusta, a long-time investigator, accepted baptism today! She had postponed for a long time with previous missionaries. I guess we just had the magic touch (just kidding! Their work is no less valuable or effective than ours. Right place right time. Seeds had been planted). Something must have changed her heart. She wanted it to be next month which is no problem because that’s what we were going to suggest anyway.
Next, we visited a less-active member by the name of Yete (pronounced yeh-tay. I’m honestly tempted to refer to her as Sis. Yeti. Is that mean?). She hasn’t been to church for some time. Her excuse was school exams, but those ended a while ago. We made sure to show our love and lack of judgment. I really felt like a true missionary here. We invited her back to church and told her to call us if she ever needs anything. It was my first productive less-active lesson ever.
Adokou (I just realized that sounds kinda like Count Dooku from Star Wars) and I visited Sis. Aminata. Unfortunately, she was sick like me. We wished her well.
We had some time until our next appointment, so we visited the Relief Society President, Sis. Walker. Her niece or cousin (I can’t remember) is an investigator. The investigator wasn’t there, so we got to know this great member. I cherished the chance to rest. I’m still not 100%. We set a time for a dinner appointment there tomorrow and the investigator cousin/niece will be there.
Let me just tell you that Bro. Mohamed M is legit. We introduced the law of chastity to address the issue of cohabitation. We invited his “wife” to join us. He was so patient and accepting, I was blown away. I could tell that he was feeling the Spirit on a whole new level. We told him about how we know he wants to do the right thing and get baptized. However, he has to be married before he can do that. Previous missionaries had told him this, but he was unwilling to listen then. He told us that God has been working on him and now he is ready. It’s crazy because I could actually see that change in his eyes as we taught him. The church assists in marriages here, so I have to figure out what we can do to help. I am so excited for this guy.
Our last appointment for the day was a referral from none other than Sweet himself. Hannah Sevalie attended a college with him. I would have liked it if he had given us a referral closer in proximity, but Sweet is legitimately the best branch missionary on the planet. Later next month, Bo Branch is losing him to the Nigeria Calabar mission. I’m probably gonna cry when he leaves. Anyway, Hannah is a sweet but quiet girl who has a pretty broken home and lives in a poorer part of town. I feel bad for her, but I can tell that her circumstances have humbled her. In that way she is sort of blessed. She is so ready for the gospel. And we are so ready to give it to her.
We three took Okada [motorbike taxi] back to the apartment and enjoyed some bread. I put jam on mine. They put jam, mayonnaise, ketchup, and sausage on theirs. It reminded me of this abomination that one of my siblings made from hot dogs, heels of bread, and every sauce you can think of. Vomit was involved. I definitely wasn’t going to try this deformity.
My comp and I had a heartfelt discussion as we planned. He related to me his fears of incompetence and losing his girlfriend, both things I have struggled with more than once on a mission. I gave him some advice, mainly with the theme of President Hinckley’s father’s famous words “forget yourself and go to work.” He tells me often that missions are really hard. It’s not any easier when you’re wearing gigantic ankle weights of unnecessary and misplaced worry as you run the spiritual and physical marathon that is a mission. I like Elder Dooku (not a typo, I meant that ;)). He’s probably my favorite companion so far. We laugh together all the time.
This morning was great! Got up on time, did all my normal studying and everything, ate breakfast. BUT like halfway through training (2nd hour of comp study), I got super tired. Guess I ran faster than I was able. So, I took a prescribed nap from 10:30 to about 2:30. Then it rained hard, and our branch missionary, who was going to show us the houses of some investigators today, fell ill. Basically, all our plans fell through. However, we didn’t let the day go to waste! Count Dooku and I planned, discussing some logistical things like groceries and cleaning schedules, and expounded scriptures to each other. We also studied extra hard for some particular investigators who are struggling. I spoke to the branch president about Mohamed getting married and set up an appointment for Saturday morning. That way we can get the info to Mohamed the day of.
Today was supposed to be way more packed than it ended up being. Adokou and I met with the branch presidency at 11 at the branch building to discuss Mohamed’s situation. He has two options: baptism and abstinence until we get him a record number and set up a church wedding, or traditional wedding, then baptism, then church wedding. They also gave us two referrals at the meeting!
Leaving the chapel, this man stopped me and with a huge smile on his face said “I know your brother!” I was interested to see what this guy had to say. There was another Elder Brimhall who served in this area pre-Ebola (hey mom and dad, do some research to find him!). Apparently he had baptized this man and he was extremely grateful. I think his name was Augustin. That other Elder Brimhall can rest assured that at least one of his converts is still active.
After that, we met with a man named Foday (this country has some super weird names, at least to an American). He is a Catholic who really disapproves of how some Christian preachers do their thing (compulsory offerings for personal needs, bashing other churches, etc.). He had a lot of questions for us, which is great because it shows he thinks about our teachings. He was deeply interested in the Book of Mormon too!
For the next couple of hours we traversed at least 5 miles going from one failed appointment to the next. We did get to administer a blessing to an ailing member and visit a former investigator, so it wasn’t a total waste of time. It also gave me an opportunity to learn the area better.
The first counselor of the branch presidency was around, so we met with a young woman over whom he is guardian. She has been taught all the missionary lessons and is just waiting for baptism. Unfortunately, she knew absolutely no English. Sweet was with us to help translate. There was also this surprisingly intelligent small boy who helped out as well.
Hannah was next on the list of visits. Thankfully, she was available. We were kinda worried since we could not reach her through phone and we had to move her appointment up three hours due to some conflicts. We had a spiritual prompting to spend this time just getting to know her. She really opened up to us! We were laughing and joking around by the end of our meeting. We left her with a Book of Mormon and an assignment therein. Adokou and I are excited to become her friends.
Our next three appointments all failed. Aminata was in the hospital due to sickness. We plan on visiting her and a member there sometime tomorrow. Mohamed was in town [Freetown?] and neglected to tell us. I was really looking forward to speaking with him about the meeting this morning! He apologized profusely over the phone, so all is forgiven. Augusta had just left for class, which is odd because she asked us to move our appointment to this time so she would be home from school by then. I really try not to assume the worst, but it’s kinda hard when things line up so conveniently like that.
We visited the Relief Society President again to apologize for not making it yesterday. We’re going back after church on Sunday to eat some cassava plasas and teach Sis. Sallay, the investigator niece.
Walking today reminded me of a hike at my first scout camp. We thought it would only be six miles round trip. Turns out it was actually six miles one way, 12 miles round trip. Totally ran out of water. My legs felt the same today as they did that day. The only thing that got me through the day was my companion’s relentless optimism. Regardless of what happens, he says “I love it!” in his funny Benin French accent. Usually when I say that, it’s sarcastic. This guy says it at least every twenty minutes and he is entirely serious. I could not have a better companion.
My personal studies today were really helpful because I have been trying to do more than I am probably capable at this point. I was studying in Mosiah 4, one of my favorite chapters, and I was reminded of an important principle I seem to have forgotten:
“26 And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.
27 And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.”
Sometimes I expect too much of myself. I have struggled with the concept of doing my best. I realized that in actuality I think that my best is perfection. That’s completely unrealistic. I beat myself up way too much over my lack of perfection — my humanity-driven, God-given imperfection (Ether 12:27).
President and Sis. Clawson visited us during sacrament meeting. President Clawson gave a varied but obviously inspired talk to our humble, growing branch. The Spirit was heavy in the room.
Sitting in elder’s quorum was like watching a small child learn how to walk. Kinda cute. Funny at times. Wish you could just push your knowledge into their brain. They were figuring out how to do home teaching. They’re getting a list together for family assignments. They have a fireside on Saturday that we’re invited to. I feel like the branch president is the overburdened father and I just keep making him adopt children into his family full of infants. Sounds bad, but it brings me so much joy.
We visited some members this Sabbath day, including one who is hospitalized for some sickness. At the government hospital, there was a pretty large gathering of women dancing around and playing drums super loud. Definitely not something you would normally see in a hospital back home. It was some sort of celebration, maybe for a new baby, I don’t know. It probably disturbed the sick people trying to get some rest, but that’s just life here I guess.
The bank is giving us troubles AGAIN. I’m sick of this, so I took it by the reins and caused grief to the people in charge. I will not let those people sleep until I can buy food with my subsistence. But, this week has been great otherwise. Much progress. Much love. Much happiness.
Excerpts from other letters…
…I have been hit with my fair share of disappointments that make me want to give up. The three months leading up to my transfer had been like that. I felt stuck in despair because of my situation. Honestly, I didn’t do my best. I emotionally gave up. I failed. It took a transfer to relieve me of suffering. I relied on a “pull me out” scenario instead of the more growth-oriented “pull me through” experience. However, what I don’t regret is learning that lesson. I won’t blame others for my condition again. It’s up to me to find happiness and success in my work…
…I have figured that out recently, that I am a finisher. I used to think I was a perfectionist, but that’s not as accurate. I am a finisher. Sometimes that cause me problems, where I want to get something done and I don’t care how well as long as it is done. I can’t do that with missionary work. I catch myself sometimes just pushing for baptism thinking that’s the finish line, but it’s really just a meter line. The race goes on forever. If I really want to be a completionist, I should teach for life, not just baptism…