From: Ethan Cade Brimhall [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, October 31, 2016 5:55 AM
^^meaning I saw the hand of God pretty clearly this week. I’m not claiming to have actually seen God with my own two eyes!
Before I get to the spiritual stuff, here are a couple action news worthy stories. First, when we were walking home Thursday evening, we saw this huge mob of people yelling and jumping around. After some time, I realized that in the center of the mass was a man being beaten and likely eventually lynched for stealing food. It’s not uncommon in West Africa to be killed for stealing.
Second, on Sunday evening, I heard yelling and wailing at the gates of our apartment. The four of us went out to investigate. Apparently a woman had stabbed her boyfriend in the head and run away. By the wailing, I’m guessing the guy is dead. It had just barely happened like a 2 minute walk from our apartment. I’m glad I have tall walls, barbed wire, and metal doors separating me from this insanity!
My energy is back to normal after being sick and my neck pain has reduced to manageable again due to Pres. Clawson approving my two-strap Dakine bag with two shoulder straps and a waist strap. It really takes a lot of weight off my shoulders. And it has a bladder for water! I’m seeing a very reputable physical therapist next week for extra tips.
You guys are getting like the director’s cut or extended edition each week since I’m basically using this as my journal. I never thought I would be so open like this even just a year ago. I have this mission, college, and one girl in particular to thank for that.
I found out the previous Elder Brimhall’s first name! It’s Douglas!
Cafe was fun today. Except it wasn’t. Internet hardly worked, so I only got to send emails once. Historically, I haven’t worn proselyting clothes when we go to the cafe. I realized the error of my ways in our bi-zone meeting with mission leadership. I feel a little weird shopping in my white shirt, but it’s what we’re supposed to do. I see the principle, though. I’m never off-duty. We had Family Home Evening again at Bro. Musa’s place, with me conducting and us elders giving the spiritual thought. We took the FHE idea from April’s Liahona, which works great for missionaries because it encourages people to bear their testimonies and invite friends. We had a surprisingly spiritual discussion! In FHE’s past, it has been more social hour than gospel power, but this time it felt different. I give no credit to the lesson we prepared, but honestly to the hymns. Our opening was #30 Come, Come, Ye Saints. To close it out we sang #165 Abide With Me; ‘Tis Eventide. I think that’s what did it for our dysfunctional group, even despite most people not knowing how to sing that last hymn (Americans and Africans have a very different lineup). Or maybe all that spiritual feeling was just a side-effect of the bush meat in the cassava plasas and rice…
I ate some cat this morning. Elder Arthur killed and cooked it, and honestly, it tasted amazing. I’ll probably eat a few more of those while in this crazy place. Don’t judge me! I still have to get used to eating skin and bones.
I have had to assume the role of apartment leader in Elder Arthur’s mental absence (he leaves in 2.5 weeks), so I called the Sherwoods to inform them we were out of cooking gas and nearly out of fuel for the generator. I don’t particularly enjoy doing other people’s jobs, but I do enjoy being able to eat.
This was a day full of trial. First, there was an argument this morning because the other companionship took our phone since theirs is not on CUG, and we mistakenly thought they were out to proselyte with it. There was a ton of miscommunication and rash decision-making on both sides. I knew I couldn’t leave the apartment with that hanging in the air, so we all apologized and felt the Spirit return.
While proselyting, I was met with so much discouragement that I didn’t know what to do. For me, discouragement leads to frustration, which makes me super testy and, almost without fail, eventually angry. Our first appointment with Hannah went great, though. She loved hearing about the Plan of Salvation, and her invited friend asked for a Book of Mormon. We invited both of them to church. Immediately after that, things went south. The hot sun came out. Three successive appointments failed. My neck flared up beyond what I could tolerate. Tension regarding bumped appointments has been building and just exploded today. I got that kind of dangerous calm anger where if you say the wrong thing or even touch me, I’ll flip out. My companion’s laughter about it didn’t help.
We visited Bro. Musa, who was in the area. I related to him my frustration with failing appointments, and he really talked some loving sense into me. I realized that I have it really easy with people who want to listen to my message, which is something relatively hard to find, and frequently prayed for, in European and North American missions. I just have to adjust to a culture of very tentative timing and get over myself. Bro. Musa graciously fed us and gave us apple cedar and coke for the road. I love this guy! What’s more, Bro. Boima showed up and gave us a ride to our next area of work.
The Sherwoods intercepted us on their way to our apartment. We opened it up and installed the new gas tank. This gave me a chance to relieve myself of the probable 2 liters of liquid in my body (I try to avoid using nature as an outhouse, though that is the common practice here).
We tried to go see Aminata, but even though I had a nice long conversation with her confirming that she would be home, SHE WAS NOT HOME. I exercised a great amount of self-control in what I said to her when I called to find where she was. The wise words of Bro. Musa probably saved her ears and my mouth today.
We made a quick stop with Bro. Mohamed B to see how he was doing. He was learning the math thing where you convert 2.1×10^5 to 210,000 (I forget what that’s called). We got talking about education, traditional clothing, and a bunch of other stuff that friends talk about. Then I realized that he IS my friend! Sounds like a pretty stupid revelation to some people, but it had an oddly profound impact on me.
We ended the day with a positive note meeting Abdul FINALLY. He was prepared with the sweetest gift an investigator can give (aside from baptismal commitment): questions. The law of chastity isn’t the most enjoyable lesson to teach, but he made it bearable.
I’ve been grooming my “son” [junior companion] to take the reins one day, and today he did. He led every discussion. It took some prodding and poking, but he did it! And he was great! It’s probably best that he did so today since I was a bit spiritually dampened due to my poor attitude. I am proud to start my mission posterity with him.
Today really wasn’t any more full than yesterday. However, some things made it pretty enjoyable. Bro Abdul met with us again and made us really work in teaching the word of wisdom, tithing, and fast offerings. He asked question after question. We loved it. Coffee is hard to give up, money is hard to give, and chastity is hard to live as a student especially, but he’s devoted. I have absolute confidence in him. He also passed the pre-interview, so he’s ready to be interviewed on Saturday.
We visited an ailing Sis. Augusta. She has a pretty bad ear infection I think. She said she wanted to flush (push water through your ears to clean them out), but she couldn’t pay for it. I advised her against that after having heard a similar story from my old young men’s leader who served in Japan. He actually went through with it and ended up with an even worse infection after going through the pain that procedure causes.
If I keep walking the way I did today, I’ll have the calves of a professional cyclist when I return.
Good news came earlier in the week, and today it arrived. Elder Samche is “laying his grave” [last area before going home] here in Bo! He’s not in my district, but his apartment is next to the field we play football on each P-day. He leaves December 1st, so I only have a month with a familiar face. I really love this guy, so it made my day hearing that he was coming to Bo. We went to visit him and his companion, Elder Kazotti (my companion’s TC and best friend). He replaced Elder Okafor who went up to be a zone leader in Kenema. Samche was an office elder before. This mission has a policy of not letting missionaries “die” [finish] at the mission home, so that’s what made him come here. He is in that bittersweet time where he’s saying goodbye to the mission and preparing to go back home.
It started dumping rain soon after we got to their apartment. When Adokou and I left, it was just drizzling, but the lightning was still epic. Riding on a motorcycle while rain is hitting you so hard it stings, along dirt roads as bumpy as bubble wrap, with lightning flashing all around you is an experience close to the X2 ride at Six Flags. Us two fools laughed like madmen the whole way back.
We boiled chicken this morning and kept the broth to make rice for dinner. It was delicious.
Keep your focus on the small things! Enjoy that motorcycle ride. Put a smile on someone’s face. Bear your testimony to your child. Your life will improve tenfold.
My first district meeting in Bo! District meetings are held every first Thursday of the month. But my first Thursday here was zone training, second Thursday I was sick, and third was that special meeting with the Clawsons, so today was my first real district meeting. It was a change from my last area because our district is the size of my entire previous zone. That made for a lot less silence. Elder Arthur led the way as district leader. We had practice-teaching and everything. Way more organized than I am used to. We had an instructional and insightful discussion on Lesson 1 that really helped me examine how to improve my own teaching.
One of our investigators, Bro. James, turned out to be outside our proselyting area 😟. We don’t have an area map, so it’s kinda hard to tell where our boundaries are. We only found out when Bro. Sweet told us that there is a branch that’s closer than ours (seriously this guy knows the entire city like the back of his hand). After teaching Bro. James as scheduled, we contacted the other elders, who turned out to be Samche and Kazotti, and met up with them. We facilitated a meeting between James and the Yemoh Town elders. He’s a super devoted guy. I’m sorry to no longer be meeting with him. I genuinely enjoy the man’s presence, but I know he’s in good hands.
Today, Adokou and I were finally able to catch this investigator named Mark at home. He asks some weird questions like “how old was Moses’ father when he died?” However, most of his questions are way better for our purposes. For example, he asked “why do we have to repent if Jesus Christ died for our sins?” That’s a question I think a lot of Christians might ask themselves if they believe that grace is all they need, disregarding works. We took to Alma 42: 15, 24-25 to learn about the laws of justice and mercy. Both are undying laws that even, and particularly, God must abide by. One who breaks a law must be punished, and one who begs for mercy with the intent of changing his ways should be given so. However, these laws are diametrically opposed. How can both laws be satisfied? The all-encompassing Atonement! One Man-god took upon Himself the effects of sin (sorrow, pain, grief, etc.) for the entire human family and thus fulfilled the law of justice. Through repentance, anyone who sins, or breaks a law of God, can gain access to this reservoir of healing and the law of mercy is fulfilled. No punishment is withheld because One already suffered for it. Mercy is justly given to the penitent (people who desire to change their ways and truly regret what they have done). This is the greatest doctrine of Christianity, so naturally it had to be explained twice 😉. He got the gist of it and realized how the Book of Mormon can answer his questions. Plus, he committed to baptism! The rest of the day, we visited members to help foster a closer relationship between missionaries and members in hopes of more referrals (although that wasn’t our whole goal; we did enjoy meeting new people and making friends!). We even were blessed by a couple of members who committed to cooking plasas for us, whichever kind we want. My companion cannot get enough cassava leaf. He asks everyone we meet if they can feed us some. It’s sorta embarrassing sometimes, but they don’t seem to mind at all. Foreigner special treatment I guess. TIA–This is Africa! Never ever would I have guessed I would enjoy eating the leaves of potatoes. Cassava wasn’t even considerable because I had never heard of it before coming to this incredible part of the world. There’s no place I’d rather be.
This was a pretty intense day. First thing, my companion and I had a great study session. He really wants to learn English and thinks that hearing Krio all the time will interfere with that. He worries about a lot of things that he shouldn’t be focusing on out here, and he strongly dislikes this country. Honestly, I’ve felt somewhat the same in all respects at one point or another. He has only been a member for a year and a half, so he’s also worried about his gospel knowledge. Soul-to-soul conversation took up most of the morning. I wanted him to ask himself why he’s here (in hindsight, I guess I took a play from The Best Two Years movie). For every one of his concerns, I countered with the question “Is that why you’re here?” He responded every time with a revealing “No.” We are here to do nothing but “teach repentance and baptize converts.” I also told him that if he wants to learn English and increase his gospel knowledge, he can kill two birds with one stone by reading the English Book of Mormon every day. We read together in lieu of training for the morning (conveniently, he is in week 7 of training, which focuses on Revelation Through the Book of Mormon). As a tender mercy of the Lord, I saw a visible change in the way he taught today due to the counsel I was inspired to give him. I like to look for the people I meet who need me specifically. That is, the people the Lord sent ME to THIS place for. I think Elder Adokou is one of them.
Since it’s the weekend, we were able to see some people who aren’t available due to schooling or work or other stuff (we returned to apartment at 7:30 latest for safety reasons; which is, unfortunately, also when a lot of people return home).
We had a really fun discussion with Bro. Foday. Some of you may think I’m crazy for thinking this kind of discussion is fun, but it’s a nice change from the normal. He had marked and prepared many questions just from the title page, introduction, and testimonies at the beginning of the Book of Mormon. He also had questions regarding the Urim and Thummim, the work of Mormon, how this book compares to the Bible, and several more. After that, we launched into Lesson 3. Baptism got a little tricky because he is a baptized Catholic. We carefully explained proper priesthood authority and mode of baptism and invited him to attend the service next Saturday. He conceded! We also reaffirmed the importance of the Book of Mormon in his search for truth, which is really what he is dedicated to. The reassuring thing about being a missionary for this church is that you can leave a lot up to God. Just give someone the Book, tell them to read and pray, and BOOM! Testimony by the power of the Holy Ghost if sought with real intent. I love it (as my companion would say).
Next was Isha Songa. I had talked to Elder Smith for advice with being able to meet with her and apparently she stopped investigating for some time because of a personal problem with a member. However, it seems that she is ready to come back since she has been to church for a couple weeks. I was blown away by her conviction of the Book of Mormon. People have bashed it hard in her school, but she wasn’t having it. She really believes in Christ’s saying “by their fruits ye shall know them.” We had to cut our appointment short so that we could make it to the chapel in time for our baptism interviews. We left a lot of questions unanswered, so we promised to come back at 6 after the interviews and our appointment with Hannah (I’m not sure if splitting an appointment in half is an unorthodox practice for missionaries. I’m kinda making this up as I go along since I was kicked out of junior companionship pretty early).
We got to the chapel for interviews 15 minutes late. What worried us is that there was a Relief Society activity going on and there was no sign of my district leader or baptism candidates. We got in touch with our DL and Abdul, and they were on their way. We did have to visit Augusta, and good thing we did because (even though we had explained otherwise on Friday), she thought the interview was at her house. She seemed to be feeling a little better from her ear infection. They both passed and we got take-out dinner from the Relief Society activity! Abdul also gave me a nice pair of sandals as a thank you for teaching him the gospel! It felt weird accepting it but he genuinely wanted to show his appreciation and I did not want to offend by refusing his humble gift.
Hannah was next. She had read our assignment in the Book of Mormon as well! Our lesson was on the latter half of the Plan of Salvation. She gave a response similar to Mohamed’s upon hearing about the Celestial Kingdom. As we were leaving, she gave my companion a couple bars of soap that did not contain a couple ingredients he is allergic to. He had asked her where he could buy soap of that kind and she took it upon herself to buy some for him. She also gave us like ten oranges as a thank you for bringing her the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Again, accepting such a gift was hard but we did our best to graciously accept.
We revisited Isha and answered all the questions and concerns she could give us. Unfortunately, it started violently pouring as we finished (I’m very thankful it wasn’t too bad during the discussion). We took bike to get home quickly. Isha helped us wave one down, something hard to do in the rain when many bike men call it quits and demand skyrockets. We still got soaked, but truly nothing could dim my spirits.
This morning, my companion and I started right. We redoubled our focus on the English Book of Mormon and the true reason we are here. God rewarded us with blessings both temporal and spiritual. I saw the willingness of God to bless his laborers today. I felt a nearness to Him at an unprecedented level outside of the temple. All of this because I started the day with a desire to serve: serve my companion, serve my investigators, serve my members, and most importantly, serve my God.
My companion woke me up several times last night with frequent trips to the bathroom. Apparently he ate something bad. We eat the same foods together, and oddly enough I didn’t experience the same complications.
Sacrament meeting appeared a little lackluster when the meeting started with only about 60 attending. Adokou and I were a little scared, but by sacrament time it had gone up to the usual 100. It was Relief Society day where the RS presidency spoke. Last week was Elder’s Quorum day (we have no High Priests and very few young men).
Investigator class, aka Gospel Principles, started off with a bang. A family referral joined us, which is awesome. The lesson was on the truly awesome topic of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We barely got off our feet when one investigator hit us with the bombshell of “why do you believe that Adam and Eve’s transgression was a good thing?” We used up the whole class time clarifying that, and I still don’t think he got it. We gave him the assignment to read 2 Nephi 2. I honestly think Nephi saw this guy in the future as the reason for including that part of his father’s final counsel to him and his brethren. That class got us pumped for the day.
Third hour was combined as per fifth Sunday tradition. My companion and I spent some of that time with the branch clerk going over old records from pre-Ebola to find out if some baptized investigators were missing from MLS. We only went through maybe 10 records because of computer illiteracy, but it turns out like half of them are not in the system. We have probably 80 or so records left, so we have our work cut out for us with both contacting and research.
I stayed to help the choir work through their songs for the wedding. It’s hard to overcome incorrect (or, to be more politically correct, African traditional) rhythm and zero choral experience. I got kinda frustrated with the situation and just turned everything into unison instead of harmony. However, that made people think they no longer had to try, so they immediately reversed all progress on rhythm and notes we had made over the half hour today and the two hours last week. I closed practice before I got red-faced with frustration. Hopefully I hid it well. I’m not great with patience 😳.
My companion begged me to go to the apartment and stay there so he wouldn’t have an embarrassing bathroom situation, related to his issues last night. So leave, we did.
I did some good studying, particularly from this recent general conference. Having Gospel Library means I at least get to read the talks. I’m always drawn to the tear-jerker ones, so I particularly liked the one by Elder Schmutz entitled (somewhat ironically considering my recent statement) “God Shall Wipe Away All Tears.” Although this whole talk was stellar, as was all of Sunday Afternoon session, I was struck the most by the story of Brother Apilado. Here are Elder Schmutz’s words:
“During a recent stake conference assignment I attended in the Philippines, my heart was broken as I learned of the tragic experience of Brother Daniel Apilado. Brother Apilado and his wife were baptized in 1974. They embraced the restored gospel and were sealed in the temple. Thereafter, they were blessed with five beautiful children. On July 7, 1997, while Brother Apilado was serving as the stake president, a fire broke out in their small home. Brother Apilado’s oldest son, Michael, rescued his father, pulled him from the burning structure, and then ran back into the house to rescue others. It was the last time Brother Apilado saw his son alive. Taken in the fire were Brother Apilado’s wife, Dominga, and each of their five children.
The fact that Brother Apilado was living a life pleasing unto God when tragedy struck did not prevent the tragedy, nor did it make him immune from the sorrow that followed. But his faithfulness in keeping his covenants and exercising his faith in Christ gave him assurance in the promise that he will be reunited with his wife and family. This hope became an anchor to his soul.”
Bad things happen in this life because of the conditions of mortality (being sin, transgression, mistake, and death). The uber-righteous can experience depth of pain equal to that of the unrepentant sinner. However, the duration and effects of that pain are drastically limited when you tap into the power of the Atonement. For Christ truly said, as I learned a couple months ago, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
I never get tired of testifying, promising, or stating that fact. I see it slowly take on new meaning in each person I teach. That will never get old. Regardless of the nature of your suffering, be it self-inflicted or externally spawned, deep or shallow, enduring or sporadic, you can find peace.
I was blessed this week to see the Lord’s hand in my work like never before. I saw immediate results from a promise I made to God (shout out to Elder Jones for his advice). I know I can’t be spoiled with that every week, so I need to remember this blessed time and be faithful in keeping my own covenants knowing that everything will work out in the end. This promise isn’t just for my investigators or the bishop or the woman going through a divorce. It’s for YOU. I love all of you whether I know you personally or not! Have a wonderful week. I know that if you look, you’ll be able to see the guiding hand of the Lord in your own life.