The Zone

Elder Brimhall is back with another action-packed weekly report of the life-changing experience commonly referred to as the Mission. This week’s episode contains waiting for hours to withdraw subsistence, the struggles of adjusting to a village, a 3 week old trainee from Benin who speaks French, and the beginning of some real missionary work.

I was thinking that there should be a documentary TV show about missions. Then I realized that there is. It’s called The District. Someone should make another series called The Zone except this one will actually be exciting instead of just instructional. Maybe focused around a junior companion zone leader (zl)  who has his hands full with disrespectful sister missionaries (a big problem here), a deadbeat senior companion zl (also a big problem here), and some really awkward romance where a female investigator is head over heels for said zl. I could write, direct, and produce the whole thing myself when I get home. Hey, I’ll try acting in it too. Chances are I’ll live this premise before the end of these two years. I probably won’t even have to do any creative exaggeration for the sake of enjoyment because missions are insane.

Tuesday
I got up much too early so that Elder Afful and I could meet up with Elder Okpara and Elder Bosomtwe at Hastings. Afful and Okpara had MLC down at the mission home. Bosomtwe and I made the long [18+ km trip northwest from Waterloo] to Calaba to meet Elder Oteng and his companion at their apartment. All we knew was to get off at a certain stop. Getting to their apartment was difficult because we had no idea where it was, and they refused to answer their phone for whatever reason. We just asked people “where do people dressed like us usually go?” By God’s good grace we made it. Elder Oteng was impressed when we walked up to his door because we were able to find their obscure apartment without his help.
Oteng’s companion Elder Ngadi finished getting ready and we left for the Kissy branch of GT Bank so that we could withdraw our subsistence. The repeated attempts at various ATM’s in town the previous day all but failed. The walk was long and hot, and guess what? The ATM was broken! How wonderful. I wasn’t doing this again, so we pestered the people inside until they fixed the ATM. Elder Ngadi could withdraw, but it broke again right after he finished. We waited again for it to be fixed. In all, we waited about three and a half hours. What a colossal waste of time. But, at least there is an ATM. It makes the work of the financiers at the mission office much easier. Bosomtwe and I parted ways from the Calabar elders and went back to my apartment.
Elders Wolters and Hayford were there because Wolters and I were going to give each other haircuts. He brought a handy voltage converter so my clippers don’t explode [I forgot my parents sent me with two]. I cut his first, then he cut mine. My clippers are screwed up somehow. They don’t vibrate like they should,  so the cut took way longer than it should have. We did a pretty good job on each other. It was his first time cutting in general. It was my first time cutting the top.
I spent the rest of the day packing. Elder Afful returned later that afternoon. I found out that my TRX exercise band box got moldy. Normally I wouldn’t care, but this box had an anti-mold sticker on it. You had one job…

Wednesday
I finished some last-minute packing of my essentials. I got several different instructions on how I was getting to Bo, so confusion reigned for a lot of the morning. Eventually I found out that President Kargbo  (Kossoh Town Branch President) was picking me up. He drives really fast. We picked up some other missionaries and got to the mission home in record time.
I got to see a bunch of missionaries fresh out of the MTC. It was pretty cute. They all had their perfectly white, pressed shirts, freshly polished shoes, and clean name tags. Elder St. Mars kept me occupied with food and conversation as I waited to be taken to my area.
I rode with President and Sister Clawson and some other missionaries. I figured out that I wasn’t being taken straight to my area. We were going to Lester Peak to welcome the greenies! It was cool to see them be assigned trainers and areas. It felt like an eternity ago I was in the same place, but it had only been four months.
I went with President Kargbo, Elder Koakou (Elder Afful’s “son”/trainee), Elder Arthur, and a greenie [brand new missionary] to Bo. It was a three hour drive of nothing but trees after we passed my previous proselyting area at the edge of civilization. I took a nap for a lot of the drive despite turns taken a bit too quickly and potholes large enough for a bear to sit in.
It was dark by the time we made it to the Sherwoods’ apartment. They are a really nice senior couple and immediately made me feel at home in a foreign area. The four of us missionaries squeezed into the back seat of their truck. They dropped off the greenie and Elder Koakou first and second. Then Elder Arthur and I at the edge of this village of a city.
My new apartment is way bigger than the last one, but amenities like working power strips and a wardrobe in my room are not there. [see quick video below of my bed and personal storage space]

We have six chickens courtesy of Elder Smith. Sounds great, but they defecate everywhere. I’ll have to slaughter and eat them as revenge.
Elder Adokou is my new companion. He is from Benin, so he is a native French speaker. However, his English is stellar. He speaks better English than most people I have met in this country, and he is only three weeks out of the MTC! He loves to laugh, and I can tell he is a hard worker. I have high hopes for this transfer.

Thursday
This apartment has a real shower head, which is both a blessing and a curse. Blessing because I don’t have to be incredibly careful about how much water I use. Curse because it feels like I’m swimming in the Arctic.
We had zone meeting today. I got to meet all 30-some missionaries in Bo, including a few TC’s that I’ve only been able to talk to at our rare all-mission conferences. It was big, spiritual, and organized. We even had refreshments and took a zone picture in front of the almost-standard chapel. Bo is sweet. One hiccup: the picture guy, instead of pressing the picture button on cameras, would just press “ok” and move on to the next camera. We found this out after he had gone through 6 or so cameras.
On the way back to our apartment, my Okada [motorcycle taxi] driver took a wrong turn. It’s my second day in the area, so I have no idea how to get back. I paid the guy and had to ask around where Fifth Street was. I was on Quinoa Street. Next was Second Street, then Third, and so on. I made it back with some walking. If only this country had maps. Street signs would be nice too.
When I got back, Adokou and I went to the market to buy food so I don’t starve until Monday. We were able to walk to town from far north in about 20 minutes. This city is tiny. It only has one outdoor market and then three supermarkets. That’ll make cooking expensive. Exploring the city was fun. It is way more laid back and quieter than the insanity that is Freetown. When I finished buying food, we went back to the apartment, and I worked through a massive heap of laundry with the wonderful device my parents sent me (it works great! Thank you guys!).

Friday
My personal study for today was focused on Lesson 2 with Michael Wilcox’s talk on the symbolism of Eden. Personal study is one of my favorite things because of times like this. I got a powerful spiritual witness of forgiveness. One part talked about the coat of skins as sheep skin representing the forgiving power of the Atonement of the Lamb of God. It is God’s answer to our bare sins. We don’t need to hide. He has provided his own covering of forgiveness, possible through His love and Christ’s love. I really know that They love me.
It was interesting leading companionship study as trainer because my companion is 24. I could understand if he didn’t want to listen to what I had to say because he is five years older than I am, but he really valued my teaching.
Throughout the day, Elder Adokou told me about his conversion story and life before he met the church. He pretty much did a complete 180. His mother tried to get him to convert for two years before he finally decided to get baptized. I asked him what made him decide to change. He said something like “I don’t know, it just felt like the right time to make some changes.” He’s only been a member for one year, but he’s a really strong guy. A little rough on some rules but who isn’t?
We taught three people today by direction from Elder Adokou since he had already been in the area for a few weeks. First we tried Mohamed I, but he was at the market. We told his wife we would come back around 3. We then tried Aminata but she was at the market too. We were conversing with her parents and about to leave when she just showed up on an Okada. She didn’t speak much English, to the great frustration of my companion questions, but she asked good questions and really made it a good discussion.  She really wants to read and study the scriptures and asked us if we could get some for her. That gave us an idea of what to teach her. We talked about the Restoration and gave her a Book of Mormon with an assignment. She seemed super excited to read it. I’m sure she will! We went way up north to teach Andrew, but he was not home. We took the opportunity to do some good old fashioned finding. A Muslim guy in Andrew’s same building named Abdul had taken a few lessons from Elder Smith before I got there. We had a nice discussion on the Plan of Salvation. About ten or so people came and listened as we taught. Isn’t that cool?! Next, we went back down to teach Mohamed I. Thankfully, he was home. We cleared up some confusion about Joseph Smith, the First Vision, and the Book of Mormon. He thought that two angels appeared to Joseph and handed him the plates too and that the First Vision and receiving the plates happened simultaneously. It took some time to re-teach a lot of Lesson 1, but I think it really helped him. He is well on his way to gaining a testimony. We also introduced Lesson 2 and assigned him some stuff to read in the Book of Mormon. After that lesson, we went way up north again to have a baptism interview for Mohamed M. We got there before the other companionship (Elder Arthur is District Leader), so I had time to get to know this guy. He’s a teacher, a single father with two kids, and has a really solid testimony. He has been investigating the church for a while and stopped for some time but he felt a need to go back. No other church gave him the same good feeling that the message of this church did. So he did just that and he completed the lessons! His house is right next to the in-progress Bo North District Center. It rained during the interview. I’m upset because I thought I was escaping the rain coming to Bo. This place is supposed to be drier and hotter. Hotter, yes. Drier, not so much. It has rained more since I’ve been here than it did the past two weeks in Waterloo.

Saturday
We had baptisms today! Crazy that I am welcomed into my first week in the area with a baptism, huh? It was a nice dual-branch service since my tiny building doesn’t have a baptismal font. Elder Adokou and I just had Mohamed M, but the other companionship (Elders Arthur and Biney-Amissah) had 4. The singing was way too slow, and one baptizee totally freaked out in the water so we had to redo it a few times, but the Spirit was there! The baptizees bore their wonderful testimonies, and I am already really impressed with this area.
I had a thought come to me during the baptism service that weighed on my mind a lot this day. I have been struggling with the principle of consequences repeatedly over the course of my mission. I know we are given certain blessings based on obedience to certain commandments, but what if my disobedience to some related commandment disqualifies me from receiving that blessing that I really want/need and continue to plead for? I don’t feel comfortable asking Heavenly Father to give me some gift I am not worthy of. What should I do?

Sunday
Man was this an awe-inspiring day. We left a bit early to take Mohamed I. to church today. It was quite a long walk to the chapel. I’ll have to get used to that. Anyway, almost everyone was on time to church, and the whole building was filled! Some even had to sit outside! Mohamed M. came for his confirmation, and I was able to participate in the ordinance. A branch missionary whose middle name is Sweet (what?) was the spokesman. Elder Adokou and I bore our testimonies because, you know, it’s pretty much required of missionaries on fast Sunday to do that. Bro. Sweet co-taught investigator class with the branch mission leader. We had a ton of questions from the 8 investigators who just showed up. Some of them were tough questions like “how come you can take the Sacrament before you are baptized,” but the branch missionaries handled themselves just fine. I was really impressed.
We left after second hour because my companion was close to death with a fever and headache. We got in touch with Sister Clawson and got him some medicine. He just slept a ton.
The other companionship left some boiling chicken on the stove and neglected to tell us before they left the apartment. We found out when the smoke alarm went off. Nothing was left but bone and ash.

Monday
As per weekly tradition in this zone, we had a football match this morning. Full regulation time, so we were all hot, sweaty, and exhausted at the end of it. About half the zone and and couple members showed up. A few of the African elders said I played really well for a white guy. I thought I did pretty bad, but I guess not. I can show the true depth of my ineptitude next week.
It only takes 5-10 minutes to get to town from our apartment in the far north, as opposed to my last area where it took an hour and an half. That makes Mondays a lot less stressful. However, I would like it if people sold stuff on the street in my area. I get hungry while proselyting!

[Excerpts from other letters…]

I’ve figured out cooking (finally) but my subsistence isn’t enough to keep me full…

We have zero electricity because the power line is broken. We have to use our generator, which has very limited fuel. As a trainer I am automatically Senior Companion even if the junior companion has been in the area longer. The missionary who has been on their mission the longest is always the SC. It has been an unimaginably nice change to leave the apartment. My comp just got really sick and I’m beginning to, so that might change soon, but I’m excited.

The branch missionaries are golden. There are about 90 active in the branch I think. People are better drivers than you think. It’s not as insane as you might think, but it is far less organized than back home. It’s much more organized street wise here in Bo, so I find my way around easier. Waterloo was haphazard in its construction. Bo seems a bit more planned. More countryside, not much prettier, slightly less trashy, more rainy. Just a small change.

We have a freezer, no refrigerator. Same as last apartment.

The memory foam pillow and other stuff will save my life. My neck is killing me.
I want to learn to play O Holy Night myself before Christmas so maybe my talents can be used in a program. I have had a keyboard accessible to me for a couple months now, and I have gotten a lot better. I would like some new music. What I have now is all the cd’s from home.

Some fast, some don’t. Fast offerings are a commandment of the Lord, and none are exempt. I’ve promised great blessings from paying fast offerings, and I think some pay them. Not everyone is dirt poor. 90% are probably below the American poverty line, but the poverty line here is so much lower. I live comfortably in comparison to most here, but in respect to your standards, I am in poverty.
I’ll get some pictures of people in front of their homes. I don’t like taking too many pictures out in the open because I feel awkward pulling out my shiny camera that costs as much as people make in two months here.