The Other Side of Heaven

From: Ethan Cade Brimhall [mailto:ethan.brimhall@myldsmail.net]
Sent: Monday, November 14, 2016 4:14 AM

Dust is getting crazy now that we’re entering the dry season. It’s hard to breathe when bikes fly by. My shirt gets nearly brown at the end of the day, and my face gets caked with dirt and sweat. This is Africa!

Some people took the initiative and are fixing an absolutely terrible dirt road we use every day. They’re conducting highway robbery as payment.

I had my companion, Elder Adokou start reading The Blueprint and he LOVES it! He is asking me all sorts of questions and he is finding so many new things that are already helping him teach better in every aspect. His confidence is so much higher.

Monday
Football match was fun! Members vs missionaries ended 3-5, us. My camera was murdered a week ago when a penalty kick went super wide and hit me square in the face. It’s a good camera, so I was pretty dang mad. Thankfully, my companion was there to cool me down.
After the match, we went to physical therapy. (Don’t worry, I showered before then.) To show how interesting the Spirit is, I’ll tell you a quick story. After showering, I was deciding whether to go in normal priesthood attire or workout clothes. It’s policy to wear the former on p-day, but it is excusable for things like our football match. I really wanted to wear my comfortable clothing. I made up my mind on the matter and was ready to go. However, the prompting repeatedly came to me that I should go in priesthood attire. Now, nothing special happened that day because I obeyed, but maybe I avoided some bad outcome that would have occurred because of disobedience, even if it was somewhat justifiable. Anyways, back to therapy. This man is a godsend. Kim Brown has traveled all over the world as a church rep and has a specialty in necks. He showed me several exercises to do each day to strengthen my middle and upper back. Those parts, he says, are so weak for me. That’s why I feel pain. Constant strain over almost 4 years (since the car accident) has weakened the muscles a lot. He even helped me out with my ankle! I honestly believe that he saved my mission today.
We went to the Internet cafe where I printed some nice pics for my baptizees and Mohamed. I also gave my camera to this guy who said he was able to fix it. 3 hours and 100,000 Leones later (the much lower negotiated price), I have a camera again! My wallet is thinner and my nose is sore, but in the long run everything is okay, especially since I was only lacking a working camera for a few hours.
I got a call from the AP’s saying they were coming to our apartment. I’m thinking “oh great, what now?” Turns out it wasn’t so bad. They brought Okpara, Afful, and Smith (who I traded places with) to stay the night here for MLC tomorrow! I was so happy to see them all. My old companions leave next week to go home, so I was grateful for the opportunity to see them again. It was also fun talking to Elder Smith about our two areas and the crazy fact that he’s good friends with Kiyah’s previous companion.

Tuesday
I said a final goodbye to my two companions. That makes me feel old! Elder Smith still has a good amount of time left I think. I call him every once in a while to ask about certain people in this area and in Lumpa.
Before we started our lesson with Foday, this fairly large dog (by Salone standards) laid down in front of us. I heard my companion mutter “that would feed me maybe one week.” Puzzled, I asked him to explain what he just said. These are his words: “I mean the dog. It’s meats could feed me for one week.” I died.
When we were walking to an appointment, this lady looked at me in a way I think she (but few others) would describe as “seductively” and she tried to hold my hand. So I did what I do with the children who yell abotto at me every day: total ignorance. Women have given me looks before, but none of them have had the audacity to make a move. I’ve heard worse, so I count myself lucky, though I do have 18 more months…
For those of you who are above 30 and don’t understand some words that people my age use, I’ll define the one I am about to use. Squad means a close group of friends that do everything together. I have formed a squad here. It consists of me, my companion, Sweet, Steven, and Abdul (the recent convert). We run, proselyte, eat, and laugh together nearly every day. This may start to cut into my proselyting effectiveness eventually, but for now, it’s working great.

Wednesday
Abdul alone proselyted with us today. It was so fun! He’s getting used to bearing his testimony and teaching principles of the Gospel as he translates. I am making sure he goes on a mission next year. Nothing could make me happier than that. I know he can do amazing things.
It was a good thing Abdul came with us to our lesson with Hannah because (by overhearing some gossip in Mende) he found out that she had been engaged but recently broke it off for another guy. That explains why she has been a little off lately. We will make sure she is okay in that department next time we meet with her. Oh, and in that lesson, my companion found out that it is illegal in Sierra Leone to eat dogs. He was crushed. It’s his favorite meat. Speaking of, is that also illegal in the states?
I wore my Salone flag tie today, and that got me several street contacts. One man called me over and asked why I was wearing that tie. He sounded a little antagonistic. He’s very educated and is a Muslim, so I’m expecting a fight when we go to teach him for the first time. It’ll be a test of my crisis management skills.

Thursday
I led the first half of the PMG discussion in district meeting today. We focused on Lesson 3, The Gospel of Jesus Christ. I wanted us to really hit the importance and deeply binding nature of the covenant of baptism. Many investigators here just think that it means you are part of a certain church, but it’s much more than that. It’s a promise to God. It’s a covenant. It’s one of the most important things you can do in this life! All of us, lifelong members and recent converts alike, must take this more seriously. I called up Elder Arthur (who goes home on Sunday) and his companion to role play for us. He was visibly surprised that I had the audacity to ask someone his age to practice. I enjoyed the look on his face.
Elder Cluff took over the second half and put my teaching skills to shame. He’s really quite talented even though he is only 3 months out. He led us on a discussion about faith and its value as a principle of action.
Post-meeting, the ZL’s talked briefly to all the senior companions about the importance of setting a good example for our junior companions. I really thought about it and realized that maybe I am not doing as well in that regard as I can and should be. When we got back to the apartment, Elder Adokou and I discussed the importance of obedience. I told him that if we don’t start now, we might never start. I pointed out areas we were lacking in obedience. We need to be consecrated missionaries, “fourth watch” missionaries. We can to do better. We must do better. Do we really think God will let someone into the Celestial Kingdom who isn’t willing to give it all up for Him? His nature is to give all He has for us. That must be ours as well. We sealed this desire with an honest prayer together. It’s never too late or too oft repeated to start afresh in your desire to serve God.
Abdul worked with us again. He is progressing fast in his knowledge of the Gospel, ability to teach, and strength of testimony. Start right, stay right. Even if he is the only convert of mine in Bo who stays converted (which I sincerely hope is not the case), I will be content with the work I have done in this area.

Friday
We doubled the distance in our jogging this morning. Even though God blessed us with cool fog, I came back almost totally out of breath and completely drenched in sweat. I love it. A cold shower felt sooo good.
I’ve suffered from a bad habit that started in my training and stuck with me until today. I have incorrectly thought  (even though I was taught correctly in the MTC) that teaching people, not lessons, meant that I resolve concerns by just asking and answering questions. It is so much more than that! I need to plan much more for my pikin dem (children) in the gospel. They deserve better.

Saturday
Wow! This day was packed and literally all over the city of Bo. First, we went to Tokpoi Town for the baptism of the investigator we handed over, James Sandi. Like 20 other baptizees were there for four companionships. I was surprised with an on-the-spot calling to speak about the Holy Ghost. The service was nice for the part we were able to attend. We had to leave early to get to a teaching appointment. If it had started on time (like nothing ever does here), we could have witnessed the baptism, but teaching takes precedence!
The branch president was moving today, but he had other family business to attend to regarding his father’s death, so we stepped in and helped Sis. Hindowa move stuff out, including a couple of big chairs that I am not sure how she got through the doorway in the first place. It took some serious maneuvering and some damage, but we got them out!
We had two fantastic lessons back to back. First was with Mohamed Taylor (that referral from the chorister). He had taken initiative and did the additional study questions in the back of the Restoration pamphlet. Not only that, but he studied with his friend and invited him to our discussion today. They both had many questions for us. We absolutely loved our time with them. We taught part of the Plan of Salvation like never before, focusing on the fact that what we are teaching is not new to them. They were taught these principles before they chose to come here. We missionaries are just reminding them of truths already ingrained in their spirits. Bro. Lloyd, the brother, asked us how he can change his life to find these truths for himself. Seriously, what better question could be asked of you as a missionary? We taught so much better at least in part because our investigators prepared better. Our decision to be more obedient probably helped too! They both asked for as many scriptures as we could give them to study up on the Plan of Salvation.
Second lesson was with another one of Augusta’s referrals. His name is Steven. He is a super humble young man who really just gets it. This helped our lesson a ton. One other thing gave this lesson a little extra oomph: my companion bore his testimony like never before. The words were pretty much the same, but the spiritual power radiating from him as he said it was several orders of magnitude stronger.
I saw a debil today! He was completely covered in grass and snail shells with huge antlers sticking up from his head, running around like a madman (and maybe he was). I couldn’t see any skin at all. A bunch of schoolchildren were walking behind him clapping sticks together.
We went to the naming ceremony for Divine Favor Nephi Franklin Solomon, which was pretty much just a straight-up party. Food, singing, and dancing (including a super cute dance-off between two little girls). We had a short spiritual program beforehand, but the real party started quickly. At one point, some nice music played and the father said things I couldn’t understand, presumably about his new son, and a bunch of people got up to give the father money. I went along with the tradition and gave some of my own. I danced the African way with my companion (who is, by the way, totally insane). It was pretty fun.
Transfer news came this evening. As expected, I am staying with my companion. Guess who is replacing Elder Arthur? Elder Grant! My best friend! God is good. He is the new district leader. We are losing Elder Ugwueze and Sister Uwakwe, both TC’s of mine who had been here since we all arrived in Sierra Leone. The only thing that’s constant is change!

Sunday
The busiest day of the week for a missionary hit a new record today. 12 investigators attended church! That meant fellowshipping, setting appointments for the week, and explaining stuff for three hours. Thankfully, I have my own church service every morning with studies, so my lack of attention to the block wasn’t too much of a drag.
One of the speakers during Sacrament Meeting today was Bro. Sweet. That is because he leaves on Tuesday to serve in the Nigeria Benin City mission! I am so proud of him for leaving his part-member family and good teaching job to serve the Lord full-time. He had already been doing a stellar job as a branch missionary, but now he will be a “tagged” missionary, and an ordained Elder and minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m sad to see him leave us, but I know he will do amazing work in Benin City.
Branch council meeting went great! I decided I would study up on the handbook for administering the church and bring in some changes. This branch is probably one of the best in Sierra Leone, but it still has its shortcomings. I think things will run a lot more smoothly now with a better bridge between the missionaries and members.
Our teaching appointments weren’t unusually amazing, but we did have the chance to visit a less-active member with a recently returned missionary, Bro. Bockarie. She had left because of serious problems with the previous branch president (symptomatic of a lot of less-actives here). I think we did a lot of good there! We had her remember why she was baptized, why we go to church, and the blessings that she can have access to if she comes again. I hope she felt the Spirit that was present as much as I did. She referred us to another less-active member just a short walk from there that we set time with for Tuesday.
What was amazing was the amount of walking we did. I think total walking was about 2 hours. That’s at least 5 miles today. I’m not sure if I can run tomorrow morning…

So there’s a collection of movies that are mission-approved to watch. I watched one on Sunday called “The Other Side of Heaven” [starring Anne Hathaway and Christopher Gorham]. I loved that movie before serving as a missionary, but it takes on so much more meaning now, especially considering the similarities between our respective areas. John was quite an incredible missionary. He really gave it his all. He loved the people like his own family. That is something I am working so hard on. Only when you love someone can you begin to understand them, and only when you understand them will you be able to really help them. I want to look at everyone the way that God looks at us. I want to glimpse, even for just a moment, the infinite potential of those that I teach.
You know, I think I finally understand the title of that movie. I am in the other side of heaven. The climate, food, and apartment sure don’t feel like it, but who cares? What matters is the people. When John was leaving the people of Tonga, I realized that I will be so totally heartbroken when it is time to leave. John didn’t cry much, but I will. So much. I don’t want to leave my heaven. Every day I spend here is a gift from God. I legitimately feel privileged to live and love and teach and work with the people of Sierra Leone. The second verse of a hymn that has been on my mind a lot lately summarizes the greatest blessing of this work:
Abide with me; ’tis eventide.
Thy walk today with me
Has made my heart within me burn,
As I communed with thee.
Thy earnest words have filled my soul
And kept me near thy side.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.
O Savior, stay this night with me;
Behold, ’tis eventide.
I commune with God every day. That is what makes this the other side of heaven. His walk with me makes my heart within me burn, and his earnest words fill my soul each day. I love this work to death. And I really do love all of you. Have a great week!

Love
Elder Brimhall

p.s. Saturday marked 6 months. I really don’t know how I feel about that. Excited that I am progressing? Scared that my mission will be gone faster than I can say “restoration?” I didn’t know how to feel when I left for this country other than just tears. I guess it’s still the same.

Excerpts from other letters…

I’m sorry it’s been so long since you guys got pictures from me! The internet in Bo is just too slow to send them out. It might be a couple months until I can send pictures. I might be able to send some when I go to Freetown for my operation if I go to the mission home.

Last week, Mom asked him to find as many evidences in the Bible as possible that make reference to the Plan of Salvation in some way. Here’s what he shared:

God is the father of our spirits: Rom 8:16
Premortal life: Eccl 12:7
Our purpose here on earth: 1 Pet 1:18-23; Tit 1:2
Separation from God: Isa 59:2
Become like God: 1 John 3:1-3
Jesus Christ created earth: John 1:1-4
Need to come to earth: 2 Cor 12:9-10
Agency and Fall: Gen 1-3
Sin keeps us from God: Rom 3:23
Mortal man succumbs to temptation: 1 John 1:8-10
Helpless without Atonement: Acts 4:12
Jesus Christ foreordained: 1 Pet 1:18-20
Christ was tempted but gave no heed: Hebrew 4:14-15
Christ suffered beyond comprehension: Luke 22:42-44
Atonement can bring joy: John 14:27
Personal responsibility: Phil 2:12-13
Gospel preached in spirit world: 1 Pet 3:19-20
All people to become immortal by resurrection: 1 Cor 15:20-22, 51-53
Eternal life greatest gift only to obedient: Matt 19:16-17
Eternal life is to know and live the life of God and Jesus Christ: John 17:3
God rewards all according to deeds: Matt 16:26-27
Kingdoms of glory: 2 Cor 12:2; 1 Cor 15:40-42

Even with all this biblical support, the Book of Mormon is still the best way to go 🙂
And don’t think I did this all just this week! It has been a process of study for the past 6 months.
I’ve started a notebook in gospel library entitled “Answers to Gospel Questions” named after the JFS book. Every question I am asked, I record it and find scriptures to back up the doctrinal answer. It’s fun!

Hey Mom!

Yeah I heard about the election the day of. Mixed feelings here.

I bet you are all happy to be done with the craziness of Fall! That’s cool that Mitch got to play in the BYU football game.

My toe hurts more and more and the meds didn’t really seem to help at all. I do need a procedure. I am going to Freetown sometime to get it done. Sister Clawson is planning transport and everything right now. My neck is not doing any better, but that’s probably because I am pushing myself more as I am able to do more. Work is up, pain is the same. So that’s progress, I guess. Physical therapist was fantastic. More on that coming.

I am still in Bo and will be for a while. A couple of my TC’s are leaving, but Elder Grant will be replacing Elder Arthur who went home. I mean, I heard him yell, “I’m going home!” every morning. I am happy that Grant will be here. And he got into BYU, so I’ll get to see him all the time when I return just one year after him.

I think I will be able to use the church hotspot mifi thing to video call you on Christmas if I get approval from my branch president.

Our family has been blessed with rich heritage, righteous parents, and (somewhat) obedient children. There’s no family I would rather be a part of. Maybe you worried about me in high school when I struggled with pride and acceptance and friends and everything, but I really feel like I am on the right path now. The habits I am making will push me along forever.

I set an alarm for the supermoon, so I will definitely be watching it tonight!

I love you Mom

Elder Brimhall