Christmas means service, food, and parties!

From: Ethan Cade Brimhall []
Sent: Wednesday, December 28, 2016 8:08 AM

I hope that subject gave all prospective missionaries hope for the future even if they are called to the poorest country in the world.


And sorry this email is so late. You’ll find out why later on. Look on the bright side: you get a much shorter wait time between this email and the next one!


One pretty interesting thing that happened today was a meeting that the new Bo North district presidency called. They met with all the appropriate missionaries to get input on how their branches are doing. It gave us a forum to “air our grievances” and offer advice. The district presidency also offered us tips on how to improve and implored us to rededicate ourselves to the work. It was a profitable meeting that pushed me and everyone else in the right direction. Everything I just said basically means we chastised each other, missionaries and presidency. But we did it with love!


I gave blood for the first time ever today. Here’s the story. My companion promised this sick little girl’s family across the street from us that he would give her blood. The problem is, he’s AB+, so his blood is practically useless to anyone but him. I didn’t know what my blood type was, but I did remember that my dad is O-, so I had a pretty good chance at being able to help her. We went to the haunted house of a hospital for my blood to get tested and potentially drawn. Before doing anything, we went out to see the girl. She was as pale as you can get as a black child and had no energy even to lift her head. Her worried mother cradled little Isatu in her arms and looked at me in a way I will never forget. The nurse told me that Isatu has so little blood that she will probably die tomorrow if she doesn’t get an immediate transfusion. I told myself that I didn’t care what I had to go through, I would give blood to this girl. Any decent human being would do that if they were in my situation. That encounter gave me the strength to get through the next hour.

We made our way to the lab for a blood test. This intern, with surprising violence, stabbed my thumb and pretty much milked it like an utter into a vial and onto a plate. I waited a few minutes as he swirled stuff around just like I did in my biology class when I was 13. Eventually he told me that I had O+, so I would be eligible to give blood to this little girl. That made me both happy and scared. I bought some biscuits and water to prepare me for releasing some of the red life-giving liquid inside of me. After that, I sat in this old leather chair and awaited my doom. The same intern came in and set a tourniquet on my left upper arm with a latex glove. He gave me a little green plastic ball to squeeze for a few minutes until he came back with a needle. That needle finished me. Right when he put it in I started sweating. For those of you who know how much I hate needles, that shouldn’t surprise you. The intern set the pint-sized bag on a glass scale on the ground and left me to die. Elder Adokou was filming the whole thing and laughing as I felt what is probably akin to a dementor’s kiss. The intern came in occasionally to squish my blood around in the bag. After what felt like a length of time equal to Enos’s prayer, the bag was full. Immediately when the guy pulled the needle out, I almost blacked out. For the next few minutes, I felt like someone who comes out of the dental surgeon’s office high on nitrous oxide after getting wisdom teeth pulled. Elder Adokou, of course, only laughed more as I talked and talked. Eventually, I recovered enough to write a card to the family wherein I told them that my blood may have saved Isatu’s life today, but the blood of Christ has saved her from death with absolute permanence. We should keep Him in mind at all times, especially this Christmas season. Thank God and Christ, not me.

Once I got my strength back, we went around visiting everyone we could to see to find out what people’s holiday plans were and share a message that would remind them of the true meaning of CHRISTmas. Several people, member and nonmember alike, invited us over for Christmas.

This day was a wonderful reminder of the good that can come from a focus on Christ. If my life weren’t focused on Christ, I wouldn’t be in this country and that little girl likely would have died since there is no blood bank here. In fact, a month or so ago, the Church organized what I think was the first-ever blood drive in Freetown where about 250 people donated. I am grateful for that act of service I was able to perform despite the horror story that accompanies it. I’ll recover. She wouldn’t have.


The big Bo-Kenema missionary party was a blast. I made sure to look my absolute best for the shenanigans that would go down today. First on the list was our combined zone conference. Kenema was super late, so President Clawson stalled with some Bo-specific business like district reorganization news and bank cards. GTBank has some serious issues, but they are the only bank with the infrastructure our mission needs. We’ve had problems with them since I came to this mission and only now are they being resolved. Everyone now has a bank card (except maybe my companion because his got stapled through the magnetic strip), but Bo still doesn’t have a (working) ATM. Good news is that everything is in place on our side. The Lord sends rain when the fields are prepared, right? The holidays Monday and Tuesday aren’t going to help things though.

ANYWAYS, enough about banks. Let’s get to the good stuff. President Clawson gave a truly inspired sermon on giving it all to the Lord. He used what has recently become one of my favorite terms: “Leave it all on the altar.” It reminded me of Abraham’s obedience when he was told to sacrifice Isaac, his dearly beloved son. No questions asked. No complaints voiced. No hesitation shown. Just obedience to his God. I asked myself, why can’t I do that? What is stopping me from giving it all? I found plenty of external reasons I could reasonably push some blame upon, but that’s not really where my mission president was going with this. What am I to change about myself so that I can say it is all on the altar? That’s not a one-time question. Rather, it is intertwined with something else President Clawson talked about. Divine Discontent. Be happy with your progress, but never say you have done enough. Never stop improving. He also said that we should look at trials as an opportunity to improve and summed it up by saying that even a good action may be bad if it is not the Father’s will. Times like this are why I love my mission president so much.

Party time. First was the performances. Sister Clawson prepared a program for us with elders reciting prophecies of Christ’s birth. We also watched some church videos including the #LIGHTTHEWORLD video I had previously not seen. The Kenema missionaries then wowed us with a comedy-centered nativity story. Unfortunately, President Clawson pulled me out right as it began, so I missed most of it. Our interview was really good though! He gave me a lot of advice with waking up on time (which is still a struggle for me), dealing with companionship issues, and facing my personal problems. It took up a lot of the time allotted to performances. When I got back, the Bo East district was just finishing an altered version of “The 12 Days of Christmas” called “The 12 Weeks of Training.” I couldn’t stop laughing it was so funny! Then an elder got up to sing a solo of “Silent Night” that turned out better than he probably thought. All in all, the performances were awesome.

FOOD. Mashed potatoes, pasta, chicken, and rice. It was nothing unexpected but it was a lot and it was good. I ate until I couldn’t anymore. Dessert showed up after I had stuffed myself and I found a way to fit more in my body. How could I refuse the one-time offer of brownies, cookies, fudge, and rice krispy treats? I couldn’t stand up after eating all that, so I was thankful for Ephraim’s Rescue as a time to digest.

At the end of the party, Sister Clawson gave each companionship a Liahona and a much-coveted jar of Nutella. Every missionary got a Christmas card from the first presidency with a picture of Mary holding baby Jesus on the front. I put that next to the cool 3D paper nativity my parents sent me. I love Christmas.


All I could think about today was seeing my beautiful family. I was happy from the moment I woke up. When the time finally came, I flew to the Sherwoods’ apartment. I was not a second late. Google Hangouts worked great! Only a few times did the video freeze or the sound cut out. And we got to talk for a whole hour instead of just 30 minutes because the Sherwoods thought our conversation was really entertaining. Man, I loved seeing my family face to face (kind of). I am so thankful for modern technology and the miracle of a relatively uninterrupted Internet connection. I know many other missionaries didn’t have that kind of luck.


We went to a baptism in our district today. One lady had to be baptized like 6 times because she would not go all the way under the water. Finally, Elder Wood had to perform a “holy drowning” where he forced her under the water. It was quite a sight. The other 7 candidates had no problem.

Batiama branch had an end-of-year activity and they invited Elder Adokou and me. We brought a less-active member with us to enjoy food and some church-made movies like The Restoration and Legacy. We all had a good time. Us missionaries got up to sing “Joy to the World” and it didn’t turn out all that bad.

Oh yeah, transfer news came too! No companionship change for me. However, Bo was split into two zones and another district created. Elder Ochiogu, one of my TC’s, is coming to be Elder Biney’s companion and our new DL. (Elder Biney has been in a trio companionship with me and Adoku the past few weeks.) This should be a fun six weeks!


Christmas in Africa wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was pretty great. In short it went like this. Food. Church. Blessing. Food. Party. Food. Party. Food. Rest. Food. Blessing. Food. Sleep. I ate almost as many meals as a hobbit. I was so happy. I yelled “MERRY CHRISTMAS” to everyone I passed by. I got weird looks and smiles alike. To seal the deal, I carried my cherished Mountain Dew bottle around with me that I found at the supermarket. I saved that for a special day such as this.

First on the list was opening my package. It wasn’t big but that’s not what I cared about. I was just happy I had a family that could send me stuff! Besides, I got everything I wanted in there. Books. Food. Pens. Deodorant. I was missing one cliche gift though: socks. However, I think if I got that I would have gotten a little homesick. My parents were kind enough to put some things in for my companion as well. He loved what he got.

I tried to cook crepes in the morning. I was stupid and didn’t make the batter the night before, so prep took too long and I could only make three: one for each of us. They turned out surprisingly well for my first go at it. Elder Biney came with us to Bo Branch because no branch missionary came that morning. It was a good service. Sis. Kainessie, a Returned Missionary in the branch, asked us for a blessing, so of course we obliged. Sis. Musa gave us a container of fried rice to start off our day of overeating. That was our pre-party meal.

President Turay, the first district president in Bo, invited all the missionaries to his house to eat and have fun. Everyone made it! We ate fried rice, chicken, pepper soup, pork, yam, and french fries. It was fantastic. We all thanked pres for his very generous hospitality.

We went to a branch member next who has four investigators living around her. She was having a party and invited us and the investigators. It was a Christmas/birthday celebration for her niece. Rice and potato leaf plasas this time, my companion’s favorite! All of this tired us out so we brought our spoils back to the apartment and rested shortly.

We went to the Hindowa household when we finished resting. They had yam and pork with some super good onion and pepper sauce waiting for us. As we were eating and talking, this small parade of women came by yelling and dancing. I thought it was a Christmas thing, but apparently it was for female circumcision. Interesting…

Someone from Batiama called for another blessing, so the trio went up there. It was a small child who had just started crying and vomiting after church. She did not look good at all. We administered to her and went to our final stop: the Musa residence.

We visited two investigators and the family we love so much. They fed us cassava leaf plasas and rice. As they were cooking it, and I’m not sure if this was just my nose playing tricks on me, it definitely smelled like Jamba Juice. I’m glad I still know what Jamba Juice smells like. One of those investigators, Fudea, wanted us to come back tomorrow so she can cook something for us. Elder Adokou wanted atcheke, an Ivory Coast dish, and I wanted aloko, which is just a local term for fried plantain. She obliged with zero hesitation. We were excited!


We saw another circumcision parade today when we went to see Fudea. I wonder how many of those I will see in my time here. She had us help her cook, which was no problem at all. She had so much for us. We filled two 13×9 tins, one for each of us. Fish, lettuce, tomato, spaghetti, dried garri, ketchup, mayonnaise, and peppe. That’s probably a full day of food! Eventually she told us to stop thanking her. I seriously did not expect that level of generosity from a nonmember. Wow.

Today and tomorrow are holidays, so the bank and Internet cafés are closed (hence this letter two days late). That makes emailing and getting subsistence a little hard. No, that makes it impossible. The ATM quickly ran out of money and would not be refilled until Wednesday.

Coming back today, Elder Adokou was not doing well at all. He was very weak and eventually he started vomiting. His temperature ran 101.8. This meant alert Sister Clawson. Elder Biney I gave him a blessing and did what she recommended until morning when the Sherwoods could take us all to the hospital.


The Sherwoods picked us up around 10. When we got to the hospital, Dr. Young saw us immediately. We discussed Elder Adokou’s symptoms and he said that malaria was the likely culprit. He directed us to get a blood test. It would be done at 3, so we left and came back for that. However, Dr. Young had left in that time, so we didn’t know what to do. I had the idea of using Sis. Musa, the district president’s wife, who works as a nurse at the hospital. She was happy to help. She told us what medication to buy and even helped us with the injections and IV at her house. Now, this is pretty illegal in the US and would probably end a nurse’s career, but here in Salone it’s no big deal apparently. We sat around at the Musa residence for a couple hours as the medicine did its job. It was much more comfortable than the last time I stayed with someone who had malaria. We will be going back there tomorrow for more medicine. In the meantime, Adokou has a needle stuck in his hand.

After his wake-up call with a serious illness born of mosquitoes, Elder Adokou put up his net to cover him as he sleeps. At one point in the night I heard him yell “NEVER” and he ripped off his sheet and started swinging it around inside his net. I was very confused so I asked him what he was asking about. He said “I heard them singing. It will never happen again. They’re not serious at all.” At first I assumed the malaria had gotten to his head and had lost it, but eventually I realized he was talking about the mosquitoes. I laughed until my stomach hurt.

I’ll share one thought I had while thinking about how to solve problems in my companionship. I won’t go into details on that because it’s irrelevant to understanding this principle. I’ll ask a few questions first. When you strip away all the distractions and superficial mediums of entertainment and are left with what you had when you came into this world, can you honestly say that you are happy? That you feel fulfilled? That you have a purpose? I have observed that so many people in this world are struggling because their attention is focused in the wrong place. In fact, I think it is safe to assume that if everyone focused on what was truly important, there would be no sorrow in the world. 70,000 or so young men and women like myself are all around the world teaching people how to focus their lives on the only worthwhile things in this life. Member or nonmember, you can focus better on things that last. The Book of Mormon teaches that “[God] inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” Prophet or recent convert, we can all focus more on the things that really matter. God gives us a wonderful promise if we do so in Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” I know that as we keep our focus on Christ, we will be able to find a level of peace and joy we have not before known. I am a living witness of this. I love my God, I love His Son Jesus Christ, I love my family, I love this Gospel, and I love this work. Have a wonderful week everyone!


Elder Brimhall


[Ethan’s mom sent him a bunch of questions before he “skyped” with his family for Christmas. He was able to answer most of them in greater detail than written below, but he sent these notes after the call that he had typed up beforehand.]

When did I last laugh with my companion? On Monday, my comp went to barb his hair (their expression for getting a haircut) from this guy with one eye. He wasn’t happy with how it turned out and I jokingly told him “well, you kinda asked for that since you got a haircut from a guy who only has one eye.” We laughed pretty hard. That night, Elder Adokou wanted to make his hair more black, so he started rubbing black shoe polish in it. I couldn’t stop laughing. He’s a crazy guy.

What makes me laugh? People make me laugh. When I see a little girl squat down in the middle of the road and pee or a little boy just drop his pants and unleash a waterfall on some heap of trash. And sometimes Elder Adokou just breaks out into laughter and that also makes me laugh. Basically urination and weird spasms of the diaphragm. Sometimes when we’re teaching people will say something funny. One time, I asked an investigator what the word Salvation meant and she gave me the meaning of Restoration that we had discussed the day previous. Little things like that.

How do I stay happy? I keep an eternal perspective and find joy in the small things. Seems kinda opposite but it works out. I just remember D&C 58:3-4 “Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand.” I love the people as much as I can.

Am I used to humidity? Yeah. At this point it’s like I don’t know anything else. However, with Amatan, seasonal wind, it gets a little dry. Everyone is freaking out cause their skin will shrivel and their lips will crack and I’m just patiently waiting for a bit of home to return to me.

Do I miss rainy season? Yeah! It’s so dusty now that I have to wash after just one day. It’s killer on my fingers. It’s like there’s a cloud of smog over the city, but it’s dust.

President is really stressing exact obedience. However, that doesn’t work when missionaries don’t think they’re doing anything wrong… (my companions)

I love that my mission parents are so loving and supportive. The words of encouragement I have received from both of them has gone miles to helping me become a better missionary and human in general.

Last miracle? Well, I have those like every day, but one that was a pretty big one was my companion’s turnaround on Sunday proselyting this past week. After going out, he said “You know, I am really happy. I was glad we went out today.” Yes! This was an answer to weeks of prayer.

What do I love about my companion? I love it that he laughs all the time. He keeps things upbeat when he is in a good mood. The fun we have together is mostly walking to and from appointments. I don’t like to do much other than study or proselyte which clashes a bit with his likes, but we find ways to laugh about anything really.

Most of the Africans work really hard, but many have a problem with obedience. I have a lot of theories as to why, and each person probably falls under one or more of those theories. Lack of gospel understanding, bad parenting, hard-heartedness, and not taking things seriously are the big ones.

I think the Africans love me because I make an effort to love them. I have fun and laugh with them just the same as I do with my white guys. Kiyah has said that I can’t hide anything because of my eyes. Maybe, despite my attitude of obedience that sometimes leads to problems, they see that I love them and I want them to be happy. It all boils down to love. That’s what fosters true happiness.

Inside jokes? Not really. Our mission isn’t super tight, probably due to the fact that we have so few activities.

Mission theme? I don’t think we have one. Maybe it’s “start right, stay right”? That’s one of our recitations, along with D&C 4, the missionaey purpose, and the Standard of Truth.

My clothes are fine, although they are getting less and less white, especially with this dust. And I’m getting lazier with washing since I have to do so much every week. I’ll definitely need new garments in the spring, but give me mesh ones. My dri-lux ones are just too hard to wash. I wear my keen boots the most. My black ones slip on gravel hills too much and I’ve nearly died like 50 times.

My feet and my toe are okay. Ingrown toenail has ceased to be a problem somehow. Probably a miracle accomplished by your prayers.

I came in to an area book with absolutely nothing in it. Then I found the 5 inch tall stack of old records from pre-Ebola. I haven’t even dared to touch that intimidating stack of cobwebs. We get enough referrals as-is.

I have kept pretty up to date with the area book, but recently I’ve been a little behind. I actually have maps in there and the boundaries are clear. I am confident that if I leave, someone else will be able to pick up right where I left off.

My favorite meal is ground nut soup and rice. I haven’t learned how to cook that yet, so I cook a lot of spaghetti. I cook rice and pay members to cook some sauce for me. It works out pretty well. I have mapped out the places that give FM’s (free meals), and we visit one like every day.

Street vendors consist of people selling frozen packs of ice cream in a cooler on top of a baby stroller, questionable meat, and fried cake balls. I’ve had it all and it’s good. I do love buying a bunch of bananas and eating them on the road. They’re probably a third the size of your bananas. Fried plantain is great too if you can find it.

We don’t really have p-day activities. Football has ceased after missionaries got mad over penalties and stuff. People just stopped going and it died out. So, my favorite thing is emailing you guys.

There are never any organized service opportunities. The only things I see that would benefit people is washing clothes or cooking. That’s all people do here. Sometimes a car dies and I try to help out. However, I did give blood on Tuesday for a little girl basically on her deathbed. We gave her a card to go along.

Since everyone left for holiday, we have one truly progressing investigator. His name is James Bangolie. He was a pastor for another church that we stole. He is very educated. In fact, he served a mission for that church. He asks us so many questions and wants to be baptized really bad. We’re just waiting on him to get a spiritual witness about the Book of Mormon. We’re working hard on Agness (the Jehovah’s Witnesses member) and the Taylor family (Mohamed, Lloyd, and Maryanne). They just aren’t consistent with their commitments so they’re technically not progressing.

We have about 100 people attend church each Sunday and 600 people are in the records. Many of those people are dead or have moved away, but at least 100 are less active. The last branch president was released because of embezzlement and that prompted many others to stop attending church. I came in right as the new president was called. It’s been downhill from there despite my efforts. It’s a waste of time to try and find them without members, so we just stick with our investigators unless an opportunity arises for us to meet with a less-active member.

District reorganization has taken its toll. Many strong members were taken from our branch and assigned district positions, and that has left our branch essentially without leadership. It took some digging on our president’s part to get it reorganized. The north missionaries just met with the new Presidency on Tuesday, so that’s a sign of things looking up!

Favorite smell: potato leaf plasas cooking in a pot. Least favorite smell: walking through the empty market on Sunday when waste management is doing their thing. Nasty.

I do laundry every Monday and clean my sheets every transfer (6 weeks).

Music in church? I just helped with music that one time. Power is so infrequent that we can’t rely on the keyboard at all. We don’t even have a mic. I help by singing loudly in the back.

Local sayings? I don’t know if there are any. Maybe “tell God tenki” which is like a save-all phrase when you want to say something is pleasant. How are you? How was the graduation ceremony? How was your Sunday? Tell God tenki.

Mende is straight tribal. No relationship whatsoever to English. Krio is actually much easier. I haven’t had much luck with the gift of tongues though. I can understand 80% of what people say if they just speak plain Krio, but I still can’t speak it myself at all. I have phrases and words, but fluency is not even remotely close.

Bo isn’t much of a change. Things are less convenient. More poverty. Less noise. But I’m still preaching the gospel. I have enjoyed it here much more than in Waterloo. That place is regarded as the penal colony of Sierra Leone apparently. Lots of criminals. Very dirty. I just enjoy the people and quiet a lot more. It’s easier to teach.

I know of four elders going to BYU: Elder Grant, Elder Hanson (my ZL), Elder Curriden (who was in B9, the neighboring hall, when I was there), and Elder Evans (who was on the third floor of my building but in another ward; we met up one time). I think Kade Kochevar had plans to transfer from LDSBC.

I haven’t really had any scary experiences yet, but that wasn’t fear in the way you’re asking. I guess that’s protection in and of itself huh? Nothing scary to report. Maybe that’ll change by Mother’s day…

The most common jobs are as follows, in no particular order: barber, teacher, tele center owner (charging, phone credit), and market merchant. Most people have their job and also sell food. Pretty much everyone sells something, be it fried cake balls or bitter leaf drink (this purple drink made from boiling leaves and adding a bunch of sugar–super good).

I can’t express in words how much my testimony has grown. I just understand. Do you know what I mean? Things just make more sense. My perspective has softened. I have a lot more confidence knowing that I have God supporting me in my actions. Do you remember that text I sent you Mom? “I feel like I’m beginning to see my potential you have told me about all my life.” Not only do I see my own potential, but the potential of other people. It’s a beautiful thing. The Atonement has strengthened me by making it possible for me to love the way Christ loved. That’s what makes missionary work work.

Hey Mom, I love it that you have been working with the missionaries. That’s wonderful! Alex, you should be doing the same thing if possible. Study the scriptures aside from seminary assignments, especially the Book of Mormon. Look for people at school and work, sports programs, and neighbors. Refer them to the missionaries! Seriously! Don’t be afraid to do it. Share with those people how happy it makes us as a family and that you want them to have the same happiness. Just tell them to give it a shot! If you care about them, you’ll share with them something that can make them eternally happy. Sorry for the guilt trip, but it’s true. And one more thing: home and visiting teaching. That’s missionary work assigned to members specifically. I’m confident in saying that a big reason we have so many less-active members and such little understanding of the gospel here is because of a total lack of home teaching. Caleb, you’re not exempt from all this. A mission isn’t too far away from you. Trust me. I remember when I was in 8th grade and I thought high school graduation was so far away. It’s not. Prepare yourself with daily prayer and scripture study. And home teach with dad. You guys are companions, right? One of my biggest regrets is not home teaching more often as an Aaronic Priesthood holder. Remember Shia Labouff? JUST DO IT!

What are you most looking forward to with your new job? How are things looking with Azul? Tell me something from your mission that you think would help me right now. Any gospel insights?

How is your job? Have you adjusted to your new responsibilities? Is it hard to balance that and home life? Is the package system a lot of work? Do you plan on doing it after I leave? Magnetic name tag?

How is the dating scene? Viola going okay? Junior year good? Given any thought to colleges or does that still seem so far away? Learning any more instruments? I’d love to do some piano/guitar stuff with you when I get back. Tell me about all these parties you’ve been going to. Who are your best friends?

How is being top of your class? Is orchestra still fun? Who do you usually hang out with? Are you excited for high school? Are you still planning on Coronado? If so, do you think it’ll be fun with Alex?

Alex and Caleb:
Volleyball? Performances together?

How was your birthday? Do you miss Deacon? How is lacrosse? How did you decide to start that? Is football still your favorite sport? Who is your best friend? What is your favorite thing in school right now? You know, you write as well as a lot of the missionaries here. You’re a smart kid.

2017 Predictions (a Brimhall family tradition every new year):

Have 40 baptisms
Become District Leader and Zone Leader
Train 2 missionaries
Serve with an American
Serve in Makeni and Freetown
Study whole triple combination
See that my mission has literally given me a few hairs on my chest