From hospital adventures to a six-person sacrament meeting

From: Ethan Cade Brimhall [mailto:ethan.brimhall@myldsmail.net]
Sent: Monday, August 7, 2017 6:11 AM

Tuesday

I went to a super white district leader training this morning. I kid you not, every district leader and zone leader in Kenema is white. I don’t think this has ever happened before in the history of the mission. Anyway, it was fun. I got a lot of insight as to how I can more effectively magnify my calling as a district leader despite being the most experienced in attendance. I think that’s the ultimate expression of a spiritual meeting — everyone learns a bunch of stuff whether you’re ancient or infant.

My companion, Elder Patrick needed me to guide him around the market to get ingredients for okra soup he wanted to make (both of which took an eternity). That means we really only had time for some hospital activities. First, we looked for a less-active woman, Kadiatu, and her ailing little boy. The father isn’t really in the picture, so she has been suffering for almost two weeks virtually alone as she watches Festus’s liver fail. We looked all around the pediatric ward and couldn’t find her or her child. We asked the registrar for the bed number but that precise room/bed combination did not exist. We found another potential bed, but it was empty. After about an hour of searching inside and out, we gave up. As we neared the exit of the hospital compound, we ran into Hawa, a convert I know very well from the Tarpeh-Frempong days of Kpayama branch. We related to her the issue, and since she does some work at the hospital, she determined to help us out. On our way, we ran into one of my long-lost investigators, Elizabeth! She is a nurse there, so she extra helped. Through some major searching, we were finally able to find Festus, but not Kadiatu. We determined to take care of another matter and come back later to see if Kadiatu had come back.

In the District Leader Training meeting, we discussed the importance of bringing service activity ideas to the zone leaders and I thought of one: how about we help the government hospital that’s currently in a state of serious disrepair? Hawa took us to the medical superintendent, Dr. Mesuba. He knows us missionaries very well since he is the guy we Kenemites go to for medical issues. We explained our desire to help the hospital and he emphatically suggested that we help clean the maternity and pediatric wards. I got some information down and told the Zone Leaders about it. Hopefully all goes well and we can do this in a few weeks.

We came back to the pediatric ward and Kadiatu was there. I think the best way to describe her appearance is “battle-worn.” As we sat and talked, she seemed as if she were about to cry when responding to me. It hit me there that many things, including planning, situations, and people, had been used today to show a struggling mother that her Father in Heaven loves her, and my companion and I were privileged to be the vehicle that brought that love. We tried to console her as she watches her baby boy suffer through cold sweat and pain. Festus had not yet received a blessing, so we went to a secluded place and gave him one. In hindsight, I feel pretty stupid for not offering to give Kadiatu a blessing too, but in my defense I did act on a prompting in our blessing on Festus to say some things about his mother as well. Although that’s pretty much all the proselyting work we did, I felt incredibly satisfied knowing that I acted as Christ would have. I was His smile, His voice, and His hands to a woman in desperate need.

Wednesday

The zone leaders, Elder Correia and Elder Wolters, went on splits with my district today. Elder Wolters came with us and Elder Correia went with the Kpayama elders. I had to wait for the facilities manager assigned to Kenema to come and repair a fan, so we left somewhat later than we intended. We were able to do a lot of good regardless!

We did a ton of walking all over our area which gave me time to catch up with my good friend Elder Wolters and get to know my new companion Elder Patrick despite our being in the Mission Training Center together. In my third transfer, my last in Waterloo, Elder Wolters came to be trained by Elder Hayford, one of my Training Companions, in the neighboring area. We would go to Freetown together every Monday and talk about BYU, sports, friends back home, stupid stuff we did, our struggles in the mission, and so on, and you can bet we did the same thing today. He was a great help in one of the hardest times I have had here. At the end of the day, he said that when I was in Waterloo, I looked like there was something inside me that had died. Those of you who were following my posts back then may have sensed something similar. He was happy to tell me that it now appears that is no longer the case. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Elder Patrick is a great guy. He reminds me a lot of one of my good friends back home, Croix. Loves everyone, unafraid to share what is on his mind, and full of energy. I’ve built a strong friendship already with someone else possessing those remarkable qualities, so I don’t expect any serious problems. Also, this guy really knows his scriptures. Interestingly, he came on his mission when he was 17. It’s very common here to serve a “brother mission” where you live like a missionary for some time while not yet set apart, to prepare you for the mission; but he went to the MTC and everything while still seventeen. He will serve for 29 months in Sierra Leone because of that. Even though he came at the same time as I did, he will leave four months later. That’s a huge contrast from what is regular among West African missionaries who typically come when they’re 24+.

Our first visit of the day was to our Relief Society president to prompt her to get started on a visiting teaching assignment list and offer our assistance in the project. We had a great lesson as the three of us missionaries testified of the paramount importance of that inspired program. Even if you’re not a full-time missionary, you can still be a fully-dedicated home or visiting teacher. Of the branches I have been a part of, there has been a clear difference between those that have organized retention programs like home and visiting teaching and those that do not. It’s night and day, and it all boils down to individual commitment. If everyone does their part, so many miracles happen because the Lord has so many tools to work with! Sister Cobinah promised to organize a meeting with her counselors and welcomed our help in creating that list. I’m hoping that the Relief Society can become the strength of Hangha Road branch.

I wanted to do some exploring of the area in which Sister Cobinah resides since its a pretty remote one, so we walked off into the bush to contact. We found some young men doing contract work for a construction manager. It was unusually hot and sunny for rainy season and they looked exasperated, so we assisted them for an hour or so in moving sand. Everyone carries stuff on their heads here, so we would shovel sand into huge pans and lift it up onto their heads to carry down to the construction site. They were a great group of guys who really appreciated our help. All seven of them reside in the same house in Kpayama, so we connected them to the elders there and went on our way. Immediately when we left, it started to rain. Why not while we were working??

Through the unrelenting rain, we ran to visit an investigator, Lillian, who has been running from us. We got the classic response from deception-poisoned children that she is not around but I just knew that she was. I said I knew she was there and that we would wait in the back. There is another house in the back and the whole time one young woman there was staring at me in a way that seriously freaked me out. Nothing morally clean could have been going through her mind, so I just focused on talking to the people making juice to sell. Eventually, we were let inside to meet with her. She’s a sweet girl who didn’t want to see us again simply because previous people asked her to pray too much the first time she came to church. We did our best to apologize for her bad experience and explain that the instructors meant no harm and were just excited to see a wonderful new person and wanted to hear a new voice talk to God. I think she got the message because her countenance definitely changed by the end of our discussion. She’s going to Freetown tomorrow for holiday, so we asked for her information to send to the missionaries there.

For about an hour, we waited in a covered shop for the now hurricane-level storm to subside. When it rains like that, telecommunications grinds to a halt and you get soaked in about two seconds without an umbrella, ten seconds with. We watched as a madman ran around yelling something unintelligible and bathed himself in the runoff of the tin roofs for about fifteen minutes.

After the hurricane came down to a shower, we picked up some plasas I had given a member money to cook for me to take home and then went to our last appointment with that talkative old man I spoke of last week. His two daughters, Mary and Martha (I seriously love this country), joined us, as well as Ruth who lives next door, one of our few progressing investigators. We attempted to discuss the nature of God and his relationship to us. I say attempted because Augustin derailed us by talking about prayer and spiritualism every five seconds. He’s half-blind and invalid, but I’m sure his ears work just fine. Hearing is not his problem, nor is English. He’s a hardcore spiritualist, so he doesn’t really believe in organized religion or “church” as an essential institution, neither an anthropomorphic God of whom we are literal spirit children. This lesson served as a reminder of the clear difference between those who humble themselves as little children and those who, as Jeremiah said, “obeyed not, neither inclined their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear, nor receive instruction.” We are not giving up on this man though. He’s not passing on into the spirit world without a seed being planted.

Upon our return to the apartment, Elder Correia told us that he and Elder Seri had been thrown from an okada as it tipped over following its failure to climb a steep hill. Luckily, neither of them were hurt too bad, so we had a good laugh about it.

Thursday

Bro Moses came with us today to assist us in finding two people who came to branch conference and that is what I will focus on. The first was Hawanatu. The only thing we talked about was a topic that we three had 99% certainty would at least be brought up. That is, Jesus Christ’s divine sonship. That is something vehemently denied by Muslims, of which religion she and her entire family going back generations are a part. It’s based around the idea that by having a Son, God is somehow lessened in glory. By some, that philosophy is explained based upon the assumption that Christ must have been conceived by some carnal act. For others, it is the reasoning of the Pharisees, that by being the Son of God, you make yourself blasphemously equal with God. I’m sure there are other theories, but those are the two I have encountered thus far. Those two objections are curiously the same exact ones many other Christians bring up to deny the doctrine of true heirship (Rom. 8:16-17 or the whole chapter), that is, to become like God and do what he does (the ultimate aim of our entire existence). I pose a question that I’m paraphrasing from Tad R. Callister: Is a God who is willing and capable of creating beings with the potential to become like Himself greater in power, knowledge, and love for His offspring (Acts 17:29) or lesser? Which God would more appropriately fit the divine attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence? In addition, what would make Heavenly Father the happiest and most glorified? Limiting His children’s progression or paving a way for them to worship Him in the way only a god can? I believe in a truly perfect God who is able to save and exalt to the uttermost through the infinite merits of His Son, provided I comply with Christ’s interposed law (Heb 7:25). Reason, scripture, and Spirit demand that I do.

The second person was Benson, a Catholic man who is the only Christian in his wholly Muslim family. This impressed me a lot because it shows he is willing to change for what he believes despite strong headwinds. The first question he asked us was another classic question: “do you believe in the doctrine of the Trinity? Because a lot of churches nowadays say they don’t.” That was a fun one to explain. After our first attempt, he totally agreed with us, which kind of concerned us because we basically said no in a long scriptural way. Elder Patrick and I looked at each other and our eyes asked the question, “did he understand what we just said?” So we decided to re-explain it in different ways two more times and he just agreed with all of it. I’m not sure he ever believed in the doctrine of the Trinity beforehand. It was nice to be able to talk in English the whole time without repeating myself in Krio. He is married and is a teacher at a few private schools, so we have a potential branch president here. Heaven knows this branch needs him.

As we were teaching our branch missionaries how to be branch missionaries, my companion showed off his planting skills on one of them. It’s the African equivalent of braiding. Don’t worry, I got a picture.

Hair planting

Friday

Usually weekly planning makes me want to sleep for the rest of the day. However, this time I really enjoyed it. I might sound like a greenie by saying this but it was fun to finally introduce all of my investigators to Elder Patrick in a planning session. The last weekly planning was centered on branch leadership, but this time I got to talk about the many, many investigators I have come to know over the past several months. Elder Patrick will be prepared to take over when I leave whether he realizes it or not.

Augustin is progressing. Elder Patrick and I determined that we would see him become humble today.  We started where we left off, on the nature of God, and finished the entire lesson of the Restoration. We would have to interrupt him occasionally as he drifted off on a tangent, but he was more determined to listen this time around. I can say it somewhat paid off for him because at the end he said something like this: “I know your church and doctrine are true but I’m just too old, sick, and tired to change. I’m not even able to go to service on Sunday.” Not if I can help it! We will find a way to bring this man and his daughters into the fold.

We went to see Hawanatu and Ruth and answer Ruth’s question concerning the necessity of re-baptism. Hawanatu, who had just come back from traveling, had the same question. All they had to do is read two scriptures (Luke 3:15-16 and Acts 19:1-6) and they were convinced. Elder Patrick, the master of scriptures, had like ten more prepared to back up our doctrinal claim, but they didn’t need it. They already believed in the doctrine of the church. They just wanted to know the answer. When the lesson ended, we had to go prepare for and teach institute at the chapel but these wonderful sisters asked us to stay and eat their food. We were on a schedule (as missionaries usually are) so we had to refuse, but they insisted that they feed us, so much so that they said they would bring it to the chapel when they were done cooking. That they did through distance, darkness, and rain. I was shocked and touched almost to tears when I saw them at the gates. Hawanatu and Ruth are such choice spirits.

I taught institute on priesthood keys and revelation. I think everyone learned a lot because I definitely did. One of my favorite things is discovering the context of the scriptures as they were originally spoken or written. As I was preparing for the lesson, I discovered that the discourse on revelation that the Savior gave in Matthew 16 took place under Mt. Hermon from which the river Jordan flows. That mountain is one of the tallest in Palestine and that river is one of three that gives life to cities and villages in the area. I bet you a million bucks that as Christ was teaching His disciples about revelation, he used the landscape to do it. Revelation pours out from Christ as the Jordan from Mt. Hermon, and a cease in revelation would be to our spirits as a dammed Jordan would be to livelihoods downstream. In Doctrine & Covenants 52:14 God says, “I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived.” Discovering evidences of an omniscient God never gets old. Also, everyone in attendance sang happy birthday to me a day in advance! I felt super loved 🙂

Branch choir has really helped me with my piano skills. I have gotten so much better in these few months of practice. I attribute that to the grace of God and to my mother who strongly encouraged me get to a pretty high level of performance before I sorta gave up my talent.

Saturday

There was a Face2Face event for youth with Elder and Sister Renlund broadcast live from the brand new Ghana MTC at 10am. Super exciting! Even though I’ve passed age 18, I wanted to go. We arrived a bit late to the district center, Nyandeyama, where the broadcast was supposedly being shown but nothing was set up. I asked the district tech guy there why it wasn’t ready and he said “I didn’t think people would come.” I asked him to set it up anyway because I wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to listen to an Apostle. Turns out he was right because the only people who showed up were a few missionaries. I enjoyed it but I wish that more people came.

My wonderful parents sent a birthday package that arrived to Kenema the very day I was there. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is. The Corbaley’s gave it to me at the broadcast. Also, the bank has not been working, so they also gave me subsistence all the way from Freetown to repay myself for the past two weeks. It will continue to not work, so the mission has some duct tape plan for Monday’s withdrawal so that we all don’t starve. Another great birthday present! Back to the package. I found inside a “fidget spinner” that I only heard about in my video chat with the fam on Mother’s day. I was grateful for that little piece of pop culture to remind me that my home is a place where something so small and seemingly useless can become the next hit product. It’s beautiful and I love it. Also inside was a rad Bob Ross T-shirt with the quote “No mistakes just happy accidents” and I immediately thought about my all-too-near future as a husband and parent where that could become a literally living reality. I’ll find a gospel application for that too because — missionary. I also got some sweet ties and a new tie clip, all of which were needed. I was getting tired last week of my current stock and my other clips look pretty worn. Then I found the prize: the traditional birthday letter from my mother that tells me how I’ve grown over the past year. I’m pretty sure I have the best family in the world. Thank you Mom and Dad!

We came back to the apartment from the broadcast to eat lunch and go back out. I successfully completed the first task but failed at the second. Intending to take a quick power nap, I instead accidentally fell asleep for three hours. It takes a special kind of tired to do that. We had plans, but I dreamt through them and my companion is too gentle to wake me, or maybe he just thought I should rest on my birthday. When I did finally wake up, we had to go straight to institute.

I instructed again on the topic of marriage and divorce from Matthew 19:1-12. It was something that our branch president brought up yesterday just before class and we didn’t really have time to dive into it. It’s heartbreaking how degenerate the world’s view of marriage has become. In Salone, it is surprisingly common for women to marry even younger than 16. It’s an unspoken custom for men and women to have several children before they actually decide to marry. Civil marriage is such a rarity that church authorities have had to pray over and the Lord has had to ratify recognition of traditional marriage which is essentially just where the families of the couple recognize that the two are married. No legal document, no paper to sign, nothing to tie you down but someone’s memory. People talk casually of divorce and single parents and abortion as if they are okay but they are not okay. God has set a standard and if everyone would go into marriage selflessly and willing, nay, desiring to change to be the best you you can be based on an unchanging moral and ethical code (like the Gospel of Jesus Christ), the divorce rate would drop from around half of marriages in America to less than 1%, guaranteed. It’s when people become more and more self-interested that a marriage begins to fall apart. It’s a mutual effort. God invited, the chances of marriage lasting until and even after death increase dramatically (temple marriage woohoo!).

I have been wanting to try monkey pepper soup for a while and I had voiced that to a few members who know how much I love trying new foods. Well, they came to institute and gave me a big thermos full of it as a birthday present. Only in Africa will you get monkey soup as a birthday present! There was even a cute little monkey hand in there. I shared it and the brownies I got in the package with my apartment and they all loved both. I like most other meats more than the monkey, which was not very tender, but I’d eat it again if given to me!

Happy Birthday to Me! Monkey Soup!
See the cute little monkey hand?

Sunday

It rained consistently last night and all day today, lasting even while I went to bed. As a result, I didn’t expect many to be at church. I was still shocked when the meeting started. There were four. Four members, plus us two to make six. We scrapped testimony meeting and had impromptu talks. Sacrament administration was interesting as you can probably imagine. My companion taught Sunday School and the branch president taught priesthood meeting. We were combined for all of it.

6-person sacrament meeting

We still don’t have umbrellas, so we stayed inside all day. I accomplished another impressive multiple-hour nap and helped Elder McCracken with some questions and struggles he had. That’s really it. Oh yeah, my companion wore a T-shirt to church and changed into his white that he had brought in a plastic bag so it wouldn’t get wet. He changed back to go into the rain again after service had ended. Strange day.

Shout-out to one of my best friends Elder Jones (now just Jerry) for having honorably served his two years in the North Carolina Raleigh mission! From our correspondence over the entire course of his mission, I know he is a changed man. He truly is a son of God, a man who desires with all of his heart to please God and help his fellow man. I encourage any and all single women reading this who are of the appropriate age and not on missions to give him a shot at the dating thing. I know he’s looking for prospects. He’s a handsome guy but too humble to tell you himself. Just hold off on the wedding for about 9 months — I have to be there!

Love,

Elder Brimhall

Excerpts from other letters…

The brand new Ghana MTC was just completed I think at the same time as the Provo additions and Elder and Sister Renlund used it for a Face2Face broadcast on Saturday.

Living in my apartment is: My companion, Elder Patrick from Akwa Ibom (pronounced uh-kwai-bum) in Nigeria. He is my Training Companion. We have Elder McCracken (from Idaho Falls) who is being trained by Elder Cayetano (from the Philippines). Elder Seri (from Ivory Coast) and Elder Eduok. I am still Senior Companion and District Leader. I do miss Elder Kabosha. Elder Patrick likes talking to Elder Eduok in their tribal language.