From: Ethan Cade Brimhall [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, August 21, 2017 6:24 AM
First of all, rest assured that no missionaries were hurt in the recent mudslides here. In Freetown last week, upwards of 400 people were killed in a massive mudslide, and in a village east of Kenema, about 200 more were killed from the same thing a couple days ago. All people are saying is “at least it’s not as bad as Ebola.” Our district clerk lost twelve members of his family in Freetown because of this disaster, so please keep him and the rest of this country in your prayers. While I am over 300 km away from the affected area, I do have that same terrain, but we did not get the kind of insane rain that Freetown did, nor are our hills as tall or deforested as the Peninsula Mountains are.
First, there is how I thought I would get out of my motivational rut and then there is how I actually got out. Turns out an exchange in Kpayama is how the Lord intended I forget myself and go to work… again.
Well, first of all, I was asked by the Corbaley’s (senior missionary couple) to take an elder to the hospital this morning since they are not here and I know that place inside and out after my many adventures there. I could write a thesis paper on all the things that went wrong with that visit, but I’ll just summarize by saying Airtel (cell phone company) cheated me and overworked doctors suck at keeping promises. We didn’t see the doctor, so I took some time while there to check up on Kadiatu’s child, Festus. Yes, he’s still there. No, he’s not better. The doctors are sucking Kadiatu dry prescribing medicine after medicine for him. With absolutely zero professional experience, I think I can safely assume that Festus has pneumonia by his symptoms alone, yet the doctors are prescribing Malaria (kinda dumb when he’s coming off a liver issue) and Typhoid medicine. Kadiatu is really, really tired of everything. We talked for a good while. I don’t think many people visit her and she’s trapped there monitoring Festus. She really didn’t want us to leave. All of you in the States should be incredibly grateful for the comparatively stellar health care system you have that makes this sort of situation the exception rather than the rule.
After I got back from the hospital, Elder Eduok and I rocked Kpayama. Our first visit was to Fatmata whom we had discussed in district meeting as having difficulty with a couple crucial commandments. Inspiration flowed as we taught, and my exchange companion said there was a marked difference in how she responded to the lesson as compared to last time. Scriptures we hadn’t thought of before and new ways to explain them came to mind. That was a truly revelatory experience.
We next went to see Antony, a new investigator they contacted last week. He is the type of investigator that says he understands and agrees with everything when he really has no clue what you’re talking about or totally disagrees with it. The type I get tired of real fast. It hit me mid-lesson that I wasn’t thinking of him in a very loving way, and I owed it to him to give him respect as a child of God and especially because he was incredibly gracious to us. I also owed it to God, particularly after the spectacular display of model teaching He allowed us to perform just a few minutes prior. When I did change my attitude, the whole lesson changed. I mean, I definitely would not call it one of my favorite lessons, but I’m sure the guy could tell that I was trying my best to explain church organization and the great apostasy in terms he could fully understand rather than just going through the motions to get through the next thirty minutes. Teach people, not lessons.
Right as we got up to leave, it started to rain and didn’t really stop for the rest of our day – 6 good hours of wetness. Most of the next few hours was spent bouncing appointments and subsequently contacting new people. As we were passing by one house near the end of this period, I looked over at it’s occupants — two older men — and felt a quiet nudge to go and talk to them. I brushed it off because I wasn’t in the mood to contact in what would likely be deep Krio. It started to rain quite a bit harder in that instant as if God were telling me, “No, dude. I told you to talk to them. If you don’t want to do it dry, I’ll make you do it wet.” I told Elder Eduok who related back that he had felt the same prompting today and once a few days ago as well. So, to avoid getting completely soaked by the rain and wrath of God, we took shelter in their veranda. As I guessed, we did contact in Krio. On the outside, it looks like neither of them have any real interest in the gospel. I probably won’t come to know what it is, but God in His wisdom has some great plan in store for them or some situation down the road involving them after literally moving heaven (rain) and Earth (us) to get the gospel to them.
Our last teaching appointment was with Sis. Hannah, the non-member mother of a returned missionary. She has been taught for multiple years by missionaries but does not want to let go of her current church. She’s not rudely obstinate about it; so successive missionaries feel like they’re the ones who will finally bring her to the waters of baptism because “now she’s ready to accept it.” I say that because that’s exactly what I was thinking. We talked about the nature of the dual principles of faith and repentance. Throughout our visit, this truly intelligent woman asked some of the most inspired questions yet uttered from the mouth of an investigator in my presence. Elder Eduok and I were again blessed with the inspiration needed to respond to her questions.
One of the things that got me down last week was remembering, and to some extent re-experiencing, the crushed expectation of a faith-filled populace to teach. I’ve come to see my area and branch as one big vat of faithlessness. There’s some degree of truth to that statement to be sure, but not even close to the extent of my own embittered apprehension. One branch missionary, Sis. Zainab, was an absolute refutation of that false perception. The Kpayama elders usually have her help with teaching Tuesdays and Fridays from twelve to whenever she has to leave. Today she did not call as she usually does to notify Elder Eduok that she was at the rendezvous location. So he never thought to go there. We were passing by there on our way to see if another person was home and saw her. Lo and behold, six hours later she’s still there! Elder Eduok immediately felt bad, and I did too as I learned the situation. We decided to accompany her on the very long journey back to her house. It is several miles from her home to the chapel, which she often walks to on Sunday — including that incredibly rainy Sunday where we had 4 people in church — and other days for activities.
MIRACLE TIME. Backstory first. You know those young men Elder Patrick, Elder Wolters, and I helped to move sand? All I was able to get from them were first names, Henritta (had no clue that was a school at the time), and Samai Town. Zainab lives in Samai Town as well but it’s incredibly massive, so I kinda took a shot in the dark when I asked if she knew where Henritta was. She said, “Yeah it’s right by my house.” What. So we took okadas to the neighborhood behind Henritta school in the rain asking for a few young men by first name and occupation alone. One man in the very first house we visited knew exactly where one of the boys lived, so we “straightway” went there. We met two women at the house. I said each of the names and one was a hit. Zainab had the wisdom to ask the mother of the house for a picture to make sure it was the right person. I was worried I wouldn’t remember faces, but the picture of this mother’s child was the very boy I had spent a little more time with than any other and thereby the one whose face I was most likely to remember. No need to explain what an incredible set of events that was.
Zainab told us that no full-time missionaries have been to her house since before Ebola, so we decided that the least we could do is escort her home and greet the family. It is deep in the bush, I’m telling you. All are members (an extreme rarity here, first of all to have a complete family, second of all to have each in the church), but the parents are too sick to leave the house even for church. We met two Kenema Central branch missionary members there, apparently a daughter and grandson in this family. Another Kpayama branch missionary lives there as part of that same family and joined us shortly after we arrived. They were all so, so, sooo happy to see us. It was hard to leave this blessed family, but we had a far journey and it was nearly dark. Zainab, the daughter from Central, and the other Kpayama branch missionary followed us to ensure we took the right way and didn’t get lost in the bush forever. Right as we got to the road, the sprinkling rain turned into a torrential downpour. We took cover, and after some few minutes Zainab said, “I’m sorry, this is my fault!” thinking that because she invited us to her house that we are stuck in the rain. Any one of you looking at a summary of events involving Zainab can conclude that absolutely nothing negative can in any way be attributed to her. In all honesty, if we had been diligent ourselves and met her at twelve, none of this would have happened (but we also probably would not have had the chance to look for those young men or see her family, so I don’t really feel guilty anymore). Eventually, the other Kpayama branch missionary was able to get a keke (covered motorized tricycle) for Elder Eduok, myself, and that Central daughter since she lives close to us (she’s married, so she has a new family house to go to).
Try to write off the events of this day as coincidence or conscience rather than Providence and I’ll see you committed to an asylum. I can draw out a myriad of specific lessons that God wanted me to internalize today, like the value of member missionary work, the necessity of love in teaching, the virtue of patience, the importance of heeding promptings, etc. God also addressed every single complaint that has been weighing me down for a while and culminated in last week’s “I give up” sort of attitude. To name a few: lack of spiritual promptings and challenging questions, faithless people, unresolvable concerns, and an indiscernible hand of God I believe is there but can’t at all see working. Every single one was shown to be a methodical tactic of Satan’s to make me miserable and then it was cast off as chaff as reality made plain the truth. I don’t think Moroni 7:15 has ever before had such sweet fulfillment in my life: “For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.” It was a clear answer to a direct prayer from myself and I assume a few of you as well. There are few times in life where our Father in Heaven makes it so clear that He is there. There are exponentially fewer times when He does it several times in one day.
Zone conference today! Sadly, we will not be going to Bo anymore. It’s too big of an expense and hassle to get us all down there, so I did not get to see Elder Kabosha again 🙁. On the bright side, it was an extremely instructive and edifying experience. I was asked to give the spiritual thought a couple of days ago and decided on the scripture from last week’s email (Doctrine & Covenants 90:24) as the basis. It turns out that scripture was pretty much a perfect summary of all that was taught and discussed in the meeting (of which I had no prior knowledge). Crazy how the Spirit works even with something so small as a spiritual thought in order to bring a zone conference into uniformity.
That’s not the only thing that was inspired. Over the past few weeks, I have felt a draw towards improving my studies in both quantity and quality and getting to know my companion in order to work better with him. These were the actual topics of instruction by the Zone Leaders and STL. Either I was prepared for this conference or it was prepared for me. Or quite probably both. Here are a few things I learned from the speakers and the Spirit:
- The “mysteries of God” in the scriptures refer to actually simple doctrines that the unenlightened world without the Holy Ghost cannot comprehend or appreciate
- The words of Christ have a similar but much more pronounced effect on the soul as water does to a parched desert traveler (John 4:14)
- Study the relationship of Christ to His Father in order to gain a greater understanding of what it means to be unified and how you can go about it (John 17:20-24)
- The virtue (utility) of the word of God is greater than all other things and is more powerful than the sword in changing lives (Alma 31:5; see also Hel. 6:37)
- Study the “simple but deep” doctrine contained in 2 Nephi 31 — the doctrine of Christ
- Don’t look beyond the mark in your studies (Jacob 4:14)
Many missionaries have a tendency to look for the mysteries of God in the theories and philosophies of men, or speculation with scriptural support. It’s nice to know about some more uncommon ideas, theories, and doctrines, but the truly valuable and edifying things that will quench your spiritual thirst come from the Standard Works and General Conference. As I was talking with Elder Correia after the meeting, he told me that he spent one week straight just studying faith and it was one of the most revelatory weeks of personal study he has ever had. That’s how to study.
Two other elders joined me up in the front of the room as Sister Clawson led the zone in singing happy birthday to the August babies (including yours truly). As a present from the mission, I got queso. It really wasn’t hard to make my choice between that and the other things available. Man, am I excited to make my own chips and dig into some fake cheese!
Last district meeting, we had planned a combined branch missionary training for our two branches. Today, we executed it. I instructed on specific branch missionary responsibilities and the broader vision of what a branch missionary should be using: Preach My Gospel and Handbook 2. After that, Elder Eduok moderated a Q&A for everyone present. It took about an hour and a half. The four of us full-time missionaries were totally satisfied about how it went. Hopefully, since people know their responsibilities better, they will work more effectively.
We’ve put off seeing our branch president for the past two days simply because our schedules did not allow it, but tonight we did. It turns out there is a brand new serious interpersonal issue between him and the second counselor. As we sat down with him and he let it all out, I originally didn’t have that much sympathy for either of them. However, I began to think about the stresses this man must go through. Remember, attitudes about most things, particularly power structure, are wildly different here either in degree, direction, or both. He has to fight a lot of things he shouldn’t have to in order to magnify his calling as branch president. As we were talking, I saw, for the first time ever, this big burly man shed two almost unnoticeable tears. I could do little but have compassion on him. I stopped viewing him as I had before and now saw him as an embattled president of a struggling branch who is just trying to do his best. He’s human. He’s got weaknesses. But God trusted him with stewardship over almost 200 of his elect children. There must be a reason for that.
We decided to do a little more investigation into the branch presidency issue to make sure we get all sides of the story before we offer assistance. Bro. Nagua, the ancient high councilman residing in our branch, shed a lot of light on the subject. He has been a member longer than I think anyone in Kenema. At least since the early ’90s. Hearing his wise perspective after long observation of life, the Church, and the parties involved in the argument was invaluable. Pa Nagua (what the branch affectionately calls him) also gave us other advice, thanked us for our help, and gave us a referral!
It has been a long time since we saw James because he has been helping his aging father farm in the village. He looked exhausted when we visited him today. He was working not only to help his father but also to earn money to take his college exam in Freetown next week. His little boy, Dadi, ran up and gave me a hug and a bunch of five-fingers, a fruit the family has cultivated trees of around their house. James wants to combine his family heritage with his prospective degree and go into agribusiness. I’m really excited for him. He invited us back tomorrow to look at his nursery of cashew trees, cacao, and other cool stuff. For the first time ever, I saw the outer shell of a cashew nut. They use the thing for cooking oil, brake pads, ink pen refills, and much more. The fruit itself is also supposedly delicious. Human ingenuity is an amazing thing.
Mmmm don’t really have much for today.
Today was the heavily anticipated annual all-Africa day of service! We had about 300 members from all over Kenema participate in renovating the blind school here. Honestly, I’m surprised so many people came because it’s so out of the way for pretty much everyone except those in Burma branch. It was an impressive sight. We repainted buildings, repaired roofing, built a water stand for filling containers, landscaped, and did other things that they needed. It was a pretty run-down place when we arrived, but Kenema members really put forth a lot of effort to beautify the compound. There was also a kid selling a fruit called litchi that I had never seen before. That’s the actual name, I checked. People here don’t have a special name for it. I also found out from another member there that Festus was indeed diagnosed with pneumonia yesterday, so I was right in Monday’s assumption.
I tried the experiment of making chips by cutting flat bread into triangles, brushing them with oil, and baking them for a couple of minutes. It turned out to be a pretty good substitute for dipping tortilla chips in the queso. If only I knew these few things about cooking like a year ago, I wouldn’t have starved for my first three transfers!
The rift in our branch presidency from Wednesday caused the second counselor to be released. It’s good because he is going on a mission soon and we don’t need contention in the leadership, but I worked with him the best out of the three members of the branch presidency. As of now, we just have a president and first counselor.
I taught elder’s quorum on home and family life. Somehow we got sidetracked to speculating what Satan’s family is. You’d be impressed at the kind of questions that come up in that class each week. Anyways, I got us back on track and we actually had a positive, repentance-oriented discussion. We talked about how we should treat our wives and children; stop complaining about the national government and start purifying our family government (since the home is where the strength of the nation is rooted); and focus on gospel teaching, particularly family home evening, so that every family member is a gospel scholar. I thoroughly enjoy teaching members. It’s so interactive!
We took our branch president and two branch missionaries along with us to visit a very sick less-active member. It turned out to be an inspired action because our BP knew the non-member husband very well. We contacted him, blessed the member, taught the children, and left feeling like we had done some good.
President Domawah left us to go take care of another sick mother; so the four of us remaining went to see James one last time before he leaves. He and Hawa were home, but so was a very animated pastor. We sat down and listened to his preaching, waiting for a teaching opportunity. Scriptural terms I could use to describe this presentation include “clothes-rending”, “breast-smiting”, baptism of oil, and lots and lots of AMEN. When he was done, we entroduced the topic of the Restoration. As we ate a nice little dinner provided by our wonderful investigators, the four of us shared Bible verses, history, revealed doctrine, logical belief, and our sincere testimonies. We commended him for his very apparent zeal to preach, but also let him know there is an order to things in God’s kingdom. The Holy Ghost testified strongly of the truth of what we spoke. After our discussion and meal, the pastor left, I said my goodbyes to James as he embarks on his journey to Freetown, and we scheduled a teaching appointment with Hawa. It was a good day.
Back at the apartment, I was the last one to prepare for bed, so it was my turn to switch off the generator. Seconds after I did that, national power came back. Things like that remind me there is a God in heaven!
There is something in 2 Nephi 4 in the Book of Mormon appropriately referred to as the “Psalm of Nephi.” In it, Nephi laments his sinfulness and human weaknesses and praises God for His mercy and long-suffering. I think I shared something from this around the time when I was finishing my training, but regardless of the time span, it is still as relevant as ever. In verses 26-28, Nephi says the following: “O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions? And why should I yield to sin, because of my flesh? Yea, why should I give way to temptations, that the evil one have place in my heart to destroy my peace and afflict my soul? Why am I angry because of mine enemy? Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.”
Nephi’s accurate summary of the telestial conditions of life reminds me that we will suffer many things in life, but we will suffer less if we do not give place in our hearts for the enemy of our souls. If we keep a bright and obedient attitude, nothing can take away our joy. Only when we slip into disobedience or pessimism can we lose the joy God is so willing to grant us. I am so thankful for a loving Father in Heaven who is not only willing, but anxious to bless us for no reason but that we are His children. I certainly did not deserve the incredible spiritual experiences I had this week, but I got them anyway simply because I am a child of God. I hope you all have a wonderful, blessing-filled week!
Excerpts from other letters:
Africans are very faithful people–sometimes to the point of non-committal. Example:
Me “Will you come to church?”
Them “By the grace of God.”
I’ve gotten to the point of naturally following it up with “God’s grace never leaves. He wants this for you. He has given you two legs. Will you use them to come to church on Sunday by your own grace?” Eventually they submit.
I have found peace regarding my branch. I’m receiving little revelations along the way to help my efforts. It’s wonderful!