Another great week has gone by here in Kenema, Sierra Leone, Africa. And as the name
of this post indicates, the fog is beginning to lift and we are getting our feet under us. There is still much for us to do and learn and integrate with, but it is beginning to feel more and more like home and we are beginning to feel a part of Kenema instead of feeling like visitors. With the rainy season beginning, we will get a couple of dry days and then it will rain each day for a bit and somewhere in there it will pour for a few hours. Such is the cycle we are in. We are learning when it rains, nearly everything stops. Since most people transport by either walking or “Okada’s” (motorcycle taxi), when it is raining, you will see people standing under just about anything that will protect them from getting wet. Wednesday night “mid-week service” activities are cancelled as a default as most people do not try to fight the rain.
Last Sunday as we were returning from the Dauda Town branch conference, we were stopped near the clock tower by a procession of brightly colored children, youth and adults. As best we could tell, it looked like a private school graduation as at the front of the processional were younger children decked out in gold graduation gowns. We are finding that these “processions” are fairly common as people use it as a way to advertise an event. In fact, the District here is planning an open house of the new District Center (aka stake center) in September and they are already planning a procession from near where we live up to the District Building.
On another note, Kenema seems to have a lot of dogs. They are usually pretty lethargic as nearly all are undernourished. They often lie by the side of the road or near buildings and as far as we can tell they don’t really belong to anyone.
Occasionally we will see a dog near a home with a bit more life, probably because he or she is loved and cared for. There are occasional cats, but the dogs outnumber them 10:1 easily.
This week we decided we needed a shower rod. One cannot be purchased so I went over to one of the carpenter shops (there are many) with a young single adult who lives close by and asked them to make me one. The place was pretty interesting. 100 years behind the western world in tools. They had no electricity and what tools they used were all hand tools. You can’t really see it very well
in this photo, but this man is actually shaping this part of a headboard with a broken piece of glass. It was amazing to watch. They really do nice work considering the tools, but then use nails with heads on them to hold everything together, and sometimes splitting the wood. On the right above you will see my finished shower rod. It is made of hardwood and quite heavy. I had it cut so that it would be just the right length to wedge in between the two walls. The shower curtain doesn’t slide very well on it, but it definitely works!
Tonight two of the branches got together and played a very competitive Football (aka Soccer) game. They were decked out in uniforms and everything. I have to say, it was pretty fun to watch. In case you are wondering, it was Burma vs. Hanga Road and Burma won 6-4.
Highlights of the Week
On Monday night we went to the Simbeck branch in hopes of meeting some Young Single Adults who were there for Family Home Evening. We were not disappointed. I was so proud of this group of young people who came together on their own, planned out a program and then executed the plan. There was no one there telling them what to do. Nearly all of the them had been members for about 5 years. There was one returned missionary among them. He was like a shining light. The power of the returned missionaries here is amazing. They will bring great leadership to the entire church in Sierra Leone in the coming years. Some already are.
On Tuesday night we made our way to Hanga Road branch to see if the choir was practicing for branch conference tomorrow. Again, we were not disappointed. We met a very talented choir director (Mary) and an assistant (Harry) who both love and
understand music. Harry is actually in the Burma Branch but comes over nearly every evening to sing with the Hanga Road choir. This choir is made up of youth and young single adults. They love to sing and it has been fun this week being a part of it (we attended 3 practices).
Perhaps our best highlight of the week came on Thursday when we went with two of the Sister Missionaries to visit 2 inactive young single adult brothers. Ibrahim (22) and John (18). Ibrahim was on the porch turning lye soap into powder so they could sell it to make money. He had a screen in a frame over a small box and he would grind the soap pieces into powder by rubbing it against the screen. When we came, they both stopped what they were doing, grabbed their Book of Mormons and sat down. One of the Sisters offered a prayer and then we started asking them questions about why they were not able to come to church. At the end of the day, the reasons were based on other things in life getting in the way. With their Book of Mormons in hand, I immediately knew what we needed to talk about. It was Lehi’s vision of the tree of life and what happened to those who merely tried to “cling” to the iron rod, vs those who “held fast” to it. We read and then discussed what we read. We bore testimony and they promised to start reading the Book of Mormon every single day. It was a special time and I immediately felt a kinship with these young men. After a closing prayer we made our way back to the car and I apologized to the sisters for taking over as I did, although I did feel compelled by the spirit to do just that. Sister Nkala replied, it was good, as they were going to talk to them about reading the Book of Mormon every day. The Lord had inspired both of us to have the same lesson and we had never even talked about it!
From there we still had some time, so we took the sisters to a woman and her two children that they have been teaching. We had a good discussion with them as well. What was most interesting was during the middle of that discussion, a 30 year-old man walked up and said that a light inside of him told him to come talk to us and find out who we were. He gave his phone number to Sister Nkala and she promised him we would come by when we finished. So that is what we did. The man’s name is Augustin, and he recently moved to Kenema to work with his uncle. He has a college degree in civil engineering and designs houses. He is one of the most spiritually sensitive men I have ever met. He wanted a Bible because he had left his at his home before coming, so I promised him I would get him one. We had an amazing short discussion with him and at the end he prayed the most sincere prayer. I was able to get a Bible on Friday and took it by to him. He was so grateful and said he was looking forward to coming to church on Sunday. In all of the 61 years of life, I have never had anyone come up and say to me what this man said about a light inside of him telling him to come talk to us. How I see the Lord’s hand in this great work!
On Friday we had zone conference and were able to meet the new medical couple
that just arrived in the mission. Ed and Ellie Moomey are from Star, Idaho and just delightful people. They will be such a strength to the mission and will help to talk some of the stress off of Sister Clawson when it comes to medical issues. Both the Moomey’s and the Clawson’s stayed with us Friday night, which was an extra special treat. Here is a picture with the Moomey’s and Elder Cornista, one of the assistant’s to the president. Elder Cornista is from Manila and so we have an immediate connection with him because of our time there.
This morning we attended the baptismal service for 5 new members of the church. What a great experience it was to witness their baptisms! There are very few people here in Sierra Leone who have ever been in the water completely submerged. It is a very scary thing. I was so impressed with these individuals, and especially the women who fought through their fears in order to make a baptismal covenant with God. In several cases they had to be baptized twice because their feet came up or their arm didn’t go under. It was such a wonderful experience after the baptism to have each one of them stand up and talk about their own testimony about the church, the Book of Mormon and the Spirit of the Lord which had touched their lives.
Yes, the fog is beginning to lift and we are able to see more clearly the work that the Lord has sent us here to do.