One of the things we’ve learned about living in a place where just surviving is an everyday reality, people tend to be very much “me” focused. This is especially evident in the impatience of the Okada (motorcycle taxi) drivers, the aggressiveness of the fruit and vegetable vendors outside of the small grocery store where we shop, and the boldness of strangers who frequently ask us for money so they can eat. (The common signal for that is bringing one’s hand to their mouth as if eating food). When money is involved, patience evaporates and it seems as if it is “every man for himself”. So it is with that context I want to tell you about “limegirl”.
We don’t know her name. She is about 13-14 years old and sold limes not far from our apartment during the summer school break. The price was 500 Leones for 4 limes, which equates to just over 1 cent per lime. Now these limes are not the big ones that we buy in the U.S., but rather small round limes, just larger than a key lime. I have found that they make excellent limeade which is quite a treat on a hot day. The first time I purchased limes from her I think I bought just 1 stack of four, paid the 500 Leones and went on our way. We used them to make some guacamole and I thought the flavor was good so the next week we bought another stack. Each time I would stop the truck along the road, walk across to where she had the limes on a mat on the ground and pick out the stack I wanted (some of the limes were yellow so I always looked for a stack with the dark green ones). We probably bought from her 3-4 times, enough so that when we drove past her “lime stand” we would wave at her and she would wave back. Once I discovered I could make limeade, I started buying multiple stacks. She always smiled when we came and it was obvious she enjoyed selling her limes to this white-faced foreigner. One day I went to buy 10 stacks. It takes about 25 limes to get one cup of juice, which when added to 2 liters of water and a cup of sugar makes a delicious drink. Her limes looked especially green that day and she had about 14 stacks laid out. Her English is limited, so I simply said “10” and stated pointing to the stacks. I had brought my own plastic bag to collect the limes, so I held the bag as she put handful after handful of limes into it. As she was doing this 5-6 children, who I later learned from LaDawn had been over to the truck begging from her, gathered and began making the hand to mouth signal that they wanted me to give them money so they could eat. I tried to ignore them because I knew if I gave them money, the next time they saw me there would be many, many more and it would never stop. Word travels extremely fast among the people about who might be handing out money! After she put the 10thstack into my bag she paused, looked at these children (I had the distinct impression they were strangers to her as well) and then, as if she had a brilliant idea, smiled and stooped down and put the remaining 4 stacks of limes in my bag. As she put the last stack into my bag, she pointed at me, then at the children and then made the hand to mouth signal. She wanted me to give them money to eat for the extra limes that she had given me. My heart immediately melted. She was in effect giving away her limes to feed these children. I knew in an instant that if I gave them money I was going to create a problem. And in another instant I knew what to do. I pulled out another 5000 Leon bill (about 60 cents) and before giving it to her, I shook my head no, pointed at her and then the children and made the hand to mouth sign. As I gave her the money I could see she understood. She could choose to give that money to them, but as far as the children knew, it came from her and not from me. This experience has stayed with me because it is a stark reminder that there is still goodness in people, even those that are in survival mode. It serves as evidence that “all things which are good cometh of God; …. behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, everything which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God
Thank you “lime girl” for teaching me again that no matter how desperate we may be, we have an obligation to find ways to serve, help and bless those around us.
One more similar example. I was walking near our apartment with a young single adult member of the church who was helping translate for me at the carpenter shop. As we were walking back to the apartment, a young girl stopped him and began speaking with him. They were speaking Krio so I could not tell what the conversation was. But soon I saw this young single adult, the only member of the church in his family, and he himself struggling to make his own way, pull a 2000 Leon bill from his pocket and give it to this 8-9 year-old girl. I figured this must be his little sister who had asked for a small amount of money. As the girl left, I asked the young man, “was that your sister”? He replied, “No, I do not know her. She said her auntie had sent her to the market to buy some food and she says she lost the money and was now afraid to go home because her auntie would beat her”. My heart again swelled within me. In what appeared to me as a “me” society, here was another example of generosity and kindness to a stranger. Perhaps she stopped him because he was walking with me and figured that he would have money because he was associated with me. But the young man did not look at me and ask me to help her. He did so without asking me for anything. How I love the goodness of this people!
It was not our most productive week. After being very busy the previous week, we had little planned. One of the reasons is because it was “district conference week”. That means everything was focused on preparations for the district conference we held this past weekend. No trainings, no presidency meetings, no branch council meetings.
Monday had been filled with transporting missionaries back and forth to Bo, rescuing the missionaries coming from Kailahun in a city about an hour outside of Kenema. They had hired a pickup truck to bring them to Kenema, but the truck kept overheating, so I finally went and picked them up in Segbwema and took them to Bo, where I picked up 3 Elders coming this way and brought them back. After finishing with the missionaries I stopped to pick up bread before coming home and as I was turning around an Okada driver slammed into the right front bumper. He was trying to squeeze between me and the side of the road and he didn’t quite make it. I stopped the truck, got out and thought I had surveyed the damage. I came around the back and didn’t really see anything on the front fender. A crowd began to gather and I couldn’t really tell what was happening. We were close to the police station but I was by myself and even though he hit me, I began to wonder whose side the crowd would take. About that time a tall gentleman who spoke pretty good English came up to me and said I needed to pay the driver some money for this to go away. I said, “but he hit me”. He man said, “Yes, I know, but to avoid trouble you should pay him”. I then asked him how much I should pay him and the man responded, 100,000 Le (about $12). I told him I didn’t have that much money to pay him and suggested 50,000 Le. He agreed and as soon as I gave the driver the 50k, he gave 10k back to the man who brokered the deal and the crowd were like wolves trying to get the driver to give them money. It was scary. I got back in the truck and came home. By the time I got home we had only a few minutes before leaving for family home evening with the young single adults in the Kenema (central) branch. We had a total of 10 young single adults, 2 missionaries (Elder Serano and Elder Gray), Br. Nyagua (District Councilman over YSA) and the two of us. We again spoke on the Book of Mormon and its power in our lives if we will read and study it every single day. There was a wonderful spirit there and afterwards we enjoyed sandwiches and a drink provided by Lucinda Kallon and we brought some cupcakes that LaDawn had made while I was shuffling missionaries. It was a wonderful evening. It was there that someone asked me what had happened to my truck. What I didn’t see before was that the whole right side of my front bumper was smashed in. And to think I paid 50k Le for the privilege! I felt robbed.
Tuesday and Wednesday were plumbing days. We have not had hot water in our kitchen sink for several weeks now because of two things. First the hot water was connected with a vinyl hose instead of a coiled metal hose. The result was that the vinyl hose burst from the hot water and the high pressure pump, spraying water everywhere. I eventually fixed that by buying the right hose and connecting it back together, only to find that a few days later the connecting hose broke. Finally, we just turned the hot water off altogether in that sink and began heating hot water on the stove to clean the dishes. I figured it might be a good time to get the plumber over and get it fixed once and for all. So I called Mohammed and he came right over. After pulling the sink apart, we went to the market to buy a replacement hose, but because it was the piece connected to the faucet it was not easy to find since it had a different type of connector. We went to the shop where we usually go and he said all he had was a new faucet with that hose. The faucet wouldn’t fit the sink, but the hose is what we needed, so I paid the $40 and we came home. Within minutes, he had the sink repaired. But now I had this nice faucet that I wanted to use in our bathroom. The sink there only had cold water even though there was a connection for the hot water. So I said, let’s put that new faucet into that sink. The problem was that we only had one hose, because we had used the other one on the kitchen sink. Mohammed said he would just have to go search to see if he could find a hose that would work. I was a bit skeptical because if it were possible to find that hose, why didn’t we do that for the kitchen sink instead of buying a complete faucet? Well he left and 15 minutes later came back with not one hose, but two! Pretty obvious he knew all along where to buy them. But alas, we were where we were, so he began to install the new faucet, only to find that the threads on the connection in the wall had been broken. The original plumber stuffed the pipe with a plastic bag and sealed it off and installed a single cold water faucet. No matter how hard Mohammed tried, he could not get the connection to work without the water leaking. He again left and went and got a new fitting and then proceeded to chip out the cement around the existing pipe, replace the fitting (I will spare you the details on that) and connect the hot water line. After two days and about 4 separate visits we now have a new faucet and hot water in our bathroom. Painful to get there, but grateful for the eventual success. Total cost of materials and labor? About $60.
On Thursday I went to Gomez’s repair shop. Gomez had been referred to us by a man I had met previously when I had the seal repaired on the back-right tire of the truck. We saw him one day while we were out walking and he came up to us and reintroduced himself. His name is John. He said that Gomez was the best for body repair and gave me street names that meant nothing to me. I thanked him and we were back to our walk. On Thursday I mentioned this to Charles, one of our guards, and turns out he knows him and agreed with John’s assessment that he was the best. He drew me a map as to where his shop was and I set off to find him. The experience with Gomez is one of the very best I have had here in Kenema with a vendor. From the time I arrived to the time I left, barely an hour passed. They gave me a chair to sit and and began the work. He removed the bumper and pounded it out to look better than when I had come in. The guy spoke very little English. Charles had given me his phone number on a slip of paper and told me to have Gomez call him. When I met Gomez he took the slip of paper without a word. I later found out he had called Charles and Charles asked him to do the very best job he could. Well, he did! I was amazed. When he was finished, he even washed the front of the truck himself so that it would look like new! When I asked how much he said 200,000 Le, which is about $25. I told him “No”. I think he was taken back. I then quickly added, I will pay you 300,000 Le because you did such a great job and did it quickly. He was happy, I was happy and Charles was happy that his friend did such a great job for us.
On Friday, we went to the Zone Council. This meeting is held monthly and conducted by the Zone Leaders. It was wonderful! The topics we discussed: 1) Understanding, living and teaching the Doctrine of Christ. 2) Teaching with the Spirit, 3) Using the Book of Mormon to teach 4) Becoming “Preach My Gospel” missionaries. Such valiant young men and young women. I am so proud of all of them.
Saturday was the first day of the district conference. Elder Richard Ahadje, an area Seventy presided at the meetings. The general meeting was held from 12:00 noon – 2 pm and the leadership session was held from 2:30 – 4:30pm. The messages of the Saturday
sessions of conference were: Building Zion in Kenema, Magnifying our Callings, and establishing the Ministering program. Elder Ahadje’s messages especially resonated with the saints here as he encouraged all of us to rise up and to be better than we now are. On Sunday, there were 47 men sustained to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood! What an impressive sign of growth and strength. It was wonderful to see these good men, stand one by one as each of their names were called. The messages of the Sunday conference focused on both secular and gospel education, the importance of work, the sacred institution of marriage, personal revelation and being men and women
of a “sound and perfect understanding”. ( Alma 17:2 and Moroni 48:17). He said we must accomplish the mind and will of God. He told us that when the Church activities in Ghana were curtailed by the Government there for 17 months, that he was serving as a branch president. Every Sunday for 17 months members would arise at 4 am on Sunday and walk 5 miles to a secluded forest where they were able to partake of the sacrament. On Dec 2, 1990 when the first meeting was held after the ban, there were 120% of the actual membership in attendance at the branch fast and testimony meeting. The ban had actually strengthened the church as the members truly ministered to each other during this time. Families and friends were drawn to the goodness of the people and the church because of the ministering that was occurring.
After the Sunday Session I was visiting with a few members when Solomon Kongoley, the first counselor in the Burma branch presidency asked me to come and meet some investigators. He indicated that they had come from an outlying town to the conference. A member had moved there and was sharing the gospel with them. I followed him over to where a man was seated and introduced myself. I thanked him for coming and then he said he was hopeful they could establish the church in their village of Tongo. He told me it was 27 miles from Kenema. I asked who came with him, pointing to the 2-3 other men nearby asking if they had come also. Br. Kongoley said, others are in the room next door, let’s go there. So we got up and walked into the room next door and there were 20+ people already there. President Clawson had just met with them and had taken a picture with them.
When I walked in I was overwhelmed. I asked how many were members, there were 3 who raised their hands. That means that 20+ people had come to the conference with these 3 members to get to know the church better. I shared a very brief version of my conversion story and in the middle said I needed to find my wife. I went out and brought LaDawn back in with me. I told them every good thing that had happened in my life, including this woman by my side, was the result of the decision I made to join the church when I was 18 years old. What a marvelous, miraculous experience it was to be there with these humble people. There are now 10 members in Tongo, which is enough to apply for a home group, authorized to meet and hold a sacrament meeting each week. So that is the next step. As they left the District Center, they did so stuffed to the gills inside and out in a small pickup like the one we drive. Such faith! I only wish I would have stopped and taken a picture.
Sunday afternoon I went with President Foday, branch president of the Simbeck Branch, and President Braime, 1stCounselor in the District Presidency to visit a family. I did not know who we were going to visit, only that President Foday asked if I could go with him. Once we met up at the Simbeck Branch, President Foday explained we were going to the Bunduka’s. I said, “As in James Bunduka?” You see, James is the young man that washes
our truck every other week for me. He is an impressive young man, 19 years old and one of the only young single adults I have met who has read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover. I was thrilled to meet his parents. James and his older brother Umaru joined the church at a very young age. They lived next to the missionaries at the time and the parents agreed to let them join. Now that these boys are older, the parents can see the amazing influence the church and the gospel has had on these young boys and now they want to know more. We went over as an introductory visit. What an amazing family! Mr. & Mrs. Bunduka are loving, caring, intelligent and very capable people. It was an honor to be in their presence and get to know them. They have agreed to start seeing the sister missionaries. They want to move slowly, but they do want to know more.
Back to generosity. Are there good, generous people here in Kenema? Indeed, there are! I am coming to learn that while it feels like a “me only” world on the roads and in the market, that is not at all the case. Neighbors help neighbors. Friends help friends. People open their homes to people constantly who are without a place to sleep. It is not uncommon on Sunday for someone to hand another a few thousand Leones so that can have transport back home after church. Perhaps this is why the gospel message rings so loudly here. The people are already filled with the light of Christ and are now ready for even greater light and knowledge. There is also another type of generosity. It is the generosity of a loving God granting the people an abundance of his spirit. Oh, how generous the Lord was with his spirit over the weekend at this conference. Oh, how generous he is with His spirit every single day as the full-time missionaries bear witness of this great work. There is an amazing thing happening here and we are beyond grateful to be a small part of it.