On Saturday morning we drove to Tongo. It is a “diamond mining town” about 45 km east of Kenema. You may recall that I mentioned the people who came to District conference from Tongo in our blog titled “Generosity and “Limegirl”. That day, three weeks ago, we promised the people who came that we would come and see them in October. It was supposed to be next week, but since the District Center open house was pushed back one week to next
Saturday, we decided to go yesterday. The road to Tongo is 25 km of paved road and 20 km of dirt roads. No where near as bad as the road to Kailahun, but still a slow road. We left here at 8:30 am and arrived there at 10:05 am. We took James Foday, a district councilman and Thomas Kallon who works with LDS Charities on training villages how to manage a community well. I had contacted Solomon Kongoley who works in Tongo ahead of time and told him we were coming, so he and his brother Milton along with Aniru Conteh met us at the school when we first came into town and directed us to the community center where Sister Messi Senesie met us. Sister Senesie is the person who
may be the best member missionary we have ever met. She talks to everyone about “her church” and invites them to come and see. She is a single mom who took a job in Tongo to support her three children.
There are currently 9 active members who live/work in Tongo. Those who work there (3 of the 9) generally come back to Kenema once or twice a month. The other 6 both live and work there. Here are some snapshots of what is happening in Tongo.
- The members and investigators meet every Sunday in the Community Center. An open air Pavillon where they have a sacrament like meeting (without the sacrament) every Sunday at 9 am followed by a gospel lesson for another hour. They are seeking approval from the mission President to begin administering the sacrament each week and to officially become a “homegroup” congregation.
- Average attendance at the meeting is between 28-37 people.
- Of those attending, 3-4 are youth (2 are Sister Senesie’s kids and are members) and the others are their friends. None of their parents attend.
- There are 10 primary aged children that attend with their parents, none are yet members of the Church.
- There is an available church building that was vacated by the World Mission Agency. When the church folded, Sister Senesie went there and invited all of them to come and worship with the Restored Church of Jesus Christ. Many did. The building is available for rent should we desire a better place for them to meet that would be a bit more private.
- I asked Solomon how many of the 20+ “investigators” in his mind would be the first to desire baptism and be taught the missionary discussions. He felt there are 10 that are now “ready” to be taught and baptized, 7 of which are men and 3 of which are women. Solomon indicated there would be many who would follow, but 10 would be the first wave.
- We met the man that Solomon feels is their best investigator. His name is John and
he has read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover and says he knows the book is true. His mother, Kadie was even more impressive. Probably in late 60-’s or early 70’s. She reads and writes and was thrilled to receive her own Book of Mormon from Solomon Kongoley while we were there.
- We also met Ishmael. A 19 year old young man, a victim of polio who cannot do anything but sit on his porch unless someone carries him. We want to see if we can help him get a wheelchair of some sort. He too is an
investigator and loves to come to church.
- There is no electricity in the town other than a man with a large generator that will run a line to your building if near the generator. He then bills those who receive
electricity at the end of each month. We do not know how reliable that source of power might be.
We are excited to be a small part of helping to establish the church in Tongo. There is much work to do and many people to be taught. We will share updates as they occur.
Other Weekly Highlights
On Monday as we went for our early morning walk we passed through an area referred to a “Show Field”. This is an area where there was a big annual cultural celebration prior to the civil war that started in 1993. They have since used it for political gatherings and they recently
cleared it and painted the small pavilion in anticipation of the country president Julius Maada Bio coming to Kenema. As it turns out he did not come. It is hard to understand what happened. Some say that in the past the cities would decide when the country president would come by announcing it and preparing and then the president would feel such pressure he would come. But according to those same sources, this president is disciplined and no-one decides his schedule but he himself. Whether that is the reason or perhaps something unexpected came up, the people here in Kenema were disappointed. They love this new president and want him to come to Kenema.
Monday night we attended the Family Home Evening at the IDA Branch. There were two investigators who came and one member, along with the missionaries. The non-
members were Gideon (pronounced Jideon) and Mekalla. We started to discuss the Book of Mormon, when Gideon said, “I have only one question, what is the Book of Mormon?” we decided to turn it over to the missionaries to teach both Gideon and Mekalla about the restoration of the gospel and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Gideon has his own amazing story. Gideon just recently came to Kenema. He has decided in his life he wants to serve God, but was not sure how to do it. He prayed before he came that he could be led to someone who would show him the true way he should go. He had some miraculous experiences even getting here which he attributes to God helping him. When he got here he prayed to know where to stay. As it turns out, the one person that he knew in Kenema was studying with the missionaries and invited him to come to the church. Monday night was his first time to actually be at the church building. Such a young and impressive man, full of faith and conviction. Mekalla seemed to be a bit further down the road as she reported that she already loved the church and the Book of Mormon. Gideon took most of the time with his questions and experiences, so we did not learn as much about Mekalla as we did about him. The member who was there was 15 year old Jessica Kallon and I was very impressed with her depth and love of the gospel and the Book of Mormon.
Tuesday and Wednesday were spent on various tasks. The biggest was our continued work on trying to figure out what the ideal solar installation looks like for a missionary apartment. I have studied and studied about everything I can find on the internet about how to size and balance an off grid solar installation. After much review and research, I put together a spreadsheet that calculates the number of 250w panels and 200Ah batteries required to meet the needs entered into the spreadsheet in watts. I have learned way more than I thought I ever wanted to know about solar. One never knows what a mission might require! After conferring with President Clawson we have decided to bring the panels off of the roof (they face east) and bring them to the ground and face them south-southwest. We will start that work tomorrow. We also became the drop off point for cooking gas from the Bo Supply Elders and so we delivered a spare tank to each of the missionary apartments so they will always have an extra on hand.
On Thursday we attended the District Council of the Hangha Road Missionary District, led by Elder Adjety. This was our second visit to this particular district’s council meeting. It was well done. The main topic of the meeting was focused on how to invite people
being taught so that they can progress. Elder Allen did a nice job leading a discussion that included a role play. Earlier in the meeting three missionaries shared a scripture from the Book of Mormon and it was interesting that both Elder Bledsoe and LaDawn picked the exact same story to speak from. It was wonderful being with these fine Elders and we enjoyed the spirit we felt during the meeting.
On Thursday evening we traveled to Dauda Town branch and there met with Pres Bai Williams and his two counselors, Samuel Konneh and John Williams; the Elders Quorum President, Ibrahim Williams and one of his counselors, the Relief Society President, Fatu Gamanga; her first counselor, Isata Amara; along with the branch clerk, Robert Anthony. It was a good training meeting. We discussed ministering and how to get it working in the branch. After sharing a few videos and reading some of the counsel about how to get started the Elders Quorum went to one room and the Relief Society stayed where they were, For the next 30 minutes the EQ put together 7 companionships with families to visit and the RS put together 5. Our hope is this will be an important start for the branch to begin ministering to each other. After the training we watched the branch practice for their part in the District Center open house next Saturday. They were learning a native dance to perform.
On Friday we met with Thomas Franklin Kallon. This is a young man who is ready to have his paperwork submitted to serve a mission but first needs to improve his reading slightly. We have met with him twice and the improvement from the first to the second week has been miraculous. I challenged him to begin reading the Book of Mormon every day and if he can find someone to read with so he makes sure he learns the words difficult to pronounce it would be even better. I also found a listing of the top 400 words from the Book of Mormon and gave that to him. He knew the first 150 really well, but struggled with the last 250. So I voice recorded the next 100 words on my phone and then sent them to him through WhatsApp. When he came back on Friday, he did not miss a single word of that next 100. I also had him open to a random verse in the Book of Mormon and read it. Wow! What an improvement! So proud of this young man who is doing everything that is asked of him so that he can serve.
From there I took our truck over to Br. Justin Gandi’s home in Simbeck branch and helped him move 3 truckloads over to their new apartment. I guess that is what happens when you have one of the few trucks in town! They are going from one bedroom to two bedrooms. With two children, this will be a great blessing for their family.
At 2:00 pm Br. James Konneh, the District Sunday school president and his secretary came over and we talked about how to begin work on the teacher councils. It is not something we are doing here in Kenema and the District would like to start holding them. With the change after the first of the year, we have all decided to wait until January to begin. That will give some time to train the Sunday school presidencies so they will know what it is they are supposed to do. Br. Konneh is a principal at a private school not far from our home and a very impressive young man. I am just sorry I forgot to snap a picture with him!
From there we drove back over to Dauda Town where Elder Pyrah and Elder Obganayah had prepared 6 people to enter the waters of baptism. These are wonderful people who love the gospel and the church and whose lives will now be better because of the covenants they have made with God. There was a nice turnout of members from the branch to witness the event.
From there we came back to the Kenema Central branch and met Elder Serano and Elder Gray and they took us to see Thomas and Aminata Kallon. This is the same Thomas that went to Tongo with us on
Saturday. Aminata is a recent convert and it was good to visit with her and talk a little bit about Family History. She is eager to help her deceased ancestors receive the saving ordinances of the gospel and so will spend some time over the next or so talking to her relatives to gather information on her parents and grandparents and maybe even great-grandparents. We look forward to our return visit!
We have already talked about our trip to Tongo on Saturday. When we got back to Kenema around 2 pm we left for Bo. Elder & Sister Moomey had brought back a package for us from Freetown (thank you so much Susan Ogden!) and there were a few other things that needed to be brought to Kenema. The Moomey’s were kind enough to invite us to dinner. She made chicken cacciatore with mashed potatoes. It was absolutely delicious! After a wonderful visit with them we left around 5:30 pm and made our way back home.
On Sunday we attended the Kenema Central branch. It was fast & testimony meeting here. Unfortunately a young man’s mother misunderstood something that was said to her so he came to church to take out his grievance against the leaders of the branch. It was unfortunate. Others tried to restore the spirit of the meeting, and to some degree they were successful, but it was still a tough experience. Our good district president and his second counselor soon arrived and brought everyone impacted together in the branch president’s office and helped to defuse the situation. I marvel at President Cobinah and his talent in working with and leading people. He is an amazing leader. After church we stayed and attended a meeting of Kenema returned missionaries and then later a young single adult meeting. There is such a desire to help others here and to increase one’s individual spirituality. It is wonderful to be here among these people who really do want to be taught and to learn more about the church and the gospel. Our prayer is that we can work with the district leadership to help deliver on those desires.