In the US, PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipes are the most common non-metal pipes used for water supply. However, in much of the rest of the world, PPR (polypropylene random copolymer) is the pipe of choice for water. Instead of PVC cement, PPR joints are heated by a special fusion tool and essentially melted together into a single piece. When created properly using the right equipment, a PPR joint will never leak.
And so, we enter a new era in the Kenema Couples Apartment. After fighting our piping for the last 5 ½ months, the landlord was kind enough to come in and replace all of the water supply lines with PPR pipe. It was unexpected on our part and it was no small job, but so appreciated! The plumber’s guys had to break out a narrow crevice of cement enough to lay the pipe in the front, back and side of the house.
It took them 2 days to get it all done. We have left it uncovered for a few days to make sure there are no leaks, but later this week they will come back and cement it in. We have been able to run the high-pressure pump as much as needed without a single drop of leakage. We are so excited. I guess the bad news is that we won’t have as many great plumbing stories to share!
On Monday night, we attended a family home evening at Dauda Town. We always love going there and being a part of this vibrant and wonderful group of young single adults. Momoh Swarray is the YSA leader in the branch and he was kind enough to announce and organize the evening. We had 13 people in attendance. Once again, we had a wonderful discussion about the atonement of Jesus Christ. Since we have done a number of these lessons with YSA throughout the district, we thought we might share a few insights that have been shared. When the people asked Moses to ask God to destroy the serpents, Moses did ask, but God came up with a different plan to save the people.
Rather than just destroy the poisonous snakes, the Israelites would have to look upon a brass serpent on a pole to be saved once they were bitten by the fiery serpents. Why did God not just destroy the snakes as the people asked? It certainly appeared as if they had repented, and yet we learn in the Book of Mormon that many did not even have enough faith or trust to test God’s promise. So why the snake on a stick? Three consistent themes have emerged. First, God knew the hearts of the people and while there were some who were remorseful for murmuring against Moses and God, there were others who were not. This was a way to sort the “wheat” from the “chaff”. Those without faith would be bitten and die. The remaining Israelites were those with greater faith and a willingness to be more obedient. This made the rest of the journey to the promised land easier. Second, those who refused to look may have been as much consumed by pride as they were lacking in faith. Many would not look because that would be a sign of weakness to their “friends”. Can you see them daring each other not to look even as they were taking their last breath? Third, God wanted to teach them about the atonement of Jesus Christ. He wanted them to know that the Son of God would be lifted up (both upon the cross to be crucified, as well as lifted up as a resurrected being to return to his Father). This was a way to teach the people about where they needed to look for salvation, rather than just deal in the moment with the deadly snakes. What we have learned is that our all-knowing, loving God maximizes every interaction, every opportunity, every miracle to the maximum benefit of all of His children. We even continue to be blessed by this story hundreds of years later.
On Tuesday, the decision was made by the landlord to re-pipe the house so the plumber and his guys were here early, breaking cement and preparing the new pipe. In the evening, we held ministering training with Nyandeyama Branch. We had the Relief Society President (Sister Combey) and the YW president (Sister Nancy) as well as the branch president (President Moriba) and his first counselor (Br. Koroma). Unfortunately, no one from the Elder’s Quorum was able to attend. We ended up doing the training here in our apartment since we are right next to the church, and well, we had the a/c working so that might be reason enough. While the sisters worked on forming companionships, President Cobinah and I spent some valuable training time with the branch presidency. These are such good men and we hope that the training we provided will be helpful to them. We may still need to help train the EQ president, but it was a very good start for the branch.
On Wednesday, LaDawn stayed home since we had the plumbers in the compound working on the new pipes. She also worked on making the desserts for the Christmas multi-zone conference to be held on Friday while I took the Zone Leaders and Elder Abad to Tongo to begin teaching the investigators there. Elder Adjety, Elder Wallentine and Elder Abad did a nice job teaching the first discussion. We actually taught it twice.
The first lesson was to a group of 7 people who met together at the community center to be taught. The Elders spent a lot of time teaching clear doctrine about the importance of prophets in an effort to establish a firm foundation on which to build with our next visit this week. After we finished the lesson, Sister Messie Senesie (the world’s best member missionary)
provided some rice with a delicious sauce and some fish. It was very good! From there we went over to John Charles and his mother Kadie. John is extremely knowledgeable about the gospel. He has read all of the standard works, the gospel principles manual, the missionary tracts and anything else members would give him. He has a deep and abiding testimony of the church and desires baptism. His mom, Kadie, is close to 80 years old. She is a wonderful and wise woman. The first time we traveled to Tongo, Solomon Kongoley gave her a
Book of Mormon. As we were teaching her and John, it seemed to me that John was dominating the discussion with the missionaries and I was worried about whether Kadie was following the conversation. At one point, when the Elders began to ask John about reading the Book of Mormon and praying about it (which I knew he had already done), I turned to Kadie and asked her if she would be willing to pray to know if the book is true. Her response was classic, “I have already prayed and God has already told me it is true. The Book of Mormon is true”. She said it so matter-of-factly that I was taken back. I could only smile as the spirit testified to me that indeed she did know it is true. It was such a wonderful moment. Kadie and John’s home is a mud-walled home with a tin roof and dirt floors, but their spirits are among the wealthiest I have met. We will go back this week on Friday.
Because they were still working on re-piping the compound, we had no water in our house, so we decided to go to Food Masters for dinner. We have never been disappointed at the food there and Wednesday evening was no exception.
On the way home from the restaurant we passed three men pushing a very heavy load of wood on a makeshift trailer. To make it worse, most of the direction they were going was uphill. I felt the gentle nudge of the spirit say “stop and help them”, so we did just that. We backed the truck up, hooked up our tow strap and pulled the trailer to their destination. They were already pretty tired and soaked with sweat and it was getting dark fast. They were so appreciative of the help and we were grateful for the opportunity to serve. We probably looked pretty funny. I was towing their trailer, the three guys were trying to guide it as I pulled it and LaDawn was half walking, half jogging as she had gotten out to take some pictures. We love the feeling we have when we serve others!
On Thursday morning one of our guards, Alphonso Bockerie, came to our apartment and I went with him back to his house to give his wife a blessing. On the way over to their house, we met one of our other guards, Charles, and so he came with us. Alice (his wife) had her foot run over by an Okada motorcycle driver and it was quite swollen. The skin was not broken. He took her to the hospital the day it happened and here is what the people (doctor?) at the hospital gave her: An antibiotic, an antihistamine and several shot needles with pain medication. I immediately called and spoke to our mission nurse and she recommended getting rid of those prescriptions and have her start taking Ibuprofen and icing her foot 4 times a day. I walked Alphonso through how to seal an anointing and give a blessing and then I anointed her and he sealed and blessed. It was the first time he had ever participated in a blessing. With all three of us standing in the circle with our hands on her head and Alphonso nervously pronouncing the blessing, there was no doubt in my heart and my head that God heard and would answer his pronouncement. When I spoke to Alphonso this evening, he said Alice is doing much better and is able to be up and around some. All glory be to God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ!
On the way back from Alphonso’s house we stopped and spoke to a man who had flagged us down on the way in. He is a painter and sells his African paintings on the internet at http://www.africayes.org/paintings.html. His name is Francis Sonnie and lives near Alphonso and Charles. We think his paintings are wonderful and really capture the spirit of the African people. Online his paintings sell for between $60 – $250 with all of the proceeds going to Africa Yes. But here, he will paint his largest painting for $20. We want to have him paint us one for our apartment here. Not sure that we could get it home, but we could leave it for others to enjoy in the future.
In the afternoon, Ibrahim Yorpoi, a 17 year-old young man from the Simbeck Branch came to our apartment to work on family history. His father is a chief and so his father had all of the information back 4 generations on his family. Ibrahim filled out a pedigree chart and we helped him put it into FamilySearch.org. I have to say, I am inspired by this young man. He joined the church 4 years ago after investigating it for a year. He was a Muslim and both of his parents and his entire family are still Muslim. This young man gained a testimony of the truth after being introduced to the church by his aunt, who has since moved to Nigeria. He no longer has any relative at all that is a member here in Kenema, and yet he is not only faithful, but he is being sanctified by spirit of the Lord as he strives to follow the counsel of the prophet, all the way down to his local branch president. He is an exemplary young man! I can hardly express the feeling both of us had as we completed the four generations on both sides of his family and prepared temple cards to be sent to members of the church who have volunteered to help do the work for members here in Sierra Leone. It was a magnificent experience.
As soon as we finished with Ibrahim, we left to go to the Burma chapel. A new Elders Quorum presidency had recently been called and President Cobinah had arranged for a time to train them. Fortunately, we were able to get the Relief Society president and one of her counselors to come as well, so we first trained them on ministering (the last of the 9 branches to be trained on this new approach to caring for one another) and then President Cobinah and I spent another 30 minutes with the new Elders Quorum president and both of his counselors about their responsibilities. They were so eager to learn and so do whatever is asked of them. President Cobinah gave them some masterful counsel on being honest and not being tempted in any way when it comes to helping the branch president administer fast offering relief. How I love working with President Cobinah. He is an inspired leader and has a keen sense of discernment.
On Friday, we were up early to head to Bo. We took the three Sister Missionaries that live next door with us and arrived in Bo around 8:30 am. The conference started at 9:00 am. I think my favorite part of the conference was the introduction of “Standards of Excellence” by President Clawson and members of the Missionary Leadership Council. Here are the 6 standards. These will not be tracked and reported, but they will be a centerpiece of discussion at District and Zone Council meetings.
- Live the Lord’s Standard of Obedience (as outlined in the white missionary handbook)
- Help every new convert submit at least one name to the temple in the first six months of their membership.
- Proselyte for at least 8 hours each day
- Support new converts through to their preparation to go to the temple (or be temple worthy)
- Work with those who are less active to bring them back to the church
- Prayerfully find and talk to at least 20 new people each day
I could feel the spirit testifying of the importance of these standards and I fully believe it will help the mission continue to progress and improve, both in growing the church here in Sierra Leone as well as helping these young missionaries grow their testimonies.
For lunch, we had a delicious meal of chicken, fried rice, fried plantains, a meat pie and a sausage (aka hot dog) salad. It was absolutely delicious. After lunch, we enjoyed Christmas skits by the zones and then we played some games. Book of Mormon challenge questions, Minute to Win-It games, “either / or game”, and a mute organization game where the zones had to line up by age without using words or fingers to communicate. It was a wonderful afternoon of fun and food.
On Saturday morning, we hosted the two Elders working in Kailahun who are from Australia. They came at 7 am to call home before they left to get back to their area. From the sounds of the calls, they were joyous and appreciated. We know as parents that calls home mean so very much. We will be hosting the other elders who will be skyping home over the next couple of days as well.
Late morning, we traveled over to the Kpayama Branch and helped President Lamina with our MIFI log onto the missionary recommendation system and submit the online missionary recommendation for Samuel Sesay. President and Sister Clawson had come to Kenema from Bo to interview some of the missionaries and so we took the opportunity to have him interview Samuel as well so that he could get his papers submitted. We love helping these young men prepare for their missions.
Later in the afternoon around 4 pm, Tiangay Kamara called us and asked if we could help move food from her aunt’s home to the District Center. Bernard Laundeh (Simbeck Branch) and Kadiatu Gbassa (Kenema Branch) were married earlier in the day and were having their reception at the District Center. Tiangay is a good friend to Kadiatu so she agreed to cook the food for the celebration. No small feat for the number who attended. We figured out where the aunt lived and were able to go, pick up the food and take it to the District Center.
There were many many members there from primarily the two branches where Kadiatu and Bernard reside. It was great to see so many friends that we have made in one place. We had hoped to see Bernard and Katiatu, but the music was really loud and there was a lot going on, so we decided to leave, hoping to see them the next day at church.
On Sunday we attended the Simbeck Branch and sure enough both Bernard and Kadiatu were there, both of them looking radiant. They were asked to bear their testimony together which was touching and beautiful. “Dreams do come true and it is worth not giving up”. Bernard’s younger brother Joshua then spoke about sharing the gospel followed by President Foday, the branch president, speaking on loving ourselves and others as well as the importance of forgiveness. President Braima, 1st counselor in the District Presidency was the concluding speaker and he also spoke on sharing the gospel, especially at this special time of year when so many people come into Kenema from the villages to visit family. Unfortunately, about the time President Braima started to speak the restaurant next door cranked up their music and we were only able to catch a word here and there. To make matters worse, the PA system in the chapel is still not working so there was no amplification of voice for those who were speaking. Despite all of the that there was still a wonderful spirit and we enjoyed being there.
From there we went out to the Burma Branch and met with Abubakar Sonnie and helped him finish setting up his LDS account so that we could help him get his great grandparents temple work approved. We have learned that it is not difficult to get approval from Salt Lake for someone here who is the only member in the family and where there is no easy way to contact non-member relatives, who generally are Muslim. What we didn’t know was that in order to get these approvals, the individual has to have a FamilySearch.org account. We were able to help him initially using his membership number, name and birthdate and the helper app on FamilySearch. Now that we have his account setup we have resubmitted the request for approval of the names.
This morning (Monday) we had Junior Bendu, our solar electrician come over and install both a 12-volt solar plug and a 220 volt plug on the wall in the room with the solar batteries. We have moved the DC freezer over from the Sisters apartment so that we can test a new setup. I ordered some 220v to 12v transformers off of eBay and had them shipped over. The idea being that if the solar power is not good because of cloud cover, then the freezer can be turned on using either National Power (if available) or the generator (if necessary). I think it is a key factor in making the solar setups work in the missionary apartments. Now I am working on rigging up timers (also shipped from the U.S.) so that it will automatically turn on the solar at 9 am and the AC power (if available) on at 5:00 pm.
This evening we were invited along with all of the Kenema missionaries out to President Cobinah’s home for a wonderful Family Home Evening and dinner. We had such a delightful time. Truly the most Christmassy thing we have done yet. They even had a decorated Christmas Tree! We sat out in their courtyard in a big circle and played some charades, answered some questions from a box and even played “fruit basket”. We are grateful for the Cobinah’s and the wonderful leadership they provide for the entire district and the especially for the way they live their own lives. They inspire us!
Tomorrow is Christmas Day and we want to wish all of our friends and family the very merriest of Christmas’s. For us it is different than anything we have experienced before. No tree, no lights, no presents to open (okay, we may have opened the ones that our kids sent us as soon as we received them) and no Christmas Eve party at our house. And yet, we are most happy and grateful to be serving as full-time missionaries here in Sierra Leone. We know that Jesus Christ is the son of God and that He sacrificed His life so that we might live again. We also know that through the atonement of Jesus Christ we can become better parents, better grandparents, better marriage partners, better siblings and most important better disciples of Jesus Christ. We may not have a white Christmas, and it may be different from the other 39 we have shared together as husband and wife, but it will definitely be the most memorable. After all, the PPR is green. Who needs a tree?