Between the end of November and the middle of March here in West Africa is a season referred to as Harmattan. It takes its name from the dry and dusty northeasterly trade win which blows dust from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea. The wind is strengthened by a low pressure center located over northwestern Africa during winter. During these months, we have experienced a greater extreme in temperatures with mornings as cool as low 60’s while the temperatures in the afternoon will get into the mid 80’s most days. However, there are still plenty of days with cloud cover that keeps the temperature in the low 80’s. The relative humidity also drops at times during this period, sometimes to less than 10%. It has caused us more than once to pull out the Chapstick!
What are the consequences of these trade winds? Dust. Lots of Dust. President Rawson serving in St. Petersburg Russia asked us what color of Christmas we would be having. He indicated that it had just snowed there and it looked like they would be having a White Christmas. I couldn’t help but smile, as I responded, “ours will be brown!”. Most mornings are a mix of fog and dust. You can smell it in the air. It is most obvious on rooftops (all of the metal roofs are brown), trees, shrubs and weeds, cars that have been parked for some time and even furniture and floors inside homes. The dust is everywhere. The big awakening was the day when we went to hang the sheets on the clothesline behind our apartment, only to discover that no sooner had we thrown them over the line than big streaks of brown dirt appeared out of nowhere. It took us a few moments to realize that the clothesline had dust on it which quickly transferred to our damp sheets. We quickly learned our lesson and now we take great care to take a damp cloth and run it up and down the clothesline before we hang up anything!
And as I have mentioned before, the dust settles on the solar panels and impacts their ability to generate power, that is assuming the day is not a dusty overcast day. Washing the dust off has become at least a weekly task, and it probably should be done every single day. I recently received my brass nozzle from the U.S. and it works great!
It’s been a good week – probably because it was a busy week. We love being busy and feeling like we are contributing to building the kingdom. On Monday we had a nice visit from Nancy Tamba’s father. Nancy is a young woman in the Nyandeyama Branch who will leave for a mission on February 14th. Her father lives in Liberia and was here for a few days. Nancy had told him how we had helped her get her hemoglobin count up through tonic, vitamins and meat based meals. He was grateful and wanted to come and meet us. We were honored that this good man would take his time to do so. We can see where Nancy gets her gentle nature.
On Tuesday we took the zone leaders to Bo to catch a ride to Freetown to have exchanges with the assistants. When we got there just before noon, the bus they were to take was full and they were selling no more tickets. When they called the mission office to ask what they should do, the assistants told them to find a car and to come anyway. Easier said than done! Apparently taxis go early to Freetown and then return and make one more trip in the afternoon, so they were hopeful they might find something around 2 pm. We told them we would pray for them and so before we left to come back to Kenema we offered a sincere prayer of faith for these good Elders. About an hour later I texted to ask if they caught a ride, they said no. The next time we heard from them was a 6 pm just as they were coming into Freetown. We were so happy for them. As it turns out they unexpectedly were able to find a van that was going and they even got the front seats so they were not squished in the back. I am confident that Heavenly Father was looking out for them and that their faith and prayers coupled with ours were heard and answered.
On Wednesday morning we went back to Bo, this time with Magnus Harding and Mohamed Bockerie so that they could get their patriarchal blessings. The patriarch is Brother Berewa (pronounced Bear A Wah). He is such a gentle, humble and sincere man. We always love to be with him, even if only briefly. He was very gracious and provided both of them a blessing. While they were with the patriarch, LaDawn and I traveled to visit with Elder and Sister Moomey. We always love to be with them, even if only for a short-time. After returning to Kenema, we visited with Eku Scotland at OTC. He was able to repair the adapter for our piano keyboard that went out when the old generator burned up. He didn’t have the small rectifier that fits on the circuit board, but he found a way to wire in a larger rectifier that he had salvaged. We were so happy to see that it worked! The man is a genius. The other man that works with Eku at OTC is named Edward. Edward indicated he wanted a copy of the Book of Mormon as well, but we kept forgetting to take him one. So when we got home, I turned right around and took it to him. He told us today that he has been reading it. As I was going back to OTC, I saw two guys pulling and pushing a trailer made from the back differential of a car. One of the tires had locked up and they were having a difficult time moving it. I felt prompted to stop and encourage them and when I did they asked if I would please help them by allowing them to put the trailer in the back of the truck and drive them to Show Field. I told them I needed to drop something off and I would be right back. When I came back, they loaded up the trailer and we drove the short distance (about 1 mile) to Show Field. They were both gracious and grateful. From there I drove to a tire shop next to the Kenema Central branch to get air in the front left tire of the truck. They didn’t have a connector end on the air hose, so they keep the compressor turned off unless they are using it. As soon as I pulled up someone came out to help me. He turned on the compressor, removed the valve, pushed the hose onto the stem and eyeballed it until he felt it was about right and then said, “that’s good”. He pulled the hose off and quickly replaced the valve. I couldn’t help but chuckle just a bit. I love the ingenuity of the people here. I paid him Le 5000 (about $.60). President Cobinah also came over in the afternoon and we discussed training for the Relief Society and Elders Quorum Presidencies to be held on Saturday. He asked us to talk about the importance of self-reliance, and how ministering can help solve welfare issues. He planned to speak on integrity in administering assistance.
On Thursday we attended the Kenema District Meeting (Council). Elder Holi is the new district leader there. He is a very good leader. He listens well, is humble and desires to serve the Lord with his heart and soul. We had a wonderful discussion about how to stay healthy (especially as it relates to drinking (good) water) and the importance of living the new standards of excellence.
We had been without water in our main tank since Tuesday morning. The water has slowed down before for a day or two, but this seemed to be something different. I finally called President Cobinah and he said he would have James Benny the plumber come over and take a look. He came shortly after we returned from the District Council Meeting. As it turns out, when the city graded the road (thank you Kenema, as it is sooo much better now) next to our apartment on Sunday, they ripped out the water line that goes from the main line (a 6 inch plastic line that is partially buried and partially exposed) to our apartment. Turns out the whole neighborhood knew about it. When they hit it, the water sprayed everywhere and someone in the neighborhood shut it off (the valve was intact). I guess we were the only ones who didn’t know. Normally one might think that the city would be responsible to fix it, but for $23 we provided the pipe and the labor to have it repaired NOW. We were grateful! We do have a second tank with water, but that water has been stagnant for about 4 months and was not very tasty, and because it sits on the ground there is no gravitational pull to be able to use it without turning the pump on.
Friday was Tongo day. I took Elder Wallentine, Elder Adjety and two of our young men who will be leaving on missions soon, Magnus Harding and Mohamed Bockerie. The 5 of us had an amazing discussion on the gifts of the spirit all the way to Tongo. I was so impressed with these pre-mission boys who had some wonderful insights on the topic. But it didn’t stop there.
Elder Adjety and Mohamed worked together and Elder Wallentine and Magnus worked together. I am absolutely in awe of these young men. Though not yet full-time missionaries, they taught with power and authority. This week we taught a total of 20 people. Even though we try to limit adding anyone new, it still happens. 6 of the 20 are on the second discussion and are progressing towards baptism. The other 14 are still finishing lesson 1. The highlight of the day was the teaching of the Sahr Lahai family. Sahr Lahai speaks very little English and in fact, not even much Krio. But he has an incredible spirit about him. Nearly everything he said was in Mende. His wife is not a lick behind him in all things spiritual. As we taught them there were as many as 20 children gathered around listening. Several of them were older. We came to a point in the discussion where Elder Wallentine asked Magnus to teach about prophets.
Magnus does not claim to be very conversant in Mende, but it seemed as if his tongue was loosed as the spirit testified to me that indeed what he was saying was sinking deep into the hearts of the family members. When we finished the lesson, Elder Wallentine asked Br. Lahai (in Krio) if he would be willing to pray about the things they had taught them. Br. Lahai said yes and then immediately bowed his head and began to pray in Mende. It was extraordinary. Magnus was the only one of us who could understand all of what was said and he reported that it was a perfect prayer.
Sahr thanked Heavenly Father that his entire family could be there to be taught. He testified in his prayer that he knew the church was true and he even prayed for members who had lost their way and needed to come back to church. The spirit of that prayer, though I didn’t understand a word of it, touched my heart deeply. Here was a son of God responding to the message of the restored gospel and possessed more faith than anyone I have ever met (apostles and prophets excluded). It was magnificent. When we finished I asked if I could get their family together for a picture, as we weren’t sure which of all the children were theirs. As you can see from the picture, they are a special family and what makes them more special, is that both the Father and the Mother are spiritual. They are both looking for the same thing for their family. A rarity indeed, and even more so here in Sierra Leone.
There are so many good things happening in Tongo right now, I feel so grateful to be a small part of it. Time and space does not allow me to share all of our experiences there last week, but I will continue to tell the story of the good people there and the growth of the church in the coming weeks.
Shortly after returning from Tongo, we drove over to OTC to keep an appointment with Eku Scotland. We had asked him to read King Benjamin’s address beginning in Mosiah chapter 1. Eku had lots of good questions for us. He would usually direct a question to us about what he had been reading, but sometimes he would slip in a question about doctrinal differences between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Jehovah Witnesses. For example, he asked about how we feel about politics, indicating that he no longer votes in elections. He also asked about blood transfusions. We explained that one of our daughter’s in law, had to have blood after giving birth to one of their children because she had lost so much in delivery. We told him how grateful we are for medical science and the God inspired methods which save so many lives. Since both of these particular topics are tenets of the Jehovah Witnesses, it was good to discuss them openly and share our viewpoints. He told us that the more he reads in the Book of Mormon, the more he likes it. I again shared my testimony of the truthfulness of the book and that he would have to decide what he will do once he knows it is from God. He said he knew that, but appreciated that we were not pushing him to accept our church, but rather allowing him to move at his own pace. How we love this good, honest, hardworking and intelligent man!
On Saturday morning we finalized preparations for the training of the RS and EQ presidencies including having some copies made of handouts. Since we were going to Kailahun with the zone leaders (or they were going with us) right after the training we had to pack clothes, food and materials we would need. The training was to begin at 11:00 am, but didn’t get started until 11:30. We finished at 1:30 pm. The turnout of the leaders was excellent. President Cobinah started the training by talking about how important it is to have a subscription to the Liahona magazine, especially with the recent changes in what is being taught in RS and EQ meetings. LaDawn then began by laying a spiritual foundation for the importance of being self-reliant and helping others to be so as well.
I have to say I was so proud of her and the way she led the discussion, answered questions and deferred to the District President when appropriate. I spent time talking about the special ministry that Relief Society and Elders Quorum Presidencies have in regards to helping to solve long-term problems which keep our members from being self-reliant. We also talked about “how” to go about solving these tough issues and the importance of counseling together as leaders, ministering brothers and sisters and most importantly with the families in need. President Cobinah spoke about the importance of having and maintaining our integrity when it comes to helping administer fast offering assistance as directed by the branch president. The entire two hours was just outstanding. The contributions from the leaders were meaningful, their questions were genuine and it was obvious to everyone in attendance that the spirit had delivered the messages into the hearts of the listeners. One of the best meetings we have been involved in for sure. And it was not because of us, it was because a district president with priesthood keys saw an inspired need and took action. How we love working with President Cobinah and his counselors!
We left the district center about 2:00 pm and began our drive to Kailahun. The last time we were there was November and the road was difficult. Mud, rocks, ruts. It was a tough drive, especially doing it up and back in one day. This time we decided to go up on Saturday, spend the night and attend church the next day. The best of all news is that the road is soooo much better. The dirt road starts about 5 miles east of Pendembu and goes 20 km until you reach Kailahun. That entire 20 km had been graded. Instead of taking three hours, it only took us two. They are working on paving it, so hopefully by the time the rainy season comes later this year, it will not revert back to being so treacherous.
Upon arrival we did an inspection of the missionaries apartment and then we helped President Morison Nabieu move some things from the church to the missionary apartment and from his home to the church. The branch has been meeting in two rooms of a school and just recently moved into their own building. It is so much better and we are so happy for them. After the helping with the moves, we went with President Morison to visit two part-member families.
Hawa is married to the Elders Quorum president and is working towards baptism. Her two boys are so cute! Her husband was in Bo and so we were only able to meet with her. The Bondo Society was having an event across the street so the music was pretty loud, but we still managed to have a good, albeit short, visit with her. We then went to Br. Francis’ home. His wife is also not a member.
Her family is Muslim and right before her mother died made her promise to never become a Christian. This has put her in a difficult position. She is a very bright woman and they have a wonderful family, but she does not want to go against her dying mother’s wish. Her sister-in-law was cooking dinner and as we sat down to speak to Br. Francis’ wife, she put a plate of rice with cassava leaves and fish in front of us. LaDawn doesn’t do very well with the spicy peppe, so President Morison and I ate it. My first Cassava leaf meal. Much sweeter than the potato leaf we ate with the missionaries last year. It was good.
We left there and went to our guesthouse. It was essentially a three room bed and breakfast Africa style. We were the only guests there. It was clean and the guy in charge was very hospitable. They did not have a/c, but did have solar power that lasted until about midnight. When the fan died, I woke up and struggled to get back to sleep for an hour or so. The loud music coming from somewhere outside did not help. Finally at 2 am the music stopped and I fell back to sleep. I have no idea how LaDawn slept through all that. Right as we went to sleep, the water in the bathroom stopped working. We weren’t that surprised, as we seem to have a negative effect on water in general and pipes and pumps specifically. In the morning when we got up the guy in charge got it working again. He also cooked us a nice breakfast with a fried omelet of sorts, fried plantains and some delicious fresh fullah bread. We were grateful even though we came prepared with out own food just in case.
Sacrament meeting was wonderful. Right after it started, President Morison texted me and asked if I would be the concluding speaker. I agreed. The two speakers before me did a great job and left me with about 7 minutes, so I bore my testimony and talked a bit about hope and faith. Faith is a principle of action. Using my own life’s experience as a basis for my testimony I shared how my faith had helped me to come to where I am today. I felt the spirit confirm that this was what I was to talk about in my short remarks. How grateful we are for answers to our prayers!
Because we had brought the conference editions of the Liahona’s with us, and this would be the first Sunday when they were to be used to teach the EQ and RS, we told President Morison that we would be willing to teach a combined EQ/RS in an effort to model how this new curriculum should work. Again, our prayers were answered as we studied and prayed Saturday night for guidance. LaDawn introduced the topic (Elder Cooks address on the changes to the church schedule) and again did a great job setting the stage for the “why”. We tried to teach both the content of the talk (essentially no one had heard/read the talk) as well as use the questions at the back of the Liahona to show how to facilitate a discussion. We are grateful for the spirit in the meeting that allowed all of us to understand a little better about how to teach from the conference talks as well as how to allow the class members plenty of time to contribute their impressions. After the meeting we met with the branch council and did some training on how to be effective as a council, i.e., sharing ideas, asking inspired questions, agreeing to action items and keeping confidences. It was a wonderful day and half in Kailahun!
The Harmattan winds may bring dust and cooler night time air to Kenema, but it cannot slow down the Lord’s work here in this part of the vineyard. The district now has enough members to become a stake with still a few other requirements to be reviewed. The district has just published their first annual calendar and consistent training is occurring across all branches. We have 6 young single adults with mission calls and more on the way. Great things are happening and we are so grateful that the Lord has called us here to be a small part of these miracles and to see His hand in all of the things moving us to becoming a stake of Zion!