Sierra Leone’s equatorial climate tends to be an ideal environment for all types of bugs. In many ways, it is similar to the Houston’s climate from March to October. Since there is rarely a deep freeze in Houston, bugs tend to thrive. And so it is here, except for two things. First, there is no such thing as a hard freeze, or any freeze at all for that matter, in Sierra Leone. It is warm year-round and therefore cold weather will never be a factor in bug control. Did we mention NEVER? Second, in the U.S., there are ample amounts of safe effective pesticides. In fact, companies that tout “green pest control solutions” are growing in popularity. If you can kill your bugs without doing harm to your family or the environment isn’t that the best of all worlds?
Here in Sierra Leone, from what I can tell DDT is still one of the most commonly used household pesticides. Bugs tend to develop a resistance to it over time and then some other pesticides may be used, often another organochlorine like lindane is used. When those quit being effective, organophosphorus compounds like malathion are used. As one might imagine, what is most popular here is what is the least expensive, and without question that is DDT. Everything else is 3-25 times more expensive. And the “greener” the solution, the more expensive it is, which means low cost DDT treatments is the rule. Health concerns of pesticides are not locally known, understood or publicized, so whatever the pest control company uses, that is what you get. When we first moved into our apartment, we had a struggle with small ants. We had the supply elders in Bo bring the pest control guy, who happens to be a member. They asked us to leave while they sprayed and told us not to come back for at least an hour. That sounds like a safe “green” solution don’t you think? As far as we could tell, the spraying of the house did nothing except make it smell like pesticides for a few days.
About a month later, we started having all kinds of problems with German cockroaches. We are pretty sure they came in the cardboard boxes that they packed our groceries in at the small grocery market here. We didn’t even realize we had a problem – until we REALLY had a problem. We tried to get the pest control guy back out here, but for some reason it never happened. We decided to try and attack them ourselves.
We purchased WAS-TOX Insect killer spray and would spray the empty kitchen cupboards before going to bed and then close our bedroom door. It seemed to work for a few days and then they were back. We kept spraying with some short reprieves but we could never get ahead of them. Writing this blog caused us to check the active ingredient in the spray we were using.
It is Dichloromethane. A suspected carcinogen and known eye irritant. In one paragraph on the can it says it is non-toxic, and in another it says it is hazardous and the can must be disposed of as hazardous waste (as if that were an option here).
Well, what do you do? Well, LaDawn was getting a bit frustrated at the battles with the cockroaches and the ants. A woman’s home is her kitchen and what woman wants to share it with pests? So when you have done all you can do, you pray. And that is what LaDawn did. She pled with Heavenly Father to know what to do to get rid of the cockroaches, thinking that perhaps if we could get some boric acid it would help.
A few days later we awoke to a small agama lizard in the sink. It was small and could not scale the slippery walls of the stainless steel, so it was stuck. As soon as she saw the lizard, she knew it was the answer to her prayer. After trying different methods to get it to climb out, she finally took her sponge from the back of the sink, placed it at an angle and encouraged the lizard to climb out, which it eventually did. It ran under the dish drainer and we decided to leave it alone. We have not been disappointed in that decision. We have only seen one cockroach in the last month and that was about two weeks ago. Sometimes in the morning when we first get up we can find evidence of the lizard (I mean if it is eating it needs to defecate, right?). Let’s just say it is much easier to clean up one or two pieces of lizard poop than it is to battle cockroaches. Who needs hazardous sprays and pest control people you don’t know telling you to leave your apartment for an hour? We have our own “green” pest control product.
Oh, and did we mention that we have even had a nice spider doing her part? She lived in the guest bathroom for a couple of weeks, and then one day up and left (we are hoping out the window). We still struggle with the small ants. The lizards love ants, but when these things attack it would take an army of lizards to eat all of them. We hoping though that “our” lizard is getting its fair share of ant manna.
If we were to give this week a title, we would have to call it Tongo Week. Four trips in 6 days. Why all the trips to Tongo? It started on Tuesday. President Cobinah asked if I would go with him to Tongo to secure a building where the home group could meet. Living Faith Church Worldwide, also known as “Winner’s Chapel” had established a congregation in Tongo a little over two years ago. They rented two small buildings that had previously been a restaurant and club and turned it into a chapel and a residence for the pastor. I did some research on the church and here is what I found:
“Winners’ Chapel has a network of churches located in over 300 cities, in all states of Nigeria, and in several cities in 45 African nations, Dubai, the United Kingdom and the United States. The church was founded by David Oyedepo who has been seen as one of the pioneers of the Christian charismatic movement in Africa and has been referred to as one of the most powerful preachers in Nigeria. In 2011, he was named by Forbes magazine as being the richest pastor in Nigeria.” [Courtesy Wikipedia].
Well, you don’t become the richest pastor in Nigeria by running a church that is not making money. Apparently, this was the problem in Tongo. Since they could not support the cost of maintaining a church there, they packed up and left. The few members in Tongo saw it as an opportunity to recruit both its members and eventually the building. Messie Senesie, the world’s greatest member missionary, who I have mentioned before in this blog, had the vision that their members could be our members and that this building could be their building.
On Tuesday, President Cobinah and I drove to Tongo, and along with Solomon Kongoley, the newly called home group leader, visited with the owners of the property, Nancy Ngando and her son-in-law Vandy Alpha, and signed a one year lease. The first time LaDawn and I traveled to Tongo, Sister Messie and Brother Kongoley showed us this building. Now, 4 months later it is home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Tongo. Yesterday was the first time they met in this “new” facility.
Trip #2 was on Thursday. Before the building could be used it would need to be cleaned and painted.
There was a lot of writing on the outside wall, and even on the inside that needed to be removed before new paint could even be applied. It would be a lot of work. Getting the right paint in Tongo was impossible, so President Cobinah arranged to purchase the needed supplies in Kenema and asked if we could take them up to them on Thursday. We also needed to take them 50 chairs, some from Dauda Town and some from Nyandeyama, and we knew that would not be possible in one trip, so we loaded 30 chairs and the paint, and President Cobinah, LaDawn and I headed back up the bumpy road.
We need to give a shout out to our guard, Charles David, who used to drive trucks out of Kenema. He was able to tie down the chairs so well that they did not move an inch, despite the rough roads. When we arrived we were surprised to see they had already made great progress in scraping nearly all of the painted words off of the outside of the building and were busy working inside to do the same.
Trip #3 was on Friday. This is our regular teaching day there. On the way home Thursday night we picked up the old signpost for the IDA branch before they moved to the new District Center from James Foday, the district councilor over facilities.
President Cobinah knew a sign painter named Saffa, so he called him and he agreed to meet us and refresh the sign and change the name from IDA Branch to Tongo Field and the time from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm to 9:00 – 11:00 am on both sides. We managed to find Saffa and leave the sign with him. We picked it up at 6:15 pm and it cost us about $6 for the work he did.
He also painted over all of the rust spots and made it look really great. We had also been back to Dauda Town and brought 5 more old chairs, a desk and two tables. We then picked up 15 more chairs (these were padded) from Nyandeyama. So now with 20 chairs, a desk, two tables and a signpost we weren’t sure if we could fit it all in the back of the truck. We again waited for Charles to come on shift and then watched him work his magic. He did another great job! We felt like we had our own poda-poda (see last week’s post).
When we arrived in Tongo, they were in the process of painting the inside. Two of the men we are teaching (James and Lasana) were there working. They stopped and we all went over to John Charles and his mom Kadie’s home where we taught 11 people “under the mango tree”. I am so impressed with this particular group of investigators.
Earnest questions, good understanding of what is being taught and a desire to know more. Most of them already have their own testimony of the Book of Mormon. It is a great experience being even a small part of this amazing miracle. After leaving the mango tree, we came back to the building and there taught Effie and Braime. By the time we had returned, they had already set the signpost. Elder Lunga (the new zone leader replacing Elder Adjety) and Mohamed Bockerie stopped and taught Ishmael. We also taught Sister Hannah, who is the mom of Moses, a young man we were teaching who is now in Bo going to school. Within a day of being in Bo, Moses had already contacted the missionaries. He is an impressive young man with a very sweet mom. How we love the people of Tongo!
Trip #4 was on Sunday. President Cobinah had interviewed and called Solomon to be the Home Group Leader so now he needed to be sustained and set apart. He asked if we would be willing to take Br. Samuel Fomba (another district councilor) to Tongo so we could get that in place. We were happy to return and be a part of this first day in the new building. So off we went at 7 am this morning.
When we arrived in Tongo, we were so pleased to see that the building had been completely painted, cleaned and setup for services. The transition from Tuesday when we secured the lease to Sunday morning was nothing short of miraculous. It was beautiful. Sacrament meeting was wonderful. Talks were on the creation, the Plan of Salvation and how to move the work of the Lord forward now that Tongo was established. For Priesthood, Elder Wallentine taught out of Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood (they don’t have any Liahona’s) and Messie Senesie taught out of The Latter-Day Saint Woman.
LaDawn went with the primary and helped teach part of the lesson and some songs. She indicated that only two of the children could even understand English and so the other sister with her had to translate into Mende. The zone leaders there today who have served in various places throughout the mission feel the strength in Tongo is better than some of the wards where they have served. I cannot speak for those other wards, but I tell you the strength of these men and women who are not even yet baptized is absolutely amazing to us. We are awaiting the day of the first baptisms and the eventual creation of the Tongo Branch. Stay tuned!
Despite the four trips to Tongo, we still managed to be involved in a number of other activities. On Monday we we helped with transfers, taking missionaries from Kenema (Elders Sister Achi, Elders Moyo, Obganayah and Holi) to Bo and then bringing back Elders (Barezuetta, Luaba, Lunga and Lemon) to Kenema. In the afternoon Joseph Aruna came over and we discussed the Opportunity Training Center for the disabled and the project that LDS Charities is working on with them that Joseph will oversee. We are thrilled that LDS Charities will be able to help them further their mission of helping the disabled polio victims here in Kenema find ways to help themselves.
Prior to leaving to Tongo on Tuesday, Clinton Gaima came over and helped me get diesel fuel for the generators and Afrigas canisters for cooking out to each of the missionary apartments. This is one more way that we are trying to help these young men get on their missions. Since replacing the water pipes with the PPR pipe, we have not had any more water problems, for which we are extremely grateful.
However, it seems that they moved next door to the sisters apartment! The water line that comes into the city and into their water tank sprang a leak in the afternoon and although we called the plumber immediately and he came right over, every time he tried to tighten the union fitting that he had installed, the pipe cracked further. The pipe itself had been exposed to the sun for some time and eventually the sun baked it. Even though there is not a ton of pressure in the line, it still broke the weakened pipe. As it turns out, the pipe had to leak all night long and the plumber (Mohamed Lukulay) came back Wednesday morning and replaced the entire section. Our guard Charles David then buried it so it would not reoccur.
On Wednesday morning we took Baindu Kallon to Bo to receive her patriarchal blessing from Brother Berewa, the patriarch of the Bo West stake. Baindu will be leaving on her mission on February 14th, and we want to make sure she has her blessing before she leaves. She will be a terrific missionary! In the afternoon we returned to Philip Bunduka’s home and there helped him load the work he had done in his “My Family” booklet into FamilySearch.org. He has lost two children and a wife, so this work is especially important to him. He also brought out the funeral program for his daughter named Patient and we took pictures of it and turned it into a PDF file so we could upload that for him as well. He also recorded a little about himself in his own voice and we uploaded that as well. We hope to go back this week and finish with his grandparents so we can print out temple cards for him. The spirit of Elijah in family history work is undeniable. We all felt it.
After returning from Tongo on Thursday, we attended the Kenema Zone Council. The zone leaders did breakout sessions on topics such as area books, obedience to the rules in the white missionary handbook, living the mission Standards of Excellence and being “Preach My Gospel” missionaries. It was a good program and the missionaries were definitely edified through their discussions. Kudos to Elders Wallentine and Lunga for their inspired planning of the council meeting. We ended up having to leave early as we needed to pick up the signpost for Tongo from the painter at 4:30 and chairs, desks and tables from Dauda Town at 5 pm.
The signpost wasn’t ready so we went to Dauda Town first and retrieved the signpost later that evening. In the meantime, we picked up the remaining 15 chairs from Nyandeyama to also take to Tongo.
On Friday when I returned from Tongo, we went over a visited Eku Scotland for a few minutes. He had been busy all week with a financial guy from Denmark who is part of Engineers without Borders. He was there to help them set up a cost tracking system for the solar power they will eventually install for them as well as new bathroom facilities. We set up an appointment to go back on Tuesday afternoon and further discuss the Book of Mormon with him. As a teaser, we quickly drew him a picture of the plan of salvation and explained it briefly and told him we would discuss it more with him on Tuesday. Because he has lost 4 children (one set of twins due to an accident his wife had before they were born and two to sickle cell), we have been feeling for some time that we needed to explain the plan in greater detail. We are looking forward to Tuesday!
One more thing we want to mention before leaving Friday. John Loucks, a friend from back at home made a comment on Facebook about last week’s blog post. He apparently dug a little deeper into Kenema and found an article about Dr. Aniru Conteh and left a link with his comment.
I followed the link and read the article. Turns out the famous doctor in the article is the father of one of our members in Tongo. When I read the article, I immediately thought about Brother Conteh. I wanted to ask him if he was related to the doctor so when I saw him on Friday I asked and he said that yes, he was his son and his namesake. Talk about a small world! If you are interested, here is the link to the article. Here also is a picture of his son that I took last Friday. Thanks John for teaching me about Lassa fever and the amazing doctor that saved thousands of people from the dreaded disease.
On Saturday morning we met Elder Sparks and Elder Gray at the Kenema Branch building. They had arranged with David Gbow and Ahmed Sandi to come to the building and input their pedigree charts into FamilySearch.org. We asked the Elders to do the assisting as we want them to learn as well about how to do more of this work. They both did a great job. Ahmed is the first convert in Kenema since Jan 2018 to input a name for temple work. He was only baptized two weeks ago, but this experience has made him even stronger. This is one of our favorite things to do is to help get the Sierra Leone family history into the FamilySearch database and more importantly, their names to the temple. Together these two young men with help from the Elders were together able to prepare 44 ordinances for the temple, each of them inputting 22. What a great way to start a Saturday morning!
From there I took LaDawn back home and I headed to the District Center to participate in a District “high” Council meeting. Currently there are only 6 members of the council and we had 4 of them in attendance. President Cobinah asked me to take a little time and do some training with them. We started the discussion by asking what would a stewardship report look like if the Savior came to Kenema and asked to sit down with each district councilor and discuss what they have done to further the work in their respective assignments. We had a very fruitful discussion about how to press forward. Now that the district is on the cusp of becoming a stake, there are a number of things that the district presidency is working on. One of those is calling another 6 members of the council and then making sure that all of the auxiliaries are fully staffed and functioning. It was an amazing meeting to be a part of. All of us who were there could feel the spirit of the work and the desire we each have to do just a little more.
After returning home, the Moomey’s brought us some things that had come from Freetown and got dropped off at their house instead of coming to Kenema. While they were here we took the opportunity to go to Food Masters and have some delicious food together. How we love the Moomey’s and how we love to be with them.
At the Saturday council meeting, President Cobinah asked if we could take Brother Fomba, one of the members of the district council to Tongo so he could call and set apart brother Kongoley as the new home group leader. You have already read about our trip to Tongo above.
When we returned home, for dinner LaDawn made some homemade tortilla’s and we had some unbelievably good fajitas. Not your common fare here in Kenema, but man was it delicious! We had some queso from Sister Clawson that she got in Freetown and we used plain yogurt as sour cream. Avocados are back in season so a little guacamole was also possible. Did I mention how delicious the fajitas were?
Pests are like distractions. They seem to make everything a bit more difficult and can be very annoying. Here in Kenema, there are plenty of distractions for the members, but most of those distractions center around the time and effort it takes to just provide enough of a living to survive. Money becomes extremely important and for many is more important than honesty, integrity and trustworthiness. We are happy to say that while members have their challenges, by far and away the vast majority stay true to the gospel of Jesus Christ despite the challenges they face. Like our agama lizard that eat our pests, there is a solution for members here as well. That solution is paying a full tithe and being generous with fast offerings. As the members in Kenema continue to embrace these “financial laws of God”, blessings will be poured out upon them the likes of which they have never before seen. It is the answer to bringing Kenema out of poverty and into the 21st Century. We are grateful to be here as this miracle continues to unfold.