I will be the first to admit that there is nothing really special about driving in Sierra Leone vs. any other third world country. Lots of motorcycles, old beat up taxis, vans that are tired from carrying too much weight, thrice-owned lorries (British word used here for trucks or rigs that carry goods) that can no longer drive straight down the road. These are all common scenes. We have mentioned Okada drivers before. There is no requirement for them to pass a driving test, you need only have access to a bike. For car and truck drivers, however, there are requirements that they need to understand the rules of the road although admittedly we think the rules should be the same as they are in the rest of the world. But we don’t know for sure and all indicators are that if they are the same, many of the drivers do not know it.
This week we were in Bo picking up the Moomey’s so we could go to the Dohas Hotel in Bo and enjoy a birthday meal together. Sister Moomey’s birthday was a day before mine so we thought we would celebrate together as couples. As I pulled out of the Moomey’s compound and onto the road, I made my way to the first and only intersection. It was there that I slowed, looked left and turned right onto the road that leads to the highway. As I made the turn, there was a dark colored Nissan Murano directly ahead of me, completely in my lane. As I turned the car and saw him I immediately stopped. He turned sharply into the right-hand land but stopping early enough that I could not get by him. As we both stopped he rolled down his window and I did the same. I am not sure who spoke first, but I do know that I said something like, “this is my lane on this side and that is your lane on that side”, pointing to the other side of the road. He was clearly unhappy and said something about “this is the highway and you have to stop when you enter it”. I don’t know what else he said, but he was clearly irritated with me for being on my side of the road, causing him to have to turn to be on his side (my side of the road may have been smoother as it was a dirt road). It was quickly obvious to me that this little conversation was going nowhere, so I simply said, “I am so sorry”. With that, he almost broke a smile, said, “that is all I wanted to hear” and then he drove off. Quite honestly. we were all stunned. I guess he felt by me saying I was sorry, it proved my guilt and his innocence and that was what was important to him.
About a month ago, we were driving over to the Opportunity Training Center to see Eku Scotland about a fan that wasn’t working. On our way there, I apparently drove through a small puddle of water resulting from a leak in a water pipe and it caused three or four drops of mud to land on a pant leg of a man standing nearby. Neither of us saw the man nor were we even aware of the water. The way we found out was the man followed our vehicle over to OTC and while I was inside he tapped on LaDawn’s window and wanted to know where the driver was because he had mud on his pant leg from a splash caused by our vehicle. LaDawn explained I was inside and that she was sorry and that we hadn’t even seen him nor the water. He said, “you aren’t the driver” and again wanted to know where I was. About that time, I came out and as I was opening the door he came up to me and showed me where I had splashed mud on his trousers. I tried to understand what he was saying because I had no idea that there was even water anywhere on the road. We are in the dry season and so water on the road is rare. He explained to me what he had already explained to LaDawn. I immediately started thinking that he must want money. I then told him how very sorry I was and that there was no intent to do him any harm and in fact I did not see him or the water. As soon as I said “I am so sorry”, he said, “okay then” and walked off, apparently happy that I had apologized to him.
In both of these cases we were surprised at how important it was to these two individuals that I apologize to them. It was as if it was a small battle and they won and I lost. We don’t see it that way but it has caused us reflection. It is not uncommon to see people arguing over the smallest of issues in their desire to be “right”. While Sierra Leone does not have a corner on this particular behavior, (it is endemic to some degree in every nation or why would we have wars?), it is a concern that we know the gospel can influence as it changes the behaviors and attitudes of people who desire to know more about God.
On Monday we had Junior Bendu and his guys move our solar panels that were facing west to the roof that faces south. They were originally placed on the side facing west so that “bad boys” would not throw rocks at them. While we have had a few rocks thrown on our roof over the last few months, they have all been on the east side of the house. Since our house faces south and our gate faces south, if someone were to throw a rock on that side of the house, there would be many who would see it. We hope it will be a sufficient deterrent. So far our experience is that having them facing south gives us much better solar power (as one would expect).
We had also been waiting for over a month for the three solar freezers that we ordered to come in. They finally arrived over the weekend and on Monday Junior came over and we went to Mohamed’s shop and picked them up. We brought them home and put two in the garage destined for the IDA and Airfield apartments and the 3rdone we brought in to learn for ourselves how it would run. We could tell immediately it was a much better freezer. Not only was it smaller, requiring less watts, but it also came with its own AC to DC transformer. I knew that the man still had one more that he had purchased, so Junior and I went back over to buy the last one. This time, we expected him to give us the freezer and then we would deliver the check in a few days rather than vice-versa. When I first asked him, he said it would now be about $60 more than what we paid for the other 3 we had purchased. I asked him if he really wanted to do that to his best customer who perhaps would want to do more business with him in the future. Finally, he relented and gave us the same price. He trusted us to bring him the check in a few days and ended up taking the extra freezer down to Moomey’s in Bo.
Monday evening, we visited the last of the 8 branches for this round of family home evenings for the young single adults. This one was at Burma branch. We are never sure what it is that makes one FHE so much better than another, but Monday was special. The YSA in attendance really understood what we were teaching and had some wonderful comments. The spirit was abundant and we all came away edified. We are thinking that on this next round we will do them on a night other than Monday’s in case there are YSA who have other members in the home and we want to teach them how to have fun together playing good wholesome games.
On Tuesday we were up early to take the zone leaders to Bo to catch a van to head to Freetown for the Mission Leader Council. As soon as we returned to Kenema, we began doing the “every six week apartment checks” starting with Dauda Town. From there we went to Airfield, IDA and Nyandeyama. We are always looking for things that need to be fixed, as well as things that need a bit more cleanliness applied to them. We found both. There had been a multi-zone activity the day before and the apartments were not up to their usual level of cleanliness.
In the afternoon, Bernard Laundeh came over and we interviewed him in regards to the work he had done to gather the names of 70 ancestors to take to the temple last month when he and his wife Kadie were sealed. He has an inspiring story. His persistence and determination were rewarded with family members providing significant amounts of information back 4 full generations. Hopefully we will be able to get the story into the West Africa section of the Liahona as it is a pattern for how others might gather their own family information. As if his family history work was not enough of a story, his conversion and commitment to the gospel is in and of itself quite amazing. Coming from a significantly broken home with 5 half-siblings from different mothers, he was hungry for the gospel at age 17 when he asked missionaries from our church to teach him about the gospel. When they told him he was too young, he was disappointed but pressed forward with his life. Two years later he met a man named Usman in his neighborhood that he was impressed with. He introduced himself to him one day and said he needed help to learn about God. Usman told him to come to church with him. Imagine his surprise when he arrived at the chapel and found more young men dressed like those who wouldn’t teach him two years earlier. With Usman’s encouragement, Bernard was taught the gospel and then it took him two years to convince the missionaries he was ready to be baptized. Shortly thereafter he met with the branch president and decided he wanted to serve a mission, which he did a year later. After completing his mission to Nigeria, he came home, got a job and met a girl he liked while attending college. He introduced her to the gospel to which she was naturally attracted. Two months later she was baptized and a little over a year later, Kadie and Bernard were married and then sealed in the temple. He has been persistent in every aspect of his life, and I am sure his continued determination will help him find success here in Sierra Leone as a husband, father and provider. It is men like Bernard that fill me with hope for the future of this country.
On Wednesday we took two more young single adults to Bo to receive their patriarchal blessings. Samai Bockerie, the clerk of the Kenema Central Branch and a returned missionary who had been unable to previously receive his blessing, and Samuel Sesay, one of our pre-mission boys with his call to the Nigeria Port Harcourt mission. They both had a great experience.
In the afternoon, Mohamed Flee come over and worked with me all afternoon to clean and refurbish 10 electric fans that we pulled from the apartments that now have solar power. It was a big job and gave him an opportunity to earn a bit more money towards his mission before he leaves next week. We took the fans to Moomey’s on Thursday as they have a “supply room” for missionary apartments.
On Thursday we attended the Hangha Road District Council where Elder Lemon is the district leader. The main discussion was centered around helping those we teach to make and keep commitments. I made a comment, based on the number of people we are teaching in Tongo one day a week, that if we have investigators who are not keeping commitments, maybe we don’t have enough investigators. Our experience in Tongo is that there are a lot of people who want to be taught and are willing to keep commitments.
In the afternoon, Bernard Laundeh came back over and we pulled the 45 minute discussion that he and his half-brother Kenneth had recorded while with their grandmother in their village from off of his phone, split it into 4 segments due to size limitations, converted the files to mp3’s and then uploaded them to FamilySearch.org where they will be preserved forever for his posterity at absolutely no charge. That is amazing. We had a few technical glitches along the way, but we finally managed to get it all done.
After we finished with Bernard we drove to Bo and enjoyed a delicious birthday meal with them at the Dohas Hotel. It is really nice every once and a while to step back from the work we are engaged in and enjoy a nice dinner. Thursday was that day. We made it back to Kenema just after dark.
Friday, as always was Tongo day. We taught John, Rebekah Grace, Konawa, Lasana, Mary, Sia, Ibrahim, Kadie, Sahr Lahai and his son Daniel, Hannah, Sarah, Joseph and Sister Kanu. This week will be baptismal interviews for those who are ready to be baptized, which as a minimum will be John and Rebekah Grace. The next scheduled baptismal date is two weeks later. There is much to do this coming week to make this happen. We will drive to Kailahun on Wednesday and pick up the swimming pool they have used there for baptisms and bring it to Tongo on Friday. Brother Kongoley is looking to secure a pump to fill the pool from the lake and then we will need to treat it with chlorine. The first baptisms are scheduled on the 16th of March so that will be a full day for sure. To make it even more interesting, Elder Wallentine was transferred this week and Elder Roche will need to come in and make all of this happen with very little background of the people and the things that need to occur. We are sure the Lord will help all of us pull this off. Exciting times in Tongo!
Saturday morning was cleaning day. That means no one goes out until noon but rather stays home and cleans. We have mentioned this before because the real cleaning that needs to happen is on the streets from the litter. Most people’s homes are already clean. And so it goes, we lose a half a day every month, especially when we need to be out doing things. Saturday evening at 4 pm the Kenema Central Branch had planned priesthood and auxiliary training and had asked us to arrange it, similar to what we did in Kpayama.
We were happy to do so. But that also meant that we needed to make some copies of the presentations since we only had one projector – and that would be used by the District Young Men President. We had taken the pages to the printer on Friday night so they would be ready to be picked up at 2 pm on Saturday. We have developed a nice relationship with the man who runs the shop and they are always so helpful to us, so when we went by own Saturday, they were ready as promised.
While the training was supposed to start at 4:00 pm, like many things here, few were on time and it was after 4:30 pm before we started. We had a good turnout of 17 of the potential 28 leaders who should have attended. About the same as in Kpayama. We don’t have a district Sunday school president right now so I met with Brother Quee and Brother Mansaray and went over their responsibilities and what it means to teach in the Savior’s way. LaDawn split her time between the Primary session and the Relief Society session. There was a wonderful spirit as we came back together and a few people shared what they learned in their session. Not perfect, but a successful training we believe.
After coming home and eating dinner, Charles David came to work as our guard about 9 pm. When I went outside to greet him he showed me that the left rear tire on the truck was going flat. He was kind enough to pull it off and replace it with the spare. He found a nice chunk of metal in the tread that had punctured the tire. We are pretty sure we know exactly where we picked it up. As some of the dirt roads here have been graded, the motorbikes drive way too fast on them (it is all relative, but still probably too fast). Neighborhoods tend to build speed bumps out of heavy clay soil, which is quite effective. One neighborhood, however, used trash. I guess it is only effective if there is medal shrapnel in the bump. Certainly slowed us down!
On Sunday we attended the Kpayama Branch. Mohamed Flee leaves on his mission this week so he was going to bear his testimony, which caused the branch president to call us and invite us to come. Since it was fast and testimony meeting anyway, he would only have a few minutes to speak, but we decided to go anyway. We always love being in the Kpayama Branch and Sunday was no exception. Great testimonies, great music and Sunday School was well prepared and well taught. A perfect day.
Following church we attended district choir. We had missed it Saturday night because of the training, so we didn’t want to miss twice in a row. After choir we came home and at 2 pm, Clinton Gaima and Mohamed Flee came to our home at their request and we spent just over 90 minutes talking about the Book of Mormon, why it is important, what things we can learn from it, how we can study it effectively and then we all shared some of the experiences we have had with scriptures that have touched out hearts. It was a glorious hour and a half. These are valiant young men who both be great missionaries. They both leave this month for different Nigeria missions.
At 4 pm we were back at the district center for an Africa West area broadcast with Sister Jean Bingham and Sister Bonnie Cordon. They spoke about counseling in councils and about ministering.
Their presentations were excellent. We were especially impressed with Elder Nash’s closing remarks based off of 3 Nephi 17. He talked about how the Savior first asked if there were any sick who were among them. Any who were “lame, or blind, or halt or maimed or leprous or that [were] withered, or that [were] deaf, or that [were] afflicted in any manner”. The scriptures say that “the multitude with one accord did go forth with their sick and their afflicted and their lame and with their blind and with their dumb and with all them that were afflicted in any manner”. Elder Nash then made the point, that Jesus did not ask the people to go visit them in their homes, he simply asked them to bring them unto Him and He would heal them. Elder Nash then asked if this is not the work we are asked to be engaged in today? Is this not what ministering is all about? To bring those who are afflicted in any manner to the Savior so He can heal them? He also mentioned that it was those who were sick or afflicted and those who brought them, that ended up being the ones closest to the Savior and who were undoubtedly the ones who “bathed His feet in their tears”. It was a powerful moment of teaching and something we will remember for a very long time.
While there are still some that are more interested in Win – Lose relationships, we are focused on Win – Win experiences with people. We know that those who will take the time to listen to the missionaries and understand the message of the restored gospel will Win, Sierra Leone will Win, the church will Win and the Lord will Win. (Hey, that is a Win Win Win Win!). When we are diligent in our callings to bring those who are afflicted to the feet of the Savior, everyone Wins. Here in Sierra Leone, we are working hand in hand with the marvelous people of Kenema, Kailahun and Tongo to eliminate Win – Lose and promote Win – Win! How grateful we are to be a part of this great work!