This week we made a trip to a village called Dia, about 14 miles on the other side of Kailahun. There are several members who live there, including the Paramount Chief, his wife and one daughter, but because of the distance to the chapel in Kailahun, they have been requesting that a home group be formed there.  President Clawson asked that we visit Dia and make an assessment as to whether we could successfully establish one there.

Kenema to Dia is about 3 hours by car. Did is near the border of both Guinea and Liberia

As the crow flies, Dia is about 65 miles from Kenema.  However, it took us a little over 3 hours to get there.  We have mentioned before that the road to Kailahun is much better now than in the past.  There are two roads from Kailahun to Dia.  One is about 15 minutes longer than the other, but the road is much better. We took the good road on the way there and the shorter, but worse road, on the way back.  Personally I prefer the better of the two, even though it is longer. The scenery was better as well. We had arrived in Kailahun at 9:30 am, did an inspection of the missionary apartment and then took Elder Barrezueta, Elder Maruv, and President Morison Nabieu (Kailahun branch president) with us to Dia.  We arrived there about 11:45 am.

When we first arrived, we paid a visit to the Paramount Chief, Tamba O. Jaffa.  He and his wife were both baptized in Freetown in 1991. When his father passed away, he left Freetown to come back to Dia to become the Paramount Chief.  He is currently not well, suffering perhaps from the cancer that took his left leg a couple of years ago, but he remains dutiful in his responsibilities as the chief.  After brief introductions, we enjoyed a delicious communal lunch of African rice topped with cassava leaf mixed with chicken and fish.  

Meeting in the community center with those interested in having the church come to Dia

After lunch we walked over to the community center and there we found over 35 people who were waiting for us to come and talk to them about bringing the church to Dia.  It was quite amazing.  By the time we finished with the meeting about an hour later, there were more than 40. When we took the picture, many of the children who had gathered to see what was happening jumped into the picture.

After an opening hymn and a prayer. President Morison asked me if I wanted to say a few words.  I told them we had come under the direction of the mission president, President Clawson, to assess as to whether or not we could establish a formal home group here.  I then asked them why they had come today and why they had been gathering each Sunday for a short “service”.  Their responses surprised me.  One man said that before he knew about the church he would drink alcohol and smoke, but since coming to know about the church, he has stopped and his life now is better. Another man stood and said that since he started to attend the service each Sunday he has come to learn that a man should only be with one woman and so he was living that way now.  Two women stood and each testified of the peace they were now feeling in their lives.  They explained how they loved that the church was “open” about the doctrines and the laws and commandments of God, which was different from other churches.  Someone mentioned they appreciated that we did not pass a tray for money.  They expressed appreciation for the way they feel each time they come on Sunday.  One indicated her love for the Book of Mormon. I stood in awe as I heard story after story about how the gospel of Jesus Christ has impacted them already, even with their limited contact with the church itself.  

(LtoR) Elder Maruv, Benjamin Yambasu, Elder Barrezueta

A young man by the name of Benjamin Yambasu is working in Dia as part of a FamilySearch initiative to gather and collect oral histories.  He is expecting to be in Dia for three years doing this work. Benjamin is a member of the church who lives in Bo, but took on this job as a way to provide for his family.  When I asked who he works for, he told me a company called Leosa, a contractor hired by FamilySearch to do this work.  In any case, he is there and may be the key to being able to develop a home group as we need a strong Melchizedek Priesthood holder to be the leader.  This would give us time to teach a few of the other men there who are particularly impressive so that when Benjamin leaves, the home group can continue.  Something we will be discussing with President and Sister Clawson.

One of the things we find in these villages are men with more than one wife.  For some it is because they are Muslims, but we find in some areas that the practice has spread to people who consider themselves Christians as well.  It is a difficult topic for someone with 2 wives who want to be baptized, knowing that they can only have one wife and be baptized.  This particular question came up twice during the discussion, so we know it is a real issue for at least some of the people there.  We are looking forward to seeing how things progress in Dia, for now it looks a lot like Tongo a lot farther away!

Cashew Fruit

One other thing we want to mention about Dia.  Right before we left, President Morison came around the Chief’s home with some fruit in his hand.  When we asked what it was, he said it was cashew fruit.  He was already eating his and he indicated that it was delicious. Elder Barrezuita mentioned that he had taken a bite of one once and spit it out.  President Morison assured us that these were ripe and we excellent. So he gave us one and we took it home, put it in the refrigerator for a day, bleached it and then ate it.  Well, mostly I ate it, LaDawn didn’t really care for the way that it smelled, but I found it to be delicious.  The only flavor I can compare it to is Juicy Fruit gum. A bit fibrous, but I ended up eating the whole fruit.  All that was left was the cashew and its shell.  

Rash from the toxic resin in the cashew nut (grateful it chose this place to manifest itself!)

Since I love cashews, I figured I might as well try a raw one as well, so I cut it open with a knife (not easy) and as I did so, half of it fell on the ground and cashew popped out and I ate it.  Not bad, but not great.  I couldn’t get the other half out, so finally picked up a fork and dug it out.  I broke off a small piece and gave it to LaDawn and I popped the rest of it in my mouth.  Big mistake.  Within minutes my lips stated to burn.  When I mentioned it to LaDawn, she said her lips had also burned ever so slightly after eating it (the piece I gave her was very small).  Well, I started to wonder what was going on so I looked it up online and surprised to learn that those raw cashews are encased in a toxic resin made up of three things.  

  1. phenolic resin, which can be used as an insecticide
  2. anacardic acid, a serious skin irritant 
  3. urushiol, a substance that is found in poison ivy

The last thing anyone would want to do is to eat that toxic resin, but I definitely ingested a small amount on the second half of that raw cashew.  Within a couple of days, I developed a skin rash on my ankles and behind my knees.  I mean who eats poison ivy anyway?  From what I have read it will run its course in about a month, until then, I am grateful for hydrocortisone and antihistamine.  And, but the way, I will never forget our visit to Dia for more reasons than one!

Weekly Highlights

Saying goodbye to Elder Gray

Monday was transfer day and so I was up early to take 4 missionaries to Bo (Elder MaKaafi, Elder Gray, Sister Kisingala and Sister Sarfoa) and brought 3 back (Elder Spaulding, Elder Smith, Elder Hendricks).  It is always hard to see these Elders and Sisters leave that we have come to love, but we enjoy meeting new missionaries with whom we will work and for whom we will develop the same feelings.

A three bed, three wardrobe, three desk, three fan bedroom!

Since we were now going to have 5 sisters in the apartment next door, we needed to arrange for an additional bed, an additional solar fan, an additional wardrobe, an additional desk and an additional mosquito net.  Fortunately, right now the Simbeck missionary apartment is empty and so we were able to borrow the things that we needed.  To be honest that sounds like a lot easier than it was, especially since the wardrobe was very heavy.  The sisters kept asking about it, so we told them to come help us and they did. Pretty sure we could not have done it ourselves.  The next challenge was figuring out how to fit all of that in one room.  Again with the help of the sisters and a little ingenuity, (including removing the bedroom door), we managed to fit three beds, three desks and three wardrobes into one room.

Brainstorming ideas with the sisters about how to help the branches grow

To close out the day we had the sisters come to our apartment at 8:30 pm and we talked about how we can work together to help move Kenema from a district to a stake and specifically how we can help the two branches where they are assigned.   There were three new sisters who came to Kenema. Sister Senaoane, Sister Munyengeterwa and Sister Kisembe.  All three of them are bringing new energy and increased desire to be actively engaged in a good cause.  They combine with Sisters Yuku and Blama Kai to create two sets of companionships.  The hour we spent Monday evening was to help them start strong.  We talked about how to plan out a week and brainstormed a list of the kinds of things that could be done in both of the branches within their areas of responsibility.  It was wonderful to be with them and feel of their desire to increase the pace of the work in these two units.

Clinton Gaima (left) and Brother Berewa (right)

On Tuesday we again traveled to Bo to take one of our pre-mission boys to receive his patriarchal blessing. Clinton Gaima will leave the end of this month to the Nigeria Enugu mission.  We also took Junior Bendu and one of his guys, Ibrahim, to adjust the Moomey’s solar panels and install their freezer.    We were happy to be able to get both of those things done.

Keifala (left) and Ibrahim (right)

At 3:00 pm, we went back over to the Opportunity Training Center and finished helping Ibrahim Kamara and Keifala Kamara input their family history.  We had started a couple of weeks ago, but ran into some data issues, so both of them went back and discussed the information with their moms. We were able to submit over 50 temple ordinances between these two wonderful men.

Because we were traveling to Kailahun and Dia on Wednesday, we decided we needed to get diesel fuel over to the Dauda Town apartment.  They are the only apartment now in Kenema without solar power and they are suffering because they have very little National Power (NP).  So we loaded 25 gallons of diesel into Gerry Cans and delivered them on Tuesday evening just as it was getting dark.

Elder Hadlock (left) with Elder Winters (right)

After returning from Dia on Wednesday we met the Moomey’s at Ahmadiyya Junction and picked up Elder Winters from them and took him to IDA apartment.  This allowed the Moomey’s to head back to Bo before it got any darker. Elder Winters is a new missionary from California coming to be with Elder Hadlock as his companion.  He was pretty shell shocked when we picked him up, but now that he is beginning to settle in a bit, he is starting to get his footing and finding his way.  I think he will be good.  It is quite a culture shock to come from California to Kenema!

On Thursday, Melissa Hawkley and Cason Curriden came to Kenema as part of the next phase of rolling the Gospel Literacy program out.  We talked about some of the new changes to Book 2 and how best to roll it out to the Dauda Town branch.  President Joseph Aruna, the newly called Dauda Town branch president agreed to meet with all of us at 5 pm in our apartment along with President Cobinah to discuss it.  That meeting went well and the plan now is to meet and train the branch council and other facilitators on Friday at 4:00 pm and then hold the Gospel Literacy Sunday School class next Sunday during 2ndhour.

Kenema Zone Council

Thursday afternoon, prior to the meeting with President J Aruna and President Cobinah, we attended the Kenema Zone Council.  The Kailahun elders had come down for it so everyone was there.  The focus of the meeting was to focus on three topics:  1) Bury our weapons of rebellion, 2) Understand the “why” of the doctrine of Jesus Christ and 3) Teach more in the Saviors Way. It was an excellent zone council meeting with valuable and honest discussion about what we all can do to be just a little bit better as missionaries.  Unfortunately we had to leave a little early so we could get back to our apartment for the literacy meeting.

On Friday Elder Roche, Elder Lunga, Elder Hadlock and Elder Winters traveled with me to Tongo for another great day.  Elder Hadlock came along to interview John Charles, Rebekah Grace and Success Konowa for baptism next Saturday.   Everything went very well.  

We also spent some time scoping out a place for the baptism.  We brought the portable swimming pool from Kailahun that had been used there in the past for baptisms.  We found an ideal place to have the baptism, but it was on property on “aqua” lake that belonged to someone as there was a house there, even though it did not look currently lived in.  As it turns out, the house belongs to Messi Senesie’s boss and when she asked him if we could set up the pool in his “yard” and hold the baptism there, he was very gracious and said yes.  Our plan now is to go up on Friday, setup the pool, fill it water and then treat it with chlorine and then come back on Saturday morning for the baptisms. Hoping that will all work out.

Melissa and Cason also came, driving President Cobinah’s vehicle.  While John, Rebekah and Konowa were being interviewed, they taught Messie and Kadie (John’s mother) how to teach a gospel literacy lesson.  Literacy is something that would certainly bless the people there.  We will just have to find the right time to roll it out.  Right now, the focus is on building sufficient strength to create a branch out of the home group.

When we returned back to Kenema, we left and went over to visit Eku Scotland.  Unfortunately our visit was cut short when one of the country deputy commissioners for the disabled showed up and wanted to have a meeting with Eku.  We knew it was important to him so we agreed to reschedule.  We did leave him a Liahona with the conference addresses from October.  We asked him to the read the talks by President Nelson, as we want him to “test” the fruits of a living prophet as well as the testing of the fruit of the Book of Mormon which he has been doing.

On Saturday morning. we met with the young men and their leaders from the Burma Branch.  They wanted to train the young men how to lead. What we discovered was there was some work that needed to be done first.  We made a list for them:

  1. Get the young men ordained to their age appropriate priesthood office and make sure it gets recorded in MLS
  2. Have the branch president call and set apart a Deacon’s quorum president, a Teacher’s quorum president and a Priest’s quorum first assistant
  3. Call counselors to the quorum presidents where possible
  4. Hold a presidency meeting
  5. Follow thru on agreed actions from the presidency meeting
  6. Work with the branch president to schedule and hold Bishops’s Youth Committee once each month.

We also had an opportunity to talk to them about their responsibilities in regards to the sacrament.  We are encouraging all of the branch presidents and young men presidents to reclaim their responsibility to administer the sacrament each week.  It is an Aaronic Priesthood duty and the Elders Quorum should not be taking responsibility for it.  We took some time and talked about how to administer the sacrament from priests helping each other pronounce the prayers correctly, to Deacons helping each other with the trays as they are passed.  Overall it was a very good 90-minute meeting and we all went away edified.

Awaiting the start of the marriage ceremony

Saturday afternoon at 3:00 pm, John Martin Sesay and Rachel Jongopie were to be married in a traditional ceremony.  It took us some effort to find the address, but eventually with help from several people made our way there.  I needed to attend a District [high] Council meeting at 5:00 so when the ceremony had not yet started by 4:30 we had to leave.  As was the case here, it is not uncommon to rent large speakers and play music at such a high volume that no one can speak to another person in the congregation.  The entire street is a part of the event whether they want to or not.  We find it to be very common here, that when someone has an event worth celebrating, out comes the music at top volume.  Often it goes late into the night.  It is so much a part of the culture here that no one thinks twice about it.  It happens often in the area where we live and it becomes frustrating at times when at 10:30 we cannot sleep because music is playing so loudly nearby.  Anyway, back to the wedding.  

John Martin Sesay

We have great respect for John, who recently returned from serving a full-time mission.  Rachel dutifully waited for him, faithful in her callings and church attendance.  They will be a powerful force for good here in the district and in the Kenema Branch.  We were sorry we could not be there for the event itself.

On Sunday, we attended the Nyandeyama branch next door to our apartment.  We always love to go there and be with the people we often see on the streets near our apartment.  The meetings were good.  I attended Young Men’s where the YM president taught a lesson on priesthood and priesthood keys.  LaDawn attended Young Women’s.  They do not have Come Follow Me manuals for the youth so they are still using Gospel Principles.  

The teacher did not have a lesson prepared, so I pulled up the lesson from Come Follow Me on my iPad on Priesthood and he gave that lesson instead. He did a nice job for having zero preparation time.  Something we are still working on!

After church we came home, had a quick lunch, packed a bag with some clothes and headed off to the mission home in Freetown for a couple of days of renewal, car work, grocery shopping and both delivering a few things to Freetown and bringing a few things back to Kenema.

We continue to be impressed with the number of people here who are interested in the church because of the simple doctrines, the spirit they feel when they visit, the relative lack of focus on offering up money each week and most importantly the members themselves.  For every village like Dia, we believe there are 10 more that would respond the same way if someone where there to teach them.  There are simply not enough missionaries, nor is the infrastructure of the church currently strong enough to support that kind of growth.  But it will come.  We need more missionaries who are prepared and capable and willing to serve in Africa, both young men and senior couples.  We have never been engaged in a more rewarding work than what we are doing right now.   The stone is rolling forth exactly as prophesied by the prophet Daniel (see Daniel 2:34-35).  It is such a privilege to be on the front lines and watch it roll hand-in-hand with the members and leaders of the Kenema District. 

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