This week we want to talk about our guard Charles David and the life changing impact the Gospel Literacy program has had on him and his family.
Charles joined the church on September 17, 2016, his sons John (15) and Joseph (12) were baptized a month later. His wife joined the church the following April. When the Gospel Literacy program was rolled out in Kenema Central Branch in November 2017, Charles did not even know the letters of the alphabet. Once the literacy class started, Charles was a faithful attendee and by the time we arrived in July 2018 he had completed the original Book I. It was in that class that he learned the alphabet and gained confidence that perhaps he could learn to read one day. When we arrived, I started working with him to read the Book of Mormon. It was slow going and so when the new Gospel Literacy program rolled out at the first of this year, we started from the beginning with the new Book I and worked our way all the way through it. We are now almost through the draft version of Book II. It was in this second book that he learned how to hold a Family Home Evening and as of this writing, he has led four evenings with his family. It has been an amazing experience to watch this miracle unfold.
Prior to coming to work as one of the guards for the senior missionary couple apartment here in Kenema, Charles provided for his family by driving truck. He wanted to be home more so when the opportunity for this job came along, he expressed interest and was eventually hired. Being a lorry driver requires a lot of ingenuity. Most of the trucks are old and break down often. That experience however, really helped Charles to gain valuable practical experience that we definitely appreciate. There is little that he cannot do when it comes to fixing things without spending a dime.
That is all context for the amazing experiences that Charles and his family had this weekend. Some time ago, I mentioned to the branch president that Charles’ family had had their first Family Home Evening and perhaps he could ask Charles to give a talk in church at some point as a way to encourage others to teach the gospel in their home. Well, last week, Charles was asked to speak on March 31st(yesterday) and so we began preparing a talk together that he could give. A day or two later we found out that his son, Steven, would be baptized on the Saturday before (March 30th). It is not uncommon here for men without a lot of priesthood experience to either not be asked or simply defer to someone else to do the baptism and confirmation of their children.
I assured Charles that I would help him prepare so that he could baptize and confirm him. He was very excited to do so, even though he was in the process of also learning how to give his very first talk in Sacrament Meeting. Over the next few days, Charles memorized the baptismal prayer perfectly and on Saturday baptized Steven like a seasoned missionary. The font was just rebuilt and though the branch had filled it water on Friday, by Saturday morning nearly of it had leaked out. Not such great workmanship. We managed to get enough water into the font (we started the service an hour late) to baptize Steven and a new convert (Moses). But it was close. Despite the difficulty, Charles did a great job.
In an effort to keep things simple, we only started studying the confirmation process after he finished the baptism. As we studied the confirmation process and he came to understand that he would need to listen for promptings of the spirit to give him a blessing after confirming him, I could see the spirit settle onto him and teach him how it would work. Unfortunately, we needed to go to Kailahun yesterday so we could not be there to witness the confirmation or the talk, but we have only heard good things about how well it all went. When Charles came to work last night, I asked him how it went. He said, “Well, I am not supposed to praise myself”. I asked, “Did other people praise you?”. His response, “Oh, very much so.”
18 months ago, Charles could not even read the letter “A”. This weekend he baptized and confirmed his son and gave a talk in Sacrament Meeting. His confidence is sky high and we have witnessed how his involvement in these priesthood ordinances and speaking in sacrament meeting has blessed his entire family. We can also see how his desire to learn to read is helping his family as he is now able to teach them about the gospel of Jesus Christ even if only in small ways. The Gospel Literacy program is definitely life changing. It has changed the Charles David family for sure. And working with this honest, sincere and humble man has changed my life as well.
On Monday morning, I took Junior Bendu and we went to Bo to collect two DC Freezers from the man that we have been buying from. These freezers were in Conakry and look to be the best ones yet. I say that because they come with an AC to DC adapter that looks to be much better than the ones we have been using. Time will tell. On the last set of 150 liter freezers that we bought, the on/off switch on every single one of them has failed. Fortunately, we have an external switch to turn it on and off so we could wire around it, but it is indicative of the poor Chinese quality of the appliance. We also brought back the solar panels, solar batteries and fans for Kailahun. While Junior was here we also figured out what additional materials we would need for that installation. We generally have the kit figured out, but the number of lights, plugs and the amount of wire are different for each apartment.
Melissa Hawkley, the literacy specialist for the church came back with us from Makeni so that gave us an opportunity to review the new literacy videos that have been completed and figure out how best to use them here in Kenema. Some are still work in progress, but most will be helpful to the teachers as they get regular “inservice” training from the district specialist (which we do not yet have).
This was brought home when Lucinda Kallon, one of the literacy teachers in the Kenema Branch came to our apartment on Wednesday and shared her experiences with teaching gospel literacy. Melissa showed her a couple of videos on how to set up the classroom and get started each week as well as how to use letter cards for the learners to understand how words are formed. Lucinda was very grateful for the increased understanding and methods to help her be successful. The Gospel Literacy program is built on the principle of teaching letter sounds and words a little at a time, rather than focus on learning the entire alphabet. The method works well and helps the learners have small successes early on as they begin to read and write words such as “I”, “my” “am” etc. It is definitely an inspired program.
Also this week, President Cobinah came to our apartment to discuss with Melissa the schedule for rolling out gospel literacy to the other branches in the district. Now that we have a schedule we will be able to begin work with each of the branches to make it happen as directed by President Cobinah. One of the issues we have is that the Church’s Self-Reliance Services division wants to roll literacy out across West Africa as quickly as possible. And while the Area President is very supportive of doing just that, there has been minimal priesthood direction that would bring it to the same level of priority as it is for Self-Reliance Services. This creates a bit of a dilemma about what is most important. Another issue that we have is that currently gospel literacy has to be taught outside of the 2 hour church meeting block which is difficult for many who want or need to go home with the rest of their family. There is currently a lot of work underway to consider moving the class back into the block as “Come Follow Me Gospel Literacy” so that gospel learners (those who cannot read and write) can have a better experience with learning the gospel during the second hour. It is still work in progress and we do not know the ultimate outcome, but it is one more barrier that we hope will be removed to make it easier for those who want to understand the gospel and learn to read and write to do so during the Sunday block of meetings.
On Wednesday we also spent some time looking for Flash Drives so that Melissa could put the literacy videos on them for the other wards and branches in the mission where it has been implemented. We ended up going to three different places and she was able to purchase a total of 17 drives. While they all had names like Toshiba, HP and Samsung, some were clearly knock-offs from China and all employed old technology in terms of transfer speed.
Fortunately only 3 of the 17 did not work and when we took them back today to two different places, they were surprisingly good about giving us replacements, albeit different sizes – since Melissa had purchased all of the 8 GB drives they had. Nevertheless, we were impressed that they were so willing to make sure we were happy. There is hope for businesses in Kenema!
On Thursday morning we were up early and took the Sister Training Leaders back to Bo along with Sister Kisembe who had a medical appointment. Once a transfer the sister training leaders come to Kenema to do exchanges with the sisters here. Moomey’s usually bring them and we generally take them back. These are some great sisters and we are happy to help them get back home after a successful exchange.
After returning home we attended the North Kenema District Council with Elder Hadlock, Elder Winters, Elder Spaulding and Elder Sparks. We had a great discussion about what it means to enter into the strait and narrow way. I found a picture on the internet that I shared with them about how a strait is a thin body of water that connects two larger bodies of water. This is such a wonderful symbol of how baptism allows us to enter into one end of the strait from mortality and on the other end is the temple that allows us to enter into heavenly glory.
I shared the information about the Salt Lake Temple and how the different phases of the moon are depicted on the outside near the middle of the temple, so that if one walks around the temple it appears that everything is rotating around it. It literally becomes the center of the universe. This symbol is a depiction of what is called the “axis mundi”, which is literally the center place where heaven and earth meet. Just as the “strait” leads from one body of water to another, the temple is part of the covenant path that leads us into the heavenly realm. There was a great spirit with us as we discussed both of these important “gates”.
Thursday afternoon we trained the new Branch Presidency at Kpayama Branch. President Kenneth Lamina was released about two weeks ago and his first counselor Edward Kemokai was called. President Kemokai has only been a member of the church for two years, but he is a very quick learner. We thought he had been a member for much longer. He is the regional director for the Red Cross here in Kenema so he is a busy man, but he is also a seasoned leader who knows how to get things done. We spent about an hour and a half with them and it was time well spent. They had good questions and really seemed to understand their responsiblities. President Lamina left the branch in great shape and this new presidency is so fortunate to be able to build upon the solid foundation he established.
Speaking of fortunate, LaDawn had ordered barbecued chicken from Food Masters ahead of time which we then picked up on our way home and enjoyed a great meal at home once we returned.
On Friday I again traveled to Tongo. This time the zone leaders invited Samuel Sesay and Ibrahim Saffa to come along as branch missionaries. We had another really great day as we work with the next generation of investigators to prepare them for baptism.
Peter, Mary, Kadie, Adama, Lasana, Sahr and Hannah are all progressing towards baptism this month. I want to especially mention Hannah Braima. When we first started teaching Hannah, we were not sure how much she understood nor we were clear on her level of interest. Each week she would make progress and tell us of her love and testimony of the Book of Mormon. But this week was somehow different. A couple of weeks ago we took her some reading glasses that the wives of the Area Presidency brought back from the states and asked Melissa to bring to Sierra Leone from Ghana for members here.
We picked out several for her to try and she found a pair that worked for her and she was so appreciative to receive them. This week when we arrived at her home, she had set some chairs out under her own mango tree and had her glasses and her Book of Mormon on the bench as she waited. This has never happened before. Something was different. Her countenance was different, her spirit was more refined. It was amazing to see the transformation that we can only ascribe to her being able to read the Book of Mormon for herself and feel the spirit of that book. We had a wonderful discussion with her and concluded she is ready to be baptized as soon as we finish the lessons.
When we returned home from Tongo, I picked up LaDawn and we headed over to Eku’s. Melissa had a work phone call so she stayed at the apartment. As an aside, we have had very little National Power here the last month or so, but for three straight days (Thur-Sat), there was power in the afternoon so that Melissa could turn on her a/c and work in her room. And just as it came, it is now gone. Just another small miracle that to us indicates just how important gospel literacy is to the people here.
We had taken Eku a copy of the Liahona conference report for the month of November as we wanted to introduce him to the words of a living prophet. It is clear that he finds great joy in the teachings of the Book of Mormon, but we don’t want to stop there. We want to give him the perspective of what a worldwide church, led by a prophet of God looks like from the inside out.
We read President Nelson’s opening remarks together and then played on our iPad his talk from the women’s session. He really enjoyed that. LaDawn was then inspired and pulled up the video of Elder Bednar and Elder Rasband giving a tour of the Rome Temple. When we started, I told him it was 11 minutes long and he said, “we will just watch a little of it”. He was absolutely glued to the screen. The magnificence of the temple, coupled with the spirit he felt from Elder Bednar and Elder Rasband was obvious. Our hearts were again filled with love for this good man who is so humble and spiritually oriented.
Saturday morning we attended the baptism of Steven Charles as mentioned above. In the afternoon we ran some errands to deal with some apartment issues. We put a smoke detector up in the empty Simbeck apartment (not sure who will hear it) and then went to Airfield and rewired the switch on their solar freezer which had stopped working. We made a return trip to Airfield when the plumber needed money to buy the part to repair the bathroom sink. It was hot in the apartment at home (except for Melissa’s room) and so we appreciated getting out into the truck to run a few errands. While there was enough national power to run the small air conditioner in her room, the power was too weak to run a second a/c unit. On Saturday night we went over Charles talk one last time that he would give the next day. He was ready!
On Sunday morning we arose about 4:40 am and prepared ourselves to make the trip to Kailahun. There were some changes in the Elders Quorum that needed to be made so we picked up President Paul Aruna (second counselor in the District Presidency) and Brother Stanford Moijueh who is the district counselor over Kailahun on our way out of town. We had the solar panels, freezer, batteries, shelf for the batteries and fans that we needed to take with us. This is where Charles is such a huge help. He can tie down a load like no one I have ever met. Because the panels have glass on them, it was especially important that they were packed properly. We stood them on their end next to the truck cab, but because they were so tall we had to go out of the gate of our compound before we could load the truck. So there we were at 5 am, loading a truck just outside our gate. Once we had it loaded, Charles agreed to tie it down and then stand guard (not likely there would be any problem) while I finished getting ready. At 5:50 am we pulled out and were on our way.
We arrived in Kailahun just after 8:00 am. We dropped Pres Aruna and Br. Moijueh off near the church and we drove to the missionary apartment. They all came down and helped to carry everything up three flights of stairs. Did we mention that the solar batteries are about 80 pounds each? We were really grateful for these strong young men.
Once we had everything unloaded we headed back to the church and enjoyed an inspiring sacrament meeting. The assigned talks were about the covenant path – especially the importance of the temple, and the Final Judgment. Pres Aruna then spent a few moments talking about the care of our meetinghouses and also the importance of tithes and offerings. The second hour was a fifth Sunday lesson given by the Branch President. He used Come Follow Me lesson on being born again. It was very well done. He is an excellent teacher and there were a lot of very good comments. The Kailahun branch is a special place. Lots of wonderful saints, great leadership and a spirit of “can do”.
After church we trained the newly called Elders Quorum President (Alexander) and one of his counselors (John) – the other one has not yet been called as well as the Relief Society President (Jamie Moijueh) and her 2nd counselor (Mariam Kaitongi). Training the two presidencies together was a first for us, but there are so many common responsibilities and working together is so critical that we think it turned out okay. The only thing we missed was taking a picture at the end!
The trip back was uneventful (we are grateful). We got back before 4 pm but we were definitely beat after a long and productive day. We were grateful to enjoy a relaxed evening together.
There is no doubt that the gospel changes lives. I have now heard two different members report that non-member friends who came to church with them said that our church is like a school. Some of that is because of gospel literacy classes and some of that is because of our Sunday school, Relief Society and Elder’s Quorum instruction. The church is like a school. We are learning how to navigate mortality so that we can enter the “strait” gate and return again to our Father in Heaven. Many of the churches here do not teach doctrine. They drum, they dance, they preach from a microphone held too close to their lips. To us it sounds like noise and not worship. The church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s church built on a solid foundation of prophets and apostles.
We invite everyone to come and see for themselves. Feel the spirit of the meetings, get to the know the members and their goodness. The gospel will change us for the better and that is the bottom line. We are grateful to be here in Sierra Leone, where we work hand-in-hand with the members and leaders learning and growing as the gospel continues to change our own lives.