Over the last 3 weeks or so I have been fighting some sort of respiratory bug. It seems to have started a few days after we returned from Freetown on March 13th. It may have been caused by the vehicle pollution at street level experienced the morning when we went for a walk. I was surprised just how much “carbon residual” there was on the buildings, sidewalks and streets themselves. I even mentioned this in our blog that week. It may also have been caused by the incessant Harmattan dust that settles on everything here like a thin blanket of sifted flour. I am not a stranger to bronchitis, as it is something that I have struggled with from time to time since a small child. My father was a chain smoker (Camels) and the amount of second hand smoke I was exposed to up until I was a teenager was significant. The only reason it changed when I entered my teen years was because I became brave enough to distance myself from my dad whenever he would light up a new cigarette. In 1985, after battling a virus, I was diagnosed with exercise induced asthma and used an inhaler for more than 15 years before it finally went away.
Whether it was the pollution or the dust that caused it – or perhaps the two combined – it came on differently from any previous experience. Once or twice a year I seem to catch a very bad cold which then turns into a nasty cough and ultimately bronchitis. This time, however, there was no cold, no sinus drainage, no sore throat. The cough just started and then persisted. At first I thought I could fight it off with some Vitamin C, and while it helped it from progressing quickly, I wasn’t getting any better. The worst part about it was I began feeling really crummy. I was tired and my chest was heavy and I just couldn’t seem to shake it. Meanwhile the work here needed to continue and I didn’t feel so bad that I couldn’t function, it just took extra effort. If we had a short break, I would rest, but the reality is that it wasn’t getting any better. Finally, I called Sister Moomey, the mission nurse, and concluded I needed some advice from the area medical doctor, Elder Crouch. She had offered this to me before, because I thought I could fight it off on my own I declined. When it finally got to the point where I knew I needed help she gave me his number and I called him.
What a great blessing our area medical director (doctor) is. Imagine covering all of West Africa and fielding calls all day long from mission nurses or in some cases, the wives of our good mission presidents who, in the absence of a mission nurse, are the focal point for wellness. Here in West Africa the number of medical issues that are dealt with are not insignificant. Malaria (usually for those not taking doxycycline or sleeping under a mosquito net), typhoid (malaria’s close relative), in-grown toenails, discouragement, fatigue, headaches, minor injuries from sports, etc. The list is long and varied. Obedient missionaries generally avoid most health problems, but even the very best will find themselves ill from time to time. How grateful we are for the medical professionals across the church who keep our 65,000 strong missionary force healthy!
Elder Crouch suggested two things immediately. The first was to get some azithromycin. In the states this is known as a Z Pack. A 5-day regimen of 500 mg tablets taking two the first day and one every day for 4 more days. A ‘Z Pack’ is not available here, but azithromycin in 500 mg tablets is. The second thing he suggested was a steroid inhaler. He thought I could get that as well. If there is one thing I really appreciate about Sierra Leone and that is the ease of access and cost of medicine. I had been to the pharmacist earlier for some Pertussin DM type of cough syrup. It didn’t seem to do much. This time when I went for the Azithromycin and Steriod Inhaler, I picked up a cough syrup that the pharmacist recommended especially for bronchitis called Ambroxol Hydrochroride. That stuff was amazing! It was Monday and I was not feeling well. We decided maybe it would be a good week to lay low for a couple of days and try to get better. I started Monday with all three medications and other than a trip to the Pharmacy did not go out.
Tuesday I felt a little better so we went for a short walk but couldn’t walk fast enough to register much exercise on my Apple Watch because of my cough. I realized then I needed to take it easy for another day so we stayed home all day and worked on computer-based missionary related projects. Wednesday showed more improvement and our agenda was light: A trip to Bo and the retrieving of the generator from the empty Simbeck apartment here in Kenema to replace the sisters’ ailing generator.
On Thursday morning, we actually got up and went for a 3 mile walk because for the first time in weeks I did not have a coughing spell during the night. It was the first day in almost a month that I could say I felt good. How grateful I was for Sister Moomey, Elder Crouch, the pharmacist and his amazing trustworthy Rodyna pharmacy and for my wife and family who prayed for my quick recovery. Nothing life threatening, but it is no fun feeling 70% when there is 100% of the work that needs to be done. While the steroid inhaler didn’t do much initially, it does seem to be making a difference now. How grateful we are for medical science, inspired doctors and even the rain which has really helped to clear the air.
On Tuesday we worked on three main things here at home. The first was the finalize Bernard Laundeh’s family history story and get it sent into the Area Office to be considered as an article for the Africa West pages of the Liahona. We interviewed Bernard and wrote about him in our blog titled Chronicles of Salone on February 11th. We have been tweaking the story for a few weeks now, trying to make it suitable for publication without a lot of additional editing, which capability may or may not exist here. We called Sister Clawson to ask her who to send it to and while on the phone I checked the website and found the name of Samuel Agyei Amankwah who is the website team leader. His Africa West area email was also there. So I agreed with Sister Clawson to send him a note and see if he was the right guy and I would copy her on the note. When we hung up, I immediately sent a note and was gratified to receive a response within 30 minutes asking me to please send him the story, which we did. By the end of the day on Tuesday, the story had been posted to the AfricaWest.lds.org website. That was fast. In fact, nothing moves that quickly here in Africa. My hat is off to Samuel and his team for their quick response! I posted the story on Facebook, but in case you missed it, here is the link to it. Our next project is to write a story on Tongo and how the gospel found it’s way there.
The second project was figuring out how to make a custom google map on a laptop and then transfer that map as an overlay on a phone. President Clawson is hoping to leave alternative routes to church buildings for President Harper and Sister Harper to make it easier for them to locate and drive to church buildings and understanding the general condition of the road they would take. We had worked on this a little earlier to figure out how to draw custom routes, but hadn’t figured out how to get them to the phone. With a little searching, the answer was easily found. For those of you who are” Google-ites” you will already know the answer to this, but I am an Apple guy and don’t use google maps that much. What we discovered is that when one signs in on his laptop and on his phone with his google account, the map is saved to Google Drive and automatically transferred to one’s phone. Pretty cool. It is easy to make a map on your computer with customer routes drawn as lines (up to 10 layers) and then save it and see it on your phone. I think figuring this out was the easy part, making the maps is the hard work that is still to be done.
The third project was for Samuel Konneh, one of the district “high” councilors. “High” is in quotes, because a District does not have a High Council, only a District Council. Br. Konneh came over seeking help to get the hymns on his phone. He purchased a 2 GB SD card and I put the hymns on the card for him. Unfortunately, his phone could not read the card. He went back to where he got the SD Card and they gave him another one. Turns out his version of the Android operating system is not very friendly with SD Cards. On top of that, what Br. Konneh really wanted (as it turned out) was to update the gospel library on his phone. Unfortunately, that takes data which is expensive. After three visits during the week and a number of hours, we finally managed to get Gospel Library updated and about half of the hymns on his SD card to actually play on his phone. Of the 8 GB of native memory on his phone, he has less than 500 mb left which will soon be a problem. As we said before, his phone doesn’t play well with an SD card so transferring apps onto it and running them from there is quite an ordeal. More than I wanted to bite off, especially on someone else’s phone. For now, he can access the hymns, the scriptures and Come Follow Me manuals so he is happy.
On Wednesday, we made a trip to Bo to pick up a few groceries and while there took an opportunity to go to lunch with the Moomey’s at a little restaurant called Ruri’s. I ordered pizza and LaDawn had the chicken sandwich. Pretty good. Maybe not quite as good as Food Masters but the room was nice, the service was excellent and being with the Moomey’s made it even better. We are grateful that they live so close to us (relatively speaking of course!) and that from time to time we can get together.
Upon our return home, David Gbow and Peter Ngekia from the Kenema Branch came over and helped me retrieve the generator from the empty Simbeck missionary apartment. We have continued to have trouble with the Sister’s generator ever since it was run out of oil. Though we have replaced the camshaft, the piston rings and rod, the valve gaskets and who knows what else, it is still not running properly. I called Markus Wallace, our Facilities Manager for the mission and we agreed bringing over the Simbeck generator was the best option at this point. For now, we sat it in our garage until we could get the generator guy over to get it ready to run after sitting for 6 months. The generator weighs close to 300 pounds so it took all three of us plus a passerby that David knew from School to get it into the truck. We were definitely grateful for him!
Thursday was district council with the Kenema South District lead by Elder Smith. As always it was excellent. I was especially impressed with the discussion that was led by Sister Senoane about bearing “pure testimony”. There were two takeaways for me, both of which were taught to me by the spirit during the discussion. 1) When a person bears a pure testimony (see Alma 4:19) there is an accountability associated with it by those who hear it. For those who are bearing such a testimony, it comes from years of effort of becoming sanctified. In fact, the more sanctified we are, the more pure our testimony. 2) We read the well-known scripture in Alma 17:3where it says that the sons of Mosiah had the spirit of prophecy and the spirit of revelation. In that moment, I understood something I had not realized before. This spirit of prophecy and revelation was evidenced in the very meeting of Alma and the sons of Mosiah. Consider for just a moment the probability that after 14 years these men would meet each other on this particular road at this particular time. What is the chance of that happening? Infinitely small. The fact that they left when they did, took the route that they did, stopped and started when they did are all evidence that they were indeed filled with the spirit of revelation. They were compelled by the spirit to be right where they were so that they would meet each other again in this joyous reunion. That was a sweet realization for me and just one more testimony to show that God is in the detail of our lives (if we allow him to be).
Each year the wards and branches in the church compile a brief history of their activities and major events. Many units in the US will also have a lot of pictures to go along with the narrative. There are several barriers here that make this simple task somewhat difficult. First of all, access to computers and scanners is limited. Second, the quality of photos taken by phones is usually not very good, if they were taken at all. Some phones do very well with photos, but they are the exception and not the rule. We have been asked by the District President to work with the district councilor over church history, Francis Bundu, to help bring this together for 2018. On Thursday, we met with Kpayama and Kenema Central branch clerks. Our method right now is to go through the sacrament meeting announcements in order to identify the dates and the names of the events that we want to capture. It usually takes about an hour to gather the relevant information. We then come home and type up the list and begin to add in pictures that we may have taken or were taken by someone else and provided to us. It is a slow process but we are making progress. The end deliverable is a PDF or word document with everything inside. We are now in the process of trying to bring this together, working with Br. Bundu to present to the District so they can add the district activities. It has been an interesting process. In the US, by far and away the majority of the activities are held at the ward and branch level. However, here in Kenema, the vast majority of activities are district level activities. I am sure as the church continues to mature here this will change.
On Friday I was again in Tongo. I go each Friday as the transportation for the missionaries. I am hoping this will not always be the case as there is other work here in Kenema that needs to be done. But for now, as we work to establish a branch of the church there, I continue to serve with the missionaries to make it happen.
Today I want to tell you about Peter and Mary (not related). Both of them have been interested in the church since they were first introduced to it by Messie Senesie. Both of them have been faithful about attending church. Both of them came to the district conference last year as part of the group that traveled to Kenema to show the level of interest in bringing the church to Tongo. A week ago last Friday, Elder Roche taught them the commandments, and most specifically the Word of Wisdom, as they both reported that they were struggling with smoking, something they had done for many, many years. For Mary, she could usually find someone who would give her a cigarette or money to buy one. For Peter, he would smoke as he worked alongside same-minded coworkers. But after hearing the lesson on the word of wisdom and the expectation of their Heavenly Father, they both agreed to try and stop. Last Friday was the day we found out how they did. Peter reported that for 8 straight days he had not smoked. When his co-workers questioned him, he simply told them he didn’t smoke anymore. Mary had been more concerned about stopping than Peter. She said she prayed everyday that she would not be tempted by someone giving her a cigarette or money to buy one. And sure enough, she reported that is exactly what happened. She said she knew God had intervened because that had simply never happened before – no money and no cigarettes. She was on her 7thday of being a non-smoker. Elder Roche and I were so happy and so gratified that these two, wonderful people had simply put God to the test. They had asked for His help to stop and He had delivered. They were both very happy with their own success, giving glory to God for the help. How impressive it was to me. These people have very little, yet God has rescued them from unhappiness and affliction and they recognized it immediately. They are so grateful for their lives and their new found faith. It is marvelous to behold. This has been their recovery.
Upon returning from Tongo, we went over to the Simbeck branch and met with President Martin Foday, a man we love and admire. As we thumbed through the sacrament meeting program book, he wrote a page of his own testimony to be included in the history. He had been called as the Branch President last year after serving as the branch clerk for a short time. He is young, but he has an amazing testimony of the gospel and he serves tirelessly. There are many challenges in his branch, just like every unit of the church, but he faces them with optimism and faith.
Saturday morning was cleaning day meaning we had to stay home until noon. That gave us an opportunity to work on the branch histories from the data we had gathered from Kenema, Kpayama and Simbeck. At noon I left and ran some errands including picking up two additional plastic chairs as we were having all of the missionaries over to watch General Conference on Saturday and Sunday and we were a couple of chairs short. While I was gone, the District Relief Society President, Sister Bangura, came over and LaDawn helped her with some information she had printed about ministering. She had been asked to talk in District Conference next week and needed some resource material.
At 2:00 pm we went over and spent 1.5 hours with Eku. He had been reading the conference report from October and shared how much he enjoyed the way he felt as he read the talks. He was primarily reading from the women’s conference. We discussed how the counsel in those talks is current and fit for the time that we live in. I asked him how he felt that the Liahona compares to the Watchtower. He said there are many similarities (referring to the faiths, and not the magazines) and that the spirit has been working on him about what it would take to come to our church. We really didn’t say much as he told us about the long process he went through to be baptized with the Jehovah Witnesses, one of which was to write a letter of resignation to his former church (United Methodists). He has felt the spirit testify of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ many times in his life. Now he is feeling it testify of the truthfulness of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in its administration of that gospel. We continue to cherish our time together with this good man. We love his family and how they are close to and support each other. We have made friends for eternity in the Eku and Martha Scotland family.
We got back to the apartment about 3:50 pm and most of the missionaries were here waiting for us to arrive. We loved having them in our home as we watched the inspired and uplifting Saturday sessions of General Conference. Between sessions they went over to Food Masters and we stayed home and enjoyed creamed peas, potatoes and chicken fingers. Delicious.
On Sunday morning we went by Kenema Branch and dropped off area plans on our way to the Hangha Road branch sacrament meeting. It was fast and testimony Sunday here. There were not many who stood and shared, so it gave both LaDawn and me a chance to bear our testimonies. As always, the meeting was spirit filled and it was obvious that the Hangha Road saints love to come together and worship the Lord together. After Sacrament Meeting we drove to Burma and IDA where we delivered Liahona subscriptions and their copies of the area plan. We then made our way to Dauda Town, stopping to deliver area plans (by the way, these are one page sheets with a summary of the area plan for members on one side and leaders on the other) to the Nyandeyama and Simbeck branches. We now only have one branch left to deliver to and that is Kpayama.
At Dauda Town we trained the three gospel literacy teachers (Blessing Kamara, Mohamed Sherrif and Mohamed Vonjo Sheriff) as well as the Branch Sunday School President (Brother Alpha), the Primary President (Sister Macavoray) and a branch missionary (Momoh Swarray). The training lasted about 90 minutes and included some of the new teacher training videos as well as some time to practice teaching for each person. We will need to check on them in a month to see how it is going, but they definitely have great attitudes, great desires and now great skills to make gospel literacy work in their branch. We also were able to gather their historical events from their sacrament programs and get names to go with pictures previously provided.
We arrived back home and prepared for the missionaries to again come and watch general conference. Between sessions the sisters prepared food that the other missionaries had pitched in to pay for and they enjoyed a delicious meal together. LaDawn made some scrumptious homemade tortillas and fajitas for us. Sometimes you just have to sacrifice!
What a delightful treat conference was. Perhaps it was because the missionaries were here that there was such a wonderful feeling in our home as we watched, listened, took a few notes and then basked in the spirit of the truths that were shared. One of the more interesting quotes came from President Nelson at the close of his Sunday morning address. “Now, as President of His Church, I plead with you who have distanced yourselves from the Church and with you have not yet really sought to know that the Savior’s Church has been restored. Do the spiritual work to find out for yourselves, and please do it now. Time is running out.” When a prophet of God says time is running out, I think we need to believe him.
Recovering from a physical malady takes time and it can be painful. Recovering from a spiritual malady can also take time and can also be painful. Recovering from an addiction that is both physical and spiritual an be even more difficult. For physical illness or injury we are dependent upon doctors, hospitals and pharmacies as well as the prayers of family and friends. With spiritual afflictions, we only need to depend upon one person and that is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. His remedy is sure and it ALWAYS works.
We are grateful to know and have experience with the atonement of Jesus Christ. We are grateful to be here in Sierra Leone among these faithful, spiritually minded saints, working hand in hand with them as we labor together to better understand and apply the remedies of the Great Physician. We bear testimony that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that there is no other way to be saved in the kingdom of God except through his grace, mercy and love.