Prophetic? Apocalyptic? The title of a 1957 Swedish film? A fulfillment of Revelations 8:1? All of these? None of these? Well the answer for the purposes of this week’s blog is that it is none of these. The seventh seal is simply the number of times we have now replaced the right rear seal on our mission truck. It will not surprise anyone that 7 is a very popular number, in fact, in an article in Psychology Today by Guy Winch, he gives “7 Reasons Why We Are Captivated By The Number 7”, which by the way is also the name of the article. I won’t name all 7, but one of the reasons I found particularly captivating is his assertion that “7 is associated with luck and magical properties” which is exactly what I am hoping for in regards to the future of that seventh seal. It’s been an interesting week in terms of the truck.
To start with, on Monday we were asked to come to Bo for a training on vehicle safety with the man who is the area fleet manager out of Ghana. There was some confusion as to where we would be meeting, but we finally got that straightened out and by noon the meeting was underway. It was clear to us from the onset of the meeting that this training was established for young missionaries who drive vehicles, or for someone who has recently learned to drive. To say it was painful would be accurate. It wasn’t that the content wasn’t good. I mean, we got to see a short video of car safety with Elder Holland filmed 22 years ago. He looked great!
In retrospect, the meeting would have been more valuable to us had it consisted of 1 hour of sitting in a circle with the Moomey’s and the two other drivers that were there who drive church vehicles, counseling together about the hazards and remedies of driving in Sierra Leone. The problem stems from training that is developed in the Area Office and then commissioned to be given to everyone in the Africa West area who drives a church vehicle. At one point in the discussion, the presenter showed us a series of pictures of cars that were totaled in accidents where missionaries were involved. Immediately following that he showed pictures of non-missionaries who were injured in those accidents. I am thinking it is probably a good tactic to use on a 20- year-old, but for me at least, it literally made me nauseous. There is so much heartache, despair and affliction all around us here, that to be subjected to more of it was almost more than I could bear. We were both very happy when it was over. One thing we did learn is that there is a website to report accidents. Since I previously had a run-in with an Okada, it would have been nice to know this earlier. Our suggestion was to give the mission a USB stick with the pertinent presentation with RELEVANT information and let us review it as soon as we come to the mission rather than half-way through. We also recommended a tire gauge be included in each vehicle – since they cannot be purchased here – and that sounds like it might actually happen. Following the presentation, we went out and a vehicle inspection was completed on our truck. It did give us an opportunity to talk about the significant issue we have been having with the right rear seal. The fleet coordinator indicated he would contact the dealer and get back with us, but up until now we have not heard anything.
As fate would have it, by the time we returned from Bo in Monday, the seal was leaking again. The next morning, I took it back to Gomez’s shop to be repaired. Charles (our guard) worked the night shift and called Gomez first thing Tuesday morning. When I took the truck in, I called Charles and he came over to the garage. He said he had been thinking about the problem all night long about why the seal repeatedly leaked. As they removed the hub and axel, he showed me what he believed was the problem. He explained it to Gomez and they seemed to agree. A couple of hours later I took an Okada back over and picked up the truck with the sixth seal now in place. This time they replaced the entire bearing as well as the seals. I was hopeful.
On Wednesday morning, I drove to Waterloo (near Freetown) with Junior Bendu and his main helper Ibrahim to fix the solar at the Lumpa apartment where the zone leaders stay. The panels were originally placed on the roof facing west and there was no way for the missionaries to get on the roof and clean the panels during the dry season. The battery configuration was also incorrect based on the number of panels and there was no switch to turn the DC freezer on and off. We pulled the panels off the roof, built a wooden rack in front of their apartment – adding one more panel to the configuration and leaving room for one more to be added, changed out three odd sized batteries for two new 200 amp ones, added a switch for the freezer and brought them two new solar floor fans. We were there at 10:30 am and finished by 5 pm. It was a 3 ½ hour drive back to Kenema and so I was trying to get as far as we could before it got dark, because as we have mentioned before, driving in the dark here is ZERO fun. Too many people and the occasional broken down vehicle on the sides of the road pose significant safety issues
Most people drive with their lights on bright making it even more difficult to see anyone walking alongside the road. We stopped in Taiama (pineapple capital of Salone) and bought some nice pineapples and got back on the road again. It had just started to get dark and the next thing you know my right rear tire went flat. And not only that, but it was obvious when we changed the tire that the seal was again broken as the inside of the tire was absolutely covered with oil. Ugh! That cost us about 20 minutes of precious diminishing daylight. I ended up getting home at 9:00 pm.
Thursday was a busy day for us with district council and then planned meetings with IDA and Burma Branch to help with their branch histories. We took the flat tire to be repaired over to the tire place at the start of district council (it was right next door to the Kenema branch where we met) and picked it up at the end. I had to chuckle a bit as the guy that repaired it brought it over to the church where we were meeting and told me I owed him 60,000 Le (about $7). I told him that was too much. It should only cost 20,000, but I would give him 40,000 Le. He said his boss sent him over intimating that he was only the messenger. I said, “I am happy to speak with your boss.”, but he quickly agreed to the 40,000 Le. I think he was exhibiting a little exuberant entrepreneurship! After we returned home, President Samuel Fomba, the new 1st counselor in the district presidency came over and we helped him to gain access to his ChurchofJesusChrist.org account. We have found the only way to do this when the user ID and password have been forgotten and there is no viable email account and the cell number on the account has changed, is to call the help desk in Salt Lake City and request a reset. We can only call when the person is present as they always want to talk to the account owner (and rightfully so). It only took a few minutes for him to again gain access to his account.
When Charles came on guard shift at 2:30 pm, he immediately took the spare tire off and was putting the original tire back on when he noticed that the tire was leaking where they had patched it. He put the spare back on and we dropped the leaking tire off again on our way to IDA branch for the 3:30 pm meeting on branch history. I gave the repair guy the money to buy a tube to put in it as he did not feel it could be properly patched. I agreed. We finished up with President Samai (IDA branch president) and his branch clerk, Jacob Nabieu, about 4:30 pm and decided we had to get the seal fixed that day because of the trip to Tongo the next morning. So we rescheduled our meeting with the Burma Branch President and headed to the repair shop. Br. Bundu, the district counselor over the branch histories had also come to the meeting so we invited him to ride back into town with us as we drove immediately back to Gomez’s shop. Gomez was there and asked me to bring the truck back in the morning to be fixed, but I told him I had to have it that night as I was leaving to Tongo at 8:00 am Friday morning. You see, we had to open that seventh seal because the sixth one did not hold. To his credit, he and his guys said okay and tore into it. Charles had already called him earlier so he knew he needed to fix it for free (Gomez speaks very little English) and in the discussion Charles explained to him why he thought it failed. They had apparently not installed something properly and Gomez again agreed with his assessment.
LaDawn and I walked over to Food Masters and picked up a couple of sandwiches she had ordered (our dinner) and then we walked over to a place where we could pick up a keke (three wheeled taxi) which we then had him take us to the tire shop to pick up the tire and head home. We were trying to figure out how to get the tire home with the truck in the shop when LaDawn thought about a keke. Great idea! It was our first ride in one, but it worked out perfectly, tire and all. And one more chuckle at the tire guy’s effort to make extra money. When I picked up the tire he ran and got the receipt for the inner tube and then asked, “What about workmanship?”. To which I responded I had already paid him 40,000 Le to fix it once and I wasn’t going to pay him a second time. He seemed okay with it and walked off. But he asked just in case….
We had invited the Elders here in Kenema to come to our apartment at 7 pm and watch the Priesthood session of Conference since none of us had seen it yet. They started arriving right before 7 pm but the truck was still being repaired and I needed to get it, not wanting to leave it there overnight. Charles was here and so we called Gomez at 6:30 pm and he said he needed more time. At 7 pm we called again and he said to come as they were just finishing. I hopped back on a bike and was back with the truck 20 minutes later. Charles then put the original tire back on (I should probably mention that the spare has a big bulge in it so it had to be changed) and by the time priesthood was half over, the truck was ready for Tongo the next morning with the seventh seal installed and the flat tire fully repaired and back in operation. What an adventure!
On Monday we had Richard Kanneh, a generator repair guy, come over and do a refresh on the generator that we brought over from the empty Simbeck apartment last week prior to moving it to the sisters’ apartment. The diesel had been sitting in it for 6 months and the oil needed to be changed. As he was doing both of those things he realized the 4 bolts that mount the engine to the mounting bracket were missing and so there was quite a vibration. We then discovered why they were missing. Someone had overhauled the generator some time ago and forgot to install them as they were putting it all back together. The only way to install them is to completely take the cover off which is not an easy task. But we wanted it done right so what should have been a one hour job turned into 3 hours, but we got it all done and the sisters once again have a working generator.
On Tuesday morning we picked up the zone leaders at 7:00 am and took them to Bo to catch a ride with the other zone leaders and sister training leaders to head to the mission home in Freetown for a Mission Leaders Council. On the way back we did the Dauda Town apartment check and when I took the truck in to have the sixth seal repaired, LaDawn did the sisters’ apartment check. After dropping off the truck I stopped at Orange where I purchased data for my phone which had expired over the weekend. Christian Johnny is the guy that I deal with there. Sometimes I will just drop the money off, have him sign a receipt and then wait for the data to come later in the day. But sometimes he forgets. So on Tuesday, I just waited until he delivered it to me. Otherwise, out of sight, out of mind!
On Friday I traveled to Tongo with the zone leaders, Ibrahim Saffa and Solomon Kongoley who has been home with his family this week. It was a good day of teaching. We have now established the next date for baptism as May 11th. We should easily have 5-6 baptisms on that day. Here are some artistic photos of the people we taught throughout the day. An update on Peter and his efforts to stop smoking. He has now gone 15 days without a cigarette. Mary traveled outside of Tongo so we will not know how she is doing until this coming Friday.
President and Sister Clawson arrived a little after 8 pm for the District Conference that was held over the weekend. It is always a treat to have them in our apartment with us and be able to spend time together. LaDawn fixed some delicious scalloped potatoes and baked crusted chicken. Amazing food!
On Saturday morning the leadership session of conference began at 9:30 am. Elder Okechukwu I. Imo was our visiting Area Seventy. He is also the head of Facilities Management for Africa West area. That turned out to be extremely good for Kenema. The leadership session focused on ministering and was very well done. After the session ended at 11:30, I traveled back to OTC and picked up the 4 men that were baptized last year. Keifala, Ibrahim, Aruna and Lamin. They all have the last name of Kamara, but none of them are related. I didn’t realize it at the time, but they all had interviews starting at noon to be ordained elders in the Melchizedek Priesthood. They were all so happy to be interviewed and sustained and then ordained over the weekend. With the road all torn up right now, it is very difficult for them to travel to the District Center, so it was an honor to give them rides both Saturday and Sunday.
The afternoon session was excellent. President Fomba talked about how we must have love if we are to minister to one another. Tiangay Kamara (District Young Women’s President) talked about how the new home centered gospel program will help us to have our own deep testimony of Jesus Christ. President Clawson spoke of the importance of having the spirit of the Lord with us through prayer and faith. He emphasized 2 Nephi 32:9 and how we should pray before performing anything unto the Lord so that our performance will be for the welfare of our soul. He also referenced D&C 88:78 and spoke about how responsibility to teach one another. Elder Imo spoke about ministering and self-reliance. Something he said caught my attention. “Charity is what we get when we combine our heart, might, mind and strength and direct that to loving God and our neighbors”. The music for the session was just beautiful. The choir sang like angels. Here are two excerpts.
After President Clawson returned to the apartment following giving a tour to Elder Imo on three of our 8 meetinghouses here in Kenema, we traveled over to OTC so that President and Sister Clawson could meet Eku Scotland. We didn’t stay long, but it was such a pleasure to introduce people that we love to each other. They also met their daughter Eckmat (she prefers now to be called by her middle name: Marion) and Able, their 10 year old son. We also introduced them to Eku’s wife Martha. Such a wonderful family that we have come to love and appreciate so much.
On Sunday, I picked up the OTC guys at 8:00 am and took them to the District Center so they could sit up front where those who were to be sustained to the Melchizedek Priesthood were to sit. They were the first ones there and proudly took a spot on the front row. Right before the meeting started, President Clawson came down off the stand and greeted each of the three in wheelchairs. It was such a tender moment that I could not help but capture it with my phone’s camera. Lamin is able to get around on crutches, so he left his wheelchair at home for the conference and was sitting on a chair on the front row to the left of his “brothers”.
The conference was excellent. It started with 51 men being sustained to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. Many of these men have been baptized since we first arrived in July of last year. Some we have seen return to activity. We cannot tell you how full our souls were with the joy of seeing these men progressing in the church and the gospel. And more importantly, we are thrilled with the additional strength that this will bring to the entire district. The talks at the Sunday Session were wonderful. We will mention two speakers that we felt were extraordinary. The first was the district president, Jonathan Cobinah. He spoke about the Savior and how we show that we believe in Him by how we treat each other. He spoke above love, about forgiveness, about inviting others to come and see for themselves – to come and learn of Christ. We really can’t do justice to his words, but for me personally, his words touched my soul deeply. The spirit with which he delivered his remarks continues to inspire me and makes me want to do better. Thank you President Cobinah for your thoughtful and prayerful preparation.
The second talk we will mention was delivered by 15 year old Sarrah Fomba, the daughter of the first counselor in the District Presidency. Sarrah spoke about faith in Jesus Christ and used the story of Zechariah who did not believe that God could make it possible for Elizabeth to bear a child in her old age. She spoke with such conviction and certainty that she left no doubt in the minds of all who were there that she personally has a deep and abiding testimony of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the importance of us having faith in Him.
All of the talks were excellent and there is simply not enough room nor the time to give a summary of each. Let us just say that we came away from the conference strengthened in our faith and our determination to be better disciples of Jesus Christ. The progress being made in the district right now is miraculous. Credit is due to an inspired District Presidency and their tireless efforts to understand and do the will of the Lord. We are grateful to have front row seats to this amazing story as it unfolds.
As an addendum, we should mention that we normally would not have these pictures of conference, but President Clawson requested that the session be videoed so those in Kailahun and Tongo who could not come could watch the conference. So I snipped a few pics from the videos to include here.
After the conference we took Sister Blama Kai, Sister Yuku and Elder Smith to Bo for their new assignments and brought back Elder Armstrong (replaces Elder Smith in Dauda Town) and Elder Hefa (replacing Elder Maruv in Kailahun).
The other thing we did after arriving home from Bo was help a member of the district prepare a request to send to the First Presidency to be sealed to his wife. While he had already been sealed in the temple to his first wife, she left him and the church after having an affair. This good man subsequently married again and now both of them desire to have an eternal marriage. What an honor it was to help him fill out the necessary online forms so that this might be possible.
The seventh seal as prophesied in Revelations 6:1, will eventually be opened as we continue to press forward to the second coming of Jesus Christ. The seal on our truck will no longer matter and the frustrations of things that break will little hope of repair will fade. One thing is for sure. This is the Church of Jesus Christ. We bear witness that He is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. There is no greater happiness in all the world than what is available in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where the ordinances of the gospel are available to all who qualify themselves through faith and obedience. We are so grateful to be a part of the building of Zion during this historic time and in this historic place as we work hand-in-hand with the leaders, the members and the missionaries to build the kingdom of God in the Kenema District.