It is interesting the things we find ourselves involved in here in Sierra Leone while serving a full-time Member Leader Support Mission. This week we have learned all kinds of new things about videography that we didn’t really think we would ever need to know. Since it has been a significant part of our week, we thought we would share our experience and the result. Pretty sure the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences won’t be sending a nomination for artistic or technical merit our way anytime soon.
On Saturday evening, President Clawson asked if there might be a way to record the District Conference Sunday session for the members in Kailahun and Tongo Field who would not be able to come to Kenema to attend in person due to distance and cost.
So we put our thinking caps on and decided perhaps the easiest thing to do would be to setup the GoPro in the front row directly in front of the pulpit and then turn it on and let it run. For some reason, regardless of the size of the SD Card, it would only allow about 70 minutes worth of recording. We figured no problem, we would take both our cards and the extra battery and change them out during the intermediate hymn. By the time we woke up on Sunday morning, I had another brainstorm. Why not set our Fujifilm XT-2 camera up on a tripod and capture a side angle?
We knew the XT-2 would provide a better picture and we thought perhaps also better sound. What we didn’t know at the time was that we could only shoot about 15 minutes of video at a time and then the cards had to be changed. Since we only have 2 cards that fit that camera, we would have to take my laptop and transfer the files to my hard drive every 15 minutes. What we didn’t have time to do was to charge all of the batteries, and filming on that camera does tend to consume batteries. The bottom line was that we only had enough XT-2 battery power to film the first half of the conference.
Right after President Clawson started speaking after the intermediate hymn, we realized we could use my iPhone as a second camera so we pulled out our “selfie-Stick / Tripod stick” and set it up to capture the last 40% of the conference.
When Monday morning came along we then had to figure out what to do with 124 GB (yes that is gigabytes!) of video and sound files. We won’t bore you with all the details of figuring that out, but we will mention the highlights.
First of all, the sound on the GoPro was better than that coming from the XT-2 or the iPhone X. We didn’t realize there is a setting in the GoPro 5 that creates a .wav file at the same time it creates the video file and that it just happened to be on. This proved to be very helpful to us. We started by converting the wav files to mp3 in Audacity (a nice open source sound program) and then we used a
program (Join Together) on LaDawn’s laptop to stitch together a bunch of mp3 files into one single m4b audio book file. We used iTunes to convert the m4b back to one mp3 file. Now we had one solid audio file of the conference.
The next step was figuring out how to use all three video files from the 3 cameras (XT-2, iPhone and GoPro). At first we thought we could match them up using the sound wave as a guide and cut and paste the sections. But it didn’t take long to realize that wasn’t going to work as there tends to be what is called “audio drift” between the 3 cameras, meaning the audio and video tend to get out of sync.
After some internet searching, we discovered Final Cut Pro (FCP) has the capability of making a Multicam clip out of different camera angles, but for some reason, we could not get it to work. We tried everything we could think of, including joining all of the smaller clips from each camera together so there would be fewer clips for FCP to analyze. We finally decided the problem was that we did not have all three cameras running at the same time, so it was difficult for the program to identify where each clip belonged.
That sent us back to the internet for more searching. We ran across several references to a program called Pluraleyes which seemed to have a good reputation for doing exactly what we needed to do. Fortunate for us they have a 30 day full-feature trial on the software (otherwise it is $400). It worked perfectly! We have to say we were impressed with the results. It even accounted for the audio drift (still not sure how it did that!). Once we figured this out we were able to make the video and add in a title, name titles for the speakers, and a full length intermediate hymn (We had to turn off the GoPro during the actual intermediate hymn to change the SD cards).
When we exported the video file from FCP, it was beautiful and played perfectly, moving back and forth between the camera angles like a major motion picture (okay, maybe that is an overstatement). But it did work. But now we had a new problem, the file was 11.2 GB in size! It had taken between 2-3 hours to create the file and now we needed to figure out how the branch in Kailahun and the home group in Tongo Field could play it as neither of them have laptops to hook up to a TV. This is where we really struggled. We had a 16 gb USB drive, but we couldn’t copy the 11.2 gb file to it. We finally figured out we would have to change the format of the USB drive from FAT32 to exFAT. Problem is exFat was changed in October 2018 and we couldn’t find anything here that would read the video file directly from an exFat USB disk. We tried some other things, like exporting the file out of FCP as a DVD file. The file was smaller 5.2 gb, but for some reason there was no audio. I tried several other formats out of FCP but either the file was too big to write to a FAT32 USB drive, or too big to burn to a single sided DVD (double sided DVDs are impossible to find here in Kenema). In fact, I couldn’t find anyone that even knew they existed). Ugh, I know this should not have been so hard, but seems like we were having to learn every step of the way through trial and error. And every step required converting or copying the file which took hours. We bought a DVD player ($30) so we could test it, as the DVD player had a slot for a USB Stick. But it is old technology and was very picky about the format. It wouldn’t read an MP4, an MV4 or an MKV video file even though on the box it says MPEG 4! The more we looked into it, it seemed that an AVI file might work, but on a Mac, we didn’t have a way to create that type of file.
Back to the internet. We found a program that looked to do exactly what we needed it to do. Wondershare Video Converter Ultimate. But the trial version would only convert 1/3 of the file and then stop. To convert the rest of the file it had to be purchased. So we tested it by creating an AVI file and it not only made a much smaller file that was still very good quality, but it also played on the DVD player. Hallelujah! Could it be? We managed to buy the program for what we thought was a reasonable cost and from then on it was smooth sailing. We not only converted the District Conference file to a smaller AVI file that would fit on a 4 GB FAT32 USB drive, but we also converted the general conference files to AVI files so they too could be played on the same DVD player with all 5 sessions fitting on an 8 gb drive. Problem solved. Converting the files and then transferring them to the USB drives took hours. Electricity has been spotty lately so one night we left my computer running, hoping the files would finish before the battery on my laptop ran out. In the morning the laptop was dead, but we were pleased that the files were finished. Must have been a close call!
We didn’t really think that on our mission we would be making movies of District Conference or discovering and converting video formats to play general conference on a DVD player, but our desire is to do anything we are asked to do by our priesthood leaders to help build Zion. What is obvious to us is that almost everything here is more difficult than any other place we have been. Availability of products, maturity of technology, access to electricity, distance, communication, finding people who can answer questions, the list goes on and on. And yet, we know that the people here are God’s children and deserve our very best efforts. And we also know that the Lord blesses those who stick with a task regardless of the obstacles.
Monday was the second day of transfers and I had been assigned to take Elders to Bo and bring transferring missionaries back with me. Elder Lunga, Elder Maruv, Elder Abad and Elder Bledsoe all left. Coming back with me were Elder Dube, Elder Ihentuge, Elder Rydjeski and Elder Abara. It is hard to see the old ones go and fun and to see the new ones arrive!
Later in the day we had been invited to attend a YSA planning meeting for an activity that would be happening the following Saturday. The meeting started about 30 minutes late. Nearly all of the branches were represented by at least one or two young single adults. The meeting felt more like the first meeting rather than the last one before the actual event. Planning an activity is something we take for granted in the States. Some people are better at it than others, but most know that to pull off an event you have to be organized for each meeting, be clear about the tasks to be completed, delegate appropriately and ensure good follow-up. Most of the work of planning an event happens outside of the meetings. The gatherings should only be “report outs” and “issue resolution” meetings. Here, planning is not well understood. Many “planning” meetings consist of people sharing various views, with little resolution of conflicting ideas. Agendas are put together in the moment and delegation and follow-up are not well understood. And sadly, the women do not seem to carry as much influence as the men. Such was our experience with this activity. To be fair, we understand the origin of these behaviors. When the biggest concern you have is what you will eat TODAY, it is hard to be concerned about something that will happen a month from now. Most Sierra Leoneans live day to day, solve problems as they occur and live in the moment – because for many of them tomorrow could bring disease, poor health, lack of food, war and even death. One does not experience what the people here in Sierra Leone have experienced without it indelibly impressing a “live in the moment” mentality – at least to some extent.
As we left the meeting (we explained up front we would have to leave at 6 pm), we received a call from the carpenter who has had our kitchen table for two months telling us it was ready.
The table top was too small for the legs and after tripping over the legs many times, (a couple of them resulting in dangerous falls), we felt it was time to do something. Originally it was to take two weeks, but the time dragged on when the carpenter’s generator went down for almost a month. We chose this particular carpenter because no matter who we asked, they told us this guy was the best. And to be fair, I think they were right. They use electrical tools and are truly craftsmen. We are very happy with the finished product!
We spent hours every day last week working on the District Conference video mentioned above. We also spent a lot of time working on branch histories as we are working to make consistent submittals across all of the branches. We have mentioned this before and are happy to report that we are making great progress. As I worked on the bulk of the video work, LaDawn worked on typing up the branch histories and gathering photos and labeling them. We now have 7 of the 9 completed, with only Kailahun and Burma remaining.
On Tuesday evening we again attended the Charles David family’s home evening. This time the lesson was on the prodigal son. Charles did a great job explaining the story and asking his family questions. After the lesson we played a hilarious game of “Simon Says”, but referred to as “Missionary Says”. We played twice and while the execution of the commands took some getting used to, e.g., (Missionary says “shake” so everyone shakes their body. The next command without a pause was again “shake” – what to do now?). We had a delightful time and everyone was laughing at the end. How we love this wonderful family.
On Wednesday morning the Zone Leaders and District Leaders came to our home for Zone Leadership Council. It is here that the leaders in the zone prepare the agenda for the Zone Council to be held the next day. Since Elder Dube just got here, it was difficult for the zone leaders to have this meeting any earlier. We had a good discussion about how the Savior leads and then Elder Dube lead a discussion on goals for the zone for this transfer. The zone leaders knew the areas they wanted to focus on: Daily Planning, Companionship Study and Improved Teaching.
After an inspired discussion they landed on focusing on the relationship of all three, fueled by the desire of the missionary to be more effective. Daily Planning leads to better Companionship Study (they know who they will be teaching that day) which then leads to Improved Teaching. We talked a lot about practicing the asking of inspired open ended questions in companionship (and personal) study and then carrying that over to their teaching opportunities. It was an excellent discussion.
In the afternoon we drove Sister Senoane to Bo where she met the mission driver to take her to Freetown to have a cast put on her left arm. There was a zone activity (Ultimate Frisbee) and she fell and hurt her arm. At first it was thought to be bruised, but it turned out to be fractured. No fun going on for 2 weeks with a broken arm and not knowing it! We had also had a problem with one of the batteries in Kailahun that we had installed with the solar panels. Junior Bendu had sent Ibrahim to change it out and bring back on Monday, so while in Bo we returned it to Mr. Barrie. As we have said before, it is nice to work with someone who is easy to work with and stands behind the products he sells.
Thursday was Zone Council at the District Center. It is always good to meet there because there is a nice pavilion where we can meet and air actually flows through it. Elder Roche led an excellent discussion on how we can have joy in missionary work. His preparation and delivery of the material, the inspired questions that he asked, his kind and patient manner, all contributed to an uplifting and inspiring session. Truly he taught in the Savior’s Way.
Friday I was again in Tongo with the Zone Leaders and Ibrahim Saffa, the branch clerk from Kpayama who came with us to help teach.
We have moved the baptism from the 11th of May to the 18th of May to make sure we have enough time to prepare those who will be baptized that day. Right now it looks like Sahr, his son Daniel, Peter, Mary, Hannah and Lansana. We are still hoping to have a full branch up and running by the end of the year.
On Saturday morning I went over to the Nyandeyama Branch and did two things. The first was confirming with the clerk, Augustine Bangura, that everything was ready to show general conference sessions the next day (the district members could either go to Nyandeyama or to the District Center – whichever was closest for them). We wanted to confirm the hookup for the speakers and in doing the review realized that we needed a 35mm male plug on one end and RCA male jacks on the other. I took an action to find one, which I did later in the day – thank goodness. It was one less thing to worry about. Also while I was there I went through their sacrament meeting agendas and collected the activities and events that LaDawn then typed up as part of their branch history.
In the afternoon we went over the field near the police barracks where the young single adults planned for their activity. It was supposed to start at 2 pm, but things did not get started until after 3:30 pm. You may recall that the women were to play volleyball and the men football. Problem was the women wanted to play football too!
So they played their own game first and the men followed with their fast paced aggressive style of play. I took my drone over to get a few shots from the air. Any guesses on who the most popular guy was with all of the young boys that were there?
Sunday was the day that we showed General Conference based on instructions from the Area Presidency. As mentioned earlier, members could come to Nyandeyama (next door to us) or they could go to the District Center. (Turned out they had problems at the district center with the generator so only were able to watch the first session). We showed the Sunday morning session at 9 am, the Saturday afternoon session at 11:00 am and the Priesthood Session at 1 pm. We had 250 for the first session, 90 for the second and 11 for the third. Hard to ask people to stay back to back at the church for 6 hours. Even though we had seen the sessions earlier, we still enjoyed hearing the inspiring talks one more time. How we love general conference!
While we learned a lot this week about file conversions, there is another conversion that we are much more interested in. That is the conversion from who we have been into who we can become. The church is not here to convert people to our preaching, our way of life or our thinking, but rather to invite everyone to “come and see” for themselves whether or not the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is as we claim, the Lord’s church, once again restored to the earth. We testify that it is.
True conversion to a better life is something that each person must decide for himself or herself. Our testimony is that there is only one format that we need to know and understand and that is the exemplary life lived by Jesus Christ. When we follow his example, our lives will be more successful than all the movies ever awarded an Oscar for “Best Picture”. We are grateful to be here and love what we are doing as we work hand-in-hand with the people of Sierra Leone.