On Saturday, May 18, 2019, seven more amazing people were baptized in Tongo. Lansana Massaquoi, Mary Brima, Peter Komanda, Hannah Brima, Kadie James, Sahr Lahai and his 15 year-old son Daniel Lahai. What an amazing day! On Sunday, May 19th, all seven were confirmed in sacrament meeting. There were 56 people in attendance at the meeting including Elder Roche and Elder Dube and LaDawn and me. A record number for the Tongo Home Group. What a glorious weekend!
On Friday the zone leaders and I went up earlier than usual so that we could set up the makeshift font (aka, vinyl swimming pool). We again rented a pump, bought 1.5 liters of petrol and made our way to the lake front home of Gert Van Der Westhuizen who again graciously allowed us to use his home and its location on the “lake” to hold the baptism.
Last time we setup the pool we did so in an area where there were some sharp sticks. The result was two small holes in the bottom of the pool which caused us to lose about 10 inches of water overnight. Since then, I ordered a vinyl pool repair kit from Amazon and had it shipped over and as we put the pool together we were able to find the holes and patch them. We also used a shovel to remove several “stumps” of plants that had been cut with a machete, but the remains of the top of the root ball posed a danger of puncturing the pool again. I also took a tarp with us to use as a ground cloth to provide additional protection. Our experience from our first baptism prepared us much better for this one. The pool was in a better location, protected from punctures and setup time was less. And furthermore….it didn’t lose any water overnight!
After setting up, filling the pool and treating it with chlorine, we spent the rest of the day teaching both new people and those who were to be baptized the next day.
At Sahr Lahai’s home we spoke with his 15 year-old son Daniel and taught Sahr’s friend Emmanuel, as Sahr had traveled to Kenema. Emmanuel came to church on Sunday. Sahr’s grandchildren were there and cute as ever. I couldn’t resist taking a couple of pictures with them and of them. The last place we went was to the Kano family. They live in the last house before leaving Tongo. There we taught Joseph, Sarah and Mary (the mom).
Their youngest Peter was also there and again, I couldn’t help but take a photo with him and his best friend Isha. Both Joseph and Sarah were at church on Sunday as well.
On Saturday we left the house at 7 am, picked up the zone leaders and we again off to Tongo.
We arrived just before 9 am and LaDawn and I drove over to John’s home and picked up John and his mom Kadie and close friends Mary and Peter. Kadie is close to 80 years of age and the walk would have easily been more than a mile to the baptismal location. Once we arrived, everyone either being baptized or baptizing changed into white clothes.
The baptisms were performed by John Charles, baptized earlier this year, and Solomon Kongoley the home group leader. I think there may have only been two people who managed to get completely under the water the first time. Everyone else needed a few tries. In the end, it was a glorious service and the Spirit of the Lord touched each of our hearts. During the time we were there watching these amazing people make these sacred covenants, it was easy to say there was no other place on earth we would have rather been. It was not only special for these 7 people, but it was also a special moment in our lives.
On Sunday, we went back to Tongo and attended church services as these seven, wonderful people were confirmed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and given the gift of the Holy Ghost. Elder Roche gave a powerful talk on ordinances and Br. Kongoley followed that with a talk on covenants. With the record number in attendance these were inspired topics! . After church, several of the people who have been coming to church but have not been available to be taught by the missionaries expressed their desire to be baptized. We explained they need first to be taught, so that will be the focus over the coming weeks and months.
Here is a list of people either being taught or desiring to be taught: Mamie, Fatmata, Joseph, Sarah, Mary, Adama, Hawa, a different Hawa, James, Emmanuel, Kumba, Sister Iye, Foday, Ishmael – these are the ones that come to mind. The point is, the field is white already to harvest. Daniel’s stone which was cut out of the mountain is definitely rolling forth in Tongo. It is amazing to be even a small part of it!
I made a short three-minute video of some of the activities of Friday and Saturday and uploaded it to YouTube. Here is the Link to the video if you are interested.
Just one more thing before we leave this week’s Tongo experiences. Prior to teaching the Kano family, we watched the mom (Mary) processing and harvesting palm oil. The palm oil starts as red pods in a tree, which are cut from the tree and boiled.
The result are three different “products”. The first is a mixture of water and red oil. When boiled further, the water sinks and the oil floats so that it can then be easily separated. The second is the pods themselves. They are now a deep purple/blackish color and look something like a nut. By cracking it open, a soft kernel is revealed. This is then smashed (they call it “pounded”) and then boiled again. An even richer palm oil is harvested from this second boil. The third is the “string and straw” that encapsulated the pods. I don’t know if this has any value or not, but knowing the people here, they probably find a good use for it.
On Monday evening we attended the Simbeck YSA Family Home Evening at their request. They were working on creating a plan in regards to how they might be more anxiously engaged in a good cause.
They want to get more and more YSA involved in their weekly activities and they wanted to create a plan to make that happen. They started out talking about goals, but what they wrote down were objectives. Goals are specific and objectives are general. We talked quite a bit about the difference and then discussed that the ultimate aim is to not to bring more YSA to family home evening, but rather to bring back those who have lost their way to Christ. We discussed how to make these family home evenings fun so that YSA will want to attend. We even agreed to put together a list of games they can play that will be healthy fun and allow them to get to know each other better. We are thinking we will return next week with fun and games in hand.
On Tuesday we took our guard Charles David and Zainab Sesay Genda to Bo to receive their patriarchal blessings. Charles has had his recommend for some time and it was good that we were finally able to take him to receive his blessing. Sister Genda is the daughter of Isatu Sesay that we took last week. As we were preparing to leave, President and Sister Cobinah arrived to attend a funeral that was to begin at noon. We thought it was a good opportunity to get a picture of them together. These are some of the finest people in all of Kenema and we count ourselves fortunate to know them and rub shoulders with them.
On Tuesday afternoon we enjoyed a special treat as we had the chance to FaceTime with our good friends Brent and Nena Rawson who are serving in St. Petersburg, Russia. Brent is the mission president there and since we served together for over 11 years in two stake presidencies talking to them both is pure joy. It is interesting how our experiences are so very different, yet similar in that all four of us are working to build the kingdom of God in our respective fields of labor.
Tuesday evening, Dennis Samai the branch president of the IDA branch came to our home where we discussed how to use the simplecirc program to manage the Liahona subscriptions here in Sierra Leone. President Samai is honest, bright, hardworking and eager to learn new things. That makes him an ideal candidate for this work. He also has a laptop which is necessary to do this job. We spent more than 2 hours on Tuesday entering new subscriptions and talking about how the program works. We agreed he would come back on Thursday and we would then walk through downloading the data for the labels and doing a MailMerge in Word. There are few here in Sierra Leone that have the training or the knowledge to do this type of work, so we feel very fortunate to be working with President Samai on this.
On Wednesday morning we picked up Dass and took him with us over to the Airfield apartment. The kitchen there needs a deep cleaning and then we are going to do a major overhaul at President Clawson’s request. We have asked Dass to work with Momoh Swarray and Joshua Laundeh to clean the kitchen and hallway in preparation for the remodel. We were able to evaluate what needed to be done and prepare for the work to begin on Friday. While there we took the Kpayama elders (Elder Hendricks and Elder Amara) over to look at the Simbeck apartment to see if they thought that might be a better place for them to live. That apartment is empty right now and while a bit further from their area, it would provide a lot more room and reduce the number of missionaries in Airfield from 6 down to 4 (which is a mission goal). Not sure where it will go, but they have now seen the apartment and can provide feedback to President Clawson.
In the afternoon we met with Joseph Aruna who is the project manager on an LDS Charities project for OTC (Opportunity Training Center). LDS Charities has approved a project to provide them additional equipment to be able to put more disabled people to work. Since the Evan’s are no longer here (they were the humanitarian couple working with LDS Charities) they have asked us to work with Joseph to help shepherd the project. They will continue to manage the overall project from the U.S. We are so pleased to be able to do so not only because we love Eku Scotland and everything he has done and is doing for the disabled, but also because we know the blessing this project will be to many others who come there looking for a “hand-up” instead of a “hand-out”.
On Thursday we attended the Kenema North District Council with Elder Hadlock, Elder Winters, Elder Ihentuge, Elder Sparks and Elder Spaulding.
Elder Winters led an absolutely inspiring discussion on companionship study. The thing we thought was the most inspired was that he focused on personal study first, helping us all to see that in order to have great companionship study, we first need to have great personal study. That way we can bring our insights, our questions and most importantly the spirit of the Lord that we have nurtured into the companionship study. Great job Elder Winters!
On our way home from District Council we drove one of the “new” boundaries between two of the branches that needed to be adjusted to accommodate the home of the branch president (we certainly want the branch president to live in the boundaries!). It was a quick drive by the area and then coming home and sending the ever so slight change to President Clawson to include in the file that will ultimately go to church headquarters.
We received approval from President Clawson to install solar in three more apartments in Bo and Elder Moomey has agreed to lead those projects. As a part of that, he (Elder Moomey) asked if we could write up some instructions to give to the missionaries that to help make sure they understand how to use it and take care of the panels and batteries so they will last a long time. It wasn’t a big exercise, but something we have been meaning to do for some time now. Thanks for the push Elder Moomey!
Most of the rest of the afternoon I worked on finalizing the simplecirc guidebook that we have created using screen prints and instructions for each step along the way. This is just plain hard, tedious work that we know needs to be done but is difficult to do for long stretches at a time. The good news is that we are almost there!
In the evening, Dennis Samai again came to our apartment, this time with his computer, so we could get simplecirc set up on his laptop and he could begin to do the work of entering and maintaining the subscriptions on his own. Our goal was to print out the labels for the June issue, but as it turned out, the PC version of Word is slightly different than the Mac version and I simply could not figure out out to get the MailMerge feature to work. On the Mac it was intuitive, but on a PC it required additional steps. Fortunately for me, the next day, my good friend YouTube showed me the light and we have since figured it all out.
We have already talked about our Friday, Saturday and Sunday experiences, all of which involved Tongo. One thing we do want to mention in connection with those three trips, are the speed bumps on the highway between Kenema and Mano Junction (the place where the pavement ends and the dirt road starts when driving to Tongo). Near every village there is a speed bump as one enters and when one leaves. It is quite annoying to constantly be speeding up and slowing down. They are painful bumps if hit above 20 mph, and yes, we know that from experience. On the first of March, Doctor Without Borders opened the first phase of their hospital in Hangha which is about 5 miles east of Kenema. Over the last week they have removed all of the speed bumps between Kenema and the hospital and two on the other side of the hospital headed towards Tongo. We are not sure if this is connected to the hospital and the need for ambulances to get there quickly, but we think it may be.
What is most interesting is their method for removing these “vehicle destroying” bumps in the road. First they build a good fire and then once the asphalt is soft, they dig it up with shovels and pick axes. Ingenious if it weren’t so logical. It is one of the things we love about Sierra Leone. People are just so resourceful here. Couple that with not being afraid of hard work and you have a recipe for a people who can live in the most difficult of situations.
The stone that “was cut out of the mountain without hands” spoken of by Daniel in the second chapter of the Book of Daniel is the same stone that is rolling forth here in Sierra Leone even as it begins to “fill the whole earth”. We stand in awe of the people here who are seeking for greater light and knowledge in their lives. The people in Sierra Leone are drawn to the Church as naturally as bears are drawn to honey. One of the biggest problems we have as a mission is that we simply do not have enough missionaries to meet the needs of the people, especially those in the villages, to bring the church closer to them.
We have seen it in Tongo and Dia and it is happening in outlying towns and villages across the mission. We say it each week, and we will say it again today. We are so grateful to be here at this time as we witness this marvelous work and a wonder that is occurring in Sierra Leone and across Africa. Hand in hand we work with missionaries, members, leaders and investigators to build a solid foundation for the future growth that is only now beginning to materialize.