Almost a year ago we arrived in Kenema and we were met with some of the worst roads we have ever driven on.
Whenever it rained, the potholes would fill with water which only made the holes deeper as vehicles would drive through them. Traveling on the main road through Kenema (Hangha Road on the east of the city and Blama Road on the west end) was painful and slow. We expected the side roads to be bad, but even they exceeded our expectation. Here is a link to that blog post dated July 21, 2018 titled The Bumpy Roads of Kenema.
What a difference a year makes! Just over three weeks ago, on Friday, May 31, 2019, the road from Simbeck to IDA was completed and the last section of the road was opened. Hallelujah! We felt like hiring a band and shooting off fireworks. Don’t get us wrong, the rest of the roads are still really bad, but just having that main road that we drive on every single day paved and open is a huge blessing to not just us, but every person living in this, the second largest metropolis of Sierra Leone!
During the last year, the mayor has also upheld his campaign promise to smooth some of the more important side roads at his own expense. This was done with road graders and cultivator like plows to dig up the rocks. We are not exactly sure what it means “at his own expense” (who wouldn’t want to do something nice for the mayor and get on his good side?) but it happened. That is the good news. The bad news is that as soon as the rains returned, those nice smooth roads are beginning to revert back to their “pothole past”. But to be honest, they are still better right now than they were a year ago, evidence that things do change and that things in Sierra Leone are getting better. It is slow, but it is progress!
On Monday morning, Dassama came to our apartment just before 9 am and we then drove out to Burma and picked up Rebecca and Grace Koroma from the Kongoley’s home. They had taken a bike the day before to come to Kenema from Tongo so that we could take them to Freetown on Monday to get their passports. We collected them about 9:20 am and took them to a place where they could get passport snapshots taken and printed. By 10:00 am we were done and ready to go.
However, President Cobinah had called asking us again if we could come to the Eastern Police Station where the LDS Charities Well would be handed over to the police station and the community. We felt it was important enough to go, thinking that we would be able to leave within 30 minutes of our arrival. That turned out not to be the case. I was on the agenda to give a Christian opening prayer, someone else gave a Muslim prayer before we arrived. There was also an opportunity later in the program to say a few words on behalf of LDS Charities.
It was almost noon by the time the program was over and we were back on the road again. We stopped at our apartment, picked up a few things for an overnight stay and headed first to Bo and then to Freetown. In Bo, we stopped at the Moomey’s and picked up a few things to take to Freetown. After leaving we tried to find diesel for the truck, but the Total station and NP station were both out. The truck was near empty so I had to find some before we could go any further. I called Elder Moomey and he said to come back to their apartment and he would give us 40 liters from their generator fuel. That was a life saver!
We finally got back on the road and arrived in Freetown close to 5:00 pm, although it took us almost two more hours to drop off Rebecca and Grace at her brother-in-law’s home and then make our way through rush hour traffic to the mission home. We also managed to get Dassama setup in an empty missionary apartment where there is a caretaker who could get him in and out of the apartment. At around 7 pm, the Packs drove us to Crown Express for Dinner (I was ready for a driving break), where we had the most delicious pesto chicken on penne pasta and feta salad with vinaigrette. Not something we can find anywhere else in Sierra Leone except for Freetown. That alone may have been worth the trip!
The next morning Allie Kargbo was kind enough to pick up Dassama at the mission home and then meet Rebecca and Grace who were already at the Immigration office. He was able to work his magic to get them through the entire process and back to the mission home before 2 pm. We left to return to Kenema about 2:15 pm and arrived back in Kenema about 7 pm. We took Rebecca and Grace back to Kongoley’s and headed home to a good night’s sleep! We were grateful to have Dassama with us as he helped with making sure the communication with Rebecca was understood.
Two other fun things about our trip to Freetown. The first was the finding of Double Caramel Magnum Ice Cream Bars at Monoprix. A bit pricey at nearly $4 each, but it was so much fun to find them and even more fun to eat them that we did not even care! The other fun thing was taking a picture with Elder Morgan. We found out from our son-in-law Justin Brough, that Elder Morgan is his first cousin’s son. I couldn’t resist taking a picture together with him to send to Justin. Do you see the family resemblance? So fun for us to have a relative in the mission (well sort of).
On Wednesday, we met the Hangha Road Elders (Rydjeski and Edun) and went to Alfred Dauda’s home where we all helped Alfred submit 13 names and 53 temple ordinances. He had done some great work, but needed some help with the dates. Elder Rydjeski is very good at typing and so we were all able to pitch in a little to get the information ready to be entered.
At 3:00 pm, President Fomba (1stcounselor in the District Presidency) came to our home for help with the Gospel Library and LDS Tools apps. He had accidentally deleted them as he was freeing up space on his phone. It took us a while to get both of them downloaded and working, but we finally managed to succeed! The Android phones here are old technology relative to what the western world and Asia experience. Most of the phones that can be bought new are still running versions of operating systems that were introduced in 2014 as version 5. Today the most current software is version 10, although I am not sure the final version of it has been released. Old hardware and old operating systems with apps optimized for newer hardware make even new smart phones seem old.
On Thursday, we were planning to attended the Kenema South District council, but Elder Armstrong had a malaria relapse and Sister Senoane was also down with malaria (it is on the rampage right now), so they decided to delay their district council until they were both better. That led us to attend the Hangha Road district council where Elder Moyo is the district leader. We had a good discussion on companionship unity as well as a few questions that had come up with investigators. In terms of unity, there were three suggestions. 1) Before planning pray together. 2) When doing companionship study, study for a specific person. Talk about their needs and come up with ideas and ancillary questions and doctrines that might be helpful. 3) While studying together, work on one of these three things: a) Asking inspired questions. b) How to be better listeners and c) How best to teach to their needs. In terms of questions, we had a really good discussion on the difference between transgression vs. sin as it appears the words are often used interchangeably in the scriptures. Missionaries have found that emphasizing Adam and Eve’s partaking of the fruit as a transgression often gets them into a circular discussion with investigators (why even mention it at all?). The other question was one about worshipping God the Father vs. worshipping Jesus Christ. We talked a bit about what “worship” means and read scriptures where Jesus gave all the glory to the Father. We also discussed briefly Elder McConkie’s address titled “Our Relationship with the Lord”. Interesting that later in his life he penned the words to “I Believe in Christ” where verse three declares: “I believe in Christ—my Lord, my God! My feet he plants on gospel sod. I’ll worship him with all my might; He is the source of truth and light.” Without spending more time on the nuances of the word worship, we like this statement we later found on thirdhour.org which is a pretty good bottom-line statement, “We should not worship Jesus Christ as if He were God the Father”.
Just after 2:00 pm we met Joseph Aruna at the Opportunity Training Center and we talked about the LDS Charities project that has been approved. Eku and his team had earlier made a long list of needs that they have as they try to put more and more of the disabled to work. The purpose of the meeting was to narrow down the list in terms of priority. Joseph will now get pricing and then we will reconvene to further prioritize. I am so proud to be part of a church that has a humanitarian arm with the “length” and “strength” of LDS Charities. This week has been especially meaningful as the community lauded the church for the Eastern Police Station well, and now we have an opportunity to bless many of those who have been disabled by polio through this OTC project. Now that is a real humanitarian effort!
At 4 pm we met brother James Foday at Kpayama to return the tables that we helped move from IDA a couple of weeks ago for the gospel literacy Sunday School class with Sister Bingham. We are glad to have a small truck that we can help members and leaders from time to time move items that otherwise would be costly or undoable.
On Friday, the truck again became helpful as we assisted Moses Ansumana pick up some firewood in Bandama and then move some chairs from the Simbeck Branch to his fiance’s home. Moses and Alice (both returned missionaries) were married in a traditional ceremony on Friday and then a “white man’s ceremony” on Saturday. We are always thrilled when two worthy members of the church decide to marry and begin a second-generation member family. They will be great blessings to not only their branch, but to the entire district. They plan to get to the temple with the next planned temple trip to Ghana.
In the afternoon, we met with four of our pre-mission boys who now have enough money to go to Freetown to get their passports. This is required to begin the process of submitting papers to serve a mission. Still a way to go for each of them, but this is an important first step. Each of them have worked hard to earn the money and have shown they are willing to be obedient and faithful in all things. We are so proud of Peter, David, Momoh and Joshua!
At 4 pm we went with the Sister Missionaries who serve in the Nyandeyama Branch, (Sister Appiah and Sister Ebouche along with branch missionary Blessing Kamara from Dauda Town) to visit a 14 year-old girl who wants to be baptized but said her father opposed her even though her mother was supportive. Her father’s name is Augustine and he is a police officer and an extremely bright, intelligent and affable man. He is currently continuing his education at PolyTechnic here in Kenema to further his career. We are not sure if Christiana spoke to him, or if she was afraid to. In any case, our conversation was friendly and short. He said he was fully supportive of his daughter’s desire to join our church. He was happy that she had found such good role models in the sister missionaries and he much preferred that over “hanging out” with some of the other kids in the neighborhood her own age. We invited him to come to the church with her at some time in the future and see for himself. He wears a Knights of Columbus wrist band in support of his Catholic faith. It was such a pleasure to meet him and hope at some point Christiana’s example will inspire him to find out why his daughter has become even better than she is now.
From there we made a visit to Eku Scotland. We shared a recent video with him that was included in one of the lessons in the Come Follow Me for Individuals and Families manual. This was a video LaDawn had showed the youth Sunday School class last week at Hangha Road in regards to the sacrament. After that meeting, we both knew we needed to share it with Eku. He loved it. In his church, they never partake of the sacrament, even though once a year they pass it to the congregation. No one partakes, however, because of the fear that someone else will think they think they themselves are perfect.
LaDawn told him that we would be returning to America at the end of the year. I thought he already knew this but it was clearly a surprise. We told him if he was considering to change his faith, that we would like to have some time with him to help him and his family make the transition. We told him that we knew it was a tough decision. To that he responded (to our surprise) that it was not a tough decision at all. We are not sure what all of it means in terms of timing, but this is a choice son of God who deserves all of the blessings available to him. His and Martha’s family are some of the most impressive we have met. We have a meeting planned with him for Wednesday of this week, so will see where it takes us (and him).
On Saturday, we attended Integrity Training at the District Center along with branch presidencies and Relief Society presidencies throughout the district.
President and Sister Clawson did an outstanding job reinforcing not only the importance of being honest and acting with integrity, but the doctrinal reasons for doing so. The attendees broke into smaller groups and were then each given a case study that they were to discuss and then report out on. It was gratifying to see that the leaders in Kenema really get it. They understand the importance of being honest, especially as it relates to fast offering funds. Because nearly everything is done on a cash basis, the opportunity for fraud and mismanagement of funds more easily exists. Couple that with a people in poverty and the potential is high. Yet how we love the leaders here, who despite their own struggles, stay true to the commandments of God. While here in Kenema there have been some of these issues in the past, the current priesthood and auxiliary leaders are doing a great job.
In the afternoon we attended a portion of Moses’ and Alice’s wedding and reception, With a room full of people, the building became very warm very fast. Since it was just next door, it was easy to come and go several times without needing to stay for long periods of time as we waited for the bride and groom to make their appearance at the reception.
On Sunday morning, we received a call from Sister Senoane indicating that her companion was very sick and they needed our help. We went over immediately to see what was going on and indeed found a very sick sister missionary. LaDawn went back to the compound and one of our guards, John Martin Sesay, came over and together we gave her a blessing. We called Elder & Sister Moomey and decided over the phone to take her to the doctor in Bo. We helped get her in the truck, had her companion pack a few things, and off we went. When we arrived there, the Moomey’s had not be able to get in touch with their doctor that they work with so a decision was made to transfer her to the Moomey’s truck and they would take her to Aspen Medical in Freetown. Aspen is the best medical care available in Sierra Leone. They immediately started her on an IV. It was initially thought she might have malaria and typhoid, but both came back negative. It does appear that she had become severely dehydrated for after a day of IV’s she was feeling much better. They did some more tests Monday afternoon and was later released. They will will return to on Tuesday (tomorrow). How grateful we are for the Moomey’s, the Area Medical director (Elder Crouch) and the medical team at Aspen.
By the time we got back to Kenema, we had missed the entire two hour block. We had planned to attend the Simbeck Branch Gospel Literacy class so we jumped in the truck and headed to the building. While they had expected many more to attend, the numbers were still sizeable, almost too big to facilitate effectively. Brother & Sister Braima, (Brother Braima was the former 1st counselor in the district presidency) were the teachers and did a good job leading the class through the first lesson. We had youth and we had sisters, but no adult brethren. It was an excellent start to a program that will significantly change their lives for the better if they stick with it.
When change occurs in a city like Kenema, especially when it is related to the paving of the main street through the town, it is very obvious. Everyone can see it and everyone knows it is happening. There are other changes that are occurring in this town that most do not see. It is the consistent, persistent and progressive spreading of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the amazing inhabitants of this city. Last year over 1600 people in the Sierra Leone Mission made a conscious decision to change their lives and change their level of commitment to God. How grateful we are to work hand in hand with these amazing people. Teaching, training, learning and growing together. We have never had greater challenges nor have we ever had greater joy as we participate in the building of the kingdom of God in Sierra Leone.