At Buckingham Palace in London, the Changing of the Guard is the ceremony where the Queen’s Guard hands over responsibility for protecting Buckingham Palace to the New Guard.
This begins at the forecourt of Buckingham Palace following a march by the detachment of the Old Guard from St. James’s Palace and the new Guard led by a Regimental Band from Wellington Barracks. The ceremony lasts for approximately 45 minutes. There are five regiments of Foot Guards that provide the Queen’s Guard, all easily recognizable in their bearskins caps and scarlet tunics. The musical support is provided by a Regimental Band or Corps of Drums with pipers. The Guardsman participating in the ceremony are trained infantry soldiers, who in addition to their combat role undertake these additional ceremonial duties. The Changing of the Guard usually takes place at 11:00 am each day. There is no cost to observe the ceremony. (Reference: Changing-Guard.com)
This week we had our own changing of the guard in the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission. President and Sister Clawson who have served faithfully for the last 3.5 years as Missionary President and Wife, Companion, Counselor and Confidante left on Tuesday to return home. Their service has been incredible, their contributions unnumbered, their love boundless and their testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ exemplary. How proud we are to have worked with these amazing and wonderful disciples of Jesus Christ. We will forever be grateful for our time together in this great cause. Tuesday morning, before the missionaries left for the West Multi-zone conference, they asked the Clawson’s to come down to the parking area so they could get a picture with them.
As they arrived, the missionaries began to sing “God Be With You Till We Meet Again”. Sister Pack, the mission secretary reported that “the missionaries sang like angels”. It was a moment to never be forgotten for neither the missionaries nor the Clawson’s. There were a few tears shed, goodbye hugs and then the missionaries were off to zone conference and the Clawson’s returned to their preparation for their final departure later that afternoon.
At the Kissy Stake Center, the Harper’s were just starting their first zone conference with the 80 young missionaries located in the Western and Northern parts of Sierra Leone. Two days later, they continued their introduction to the mission at a multi-zone conference in Bo with the 71 missionaries in the Eastern end of the mission. Since we were in Bo and not Kissy, we can only report on the one we attended. We understand they were both similar.
It was a wonderful zone conference. Sister Harper introduced their family and the legacy of serving missions that runs in both sides of their family. Sister Harper shared that as they were preparing mission papers to serve as a senior couple, President Harper was restless and unable to sleep very well for several nights. When Sister Harper asked what was wrong, he indicated that he had received a strong spiritual impression that they would be called to preside over a mission.
Within 2 days, Elder Bednar’s office contacted him resulting in a preliminary interview, which 2 months later led to an interview with President Oaks and an invitation to serve as a mission president. It was right before Christmas when they received their assignment to serve in Sierra Leone. They were excited for the call and willingly accepted it. The next 6 months was filled with preparation, much the same way that a young missionary prepares according to Sister Harper.
President Harper talked about serving as a young missionary in the Johannesburg, South Africa Mission and when someone asked him “How do you know?”, in regards to his testimony, it drove him to his knees to come to know for himself without any doubt that the Church and the Gospel are true. He said he felt the Holy Ghost testify to him and since that day he has not doubted its truthfulness.
Sister Moomey spoke to the missionaries about their health. In June, there were 10 cases of malaria. It is the peak season for it and the mission has not been immune. She stressed the importance of taking the anti-malarial medication and being perfectly obedient in regards to only drinking filtered water and eating food properly prepared in order to avoid typhoid. There was a discussion about eating street food, which the Area asks the missionaries not to do. In some places in the mission, it is very difficult to live without doing so. I think everyone knows what to do, but the availability of cooked food other than street food is limited in areas outside of Freetown, Kenema, Bo and Makeni. President Harper stressed the importance of listening to and being obedient to the Spirit of the Lord in all aspects of missionary safety.
Elder Kumire, one of the assistants to the President, led a discussion on humility and Elder Howes (a zone leader in Bo) on how to rely more fully on the Spirit of the Lord. Both were excellent.
President Harper then talked about finding. He had the missionaries get into their districts and discuss how they might find new people to teach. Elder Dunn captured the output of the breakout session and it was quite helpful to everyone (including us). For me, the one thing that stood out was the importance of extending spiritually discerned invitations. We generally have at least one person a day come up to us, or speak loud enough so we can hear the words “Latter-days”. My response is always, do you know our church? The response is nearly always “Yes”. I then invite them to “come and see” for themselves. I ask where they live and then tell them where the church is that is closest to them, but it is always the same invitation. I never ask for an address or phone number, or whether the missionaries can come and teach them, I just invite them to church. But now, I will listen more carefully to the spirit to discern what invitation it is that I should extend to them.
Sister Harper inspired us to go home and do some self-reflection on what each of us can do to improve. She talked about how important it is for us not to focus on the wind and the waves, but rather the Savior (referencing Peter’s attempt to walk on water). She mentioned that there will be a new missionary handbook out this Fall and she read from the front cover where it says that our role as missionaries is to become disciples of Jesus Christ. We love this wording and feel the power of it. Actually, this is the responsibility of all members of the church to become disciples, but as missionaries, the expectation is higher and even more important as it is the missionaries leading others to become disciples as they teach them the gospel and invite them to be baptized in order to enter the covenant path.
Near the end of the conference, President Harper extended 5 invitations to us that we think are worth sharing with those who read this blog. It starts with the admonition to read from the Book of Mormon over the next month and do 5 things (marking each item in a different color):
1) Mark each reference to Jesus Christ. 2) Mark the words that Jesus spoke. 3) Mark his attributes, (e.g., love, goodness, humility, patience, etc). 4) Mark his doctrines: Faith, Repentance, Baptism, the Holy Ghost, Endure to the End 5) Record our impressions about what we have read.
To us it was a very strong start for the Harpers. They have definitely hit the ground running and will be a great blessing to the mission. At Buckingham Palace when there is a Changing of the Guard there is pomp and ceremony. In the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission, there was a simple goodbye, a simple welcome and immediately the “Guard” changed and the work kept moving. Here in the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission, when the conductor of the symphony orchestra changes, the music doesn’t stop, it just keeps on playing!
Monday morning started extremely early as we awoke at 3:30 am in order to be on the road to Freetown by 4:30 am. The four young men that had gone to Freetown the previous week for their passports had to go back in order to have their picture taken before the passports would be issued. We were going back for a goodbye dinner with the Clawson’s and so agreed to take them back with us. We had to be in Freetown before 10:00 am as they were on the schedule to have their pictures taken on Monday morning. That meant an extremely early start.
The good news is that there is not much traffic and not many people walking the roads that early in the morning. There was some fog here and there that slowed us down AND provided some amazing vistas, but overall, we were able to make excellent time, arriving at the mission home by 9:00 am. The young men were able to get to the Immigration Office on time, get their pictures taken and then they were able to spend the rest of the day at the same empty missionary apartment on Forte Street where they stayed last week.
LaDawn and I tried to help out around the mission home a bit as the Harpers were getting settled in and the Clawson’s were preparing to leave. In the evening, all of the senior couples, the Clawson’s and the Harper’s went to dinner at Lagunda. As always, the food was good and the company was better. We were grateful to be together with such valiant servants and enjoyed a wonderful meal and the accompanying conversation.
On Tuesday, the pre-mission boys found out they would be able to get their passports if we could wait until early afternoon, so that is what we decided to do. All of the mission office staff including the Office Elders had gone to the Multi-zone conference. The Clawson’s were busy packing, so we caught a KeKe and rode down to Metro Stationery and picked up some folders and tabs for a project we are working on in Kenema. We could have taken our truck, but there is rarely a place to park. Around noon, Sister Clawson asked us if we could take Melissa and Cason to the ferry so they could get to the airport to catch their plane to begin their homebound journey. This we gladly did. Getting there was slow and we ended up being 5 minutes late, but fortunately, the boat was even later, so they had plenty of time. When we finished there, we met the pre-mission boys at the Famous Cotton Tree, as they had all received their passports by then, drove to the Fort Street Apartment to get their backpacks, stopped at Chicken Town to pick up some chicken sandwiches for lunch, and we were on our way back to Kenema. The return trip to Kenema was uneventful (for which we were grateful). We arrived shortly before 7 pm, tired but happy that they young men received their passports and that we were able to say goodbye to the Clawson’s and welcome the Harper’s to Sierra Leone.
Wednesday turned out to be a pretty busy day. First thing in the morning we did apartment checks at the four missionary apartments. LaDawn had promised the missionaries chocolate chip cookies if their apartments were A+ clean. We are happy to report that IDA, Airfield and the Sisters Apartment next door were the best we have ever seen them.
We were very proud of their effort. Dauda Town was good, but due to two of the missionaries sleeping without mosquito nets, they did not win the prize. It was about 10:30 am when we got back home and then the apartment turned into a revolving door with lots of comers and goers. One of our roles is to pay several people at the start of each month for work they do for the mission. In addition to that, Junior Bendu brought the burned out compressor controller from a solar freezer from one of the apartments in Bo. Momoh Swaray (one of the pre-mission boys) came over because he discovered they had misspelled one of his “unused” names by one letter on his passport. We talked through the options and decided it was easier to just change the spelling in the church record system then it would be to get another passport. Passports are good for 5 years and then you have to reapply. Since the misspelled name is not one that he uses, it seemed like the best solution. He felt better after he left.
We also had two of these same pre-mission boys clean the sisters compound as it was beginning to get overgrown with weeds. They were having trouble with their generator so we also had the generator guy (Richard Kenneh) come by and fix it. Since I couldn’t be in two places at once, I asked Peter to oversee the work of the generator guy while David continued to clean the compound. Our rule is that we do not leave anyone in the compound doing a repair without some sort of supervision. We have come to know that Peter and David are completely trustworthy so we do not worry when they are working or supervising.
We also went to Orange to register our phones so that we can get 4G SIM cards, which are supposed to be coming to Kenema this week. (We have been using 3G SIMS up until now). We will see if it happens. As it turns out, Christian Johnny, the man we work with there begged us to buy more data from him because he has a goal he has to meet each month. The problem is that he rarely gets it to us on the day that we purchase it – and even when he promises to do it the next day it is late. We have discovered that if we buy airtime on the street (MUCH faster process) then we can convert that to data as we need it. He didn’t like that answer very much. We will see whether we get the 4G SIMS!
We also purchased three rechargeable flashlights for the men who are guarding the District Center at night. We have had a series of break-ins there and the Area does not want to provide funding for guards.
Since the cost of the break-ins is escalating, it is less expensive to pay for someone to watch the place at night than it is to continue to replace and repair. President Clawson made a decision to do this right before he left as we were having break-ins constantly. The money they are making is minimal, but hopefully enough to make it worth their while to protect the church property. President Clawson was hoping that by doing this it would be a catalyst for the Area to have to act one way or the other. There is no local power there, so at night it is very dark. We figured it was worth investing in these lights as a safety precaution for these good men willing to help protect the property.
After zone conference on Thursday we drove over to where President Cobinah is overseeing the building of a house. We really like the design as it had high ceilings downstairs and verandas on the second floor that looked out over a very nice view. While the design was created from the beginning, they continue to develop it as they go along and see the kinds of things that would make it an even more appealing home. It will eventually become a rental property for the owner and perhaps he will be so happy with the quality and creativity that he will have President Cobinah build more for him. Finding an honest man with a strong work ethic and the capability to do something like this is rare. President Cobinah is just that type of man. Others can learn from his example of hard work and integrity. He has work because of the way he lives his life. When we finished the “tour” we gave him a ride back to Kenema.
On Friday, President and Sister Harper drove up from Bo where they were staying with the Moomey’s and attended a meeting with the District Presidency.
The Branch President’s were also invited, but a meeting on Friday at 10:00 am is a tough time to meet if you are working or going to school, which many of them are. We had three in attendance and one counselor. President Morison Nabieu came from Kailahun, President Samai from IDA, President Jusu from Hangha Road, and Br. Lima, 1st counselor in Kpayama. Tobechi Inmpey the mission clerk attended as did all three of the District Presidency. We had a great discussion as President Harper asked the District Leaders how the mission might be able to help them more. He also asked if they had any concerns or counsel regarding the missionaries and the work they are doing in the branches. It was a very constructive meeting and a good orientation for President Harper to the Kenema District.
After the meeting we came to our apartment and ate a quick lunch. LaDawn had prepared delicious sloppy joes which we all appreciated. The Harpers made a quick trip over to the sisters apartment to look it over (boy, was it ever clean!) and then we left for a quick visit to Eku Scotland and his family at OTC. Eku always enjoys meeting leaders from the church and every one that visits OTC comes away inspired by what they are doing. This short visit was no exception.
Saturday was cleaning day, which meant that the first half of the day we were not able to go anywhere or do anything. Our apartment and compound was already clean so we found other things that needed our attention (it is not hard to do here).
Right after noon, we walked over to the Sister’s apartment and delivered their well-earned Chocolate Chip Cookies. We also took a plate to Airfield Apartment, where we picked up Elder Rydjeski and Elder Edun and drove over to Junisa Alfred Korma’s home where the Elders helped him to input his family history into FamilySearch.
He had over 50 temple ordinances for 11 different people. He had done some great work, all the way back to 1890. This is extremely rare here to find people that know names and places that far back. He has only been a member of the church since December, but he has really been feeling the spirit of Elijah. Saturday afternoon was no exception. He wanted to save all of the male temple ordinances so that when he goes next year he will be able to take them with him and do the work himself. Such a fine man. Also kudos to the elders who have been on fire lately helping members do their family history.
From there we came back to Nyandeyama. We had learned late in the week that there was a baptism scheduled for Saturday at 1 pm, but because we had already committed to helping Br. Dorma, we couldn’t attend. By the time we got back to the apartment it was after 3 pm, but as it turned out the baptism had just started, so we went over and were able to witness some amazing faith. There were seven people baptized.
One from IDA (Tamba Samai), One from Burma (Sammie Conteh) and five from Simbeck (Mary Bunttin Graden, Bockarie Maxwell Sam, Alpha Marrah, Elizabeth Musa and Samuel Philip Aruna). But it was the two elderly individuals baptized from Simbeck branch that really caught our attention. Both Mary and Bockarie were unable to walk or stand on their own. Mary is blind. It took great faith for both of them to be carried into the water and then with the help of three men be baptized. It took both of them 3 tries to get fully under. They were completely at the mercy of the men helping them. It was an absolutely lovely moment and one we will not soon forget. At the end of the meeting, both of them bore a powerful testimony of the church into which they were just baptized. In fact, all seven of them bore a powerful witness. The Spirit of the Lord is moving upon this land and upon this people. We have said this before and we will say it again, it is simply amazing to be a part of it.
On Sunday, we attended the Nyandeyama Branch next door. It was our plan to attend there 2 weeks ago, but because we ended up taking a sister missionary who was ill to Bo, we were unable to attend. It was Fast and Testimony meeting today and such a glorious meeting at that. The testimonies were to the point, well articulated and inspiring. We were grateful to be there. When the meeting started, there were only 32 of us. By the time the testimonies began there were 80 in attendance. After sacrament meeting we wanted to attend the youth Sunday school class, but we saw them shuffling the youth back into the adult Sunday school class because they had no teacher. We quickly volunteered to teach them. What a great experience it was. We talked about the first 5 chapters in Acts and hit upon the highlights of each one and tried to draw modern day lessons. It would have been better had we been more prepared, but it was so much better than having them sit outside the circle with the adults where they would not have a chance to comment. LaDawn had the inspiration to download the two Bible videos that went with the lesson so we showed those on her iPad. The youth loved them and they taught the lesson so much better than we could have. We love the youth here and continue to encourage leaders to pay more attention to them as we continue to believe they are the most neglected group in the Church here in Sierra Leone.
After church, we drove over to Kenema Central Branch and attended their gospel literacy class. Lucinda Kallon is the teacher and her students today were Sister Ngekia and Sister Nyuma (the Relief Society President). Lucinda did a great job and it was wonderful to be a part of their class. We are grateful how much progress they are making and the impact the Gospel Literacy program is having in their lives.
From there we drove out to the IDA Apartment and picked up Elder Dube and then over to Airfield to pick up Elder Sparks as both were being transferred out of Kenema. We are so sad to see them go, but know they have new challenges and opportunities elsewhere.
We drove back to our apartment to get the tarp to wrap their luggage up so it wouldn’t get wet if it rained. Just before we got home, the Elders from Airfield called and said Elder Sparks had left his pillow, so back we went. From there we drove to Bo, dropped off the Elders, and picked up Elder Kennelly and Sister Odoom to bring them back to Kenema to serve. It was a wonderful Sabbath Day.
We love the way that the “Guard” has changed here in the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission without the work even “skipping a beat”. Missionaries, members, couples, employees, helpers. Everyone knows their role and because we all have a testimony of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being the Lord’s Kingdom here on earth, we just keep on marching, taking our inspiration from the Spirit of the Lord and our direction from our new mission president. Welcome to Sierra Leone President and Sister Harper! We know you will have great joy in this work as we all work hand in hand to build Zion in this great country.