Miracles

“But behold, I will show unto you a God of miracles, even the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and it is that same God who created the heavens and the earth, and all things that in them are.”  – Mormon 9:11

Sometimes we tend to forget that our God IS a God of miracles.  That has been brought home to us this week once again.  We want to share it with you.

In last week’s post, we mentioned that on Wednesday I spent all day working on the USA visas for Rebecca and Grace.  I also mentioned how I went to Tongo on Friday and sat down with Rebecca and reviewed everything I had input and got answers to a few questions I was unsure of in regards to her husband.  

On Sunday I entered the rest of the information into the online form and decided to sleep on it before submitting it on Monday.  I had discovered a small inconsistency between the passport and the visa and was trying to figure out what to do about it.  After sleeping on it (and praying as well), I decided to press forward and on Monday around 3:00 pm, I finally hit the “SUBMIT” button.  Almost immediately we received a confirmation back that the appointment had been approved and was set for September 16that 9:30 am. But that was not the goal.  The goal was to get an emergency medical visa appointment.  I had sent an online inquiry on Wednesday at noon (as mentioned above, this was the day I had spent the entire time working on the visas) to the embassy asking about how to file for an emergency visa, because I could not figure it out.  My thinking was this was going to take a few days to get a response, but by 10:30 the next morning (a week ago last Thursday) I had an answer that made sense and that I could see would work.  So, after getting the initial appointment (which is required before an expedited visa appointment can be requested), I followed the instructions and submitted the request for an emergency interview.

Before we go on, we need to share another piece of information.  In order to request an emergency medical visa, there are a number of things required.  1) A letter from the doctor in the USA explaining the medical issue and the proposed solution. 2) A letter explaining how the travel and medical procedures would be funded. 3) A letter from a doctor in Sierra Leone explaining that the procedure could not be done here.  I added a 4th, which was a letter from LaDawn and me explaining the history and how we had come to this point of requesting a medical visa to the USA.

The first two letters we had. One from the surgeon, Dr. Fred Grimmer and another from our good friend Dr. Doug McMullin. It was the third letter I was struggling with. I worked with EcoMed (where we had the scans done) in Freetown for 3 weeks trying to get a letter from the doctor who works there. She was on leave for two and a half weeks and when she finally returned, she said she could not write it. We were disappointed and dismayed. Alvin, the man who was working with me at EcoMed, was also disappointed and found a pediatrician who indicated she could help. When I called her, she told me I would have to send her all the scans (they were on CDs in the USA), she would read them, and then decide if she could write the letter. Frustrating. I understood her reluctance to make a statement that was not her personal case, but this would mean additional time and money that we did not have. Interestingly enough, every medical professional in this country would know immediately that this surgery could not or should not be done here, but I was having trouble finding someone who would put it on paper.

I was texting back and forth with Doug McMullin and he suggested asking Dr. Grant.  He is the doctor here locally that we have spoken of before.  He has always been very helpful with the missionaries who are ill and we have a good relationship with him. He is currently the District Medical Director which is a significant position of authority. I sent him a WhatsApp message and within a couple of hours he said he would help us.  That was on Thursday.  I sent him a simple letter that he could draw from as well as the letters from Doctors Grimmer and McMullin.  On Monday morning, I still did not have his letter in hand.  I messaged him again and he said the letter was complete, but that Rebecca needed to take Grace to the Community Health Center in Tongo to answer a few more questions.  I quickly responded that she had been there, they referred her to Kenema Government Hospital, they referred her to the Catholic Hospital in Serabu (near Bo) and they referred her to a hospital in Freetown.  They didn’t have money for the trip to Freetown so returned home thinking they would never get help for Grace.  Fortunately, on Friday when Rebecca told me this, she was able to retrieve the referrals.  I took pictures of them and so on Monday was able to send those to Dr. Grant.  Within 5 minutes, he sent me the signed letter! It was perfect.

With these 4 letters in hand, we submitted the request for the emergency visa appointment and attached them as support.  That was late in the evening on Monday.  At 10:25 am the next day, the request was granted.  I didn’t think it would happen so fast and didn’t check email until after 3:00 pm.  When I did, there was a link to set the appointment.  The calendar showed an appointment for the very next day at 9:00 am. The next one would be on Monday the 24th.  We figured if we really wanted the embassy to believe that this was an emergency that we would need to take the slot the next morning.  That would mean a very early departure from Kenema.  I immediately called Rebecca, her phone happened to be on and she said she could come to Kenema but would need help with the transportation cost to Kenema.  I texted Br. Kongoley and Sister Messie to see if either could help her.  When I tried to call Rebecca back, her phone was off. Now we had to make a decision. Should we book the appointment and have faith that Rebecca would make it to Kenema with this late notice?  Or should we try for the following Monday. I prayed and the spirit said book the appointment for the next day.  (One does not want to book an appointment and then cancel it).  I booked it and then sent more texts to both Br. Kongoley and Sister Messie.  At 6:30 pm I called Br. Kongoley to see if there was an update and he said Rebecca and Grace were already in Kenema.  I called Rebecca and confirmed a 4:15 am pickup from where she was staying. Things were moving quickly now.

At 7 pm I called Dassama to see if he would want to go with us again to help with translation.  He didn’t answer.  An hour later he called and said he would go.  At 2:30 am the next morning I woke up and could not go back to sleep, so I decided to just get up.  At 3:50 am, Dass showed up in a shirt and tie and at 4 am we left.  I asked Dass why he was so dressed up and he only shrugged his shoulders.  By 4:30 we were out of Kenema and on our way to Freetown.  It was raining (we hate to drive in the rain). 

The US Embassy in Freetown

 It ended up raining about half of the way.  When we got just outside of Freetown the rain started to come down harder and there was fog.  Not much fun driving in that.  We spent the hour before we arrived going over possible questions with Rebecca that they might ask her.  We finished just as we pulled into the embassy at 8:30 am, exactly our hoped-for arrival time. Dass and I took Rebecca and Grace to the front door and left them there with the guards (we were holding umbrellas for them).  Five minutes later, Rebecca came back out to the truck and said they wanted me to come in. Turns out they recognized her limited language skills and noticed she wasn’t feeling well and felt she would never get the visa unless I accompanied her through the process.  This was a miracle in itself, as the rule is only those with appointments and papers with barcodes to prove the appointment are even allowed in the building.  It was obvious I was the only “non-visa seeking” person in the room.

It took us about 2 hours before our turn arrived.  Rebecca continued to feel worse.  She had wrapped herself in a cloth with which she wraps around her in which to carry Grace on her back.  She was freezing.  Grace was running a fever.  As soon as we got to the window, the woman consular agent greeted us warmly and indicated that she was the one who had already read all of the letters and had approved the appointment.  She said if she had realized we were here she would have not made us wait.  She asked Rebecca two questions, both extremely easy, and then immediately granted a 6-month visa.  Just like that we were done.  The discrepancy between the passport and the visa never came up.

What makes this even more remarkable is that we have two friends who work in the State Department. I had asked both of them for advice. And while they are limited in what they can advise people, they both independently indicated that our case would be a long shot and that the only way it would happen was if Heavenly Father wanted it to happen.    The night before we sent out emails and texts to close friends and family who were aware of Grace’s plight to please pray for us and them.  We asked for two things:  1) That Rebecca would do well in the interview and 2) That the consular agent would be favorable to granting the visas.  Both happened.  It was as though angels were all around us.  When we came back to the guard house, the two men and one woman guard immediately asked us how it went.  When we said we were successful, they cheered for us.  It was humbling and heart-warming.  Everyone in that building seemed to be pulling for little Grace that day.

Grace sound asleep on a sofa in the mission home

When we got back in the truck, Rebecca said she was not feeling well and wanted to stay in Freetown with her brother in law’s family for a day or so to recover.  We decided we would first go to the mission home and use the restrooms as there were no public facilities at the embassy.  When we got to the mission home, President Harper was there and took the time to interview Dass for his mission.  So that was his little miracle – and he was already dressed the part!  Allie Kargbo also came into the office while we were there and so we were able to ask him to go to the embassy next Wednesday and pick up their passports with the visas inside of them.  He gratefully agreed to do so.

Halfway to Bo on the road back from Freetown at 3 pm

As we started back towards Kenema, we dropped Rebecca and Grace off near their relative’s home and then we headed back.  Rebecca was really sick, needing the use of a barf bag all the way to her brother in law’s house.  Shortly after dropping them off, the Moomey’s called and offered to feed us dinner on the way home.  Another great blessing for us.  LaDawn had been fasting and we were all hungry.  Sister Moomey’s chicken soup is dang good!  We made it back home around 6:30 pm and were in bed before 8:00 pm.  To be up at 2:30 am and drive to Freetown and back without falling asleep was just one more tender mercy.  We were so grateful for the amazing day and the obvious influence and intervention of the Lord in our efforts.

On Thursday I tried called Rebecca twice to see how she and Grace were feeling.  No answer.  On Friday while in Tongo, just as we were finishing our last teaching appointment, Rebecca and Grace came by on a motorcycle taxi (Okada), saw us, turned around and greeted us. They were both better and full of smiles, so happy to be back home.

These experiences with Rebecca and Grace have been profoundly rewarding for us.  Getting to where we are now with this process has been a labor of love and prayer.  To us, the whole thing is a series of miracles.  Yes, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob is also the God of little Grace Koroma.  And he still works miracles on behalf of his children whom he loves.

Weekly Highlights

Monday was a busy day. Michael Komba came over and washed the truck at 8:00 am and then Momoh Swaray came over at 10:00 am and we input his personal medical history and printed out his medical forms and sent him to Kenema Government Hospital for his physical.  Just as Dass had helped Peter and David, Peter and David then went with Momoh and helped him by showing him where to go and what to say.  At noon, Dass came over and he went with me to Guarantee Trust (GT) Bank.  GT Bank is the bank here in Sierra Leone that the US Embassy works through.  We had to go there to pay the non-refundable visa application fees for Rebecca and Grace.  The first trip over, the man we spoke to explained we had to have a voucher from the website, and he showed us online what one looked like.  We came back to the apartment and I started looking for it.  Unfortunately, it was hidden like everything else seems to be on that site.  Within about 30 minutes, I was finally able to find it and get it printed and go back to the bank.  It took quite some time for a second man who worked as a teller to appropriately record the funds and issue the necessary receipt number that I then had to reenter into the website to make the appointment.  The reason it took so long is because the teller was both entering data for the visas while he was still helping other customers.  We could see him switching back and forth between applications.  Fortunately, he did it just right and I was able to book the appointment and then request the emergency appointment as mentioned earlier.  

Inputting David’s mission information

At 4:00 pm, David, Peter and Joshua came over.  Joshua and I worked on his personal medical history and printing his forms while LaDawn input David’s mission application form and educational background.  When I finished with Joshua, I input the same information for Peter.  All we have left for Peter and David are their completed medical and dental forms and their yellow fever card.  Joseph Aruna came over for the remainder of the funding on the OTC project for LDS Charities.  He is making great progress and has now started to purchase all of the agreed items. Earlier in the day, LaDawn worked with Lucinda Musa, one of our other guards, on gospel literacy.  She is reading and teaching her every day, just as I have been doing with Charles each evening.

On Tuesday, we took Peter and David to Bo to have their dental exams.  Both of them were having pain with molars due to cavities.  The dentist in Kenema is elderly and has not been well. Dr. Grant (the medical doctor) told them they needed to go to Bo for care so we decided to make a trip for a few other things we needed and take them along with us.  We dropped them off at Dr. Conteh’s office at the Bo Government hospital and waited until they had their exams and then came and told us the dentist would pull two teeth for each of them.  

We then went and ran a few errands to pick up some things at the grocery stores there while their teeth were coming out.  As we pulled in, David and Peter were just coming out of the dentist’s office.  They had gauze in their mouths so they couldn’t speak much and their mouths were still a bit numb, but overall both seemed to be in good spirits.  The whole appointment took just over 2 hours.  This probably deserves a bit of commentary here. It is unfortunate that dentists in Kenema and Bo do not fill the cavities.  Instead they pull teeth that would have served well for decades had they just been able to fill the cavity.  Painful to know, and even more painful to see these young men lose these important teeth so young in their lives.

We stopped at the Moomey’s and picked up a number of items that had come from Freetown and needed to be brought to Kenema.  We returned home around 2 pm.  It was between 2pm and 4 pm that we set the emergency appointment for Grace and Rebecca and arranged for them to get to Kenema.

At 4pm, we had agreed to come to the Kenema Central Branch YSA Family Home Evening.  We weren’t sure if it would happen though because Peter was in charge and he just had two molars extracted.  But when we got there just after 4 pm, Peter was already there. 

Playing the Hand Game

By 5 pm we had 9 young single adults and Peter started the gathering.  After a brief spiritual thought by Alma Kamara, they turned the time over to us.  We had so much fun together!  We played the hand game, pictionary, charades, the human knot and missionary tag.  It was wonderful.  We finished close to 6:30 pm and there were still people coming even as the closing prayer was being said.  All in all, it was a great event and we really loved being together with these wonderful young single adults.

Wednesday was our miraculous trip to Freetown.

On Thursday, we attended the North District Council meeting with Elder Ihentuge, Elder Winters, Elder Rydjeski and Elder Fajardo.  We have attended some really good council meetings, but this one may have been the best yet. 

District Council (LtoR) Elder Rydjeski, Elder Fajardo, Elder Ihentuge, Elder Winters

Elder Winters gave a spiritual thought about 1 Nephi 3 that turned into a full-blown discussion.  We talked about the entire experience with getting the plates.  A few of key points made:  1) Casting lots is a result of not really knowing what to do.  It is also akin to gambling.  Nephi was caught up in the whole series of events just as were his brothers.  The second attempt with the family treasures was also an attempt to solve a spiritual problem with a worldly tactic.  The same as the first attempt.  It wasn’t until the third attempt that Nephi stepped back and decided to turn the problem over to the Lord.  2) Nephi was being tutored to be a prophet.  That tutoring included an Abrahamic test in his willingness to destroy Laban.  3) In the second attempt, the loss of their worldly possessions may have been a necessary step to disconnect Laban and Lemuel from their home in Jerusalem, otherwise turning back for them may have always been an option.  

Elder Ihentuge led a discussion on listening for understanding.  We discussed the barriers to listening during a discussion to understand the people we are teaching and their concerns.  Things like the environment (there is a lot of noise here), being tired, or just thinking about what it is we are going to say next.  All of these tend to cause us to lose focus on listening to what is happening in the discussion and to understanding what concerns the individual has.

In the afternoon, we drove to President Cobinah’s home to discuss with him the Home Group in Tongo and how best to support it once it becomes a branch.  We are hopeful that sometime in the near future we might have missionaries there full-time.  Planning for that eventuality was one of the topics of our discussion.

After returning home, Dennis Samai came to our apartment and we spent about 90 minutes working through some questions and troubleshooting the recent issues of the Liahona’s sent from Ghana for May and July.  Ghana has taken over the labeling and distribution of the magazines, but there were a significant number of problems with duplication, incorrect subscription terms and missing issues for subscribed members.  We hope we can help things improve.  When the members who subscribe, but don’t get their magazine, discover the process is broken, they stop subscribing and word spreads quickly. 

On Friday I drove the zone leaders to Tongo.  As a follow-up to the driver ant story last week, there is another chapter to share.  This week we were unable to meet under the mango tree because the ants were on the prowl.    

Kadie James

In fact, when I first saw Kadie, I thought she was not well (although she looks great in this picture). Turns out the ants burrowed into their mud house overnight and they were up all night trying to chase them out. Kadie’s son, John said he first poured water on them and that made them angry. So he started a fire and then put some burning charcoal in the places where they had burrowed into the house. This seemed to work. But they were not able to sleep hardly at all. These ants are vicious, especially for those in mud homes and caution is required. When we arrived, the ants were moving away from the tree, by the time we finished, they were moving back towards it, having found their prey, tearing it into ant size chunks and returning with it to the mound. John reported that they have been known to attack chicks at night and kill them and tear them apart and haul them back to the mound as well. They didn’t seem to bother us as we walked around them and took a few pictures and videos. I find these creatures fascinating!

It was a great day of teaching.  Adama, Ibrahim, Ishmael, Foday, Joseph, Sarah.  All of these are progressing towards baptism.   Last week we taught Agnes Moinya and her sister Hannah and daughter Esther.  This week we met the father, Tamba.  They were not able to meet with us right then, but promised they would have the whole family together next Friday.  We sure hope so.  He is a plumber for Sierra Diamonds mining company meaning he has a good job.  They have 5 children and are very much involved in their children’s lives.  A very fine family that would be greatly blessed by having the gospel of Jesus Christ active in their lives.

I want to share something that Foday said as we were teaching him as shown in the series of pictures above. He asks great questions, such as, what is Joseph Smith’s lineage in relationship to Abraham and Noah. Who asks a question like that? He is on fire with the truths of the gospel burning in his heart. In any case, he told us that when he first started studying Christianity and attending Winners Chapel, his Muslim parents told him he could study and attend, but he could not be baptized. But now, with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, he says they have told him he can be baptized. He says he does not even know why they feel that way, but they do.

On Saturday, we went for an early morning walk, albeit a bit shorter than usual as it was raining very lightly most of the time. 

At 10:00 am we were at the Kenema Central Branch for family history work with Elder Fajardo and Elder Rydjeski.  We were able to help three members, Prince Mohamed Samai Jr (joined 2016), Jonathan Saidu (joined April 2018) and Ishmael Gogra (joined April 2019).  We had great success submitting names to the temple for all three.  Elder Fajardo and Elder Rydjeski are nothing short of amazing.  They input all of the information and worked through questions as they came up.  We enjoyed just being there and taking it all in, providing laptops and internet.  There is much more of this work to do here in the Kenema District!

Once we finished with the family history work we stayed a bit longer and downloaded a new printer driver for the branch computer.  It had been having software issues and the district technology specialist fixed it, but in the process the printer driver was unknowingly impacted.  Using our internet we were able to download a new one and get it installed.

Joseph Aruna who is leading the LDS Charities project for OTC came to our apartment and we put the final touches on the list of items to be purchased.  There were a few items that were not available or the pricing was different than expected, so we adjusted the list and, using a spreadsheet, made some real time decisions about what the final list should be.  

Shortly after Joseph left, Joshua Laundeh came over and we finished getting all of his missionary information into the system and submitted to his branch president.  Such an exciting day for him.  This is something he has been working towards for a very long time.   When President Harper comes to Kenema in a couple of weeks he will have 5 more young men to interview for their missions!

On Sunday morning, we were up at 5 am so that we could leave for Kailahun by 6 am.  We picked up Sister Bangura (District Relief Society President), Brother Mojeuh (District “high” Councilor) and Sister Kamara (District Primary President).  

We arrived in Kailahun at 8:20 am.  This was Kailahun’s branch conference day, and what it day it turned out to be. There were a record number of people in attendance (over 125), with more than 15 of them being investigators!  

Jessica

Jessica Mojueh, a 12 year-old young woman was the first speaker.  She spoke on faith and as she bore her testimony in conclusion, the spirit enveloped her and all of us.  She teared up and the Holy Ghost bore witness to all of us that what she was saying was true. It was marvelous.  The branch president, Morison Nabieu then spoke on becoming perfected in Christ.  This is such a good man and one who works tirelessly on building the branch and strengthening the members in Kailahun.  He is such an example to us.  Following his comments, President Cobinah concluded the meeting talking about how important it is to stay with the church, to teach our children so they will be a great strength in the future and to keep on trying even when we make mistakes, for it will be through those mistakes that we will learn and grow. From beginning to end the meeting was spirit filled and inspiring.

For the second hour, I was privileged to teach a lesson on Family History, one of our favorite topics for sure.  It was a simple lesson with four short questions about Family History.  What is it?  Why do we do it?  What are the blessings?  How do I get started?  We had a wonderful discussion with many good comments.  For the blessings, we used Elder Renlund’s General Conference talk from April of last year.  In the talk, he lists 11 blessings that come to those who engaged in Family History and Temple Work.  We read each one and I gave a brief explanation.  We all felt the spirit of Elijah and the spirit of the Holy Ghost as it testified of the truth of these blessings.  What a great day we had at the Kailahun Branch today!

After church, we picked up some old fans and lights from the missionary apartment and headed back with them to Kenema about noon. We were home by 1:45 pm.

David and Peter came over around 4 pm and we finalized their mission papers and submitted them to their branch president.  It was sheer joy to see their happiness to get to this important milestone.  We now have Peter, David, Joshua and Momoh with their papers to their branch presidents.  Edward is with the Mission President and Dass is submitted to the Area. The Army of Helaman is gathering! When a young man sees the picture at the left, he rejoices because he now knows he has done the hardest part of the work to be able to serve the Lord as a full-time missionary.

Yes, our God IS a God of miracles. We have found that they are often so commonplace that we sometimes forget to recognize them. However, this week, the hand of the Lord has been visible, obvious and powerful. We saw His hand in securing the visas for Grace and Rebecca, we saw it in these young men finally getting to submit mission papers, we see it in the Family History work that is happening at an accelerated pace and we saw it in the testimony of a 12 year-old girl in Kailahun. How grateful we are to work hand in hand with the wonderful people in Sierra Leone to experience, acknowledge and express gratitude for the miracles we are witnessing every day.

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