On March 18, 2019, our blog post was titled “Africa Hot!” due to the extreme hot and dry weather we were experiencing. It only seems fair that we now make a post on “Rain”, as we are in the midst of the rainy season and we have experienced A LOT of rain this week and throughout the month. Last year in July we would have rain about every three days. But this year it has been incessant.
Don’t get us wrong, having experienced both the rain and the heat, we definitely choose rain! There is minimal dust (replaced with mud of course) but it is so much more comfortable temperature-wise. However, there are downsides to the rainy season as well.
Sierra Leone experiences significant rain between the months of June and October. Over the last 115 years, the average over these 5-months is over 90 inches of rain. For a full-year it is between 100 – 125 inches!
This year looks like it will be significantly more. That’s a lot of water falling from the sky! As a comparison, in the USA New Orleans is the top “big city” for receiving rainfall and that is only 62.7 inches a year. Outside of the big cities, Hawaii and Alaska top the charts for having cities, towns and villages with more rainfall. Mt. Waialeale on Kauai receives 460 inches of rain. Ketchikan in Alaska receives between 140 and 160 inches of rain, but then neither of them have a dry season. It does help to have a drying out period each year after all of the rain.
When it rains here the water finds the path of least resistance. On the paved roads (about 5% in distance of all roads in Kenema), the water runs to the side and into concrete ditches that carry it away.
On the dirt roads however, the rain is constantly making its own gutters and ditches. When water runs horizontally across a road it quickly erodes the dirt and creates a washboard effect. In some places, these rain gullies are very common (e.g., the road to Tongo is full of horizontal rain gullies) and they make the road very difficult to drive on. Here in Kenema, the gullies are more about depth and width than they are about quantity. They can quickly turn a perfectly good “bumpy” road into a challenging rutted road.
Without exception, every roof here is a tin roof (it is called a zinc roof). The chapels, the houses, the restaurants (which are few), everything has a tin roof. When it rains, the noise will drown out just about anything else going on. The people here, however, have learned to just “flow” (intentional pun) with the rain beating on the roofs as if nothing is different.
When Houston gets 10” of rain in a day, there is flooding everywhere. Here it causes mud holes, ruts, full ditches and creeks, but we have yet to see a single house flood. The biggest reason being that there are so few concrete surfaces and so much open land and dirt into which the water will soak.
The other downside to the rain is it is hard on missionaries and missionary work. Not so much for us because we have a vehicle, but for the young missionaries it can be brutal. For instance, on Saturday we were with Elder Kennelly and Elder Edun doing family history work for and with Mustapha Mansaray (aka, Professor).
When we finished, we asked the Elders if we could give them a ride to their next appointment. They both looked at each other and suggested maybe they should go home and change out of their wet clothes. They had been caught earlier in the rain and were both pretty wet. Elder Kennelly at least had a rain jacket so he says the rain rolled off his jacket and into his shoes. Elder Edun didn’t have a jacket at all. Neither of them complained the entire time we were working with Professor, and the temperature was cool enough that they had to be chilled. The faith and fortitude of these young Elders is inspiring. They just keep working despite the heat and despite the rain!
After a very busy week last week, we welcomed a bit of a slower pace. On Monday we took Elder Rydjeski and the Zone Leaders (Elder Allen and Elder Matchowa) to Bo where they were then transported to Freetown by John Conteh. Elder Rydjeski was going home and the zone leaders were headed to Mission Leader Council (MLC). We have really enjoyed serving with Elder Rydjeski. He is energetic, humble, committed and a very hard worker. We will miss him here in Kenema for sure. On our way back we stopped at the Moomey’s apartment and visited with them for a few minutes, picking up a few things that have been sent from Freetown to be delivered in Kenema. This is the way that mail moves in this country when it comes to Church business.
After returning from Bo, we worked on a proposal for a missionary apartment in Tongo. As the home group there continues to grow and becomes a branch (hopefully later this year), the need for missionaries in the area increases. There have been 10 baptisms in the first 5 months of this year with the missionaries teaching there 5 hours a week. If there were missionaries living and working there everyday, that number would easily be tripled. The people in Tongo are prepared and ready for the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness. We hope the time will come when we will have enough missionaries in the mission and a place for them to live to put a pair there full-time.
When we have a maintenance problem at an apartment, we have an unofficial process. We call Justin Gandi (our assistant for missionary facility matters) who then contacts the vendor. The vendor (and sometimes Justin) will then go to the apartment to troubleshoot the problem. They will then call me and give me an estimate with a request to come and get the money from us to purchase the parts. After the money is provided, the vendor will procure the parts and return to the missionary apartment and fix the problem (sometimes this will spill over to the next day) and then return to me with the receipt for the parts and to be paid for their labor. All of this takes time and coordination so as to minimize the time missionaries have to wait for someone to come to their apartment for a repair. We mention this process because on Monday we had this exact issue working at the IDA apartment due to a problem with a toilet and a power switch (involved two different vendors). It took two days, but both problems were resolved by Tuesday morning.
In the afternoon, a young returned missionary came to our apartment to complete his filing with the International Education Research Foundation (IERF.org) to have his high school grades translated into a USA standard GPA. His desire is to attend Brigham Young University – Idaho. It is actually quite a process to successfully do so. He has managed to have his grades sent from the West Africa Examination Council directly to IERF and now that he has filled out the application and submitted the fees he is one step closer to completing his application to BYU-I. Next step is to apply for scholarship money through the Hall Foundation to help defray the cost of travel and tuition. Once he is accepted to the university, he will need to apply for a student visa. So many steps to take, but I have a good feeling about the young man and wish him the greatest success in his efforts. We are happy to help with internet and some coaching on the steps he has to take.
In the evening we visited again with Eku at OTC. We had an appointment with him at 5 pm, but the guy in charge of the installing the solar called him and said they had just arrived from Freetown and would be at OTC in 15 minutes. We have mentioned before that Engineers without Borders from Denmark is doing a big project for them, including providing them with solar power. We did have an opportunity for a short visit with him. When he went to Freetown last week when his first wife died, he brought back some of the young granddaughters, knowing he would be going back this week for the funeral itself.
These little girls are so cute. They absolutely love LaDawn. As they gathered around her, I said I wanted to “snap” (aka, take a picture). LaDawn knelt down so that she could be at their level and as she did, they knelt down with her. It was such a cute moment and a perfect photo opportunity.
On Tuesday, we awoke with one goal in mind. We needed to find and book the plane tickets for Rebecca and Grace to get to Salt Lake City on the same flight as three returning missionaries on August 20th and then return in September with Cason Curriden accompanying them as far as Ghana. The good news is that this is LaDawn’s expertise. She can navigate airline and travel websites and match flights as good as the best travel agent out there. She had done some perusing last week to see what they looked like, but by Tuesday of this week the entire landscape had changed. Prices were higher, reward travel availability was less and to top it all off we couldn’t confirm with Cason his availability on the dates we wanted to send Grace and Rebecca back to Sierra Leone (he was at Lake Powell and out of cell range). The surgeon had initially indicated Grace’s recovery would be 2-4 weeks, but that is a big window with lots of options when trying to book flights.
At first we looked at September 20th, but it just didn’t feel right to us, so we moved forward a week to September 13th and like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle, everything started to fall into place. Grace is not yet 2 years old, so she can ride on Rebecca’s lap, but it still required a $300 ticket. The ticket we needed for Rebecca was now over $4000 and with the limited amount of money in the Go Fund Me account we needed more help. A wonderful couple had earlier offered their Delta frequent flier miles and in anticipation of this need we had contacted them last week and they agreed to provide the miles. On Tuesday when we contacted them, the sister not only booked the ticket for Rebecca and Grace using reward miles but also agreed to book Cason’s ticket for which we can now use the GO FUND ME money as we were able to find a reasonable fare. Round trip for Grace, Rebecca on August 20th and Cason (to and from Ghana) on September 13th totaled the exact amount Doug McMullin had originally budgeted just for Grace and Rebecca’s round trip tickets (at the time we didn’t consider how to get them back home). The roundtrip ticket from Freetown to Ghana was an additional charge, but still doable within the budget. And as it turned out, when Cason returned from Lake Powell, he said he could make the flight work without any problem. More miracles in the series of miracles to get Grace this much needed surgery. How grateful we are as we watch this whole experience unfold before us.
On Wednesday, Ibrahim Kanda from the Simbeck Branch came over to our apartment and we helped him submit four generations of names of his father’s side. He also had some info on his mother’s family, but he wanted to wait until he had a chance to talk to her. Each time we see members of the church here catch the spirit of Elijah as they pull their family information together to send to the temple, we are able to experience pure joy with them. We never get enough of it and always want to do more!
On Wednesday we also had to recharge our monthly internet at SierraTel as well as purchase additional data for our phones and pick up a few food items at the small supermarket here.
Thursday was District Council with the Kenema South District. Elder Armstrong is the District leader and did a great job with the meeting. Sister Vena led a discussion on being an effective teacher. One of the things we discussed was that if we are going to effectively teach a principle then we need to have our own intimate experience with that principle. That is what we call learning by faith. One comment made that hit home, “when we do not understand a principle, we feel left out”. How true that is! It was also mentioned that if we are going to teach the Book of Mormon, then we need to have a “relationship” with the truths it contains. It was a great meeting from beginning to end.
On Thursday afternoon, I met up with Joseph Aruna over at OTC. I had stopped to check on the progress with their solar installation. I have to say, it is definitely high end and definitely impressive. I think I have “solar-envy”.
Joseph and I went to the various vendors in Kenema that are providing the tools, tables, cabinets, machines and misc training items as part of the LDS Charities project and picked them up and brought them over to OTC. For example, the project includes two generators with built-in welding machines for them to use in the blacksmith shop. While the machines were brand new, they had been sitting for a while and needed to have oil put in them and to be started.
It took them about 1 1/2 hours to get that done, so we picked up some other items and then came back and still had to wait another 30 minutes. All in all we were able to pick up most of the items. We expect to wrap the project up this next week and then have a handover ceremony. It is like Christmas at OTC right now with the solar and bathroom facilities and now the items from the LDS Charities project. We are so happy to see this help come to this amazing group of people who are working hard to help themselves and to help others.
On Friday, I took the zone leaders and Elder Fajardo (his new companion comes on Wednesday after Elder Rydjeski went home) to Tongo. We had a wonderful day there. First of all little Grace was in the best mood I have ever seen her in. It is as though her little spirit knows that something significant and good is happening in her life. I was able to go over the schedule with Rebecca and talk to her about how the flights will work and some of things she needs to think about bringing. Because they have so very little, Doug McMullin and we decided we should use some of the funding money to buy clothes for her to wear while in Salt Lake City. Sister Messie was kind enough to meet us and then take Rebecca to the market to find some material and then to the tailors to have clothes made for both her and Grace. Rebecca is so gracious and grateful for anything and everything that will help Grace receive this surgery. All she has are flip flops, so no “full shoes” or socks. She also does not have a coat for the plane, where it will undoubtedly be cold for her. These are items we are looking to find for her to make the trip as easy as possible. Rebecca has grown up in small villages her entire life. What she is about to experience is so far out of her comfort zone so anything we can do to soften the experience will be helpful. Still plenty of preparation to do, but progress is being made. One thing that is very obvious to us is just how many people are working to make all of this possible. It is starting to become a very long list!
While there under the Mango tree (the ants were gone for now) Elder Fajardo jumped right in and did a great job teaching. He and Elder Allen taught Adama as Elder Matchowa taught Ibrahim and Sidie. From there we went to the Chapel where Elder Allen and Elder Fajardo taught Ishmael and Elder Matchowa and I went over and taught Sahr Lahai’s daughter Agnes. She has really taken an interest in learning the gospel. Pretty impressive for an 11-year old. Our last stop was with the Kanu’s where we taught Joseph, Sarah, Mary and Mr Kanu (I can never remember his first name). Every discussion we had was filled with commitments, testimonies and truths. It was just a great day. Unfortunately we were unable to teach Foday and the Moinya’s. Both said they will be available next week. Something to look forward to!
On Saturday morning we attended a District Leadership Meeting of branch presidencies and district auxiliary leaders. LaDawn and I spent about 30 minutes training on the roles and responsibilities of district auxiliary presidencies, especially as it relates to training branch auxiliaries.
We also talked about the ultimate responsibilities for training branch auxiliary leaders resting squarely on the shoulders of the branch presidency and how they should work with District leaders to make sure that training happens. We had a great discussion and I think we all learned a lot about how to be just a bit better at knowing our own responsibilities and then helping others know theirs.
There were other topics covered such as missionary work, seminary and institute, temple trips and district conference in the fall. The meeting lasted about 2.5 hours, and we think it was time well spent.
From the district center we went directly to Mustapha Mansary’s (aka Professor) home where we met Elder Kennelly and Elder Edun and helped Professor load his four generations on both his mother and father’s side into FamilySearch as mentioned above.
On Sunday we attended the Hangha Road Branch conference. This is their first branch conference with the new branch presidency. It was a great meeting. Speakers included a young girl from primary who bore her testimony, Jamilatu Sesay, a councilor in the Relief Society (spoke on service), President Tamba Jusu, branch president (spoke on missionary work) and President Fomba, 1st counselor in the district presidency (spoke on the principle of work). Once again, a spirit filled and inspiring meeting – something we find to be quite common here.
During the second hour, President Cobinah asked if I could again teach the lesson on Family History that I taught in Kailahun. Using the same four questions as mentioned in last week’s post, we had a great discussion about family history. I know very little Krio, and so when I teach, I do it in English, making an effort to pronounce words with a Krio accent, but still using English. Yet, I can tell that the people are understanding. They are alert, attentive and contributing to the the discussion. For me, the reason this works is found in 2 Nephi 33:1. …”for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it into the hearts of the children of men.” Having just come out of a wonderful sacrament meeting where the Holy Ghost bore witness to each of us of the truths that were spoken, the stage was set to carry that into the second hour. I have no doubt this is what happened. I felt it and those in that class felt it. How grateful we are for a loving Heavenly Father who has designed a way for the weak things of the earth (us) to make a difference through the Holy Ghost.
Just as the rain has been falling every single day over the past week, so also has the Spirit of the Lord been raining down the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ through missionaries, members and leaders of the Church or Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here in Kenema. The light of truth and knowledge has broken through the clouds of tradition and darkness that has covered this country for hundreds of years. Those who are pure in heart (and there are many) recognize the light immediately and are drawn towards it. Even some who have spent their lives in darkness are able to recognize the light and make their way to it, just as a thirsty man will cup his hand to catch the falling rain. We continue to be grateful for this opportunity to work hand in hand with these wonderful people, many who are spiritual infants with a great desire to learn and grow, so that the truths of the gospel can continue to rain down upon all of us.
A PLEA FOR HELP: In December, Elder and Sister Moomey will complete their mission at the same time we complete ours. Sister Moomey is the mission nurse and Elder Moomey, also with a first aid background as a fire fighter, have been tremendous blessings to this mission. We desparately need a couple to replace them. If anyone who reads this blog knows anyone with a medical background that is ready to serve a full time mission and that would be willing to come to Sierra Leone and have the greatest experience of their lives, please encourage them to do so. We need them!