One of the unique things about serving as an MLS (Member and Leader Support) Missionary Couple in this mission (and perhaps other missions are similar), we are located away from the mission home and will serve in the same place for the entire 18 months. As we have pondered on this, we have come to realize that in 18 months we have made a LOT of friends. A young missionary may serve in one area for 6-7 months (or less usually), but then they are gone to another area and the relationships they have made fade as they meet new people.
They work mostly with non-members and their strongest bonds are with those they have taught and baptized. For us, staying in one place for so long has allowed us to get involved in peoples lives. To know their children, their homes, their struggles, their hopes, their dreams. Because of the nature of our assignment, the amount of time we spend with the missionaries is small compared to the time we spend with members, leaders and the non-members we meet each day. The result is relationships that will be hard to leave when our mission is over. We feel a part of the community and the District in a way that surprises even us.
While our focus is on members and leaders of the church, we also make every effort to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the people we meet. Many of you who have read this blog probably feel like you know Eku Scotland. He is the director of the Opportunity Training Center, himself a victim of polio as a small child. Despite his handicap, he has done amazing things in his life. We wrote an entire post on his life, which you can find here. LaDawn and I have been visiting with Eku and having gospel discussions starting in early December, just over 8 months ago.
On Friday evening, we were finally able to visit with him again after more than 3 weeks due to conflicting schedules. In late April, we gave him a USB stick with the recent general conference videos and from time to time he said he would try to watch some of the talks. On Thursday, he had some time on his hands, and decided to watch more of conference, but he could not find the stick. He eventually got busy with another project and in the course of that work, he “coincidentally” found the USB stick. He stuck it in his computer and for the next three hours he was glued to his screen watching speaker after speaker deliver what he felt were inspired messages. His first words to us on Friday was that watching the conference had really moved him. I asked him where it moved him to, and he responded, “to take a decision”.
He then told us how when he listened to the talk by Brook P. Hales titled, “Answers to Prayer”, he said the Holy Spirit touched his heart as he listened to the story of Pat Parkinson who went blind as a young girl. Responding to her nephew about why she didn’t just ask Heavenly Father for new eyes, she responded, “Well, sometimes Heavenly Father doesn’t work like that. Sometimes He needs you to learn something, and so He doesn’t give you everything you want. Sometimes you have to wait. Heavenly Father and the Savior know best what is good for us and what we need. So They aren’t going to grant you everything you want in the moment you want it.” It was these words that touched his heart (because this is his story too) and he immediately knew it was time to take a decision to come to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
There is still much to do. He wants to talk face to face with his good Jehovah Witness friends, Ralph and Bernice who helped him make the decision to be baptized into the faith. They are from Germany and have been missionaries for 14 years in Sierra Leone and have done a great work. We often tell Eku that we believe the Jehovah Witness faith has made him a better man and that now he is ready to take the next step. He agrees. He also wants to speak with his family, as he wants them to come with him, but he will not force them. They will need to be taught by the sister missionaries and start attending church. But we feel his sincerity and desire to follow this strong impression he has had from the Spirit of the Lord will see him through.
This is what friendship is. It is as stated in Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.” We have come to love this good man, his wife Martha and their children Marion, Frances and Able. Not because they may join our church, but because our lives have become intertwined and our mutual respect and admiration deepened. Knowing and loving this family has been the crown jewel of our mission. Their humility, kindness, experiences and leadership have made life better for so many….and now we stand as additional beneficiaries, our own countenances sharpened by their lives.
On Monday morning, we took Michael Komba to Bo to have what we thought was one tooth pulled. Turns out he had two that were causing him problems. Michael is the young man that now washes our truck each week. He has one more year of Senior Secondary School before he can take his WASSCE exam (high school diploma equivalent). Both of his parents have passed away and he is living with his brother whose work dried up. Michael has arranged to pay monthly for his schooling. Washing the truck allows him just enough money to pay his tithing and his schooling each month so that he can finish next year. He joined the church late last year and is one motivated, committed young man! We told him if he could come up with the money for the dentist that we would take him. He was in significant pain so we were happy to be of some small help to solve this problem.
In the afternoon, President Komba, Branch President for the Kenema Central Branch came over to our apartment to submit the mission papers for David Gbow and Peter Ngekia. The branch computer continues to have problems, this time due to a leaky roof, so we were more than happy to let him use our internet and computer to get these mission applications submitted.
In the evening we attended Family Home Evening with the Hangha Road Branch where we taught them some of the same games we taught to Simbeck and Kenema Branches.
We had such a great time. We taught them the hand game, the human knot, Pictionary and Charades. They were a competitive bunch, but had so much fun together. It makes us smile to see them enjoying each other’s company in a fun and uplifting atmosphere.
On Tuesday morning we were able to go for a walk. As often is the case, we met someone new and spoke to them briefly about the church. That morning we met Morison. He indicated that he has attended a meeting or two of the church in the past, but now he lives with Muslims and he said they control what he does (really?) so he cannot come to church. He is quite an interesting guy as he is taking a correspondents course to get a masters degree in business administration. In any case, he took our phone number and said he might call and come talk to us sometime. Such a lovely man. He willingly agreed to take this friendly “snap” with me.
Later in the morning, Elder Matchowa, one of the zone leaders, came with his companion Elder Allen to our apartment for help with his family history. He had done quite a bit of work, but had gotten stuck when it came to submitting them to the temple. One of the reasons was because so many of the names he had been given by his mother and grandmother were aunts and uncles which required permission because he was not the closest living relative. We were able to work through all of his issues and in the end submitted 70 temple ordinances for his family. He was so pleased as he indicated the Spirit of the Lord has really been prompting him to do something about the names that he knew he needed to submit for ordinances. As we have said before, helping members (and missionaries!) submit family names to the temple is one of the highlights of our mission here in Sierra Leone.
In the afternoon, President Martin Foday (Simbeck) came by and we helped him to submit the missionary application for Joshua Laundeh. This was his first missionary application and so we were happy to provide some guidance, a computer and the internet. The rest of the day we spent trying to sort out Family History names for the first three members baptized in Tongo. We have this problem where MLS tends to overwrite information input for new converts. So even though we had input it once before, it disappeared and we had to recreate it, often merging records and sorting out dates. We are happy to report that we were successful and were able to get their family names finally submitted to the temple.
On Wednesday we focused on two things. The first was writing the history of Tongo. We have information from both Sister Messie and Brother Kongoley in Tongo and our own experiences as well. We think it is a good story about member missionary work and should be published on the West African internet pages and hopefully in a future edition of the Liahona. Making the article is accurate and interesting is no small challenge for two novice writers! The second thing we worked on were apartment issues. Markus Wallace, the mission FM manager brought a new well pump for Freetown for the Dauda Town apartment so getting the plumber and electrician lined up, getting it installed and then paying for the labor were all part of the drill.
We also had the toilet tank float and the kitchen sink faucet fixed in the sisters’ apartment. At the same time, we had Peter Gbow and Peter Ngekia come to our apartment using silicon glue (caulk), plug a number of small holes that were created when we moved the solar panels from the west roof to the south roof. Somewhere in there we went and had 200 copies of a pedigree chart made as the demand for family history work is on the rise!
On Thursday morning we returned Sister Akwara and Sister Letshwenyo (Sister Training Leaders) to Bo early in the morning and then returned and attended Hangha Road District Council Meeting.
Elder Edun led an excellent discussion on “watching” using the scripture in 3 Nephi 18:18 as the theme. “Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat”. We then read a number of supporting scriptures as we discussed how important it is for us to “watch” by hearing and then responding to promptings from the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, the meeting went overtime and we had to leave before the discussion ended. We had booked an appointment with Joseph Aruna and Eku Scotland to review the program for the handing over ceremony of the training equipment and supplies from Latter-day Saint Charities at 1 pm.
When we arrived Eku had all of his department heads gathered together and we quickly agreed on a short program, where Joseph Aruna would extend the invitations to the stakeholders (in hopes it would encourage them to come). We also agreed that Joseph and I would work out an agenda and invitation letter. The brief ceremony is scheduled for next Thursday at 10:30 am and go for no longer than 1 hour.
While we were with Joseph (he is the president of the Dauda Town Branch) we helped him to go in and submit Momoh Swaray’s mission application. He had filled out the form, but since it was his first application, it still needed to actually be submitted to the mission president. This we were able to do quickly while sitting on a curb outside of OTC.
From there we came back to the apartment and participated in a “Couples Council” with the rest of the senior missionary couples and President and Sister Harper. All of the other couples were in Freetown and so we called in via FaceTime. Not ideal, but it worked. Some of the topics we counseled on: Missionary apartments, member and leader support and expansion of the church in remote areas. We felt this was an effective use of time and President and Sister Harper agreed to hold it monthly at 2 pm on the first Thursday of each month. This was especially good for us as being so far away from the mission home, it is easy to feel disconnected.
On Friday, LaDawn asked me to cut her hair again. We watched a YouTube video and I think it made it easier for me, but without an elevated chair for her to sit on, it is hard for me to cut a straight line as I am always bending over trying to see what straight looks like. She must really love me to allow me to cut her hair a second time. And I must really love her to be willing to try a second time, already knowing I am not very good at it. After the haircut, one of our daughters asked how she liked it, her response was priceless, “lets give it two weeks”.
In the afternoon we met with the District Literacy Specialists and Pres Fomba (1st Counselor in District Presidency) at Hangha Road branch and talked about the way forward with Literacy in the district. This included a proposed set of dates for the remaining branches as well as a time for the first literacy teacher in-service training, and then a recurring meeting each month thereafter. We also talked about the roles and expectations of the literacy specialists and their own need to teach so that they can then help others to be better teachers. The meeting only lasted an hour but we managed to get a lot accomplished. President Fomba promised to take the dates back to the district presidency for approval. From there we went to the meeting with Eku mentioned above.
Saturday was cleaning day, which gave us some more time to work on the Tongo history. At 1 pm we attended a baptism at the Burma Branch where Ahmed Conteh and Johnson Fomba were baptized by the branch clerk, Jelius Kanu (we are teaching Jelius’ family in Tongo).
The pump to get water from the well to the font has been down for some time now, and so in order to have the baptism at their building, the missionaries put water in the font one bucket at a time. They were able to get about 2 feet of water in the font, which was enough to perform the baptisms, but it took a lot of time for them to do it. Jelius did a nice job taking things slowly and was able to baptize both of them on the first try.
On Sunday we picked up Elder Allen and Elder Ihentuge at 7:10 am and headed to Tongo. Elder Matchowa had been running a fever (turned out he had malaria) so he stayed home and went to church with Elder Winters. Since we were not able to go to Tongo on Friday (zone leaders were on exchange with the assistants to the president), they stayed after church and taught those preparing for baptism and then rode bikes home (one more reason Elder Matchowa stayed in Kenema).
The fast and testimony meeting was wonderful. About half of those bearing their testimonies were non-members – several who are preparing for baptism. The highlight of the meeting for us was when Brother Kongoley asked if I would bless Grace Koroma so they could put her on the records of the church. Such an honor to bless this beautiful little girl. Her mother Rebecca has been asked to be an usher and she does a great job making sure everyone has a seat (we had 45 in attendance).
After the meetings, I sat down with John Charles and Sahr Lahai. I needed John to translate, as Sahr speaks mostly Mende. I had some questions on his family history as he had given us names that were not on his pedigree charts (aunts and uncles) and we were trying to figure out where they fit in the family.
After finishing with that, we drove Kadie James, and Rebecca and Grace Koroma home. Kadie is about 80 years old and lives over a mile from he church, so we wanted to help her get home. We had taken a suitcase for Rebecca to begin packing for the trip. When we gave it to her, she indicated it was way too big and that she wanted something smaller (which we have). Interesting that she will go for a month to the USA and all she needs is a medium size suitcase for both of them.
How we love the people here. As our lives become connected with our friends, our hearts are being knit together in a powerful framework of love. We understand better than ever the adage, “we love those we serve”. President Henry B. Eyring said it best, “We come to love those we serve. If we choose to begin to serve the Master out of even a glimmer of faith, we will begin to know Him. We will come to know His purposes for the people we serve for Him.” We feel we are beginning to know something of His purposes for the people here in Sierra Leone.
And we feel that we are coming to know Him in marvelous new ways. Working and walking hand in hand with the people here continues to be a glorious experience. Friendships help us to be grateful for a loving Heavenly Father, a redeeming Son of God and the ever-present testifier of truth, the Holy Ghost. It is through our new friends that we see the influence of the truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ changing lives and bringing joy. How grateful we are to be surrounded with so many good people we are fortunate enough to call our friends.