“Give a man to fish and you will feed him for a day, Teach him how to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime.” The origin of this oft quoted proverb is unclear. Some will say it is an old Chinese Proverb, or that it was penned by Maimonides, Lao-Tzu or Mao Zedong. Others claim it is an Italian adage and yet others a Navajo saying. There is no specific author to whom the statement can be traced back to exactly as it is written today, as it seems to have developed over time, with the current expression formed in 1961 when a missionary named Fred Nelson who had worked with people in Taiwan and China presented his testimony in a Rockford, Illinois newspaper.
While it appears to have matured to its current form over many, many years, a statement written in the 1885 novel titled “Mrs. Dymond” by the novelist Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie may be the actual origin of the thinking, “…if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.” [Reference: quoteinvestigator.com]
This week we had a wonderful experience with this concept of “teaching a man to fish”. When Elder and Sister Evans left Sierra Leone early due to health issues, one of the projects that had been approved but not completed, was a project for the Opportunity Training Center.
On October 25, 2018, Elder & Sister Evans came to Kenema for the handing over ceremony of about 250 school desks. While they were here we had an opportunity to take them over to the Center to meet Eku and have a tour of their facilities. They were impressed just as we had been impressed on our first visit. Within a few months, the Evans’ proposed a project that was ultimately accepted but were unable to complete it before they left. We were fortunate to be able to step in and be the “on the ground” humanitarian couple for the project, while the Evans continued to direct the project from the USA.
While OTC had provided a list of needs which was part of the project approval, the list needed to be prioritized, approved, priced, ordered and delivered. To complete these important tasks, Joseph Aruna, the branch president in Dauda Town, was named the project manager. He did a great job from beginning to end. Our role was one of coaching and oversight. We also provided some technology help (excel spreadsheet to do “what-if” analysis and a printer for the invitations and final program). There were 17 different categories encompassing over 120 individual or packaged items (e.g., welding rods). The crown jewels of the project were the welding generators, the sewing and embroidery machines, and the desktop computers. All 120+ of the items were spread out over the Blacksmith shop, the tailoring department, the electronics department and the Information Technology department. It was like Christmas!
The handover event was scheduled to start at 10:30, but didn’t get underway until about 11:15 am due to the late arrival of important stakeholder guests. President Cobinah chaired the meeting and Joseph Aruna, who had put the event together, introduced President Cobinah and made sure the meeting ran as planned. Attending from the community were the Eastern Region Resident Minister, the Deputy Chairman of the Kenema District Council, the Kenema Disability Commission Chairman and the Kenema Chairman of the Ministry of Social Welfare Gender & Children’s Affairs. We also had two different radio stations send representatives to capture the story.
All spoke glowingly about the contributions the Church was now making to OTC, as well as the good it has done previously with items such as the school desks and the 50+ water wells dug by Latter-day Saint Charities in the Kenema area. Of significance were the many times the concept of self-reliance was mentioned. This is such a big issue here that when government sees an organization teaching people to help themselves, it takes a burden off of the expectations the people have of government. Everyone wins!
The entire event went off without a hitch. At one point in the event, the members from OTC who were there burst out in song. They apparently have a theme song, an anthem of sorts about not allowing disability to disable them. LaDawn captured a portion of the song which you can listen to below. It was an inspirational moment for sure.
While we had about 40 people in attendance, but by the time we got people together for a picture, some of them had left. It was a glorious morning for us, for the recognition that the Church received and most importantly for OTC and the hundreds of people we expect this equipment and these supplies will bless as they are able to learn skills and become self-reliant.
Later in the evening, Joseph Aruna came to our apartment and we wrote up a final report and sent it to Elder and Sister Evans in the USA. Elder Evans response back was priceless, “I guess you are hereby released from your service as a Humanitarian Missionary for LDS Charities.” And just like that our service as humanitarian missionaries was over. We certainly enjoyed the short ride!
On Monday, we had Daniel Kannesie come and repair the roof on the guard shack. With all of the rain it has been leaking and completely ruined one of the ceiling panels as well as make life difficult for the guards during the rain. He also repaired the door in the Sister’s apartment that would not latch. Interestingly the wall bows out at the latch so it could not catch. The way he fixed it was to shim up the plate so that it matched the position of the top and bottom of the door frame. It worked and we were pleased to be able to fix it so easily.
Later in the day we worked with Joseph Aruna to develop the invitation list and letters for the OTC handover mentioned above.
Tuesday was our scheduled zone conference here in Kenema. It was outstanding! President Harper first spoke about letters he is receiving back from missionaries describing how they are developing new insights and perspectives as many have answered the invitation to search the Book of Mormon for Christ-like attributes, references to Jesus Christ, words spoken by the Savior and points of His doctrine. President Harper indicated that this exercise has increased his own awareness of just how much Jesus Christ loves all of us. He ended by saying that because of the love of the Savior, we have courage to move forward and do hard things.
Elder Allen and Elder Matchowa spoke about effectively working with branch leaders. I like the thought they ended on, “We can know if we are doing well if we are a blessing to the branch.” The assistants to the President then talked about repentance. My major takeaway was something the spirit taught me while they were leading the discussion. “When we have laid our will on the altar, when we WANT to become like God, then repentance is JOY, otherwise we view it as punishment.” I then realized that this question can be my own litmus test. “Do I seek repentance or do I defend my actions?” Sister Harper talked about the importance of “becoming”. “It is not enough just to believe and do, we must become like Jesus Christ”. She went on to say, “We must be completely and utterly devoted to the Lord. We must be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ if we are to be effective missionaries.”
As the conference was drawing to an end, President Harper shared a few closing thoughts. Unfortunately, just then the rain really pounded the metal roof, making it hard to hear him over the noise. But for me, the gem I gained was when he read Revelations 3:30. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Now I have heard this scripture many times, I have heard a hundred sermons preached on the topic, but on Tuesday it sunk into my heart and in my notes I wrote a question I had not previously considered, “What does Jesus’ knock sound like?”
After the conference, we showed Elder and Sister Child some of the missionary apartments in Kenema. They will be over apartments in the mission so it was a good opportunity to give them a brief tour. Unfortunately, we did not get to all of them. We also looked at an apartment in Kpayama with them to potentially move the Kpayama elders closer to their area as they are now staying in Dauda Town. I am not convinced that it is there best option as it is a four-plex with three other single people living in the other apartments.
There had been nearly constant rain all day long and the four young men we have been working with to prepare for missions had their final mission interview appointments with President Harper starting at 5 pm. But because of the rain they did not have a way to get there without getting soaked (their plan was to walk the 3-5 miles). So, we contacted each of them and agreed on a meeting place so we could pick them up and take them to the district center where they all had successful interviews. A fifth young man, Edward Kemokai, was already in his interview with President Harper when we arrived. There are now 6 young men with their mission applications in awaiting their call. Edward, Dassama, Peter, David, Momoh and Joshua. Hurrah for Israel!
On Wednesday morning at 5:30 am we had a young single adult show up at our apartment at 5:30 am. He had had a horrible night with debilitating stomach cramps and it was all he could do to get to our apartment as none of his neighbors would help him.
We brought him into the compound and the guards and I gave him a blessing and then one of them went with me to take him to the government hospital. In the end, he was admitted and tested and turns out he had parasitic worms. He has had them once before but was not informed that he needed to take an annual treatment and so they returned with vengeance. After being in the hospital for 3 days and receiving treatment there, he is now feeling much better.
In the late afternoon, we drove to Bo to attend a dinner at the Moomey’s with the Harper’s, his new counselor, President Mammy, the Child’s and with the stake and district presidents and their wives from Bo and Kenema.
The Harpers had extended an invitation to each of them to come enjoy a meal together so they could get to know them better. He asked each of them to share their conversion stories, many of which also involved their spouse. It was wonderful to hear the inspiring experiences of these good men and women. We were surprised to learn how intertwined all of their lives were. For example, two of the wives had been missionary companions. Most of them were together in the original Bo Branch (which has now 2 stakes and strong district). The work these couples do to build Zion in the Eastern Region of Sierra Leone cannot be understated. We were grateful to be there and get to know each of them better and feel of their testimony and love for the Savior.
Because the dinner went late into the evening, we decided to stay at the Moomey’s and then drive back the next morning. Cobinah’s had driven down with us and had stayed with the Kpaka’s (Bo West Stake President) so we picked them up Thursday morning and headed back to Kenema in time to attend the OTC handing over ceremony mentioned above.
As soon as the event at OTC was over, we met the Kenema Branch Elders (Elder Fajardo and Elder Tovomaro) at Sister Juliet Nyuma’s home and worked with them to help them submit family names for Jenneh Feika and Sombo Koroma. The elders did a great job doing the work as we provided some help with some of the dates. The experience was wonderful! As we have mentioned before, last year for the full year, there were 37 people who submitted names to the temple. This year, thru July we are at 91! We see great strength coming to these new members especially, but the same is true for established members, as they submit names to the temple. The spirit of Elijah continues to grow in Kenema!
From there we returned home and Joseph Aruna came over and we wrote up the final chapter on the project for OTC and sent it to the Evans’ to complete the project.
On Friday I took the zone leaders and two of the pre-mission boys (Peter and David) to Tongo to teach those who are investigating the church. It was an especially important day as we were preparing three of them for baptism next week.
In total we taught 16 solid, progressing investigators throughout the day, arriving back in Kenema later than usual, around 6 pm. For me the highlight of the day was Elder Matchowa and Peter Ngekia teaching Agnes Lahai. Agnes is the 11-year-old daughter of Sahr Lahai. I have mentioned before that we started teaching her a couple of weeks ago and each week she is more and more desirous to be taught and baptized. On Friday, we went to her home to teach her but she was not there. When she heard that we had come, she actually came looking for us (she found us at the chapel). She is on fire with the gospel right now and it is impressive to see this young girl find such joy in being taught and learning about Jesus Christ and his Church.
While in Tongo, Junior Bendu and Dadi (freezer and a/c guy) came to our apartment (LaDawn was here) and replaced a burned-out DC compressor in one of our solar freezers with a small AC compressor that will run off of an inverter due to the low wattage. The freezer now works, but they did not put in a thermostat, so it never stops running. Something we are working on today. We are trying to find a way to make these failed DC freezers usable for the missionaries with solar panels since DC compressors are not available in Sierra Leone.
On Saturday, we helped Karim and Tiangay Kenewah move houses. Karim is a “high” councilor and Tiangay the district YW president. They married in May after Karim completed his mission to England in February. They had started dating before he left. Tiangay is also a returned missionary.
We were their last resort as they could not find anyone with a vehicle to help them, and to hire someone was very pricey. We were very happy to be of service (one of the benefits of having a small pickup). Unfortunately, it rained the entire time making what should have been easy into hard, but we were able to complete the move in about 3 hours, making three trips. For the first time in Sierra Leone, I now know what a missionary feels like when they are soaking wet from the rain. Just part of the overall adventure!
In the evening, we met with Eku Scotland and his 10 year son Able who decided to join as well.
We talked about the Family Proclamation and The Living Christ documents. We also discussed the law of chastity as part of the proclamation on the family. At the end, LaDawn shared a 6 minute video on the Church’s welfare program and Welfare Square as we felt it fit nicely with the event on Thursday and our mutual respect for the concept of self-reliance. It was a wonderful visit as always. The Jehovah Witness missionary couple will likely not be back from their visit home in Germany until September 1 so we will wait for them to return so he can talk to them face to face. Such an amazing man and family!
On Sunday we attended the branch conference of the Dauda Town Branch. It was a great sacrament meeting. President Joseph Aruna (branch president) spoke about bearing one another’s burdens, following Jesus Christ with all of our hearts, being obedient to the commandments of God and remembering always the covenants we have made. President Paul Aruna (no relation), 2nd counselor in the district presidency then spoke on work and education. He did a great job, keeping the concepts simple and compelling. The second hour across all of the branches was used to discuss the Africa West service project for next Saturday. This is the annual day of service that is held across all of West Africa. The meeting was good and will surely result in a good turnout for next week.
Teaching a man to fish can be both rewarding and at times exhausting. Anyone who has ever had to untangle a fishing line knows what we are talking about. Timing, location, the right bait, good equipment, weather and perhaps most important, the person’s own state of mind are a few of the things impacting the success of a fisherman. Teaching these variables and how to align them requires a master teacher and a student with a strong desire (and patience) to learn. Similarly, teaching self-reliance is so much easier when the student believes in themselves and believes that they can succeed with God’s help. When members of OTC first approached us about coming and “taking over” their church, we said we will only teach those who are interested, knowing that free-will is at the center of the Great Plan of Happiness. Eku Scotland understood that if a disabled person is going to be self-reliant, they need to be spiritually whole first. He often says that not having healthy legs is not the disability, but rather it is the mind that becomes disabled.
Our work in Sierra Leone is based on teaching greater faith in Jesus Christ, for with God, “all things are possible”. On Thursday evening, at 6:20 pm, we were again reminded of the glory of Jesus Christ in a very simple way. For just a few moments, the sunshine (rare these days) came through the living room window and shined on a small replica of “The Christus”, a gift from our sister in-law Susan Ogden, given the day we left for Sierra Leone. With his outstretched hand, we see him beckoning to us, and to all men and women, to come unto Him. To become spiritually whole, to walk and work hand in hand with Him to learn, exercise faith and believe in a living God and in ourselves. He is the ultimate teacher and we are honored to be His students as we work with and serve with the amazing people of Sierra Leone.