We are not sure how to express the full and complete gratitude we feel for the successful trip over and back to the United States for little Grace and her mom, Rebecca.
What joy filled our hearts as picked them up from the Sea Coach terminal here in Freetown on Sunday evening. Their flight left Ghana a few minutes early, but something happened in Monrovia, Liberia (their one stop), that delayed them another two hours. According to Rebecca, they “lost” a passenger. Instead of getting into Lungi International Airport at 4:00 pm as scheduled, they arrived at 6:00 pm. The man (Daniel) who works for the mission meeting incoming missionaries and guests somehow missed the landing of the flight. The ever-resourceful Rebecca found a man who let her use his phone to call us. With help from Sister Pack (mission secretary) we were able track Daniel down and get him to where Rebecca was. Because the flight was so late, she missed the boat that would land her in Freetown at 5:30, but was one of the last to board the boat that delivered her to Freetown about 7:15 pm.
LaDawn had gone into the terminal to meet her while I parked out on the street. We had never seen the terminal so full of people! Fortunately, by the time they were ready to be picked up, enough cars had cleared out so that I could get down to where they were waiting. By 7:30 pm we were in the car and on our way to Paul’s home (her brother in law) in Kissy. Fortunately, it was a Sunday night, but the traffic was still heavier than we thought it should have been. Driving narrow streets in the dark with hundreds of people walking on the sides of the roads competing for the right of way with trucks, vans and motorcycles sharing a road hardly wide enough for one-way traffic let alone a two-way flow.
As we moved in what we believed was the right direction, we took a few wrong turns with creative solutions to get back on the path. Rebecca repeatedly told us, “I do not know this road” and even though LaDawn was navigating with Google maps, we did lose confidence a couple of times. When that happened, we would simply pull to the side of the road, Rebecca would roll down the back window and ask for directions to “Texaco”. Fortunately for us, we were headed in the right direction and eventually found the junction called “Texaco” where we dropped her so she could take a bike to Paul’s house. Rather than go back to the mission home the way we came, we simply went on to Jui Junction, up over Regent Road and back to the mission home coming full circle back to where we had started at 6:30 pm, two and a half hours earlier.
In order to explain why there is a junction called Texaco (and another called Shell), we need to share just a bit of history on the oil business here in Sierra Leone. In 1970 the government-owned Sierra Leone Petroleum Refining Company in a 50% partnership with a consortium of companies including BP, Mobil, Texaco and Shell built a 450,000 ton/year refinery in Kissy Town, an area on the northern side of Freetown. As a result of this new refinery, at least Shell and Texaco established modern western style gasoline stations in Freetown. The junctions where these stations were built back in the 1970’s are still known today as “Shell” and “Texaco”. The refinery was shut down in 1992 because the government no longer had the foreign exchange earnings to operate the facility. (They did not have sufficient exports to pay for the crude that had to be imported to run the facility), but the legacy of that refinery lives on through now ubiquitously known junctions.
On Monday, we left the mission home about 12:20 pm to pick up Rebecca and Grace and head back to Kenema. We stopped at the American Embassy on the way out so that I could pick up my new passport, which only took about 15 minutes, and we were back on the road. We drove back to Texaco Junction where we met Paul, Rebecca and Grace. It was good to see Paul, as we feel a bond with him now as we have jointly participated in this mission of mercy. Rebecca and Grace were both in great moods. Before when she traveled with us she would fight motion sickness something fierce. But since discovering Dramamine, she travels without problem. We hit some pretty heavy rain on the way home, which slowed our progress, but we were still able to drop Rebecca and Grace off at the Kongoley’s (they live in Burma 1 on the far eastern end of Kenema) and make it back to our apartment by 6:30 pm.
As we were still about 2 hours away from Kenema, we stopped for a bathroom break. The way this works is we pull off the road near a home. Rebecca asks them if she can use their “facilities”, they say “yes”, and we wait. While she was gone, Grace tried to put her seatbelt on. According to Lisa she was not happy with the car seat in America when she first had to sit in it and be belted in, but this little girl is a very quick learner. While we were stopped, LaDawn put the adult seat belt around her waist and she happily sat in it the rest of the way home.
On Tuesday morning we attended zone conference – which went a little long (but it was worth it) and then drove over and picked up Rebecca and Grace from the Kongoley’s. Dassama had come to the District Center as he wanted to also go to Kongoley’s to see them before they went back to Tongo. Elder and Sister Child, who had come to the zone conference to talk about missionary safety and apartment checks also came with us. After taking a few pictures together, we loaded up Rebecca and Grace once more and the six of us headed to Tongo (Dassama went back home after seeing them). The day was absolutely stunning. No rain and lots of sunshine.
We were confident that her husband Abdulai and the few members that live near her would be happy to welcome her back home, but we never expected the welcome that they, and we, received. As we drove to John Charles home where we teach under the mango tree each Friday, people began to follow the truck as if we were the grand marshals leading a parade.
By the time we stopped and parked, people were all around us. As we opened the doors and stepped out, many people we had never met came up and hugged us and thanked us over and over and over again. Abdulai, was among the first. Such gratitude! Such joy! It was easy to know that they had all been praying for little Grace. We knew there was great faith being exercised on behalf of this little girl within the members of the church in Tongo, what we didn’t fully appreciate was how much faith was being exercised by the little community of Bomie Park where they live. We also didn’t fully appreciate the impact Grace was already having on non-members who became interested in the church because of her surgery in America. One of those is Moinya and her family. If you have been following this blog, you will know that we have been teaching Moinya, her daughter Esther and other family members John, Sahr and Hanna. We learned from Rebecca that Moinya is her good friend and that she has “come to the Church” because of Grace. This was new information for us, but explains much as Moinya and her family suddenly became interested in the Church about 5 weeks ago. Being around so many grateful and welcoming people we again realized in those moments that we were truly representatives of Jesus Christ. People were thanking us as though we had done this great thing, but we were only representing Him at whose hands this miracle occurred. We will be the first to say that it has been like a dream in which we had a role. Our job was to seek for, understand and then follow the promptings of the Spirit of the Lord, but the heavy lifting was left to higher powers. All glory to God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ and the inspiration and influence of the Holy Ghost throughout the last six months. Rebecca and Grace are finally back home. Healthy, happy and filled with faith and hope for the future.
Monday evening we decided to visit the Kpayama YSA Family home evening. It was raining and so that always “dampens” the enthusiasm for people to show up. As it turned out, there were 5 who came. Christian Lawson, Chema Sesay, Tiangay Sannoh, Margret Minah and Theresa Sitta. Their planned lesson was to read a chapter in the Book of Mormon and then discuss it. It was a good exercise for all of us as we were able to discuss the Book of Mormon at a deeper level. For young single adults who want to do something together each week, this is not a bad idea.
Tuesday we met with Joshua Laundeh and helped him input his family history from his mother’s side into FamilySearch. Many of you may recall that his brother Bernard gathered over 70 names from his father’s side. Since they have different mothers, there is plenty of opportunity for Joshua to still be engaged in family history work. In the afternoon, Dennis Samai came over and we discussed him picking up the work for the maintenance of the missionary apartments. It is more work than we can do if we continue with our member leader support assignment. President Harper gave the approval last week and this was our first opportunity to get together with him and discuss it. Dennis Samai is a man of integrity and someone we feel we can trust completely. This is exactly what is needed in this role, especially once we complete our mission. Later that day Dassama came over to access the internet and retrieve his mission call. He has been called to the Botswana/Namibia Mission and will leave on the same day as Peter, David and Momoh, October 24th. Both Joshusa Laundeh and Edward Kemokai are awaiting their calls.
On Wednesday, I made a big mistake. We had bought a TV monitor (1080p) for me to use as a monitor for my computer, as the built in monitor was fading after an unfortunate drop. The monitor was working okay until I turned on the solar inverter and within a day, the power supply was no longer functioning. We wish we understood why the power that comes through the inverter is so “hot”. Anyone know the answer to that one?
In any case, I am thinking, hey, I have a 12 volt solar system, so why not just plug the monitor directly into one of my 12 volt plugs. So I found an end that worked as the power input and I connected it to a cord that would plug into our 12 volt outlet. Okay, bad idea. That lasted about 1/100 of a second and the monitor was finished, spoiled, broken, burned out and kaput. I took it over to Eku and he looked it over and tested it and concluded that one of the chips near the CPU had been fried. The problem was when we tried to find a replacement chip, we discovered that the TV/Monitor was an LG knockoff of sorts. It did have an LG LCD panel, but all of the components were cheap Chinese parts. When we realized there was no model number on the LG sticker on the back, we knew something was wrong. The box did have a model number on it, but when I looked it up on the web, it didn’t exist. A week later I would fully understand what caused the problem. While positive and negative sides of an AC outlet don’t matter, polarity on DC power matters a lot. Ouch. That really made life tough, as I was no longer able to use my laptop at all…… until I realized I could plug in my portable Viewsonic projector and still use the computer. The problem is the resolution on the projector is not that great for reading and working, so not a long-term solution. But wait, there was one other option. LaDawn’s brother Kelly, when asked, offered up the use of a 2009 15″ MacBook Pro. With Rebecca still in Salt Lake City, the way was opened for her to bring it back. And just like that, this weeks blog post was born (albeit a bit late) on an old (but new for me) computer. Thanks Kelly!
Thursday was District Council, this time with the Kenema North District where Elder Ihentuge is the district leader. We walked away from that council spiritually uplifted and blessed with a greater desire to be good and do good. A couple of highlights we will mention. First, I became aware in that meeting that repentance is most often associated with the relationships that we have. In other words, our need to repent is often because of the way we treat those we are most close to (spouse, children, parents, friends). We also talked about bearing testimony and the importance of following the example of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon in D&C 76 22-23 “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father -” In this short and powerful testimony, every word counts. They not only explain what they know, but why they know it. There are no empty repetitious words. Sometimes as missionaries, it is easy to fall into a pattern where our testimonies are redundant and dull and we share them without the heartfelt power that should accompany a witness from God. We then listened to Elder Holland’s testimony about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s final moments before his death. Joseph knew he would soon meet his maker, but he remained firm and steadfast, even in the face of death, that both the Book of Mormon and the message of the restoration were true. We were all inspired! One of the final statements made in the meeting was simply this, “The most powerful testimony we can bear, is simply who we are”.
In the afternoon, we had an hour long discussion with Kevin and Toi Clawson, our former mission president and wife. They have now been hired as the project managers for the Church’s global literacy effort and called to discuss some of the insights we have gained being here in Sierra Leone and both teaching and training on gospel literacy. We expect to work a lot more with the Clawson’s over the next few months.
After the video conference we traveled to the Kenema Central branch area where we met Elder Fajardo and Elder Tovomaro to do some family history. Bondu Kange has been a member of the church since 2011. Both her father and her grandfather were paramount chiefs. Both had as many as 7 wives. Because of this lineage, good solid family information was available to her. She had her entire four generations filled out on a pedigree chart that the Elders helped to input into FamilySearch. There is so much more work that she needs to do with that sort of family history, but what a tremendous start she has made in the work! Kudos to her son Samuel who helped her to write it all down so it could be entered in the system.
Friday I was back in Tongo with Elder Matchowa and Elder Hansen. Another wonderful and successful day. We arrived a bit late though, as the road was pretty rough. It had rained all night and in one spot, there were already two pickup trucks that we stuck in the mud. As we came upon them we realized we would not be able to get through, so we were waiting. A big bulldozer that we had passed earlier approached and pulled both of them out and then encouraged us to drive through. I started out on the right side of the road but the mud just sucked me over to the left and we were stuck. About 8 of the workers who were there (they were preparing to fill the bog with big rocks) came and tried to push me through. We managed to go a few feet forward which then gave me room to backup and get a running start. We made it! Thank goodness for 4-Wheel Drive!
14 people were taught, all moving towards a covenant of baptism. Samuel, Hawa, Esther, John, Sahr, Hannah, Messie, Mamie, Agnes, Aminata, Rebecca, Sarah, Mary, Sama. Another glorious day of teaching and answering questions. The sincerity of the people is absolutely inspiring!
We were supposed to have an appointment with Eku at 5:00 pm, but something came up and he had to run an errand so we will have to reschedule. We used the time to prepare for training on the new Children and Youth Program that we were scheduled to deliver the next day to the District and Branch leaders.
On Saturday morning, we finished with the preparation for the training and at 1 pm drove to the District Center and spent about 90 minutes talking about the new program, how it would work, what the materials looked like and how they were organized.
President Cobinah participated in the training as well providing insights and guidance that he received at the coordinating council meeting where Elder Morison presented this to the Stake and District presidents. Because of the minimal access to the internet due to the prohibitive cost of purchasing data, nearly everyone will need to have hard copy booklets. For branches interested in starting now, President Cobinah can request booklets from he area prior to the first of a year as a way to pilot the program in the District. We have started having more youth activities, but the activity days for primary children ages 8-11 are happening infrequently and perhaps only in one branch. This will be a change as these activity day leaders will have to be called and trained. We offered to help any branch in need of assistance to get the new program up and running in either Primary or YM/YW should they desire to be part of the early pilot.
On Saturday afternoon, we enjoyed a special treat. We were invited to Bo to enjoy dinner at the Moomey’s with Elder Martinez of the area presidency, Elder Kaku, an area authority seventy, and President and Sister Harper.
Elder Martinez and Elder Kaku were in town to create the Bo East Stake. What a wonderful evening! We are never disappointed when we are together with these good men who have been called as general and area authorities. Elder Martinez is from Puerto Rico and Elder Kaku from Ghana. We loved hearing their conversion stories and testimonies. Being together as a group and getting to know these good men was the highlight of the week.
On Sunday we attended the final branch conference for the District at the Kenema Central branch. President Komba (branch president) and President Cobinah (district president) both spoke. President Komba gave a talk similar to that of President Fomba’s last week on how to help people change. The phrase we loved most was this, “We have all been born with the capacity to change, and if we want to become like the Savior, then we will need to change.” At the end of the day, the secret to helping others to change is simply to love them for who they are and encourage them (with great patience) to be what God knows they can be. And unless we are doing this ourselves, we will never be effective at helping others do it as well. President Cobinah spoke on sexual purity. A topic that we feel needs emphasis here in Sierra Leone. Traditions are hard to break and in a permissive society, this can sometimes spill over into the church. We loved his closing words, “We need to be active in the church and more importantly, in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
During the second hour we again taught the family history lesson that we taught in the other branches (except Nyandeyama and Kpayama). Many wonderful comments were shared and the spirit edified and uplifted all of us who were there. We are now up to 108 members having submitted names to the temple this year from the District. We expect to finish the year over 150, which will be a 500% increase over last year. The spirit of Elijah is beginning to permeate the branches and the hearts of the people!
After church, we came home, grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed to Freetown to get Rebecca and Grace and bring them home. We arrived at the mission home around 4:30 pm and left about 6:30 pm to pick up Rebecca and Grace. In the meantime, we enjoyed a wonderful meal with the Pack’s and the Child’s prepared by Sister Child of Fettuccine, breadsticks, coleslaw and green beans. So good!
This week we rejoice in Rebecca and Grace coming full circle and returning to their home in Tongo. As we have reflected on this entire experience, we have felt a bit like Ammon: “Now have we not reason to rejoice? Yea, I [we] say unto you, there never were men [and women] that had so great reason to rejoice as we, since the world began; yea, and my [our] joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my [our] God; for he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things, and he is a merciful Being, even unto salvation, to those who will repent and believe on his name. Now if this is boasting, even so will I [we] boast; for this is my [our] life and my [our] light, my [our] joy and my [our] salvation, and my [our] redemption from everlasting wo. Yea, blessed is the name of my [our] God, who has been mindful of this people, who are a branch of the tree of Israel, and has been lost from its body in a strange land; yea, I [we] say, blessed be the name of my [our] God, who has been mindful of us, wanderers in a strange land.”
And so it is as we walk hand in hand, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder in this amazing work to serve our great God in bringing “to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”