Malaria is a serious problem here in Sierra Leone and in another 86 countries around the world. In 2017, the World Heath Organization (WHO) estimated there were 219 million cases globally. In that same year, WHO attributed 435,0000 deaths to malaria, 61% of those being children under 5 years of age. 92% of the cases and 93% of the deaths occur in Africa. 17,400 deaths occurred in Sierra Leone. To put some perspective to this, deaths from malaria in Sierra Leone are 248.6 per 100,000 people. In the same 2017 period, in the United States, deaths from traffic related accidents per 100,000 people were 11.4. This means a person living in Sierra Leone is more than 20 times more likely to die from malaria than a person in the U.S. is to die in a traffic related accident!
Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium transmitted by the bite of infected female mosquitoes active in the evenings and nighttime hours. These mosquitoes are called Anopheles mosquitoes. In ancient Greek, anopheles means “useless”. [source: Wikipedia – “Malaria”] That, we believe, is an understatement!
There are over 100 plasmodium parasites, but only 5 infect humans. Of these 5, two pose the greatest threat. Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax. Here in Sierra Leone the culprit is Plasmodium falciparum, accounting for over 99% of all malarial infections.
Malaria poses the biggest threat to children under 5, although adults are not immune. Pregnant women, adults with HIV/AIDS and visitors who travel here are most at risk. Malaria starts as flu like symptoms but can quickly escalate into a life threatening disease if not treated properly. The parasites multiply in the liver and then infect red blood cells causing fever, headache, vomiting and aches and pains. These symptoms usually show up 10-15 days after the mosquito bite. And for those who are concerned about little Grace, we purchased a mosquito net for her to sleep under, something she has not done thus far in her life.
Here in the Sierra Leone Freetown mission, the Mission provides all missionaries with a mosquito net for their beds as well as anti-malarial medication that is to be taken daily. Doxycycline is the most common medication and cost is about $1.50 per month. For some, Doxycycline causes side effects such as heartburn, nausea, sensitivity to the sun and loss of appetite. If a missionary experiences any of those symptoms, they will then be placed on Malarone.
Similar side effects can also be experienced, but they are less common. Cost for Malarone is $112/month, 75 times more than Doxycycline. In the rare event that side effects from these medications cause significant discomfort, there is a third option called Mefloquine. This medication is taken weekly instead of daily, and for some can cause paranoia or hallucinations. The cost is $50/month. In our mission, only one missionary is currently on Mefloquine and he is not experiencing any side effects. The point we are making is that the Church and the Mission go to great lengths to protect the missionaries here. We have been on Doxycycline our entire mission without a problem. We have recently experienced a few episodes of heartburn and nausea, but they have been the exception and not the rule. Considering the alternative, we have no complaints.
In rare instances, malarial medication may simply not protect a person from malaria. Such was the case this week. Elder Nik Armstrong has been serving faithfully in the mission for over a year and had been taking malarial medication every day. He started taking Doxycycline and then later moved to Malarone, and yet, he was diagnosed with malaria four times. For whatever reason, the malarial medication simply did not provide him with protection against the virus. For his safety, he was transferred this week to the California Newport Beach Mission. Most missionaries feel the culture shock coming here from the U.S., but we suspect it may be an even greater culture shock for Elder Armstrong as he goes from Sierra Leone to Newport Beach. We have nothing but respect and love for this young man and wish him the very best in his new assignment. He knows how to work and sacrifice and will be a great blessing to the Newport Beach mission. An interesting side note, Nik’s new mission president is Weldon Reeves, a former stake president from Houston. It’s a small, small world!
Before we leave this topic, we want to say how much we appreciate Sister Elly Moomey and her husband Elder Ron Moomey. Sister Moomey is the mission nurse and Elder Moomey has an EMT / first aid background. Together they do amazing things to help keep our missionaries safe from illness and disease. How grateful we are for them and how grateful the entire mission is for their endless care of missionaries who are not feeling well for whatever reason. But there is a problem; they leave in December. The mission is desperately in need of a nurse or medical couple to replace the Moomey’s and continue the great work they are doing. If anyone reading this blog knows of a couple interested in having the greatest experience of their lives, please ask them to consider serving in the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission.
On Tuesday morning we had zone conference. It was excellent. To start with, the conference was held in the Relief Society room at the District Center instead of the chapel. That alone made a big difference for us as we could hear so much better in that smaller room vs. the large chapel with absolutely zero acoustic sound buffering materials. Everything is plastic, cement, tile or steel and the sound has a heyday bouncing here and there. When it is filled for district conferences, the sound is absorbed by the people so it doesn’t bounce around much, but when it is a small group, it is very difficult to hear. We will hit on a few of the highlights that were especially meaningful to us.
President Harper warned the missionaries that the conspiring designs of evil men is continuing to occur and that all that is needed for protection is obedience. Obedience to the commandments of God, obedience to the mission rules and obedience to the still small voice of the spirit. Two missionaries (companions) were recently sent home because they forgot who they were and why they were here and made some serious mistakes. Satan desires to destroy his missionaries, but there is safety and protection in obedience. We loved one of his final comments in this opening session of the conference: “When we magnify our callings, our ability to teach with power increases.”
Elder Matchowa and Elder Hansen (our zone leaders) then led a masterful discussion on the topic of finding joy in missionary service. They gathered responses from the missionaries in 4 areas: 1) What brings you joy? 2) What brings God joy? and 3) What does it mean to live “after the manner of happiness”? and 4) What keeps us from joy? If we were to sum this marvelous discussion up into three words that bring joy, they would be “WORK”, “REPENTANCE” and “FORGIVENESS”. And there is only one word that describes what it is that robs us of joy, “PRIDE”. At the end, the statement that summarized the entire discussion was, “JOY IS IN CHRIST”. The power of this session cannot be underestimated. The zone leaders taught in such a spirit led way that all of us were edified and taught by the spirit. Great job Elders!
The Assistants to the President, Elder Holi and Elder Cumire, then led a powerful discussion on Integrity. They introduced a new concept called the “Circle of Honor”. It is based on a statement made by Karl G. Maeser, (his great-great-great-great Grandson, Elder Maeser, is serving here in Kenema). “I have been asked what I mean by “word of honor”. I will tell you. Place me behind prison walls – walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground – there is a possibility that in some way or another I may escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of the circle? No. Never! I’d die first” Now this quote we have heard many times, but the concept of a “circle of honor” is new and meaningful. When they asked what it is that defines the circle, responses came back highlighting covenants, commitments, commandments and most importantly the Spirit of the Lord. Elder Holi is from Tonga and he explained how in Tonga they use something called the maka feke to catch octopuses. The maka feke is a lure in the shape of a mouse or a rat that causes the octopus to let go of the rock he is on and grab hold of the lure, thus allowing himself to be captured. We then had a discussion about how the adversary uses maka feke’s to “troll” near the edges of the circle of honor in order to ensnare us. President Monson also spoke of this method of entrapment in a 2006 conference address when he was serving a counselor in the First Presidency. A short 4 minute video segment of that talk can be found here. The object lesson was powerful and the spirit confirmed to each of us that we need to all stay inside of our circle of honor.
Sister Harper followed up the integrity session with two words that she wrote on the board, “Replace” or “Acquire”. All of the missionaries here receive a monthly subsistence to purchase food and personal hygiene items like shampoo, soap and toothpaste. Sister Harper’s point is that these funds are the Lord’s funds and they must be treated as sacred. Missionaries are allowed to use these funds to “Replace” items that they have worn out as they have served. However, if missionaries are using the funds to “Acquire” new items that they did not come to the mission with, then that is inconsistent with the purposes of the funds.
President Harper concluded the conference by talking about Repentance and making sure that those we teach fully understand that this is not a one time principle, but a lifelong endeavor. He also emphasized that we cannot teach repentance if we are not experiencing it ourselves. All in all the conference was absolutely on point and inspiring. Thanks to all those who presented and helped all of us feel a bit more motivated to do good as we go about doing the Lord’s work here in the Kenema District.
After the zone conference we took Rebecca and Grace back to Tongo. You can read about that in last weeks blog. It was unforgettable for us. Elder and Sister Child also went with us and were able to experience the wonderful people of Tongo first hand. Everything about the journey up and back was memorable. It was a gorgeous day and mission we were on made it that much better.
The next morning, we drove the Child’s to Bo where they attended the multi-stake zone conference being held at the Bo East Stake Center. We were able to get the Roger’s street apartment keys from Elder Gray and drove went over to take a look at the freezer that we had previously converted from DC to AC, but within 30 seconds of being plugged in, stopped working. Since the thermostat was already inoperable, I simply wired the compressor and fan direct to the AC line. Still nothing. I figured it must be the plug, but did not have my voltmeter to test it. In the end, we loaded it into the truck and brought it back to Kenema. As it turned out, the fuse in the plug head had blown and one of the wires was damaged. With some help from Junior Bendu we had it fixed in about 20 minutes. We will take it back to them later this week.
Much of the rest of the week was filled with family history opportunities. On Wednesday evening we worked with Elder Daniel and Elder Uyinmwen in the Dauda Town Branch. Six members came to input family history names.
We worked for a little over 2 hours getting all of the names input. Great work Elders! Outside of Kailahun, that is the most we have participated with in one sitting. Momoh Swaray, Sarah Brima, Hawa Kamara, Blessing Kamara, Messie Ganawa, Hawa Kamara (yes, a second person with the same name). All of us left feeling so grateful for the Plan of Salvation and the priesthood sealing power that is available in our temples so these ordinances can be extended to those beyond the grave who never had a chance to hear about the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Thursday afternoon we went with Elder Fajardo and Elder Tovomaro and visited Watta Pessima. Both she and her husband Joseph had filled in many of the names on their 4 generation pedigree charts. Watta has only been a member for 16 months and Joseph for nearly 11 years, but it was Watta who was on fire with the spirit of Elijah. She submitted both her family names as well as Joseph’s family names as Joseph was still at school working where he is the principal. I couldn’t resist taking this picture of her with LaDawn as we were leaving. After returning home, Joshua Laundeh came over with the names of his aunts and uncles to include in his FamilySearch file. Three of his uncles had passed away and those three we were able to submit to the temple.
On Friday we again worked with Elder Fajardo and Elder Tovomaro as visited with Martha Sesay and helped her submit 53 temple ordinances for 11 ancestors. Martha has a sister who is also a member of the church who had already submitted some of the names for parents, grandparents and great grandparents. Martha, however, worked on submitting names of deceased aunts and uncles. Such a treasure trove of opportunity!
On Saturday, we went with Elder Kennelly and Elder Edun to help Messie Jusu submit 49 ordinances for 12 ancestors. Messie has been a member for 7 years, but has just now caught the spirit of doing this work for her ancestors. We learned that she found the church through missionaries who were passing by and invited her to church in 2012. She later shared the gospel with her aunt Emma who is now the Primary president in the Kpayama Branch. Some of you might recognize Emma as the woman whose head was laying on Sister Bingham’s shoulder in the video that was produced by the Church about Gospel Literacy and Sister Bingham’s visit to Kenema.
On Friday night we again visited with Eku Scotland. He started by telling us that Ralph and Bernice (our JW counterparts) will not be back in Sierra Leone now until the end of September or early October. He still wants to give them his proper respect by waiting to be baptized until he has a chance to talk to Ralph face to face. This is the definition of an honorable man. Our lesson on Friday was on tithes and offerings. Once again, he had read the entire pamphlet and essentially taught us the doctrine and the principles around the Lord’s laws of finance. We decided to meet in the meeting hall where we had the handover ceremony from Latter-day Saint Charities because it was so hot inside his office. As it turned out, it was pretty warm in that building as well. He didn’t really have any questions about the commandments and when I asked him if he is committed to living them once he is baptized, he said, “of course”. He has always felt that giving the Lord a generous offering is what is expected of him, especially since he credits everything he has to the goodness of God. As we have said before, this is a man of great faith. We shared with him Elder Holland’s testimony of the Book of Mormon and the last moments of Joseph’s and Hyrum’s lives. There is such a great spirit associated with Elder Holland’s testimony and this video.
On Saturday morning we had scheduled a Gospel Literacy coordination meeting for 10:00 am with President Fomba (counselor in District Presidency), Br. Yambasu and Sister Favour (Gospel Literacy specialists), Sister Bangura (District Relief Society President) and Brother Maya (District Sunday School President). However, the weather did not cooperate as a heavy rain scared everyone away except for Sister Bangura. At 10:50 am we told her she might as well go home as she was not feeling well. We are so impressed the faith and dedication of this good woman. Even though it was raining, she came and brought a change of dry clothes to change into. Impressive.
As the rain began to subside, Pres Fomba, David Gbow and Jenneh Freeman all arrived. Teacher in-service meeting was to begin at 11:00 am and at 11:02 we started with the 5 of us in attendance. By the time the meeting was over, Hawa Kemokai, Favour Tucker, Grace Kongoley, Maya Bockerie and Blessing Kamara joined the original three bringing the total attendees counting us, to 10. We focused on three things: 1) Discussing what was working and what was not working. We went around the table and asked how many learners each teacher has. We were pleased to hear that we currently have about 45 gospel learners in the District attending the gospel literacy classes. We are still struggling with consistency of both teachers and learners, but are pleased with the progress. 2) Teaching the letter sounds. We made our own “helper card” for the teachers to use with students to teach the sounds each of each of the letters. Sister Kongoley suggested a poster to hang up in the room that can be referred to during the lesson each week. 2) We showed the video, “Learn to Read part II” and discussed how to help gospel readers learn to read. There is good content in the video, but it is way too long and needs some significant “crisping up”. Overall, a very productive meeting! Next month we will work with Sister Favour and Brother Yambasu to lead the meeting.
On Sunday we attended the Nyandeyama Branch. The sacrament meeting was great, with talks on the Creation and the Fall. President Moriba concluded the meeting talking about the pre-earth life and the commitments we have made to help each other once we came to earth. He also encouraged the branch to do more to share the gospel and help less active members return to activity. For second hour, I attended priesthood meeting with the young men and LaDawn attended primary. Sister Akwara, one of our full-time missionaries led the Primary in an effort to model to the leaders in the branch how to make it fun and interactive for the children. Sister Akwara did a fantastic job and the children were definitely learning.
However good as it was though, this is the not the model the district wants to see happening. We want the members to be trained and then step up into these roles. The district has made some progress, but there is still plenty of work to do in this regard in many of the branches here in Kenema. In priesthood meeting, Br. Senesie, the young men’s president taught the young men about their duties. There are a total of 19 baptized young men, but only two were in attendance. There were three 12-year olds also in attendance, but they were all visitors or investigators. More work to do in this regard as well.
After church, we headed over to the Kenema Central Branch where they had planned a Family History activity. Our role in the event was to bring the Family History game (aka “Bingo”) that LaDawn had created for an earlier activity with the IDA Branch.
Once again, it was a success as the members thoroughly enjoyed the game. As we drew the words (e.g., Family, Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, Records, Temple, etc.) we tried to explain how it relates to family history. It was an effort to keep the group reverent, but overall they did a nice job keeping with the spirit of the sabbath day. Following the game, Tobechi Inmpey, the District Family History Specialist showed a presentation and some videos. The Kenema Branch is on fire right now in regards to family history, hopefully this event will just fuel the flames hotter.
Are there dangerous encounters here in Sierra Leone? Yes, they are everywhere and mosquitos are just one of the culprits. Keeping the commandments, being obedient and taking our Doxy everyday protects us physically, even as we grow spiritually from studying the gospel as well as through the amazing experiences we are having. It has been a rewarding week. A great zone conference, followed by the returning of Rebecca and Grace to their home in Tongo, followed by numerous family history experiences with members and missionaries, followed by another great teaching visit with Eku, followed by Gospel Literacy teacher in-service training, followed by a family history “fireside” in the Kenema Branch. Walking hand in hand with the members and the leaders here in Kenema continues to exceed all of our expectations in terms of the joy we feel as we work to help build Zion.