Saturday evening I stayed up late following the Saturday afternoon session of General Conference. The session ended at 10:00 pm and by then the Saturday morning session was available for download. The District President wanted to show one of the Saturday sessions on Sunday morning in lieu of sacrament meeting. The preferred session was the afternoon session, but we wanted to make sure that we had at least one session downloaded in case we ran into trouble. So I stayed up, downloaded the file and then copied it to 8 different USB disks, one for each of the 8 branches here in Kenema.
By 11:30 pm, I was finished and in bed. I set my alarm for 2 hours later, thinking that by then the afternoon session would be available. I would get up just long enough to start the download and then go back to bed. When my alarm when off, I quietly and groggily arose and walked into the living room where I checked my computer for the download. I was disappointed to see that it was still not available. I thought, maybe I should refresh the page again, this time from the homepage. After clicking on the Church logo and returning to the homepage, I saw the link for General Conference and the words: “Watch live”. Figuring the women’s session must just be concluding, I clicked over just in time to listen to President Nelson’s closing remarks.
“As the church grows, more temples will be built so that more families can have access to that greatest of all blessings, that of eternal life. We regard a temple as the most sacred structure in the church. Whenever plans are announced to construct a new temple it becomes an important part of our history. As we have discussed here tonight you sisters are vital to the work of the temple. And the temple is where you will receive your highest spiritual treasures. Please, listen carefully, and reverently, as I will now announce plans now to build 8 new temples. If one is announced in a place that is meaningful to you, I suggest that you simply bow your head prayerfully with gratitude in your heart. We are pleased to announce plans to construct temples in the following locations: Freetown, Sierra Leone, ……”
Once he said the words, “Freetown, Sierra Leone”, I didn’t hear anything else until he announced the last temple in Taylorsville, Utah. Rather than bow my head, my natural reaction was to quietly throw both arms in the air as if in a jubilant celebration of victory. My heart was full, the emotions of gratitude and joy were swelling within my breast and escaping as tears through my eyes. It had happened. A temple was coming to this land and this people whom we have come to love deeply. Just then I heard LaDawn stirring in the bedroom so I went in and shared the news with her. It was another of those moments I will never forget, standing in the darkness of the room, embracing each other and weeping at the glorious news.
To put some perspective to this, it is helpful to understand the growth of the church in Africa. At the end of last year, there were 620,000 members in 2,150 congregations in 31 of the 54 countries in Africa. There are 34 missions supporting these 31 countries. There are now four operating temples: Accra Ghana, Aba Nigeria, Johannesburg South Africa, and Kinshasa DR Congo (recently dedicated). Six others have been announced: Abidjan Ivory Coast, Dublin South Africa, Lagos Nigeria, Nairobi Kenya Praia Cabo Cape Verde, and now Freetown Sierra Leone.
In the United States, there is a temple for every 73,000 members. In Utah, that number is a temple for every 92,000 members. In Nigeria, once the new Lagos temple is completed, the ratio in that country will drop in half from the current 175,000 members per temple. Compare that with the temples announced in Kenya and Cape Verde in recent years. Kenya has 14,000 members and Cape Verde has 15,000 members. The point is, the numbers do not appear to be the determining factor as to where temples are built. These announcements are inspired placements intended to bless the greatest number of members ready for temple covenants, but who still live the greatest distance from a temple. Here in Sierra Leone, the Temple Patron fund will pay for a person to go to the temple one time to receive their endowment and possibly a second to later be sealed to a spouse or family. But other than that, the temple might as well be on the other side of the world, as few could ever afford to make that trip on their own. Without a temple nearby where the higher ordinances of the gospel can be experienced repetitively, it is difficult to understand and practice the doctrines related to exaltation. With the announcement this past weekend, the 22,000 members in Sierra Leone will have access to these life changing, family changing, relationship changing, and generation changing blessings. Hurrah for Israel!
On Monday we took Elder Matchowa, Elder Ihentuge and Elder Edun to the Bo West Stake Center where they were then taken to their new apartments in Bo where they are now serving. We will miss all three of these fine elders. They have been hardworking, committed and inspiring missionaries. Their new companions are fortunate to be paired to work with them. We will miss them in Kenema. We brought back Sister James, Elder Jardine and Elder Isiguzo. Welcome to Kenema, Gateway to Zion!
On Tuesday we took Dassama and Momoh to Bo to receive their patriarchal blessings from Brother Berewa. It is always a joy to be a part of these banner days for these young men who are preparing to go on their missions. Coming out of the blessing, both of these young men were glowing with the love of the Savior and the fervor of their call to preach the gospel. We often reflect on how significant a blessing it is for the members of this church to receive a “blessing from the highest father”. While we were waiting for them, we had an opportunity to do a bit of grocery shopping at both Bo Mini Mart as well as Sky Market. Food purchased there is less expensive than we can buy it for here in Kenema and together they provide a bigger selection as well.
After returning home we were pleased to hear from both Edward Kemokai (above left) and Joshua Laundeh (above right) that they had received texts on their phone telling them that their mission calls had arrived and were now available online. As we have mentioned before, due to the limited availability of internet (and the associated costs) we are the natural place to come when a young man or young woman gets their call. We were proud that both of these young men took their call letters with them to be able to open and read them with their families. Most want to know in the very moment, but the patience exercised by both of these young men made us happy. As it turns out, Edward and Joshua will both be going to the Nigeria Enugu Mission. Edward in early December and Joshua in mid January. These calls are triple blessings. 1) The young man will grow in testimony and wisdom. 2) The people they find and teach in Nigeria will benefit from their service. 3) The Kenema District will be the long-term beneficiary of the experiences and commitment these young men will bring home with them. We now have a total of 6 young men leaving from the District in the next 3 months. That will bring the total number of missionaries serving from Kenema to 23, with four more in the pipeline.
In the evening, we attended Charles David’s family home evening. The gospel literacy lesson last week was on personal revelation. It was not particularly easy for Charles to learn it and then teach it, but he did a great job.
We wanted to be able to provide feedback to the writers of the manual as to whether the lesson was too advanced, so we agreed to attend the home evening and see how it went first hand. While there are a few things that need to be simplified, overall it is a very important lesson for a gospel learner to understand. For that matter, it is an important lesson for every member of the church to understand!
On Wednesday, we had Joshua Laundeh come back to our apartment in the morning so that he could officially accept his call. Since he had not read it until after he left our apartment, he needed to come back and submit his acceptance. Edward Kemokai took a different approach. He said it did not matter where he would go, he would accept the call. So while he was at our apartment the day before, we helped him submit his call acceptance letter to a place he did not yet know. We love the faith of these young men!
With general conference approaching, we always want to have a backup Internet source. The SierraTel mifi that we have is unlimited, but at night it is impossible to stream anything because their system gets so overloaded. Therefore, we went to Orange and bought 11 gb on what is called our “Flybox”. This is a simple router that uses a SIM card for data. With 4G now available in Kenema, we had to switch out our old 3G SIM card for a new 4G one. This took some time and it still looks like we only had 3G speeds (which was good enough for our purposes). We will need to go back to them tomorrow and sort it all out. We were grateful to have both sources as each day one of them stopped working for a short time and we were grateful to be able to switch to the other. Also, since we were downloading the Saturday sessions to show in the branches on Sunday it was really important to have as much speed as possible. The SierraTel download showed taking 6 hours, but on Orange we were able to do it in less than 40 minutes. We will reload the Flybox at Christmas time so the elders can videoconference with their families.
In the evening, we traveled back to Bo to pick up Elder Sylvanus. He is a new missionary who is now training with Elder Daniel in Dauda Town. There was rain about half the way home and the clouds were so dark it was almost as if it was already night. Fortunately, the closer to Kenema we got, the brighter the sky became as we drove away from the dark rain clouds in Bo and into the much clearer, and brighter skies of Kenema. We were back home by 7 pm.
On Thursday, we attended the Hangha Road District Council with Elder Kennelly as the new District Leader. The question that he posed to us was a good one. “How can we help members and new converts learn the doctrine of the Kingdom?”
Elder Kennelly brought up a number of things we can do to help them establish Christ-centered homes. Some examples included giving them copies of the Family Proclamation and/or pictures of the temples or Jesus Christ to hang on their walls. It occurred to us that parents that are looking for items to send to their missionary for Christmas might want to consider pictures or Family Proclamations that they could provide to new converts. Other ideas involved having new converts who cannot read simply circle references to Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon. Another great idea, but we need to do more. By the end of the year, every branch in the Kenema District will have an active literacy program in their units. If a new convert, or an old one for that matter, cannot read, why not encourage them to be more involved with Gospel Literacy? A person who cannot read from the Book of Mormon will always be stunted in their spiritual progression and growth. The Lord still loves them and will bless them to the maximum extent that natural law allows, but we need our members to read and understand scripture so that they can get below the surface of gospel living and therefore, access the greater blessings available to them.
In the afternoon we met via video conference with President & Sister Harper and the other senior missionary couples. This is a once a month meeting where we have an opportunity to learn more about what is happening in the mission as well as counsel together on how we can strengthen and improve the work of Salvation. It is a meeting we look forward to each month.
We spent Friday morning delivering Afrigas and a few other supplies to each of the missionary apartments. Right now with the rainy season still upon us, the roads are slow, very slow due to potholes, big potholes. We are grateful for the paved road from Simbeck all the way to the District Center and beyond, but every side road is very slow going. There is also a stretch over the bridge on Blama road heading to Dauda Town that is extremely rough. The point is that driving anywhere is quite painful these days, at least until we get out onto the paved road. It is also time consuming, and yet we rejoice in the opportunity to serve these valiant missionaries. One of our tasks is to keep them working effectively and that means trying to address the endless number of issues they face with repairs, maintenance and upkeep.
Friday evening, we again visited with Eku. We spoke to him about the priesthood, Family History, temple endowments and temple sealings. We had already discussed the Family Proclamation (which he loved). We asked him how he was doing with the word of wisdom. He indicated that he has not been drinking coffee, energy drinks or alcohol and has been sleeping so much better. He mentioned that he has also been suffering from headaches, which he knows is a withdrawal symptom from the caffeine. We mentioned that General Conference would be on this weekend and showed him where he could watch it. He said he loved conference and would be sure to tune in. We relish the opportunity we have to sit down and answer his questions and talk to him about the gospel. He gets it immediately and is so spiritually sensitive. We are now talking about “when he is baptized” instead of “if he is baptized”. Hopefully Ralph and Bernice will be back in-country this week and we can press forward with teaching his family. At the end of our discussion, their oldest daughter Eckmat Marian Scotland called. She was just arriving from Freetown and needed help getting her bags home. We offered to go get her just down the road at the bank and Eku graciously accepted our offer. Marian is a wonderful young women who is attending college to become a teacher. She is bright, articulate and sensitive. In many ways she has the same attributes as her father.
Saturday morning we received a phone call from Moses Ansumana. Moses and Alice were married earlier in the year and sometime Friday night, she gave birth to a beautiful little girl.
Unfortunately, the baby died within hours of being born. Moses was calling for help and guidance on what he needed to do to bury her properly in accordance with church policy. Even though it was cleaning day and we were not supposed to be out on the roads, we piled in the truck along with the Nyandeyama Sisters who serve in Moses’ branch (he is the branch mission leader) and we drove to the small clinic where Alice had given birth. There we collected the deceased baby and drove to the cemetery where she was buried. I helped Moses with the priesthood ordinance for dedicating a grave, which is in the white missionary handbook. He did a nice job. It was such a sad day for both him and Alice and the entire branch family. As we have said before, death is all too common here. We do not know the cause of death, but our experience tells us that with the limited medical care here many babies die that if born in a more developed country, would live. To Moses and Alice, we extend our heartfelt prayers and sympathy for your loss.
General conference started at 4 pm here and then again at 8 pm. We invited the missionaries to come to our apartment to watch the first session and half of the second as President Harper asked them to be in their apartments at 9:00 pm. We were grateful that the introduction of the new changes to the youth organizations were announced and explained in the first half of that Saturday afternoon session so that they could be a part of it. How we love General Conference. It is like drinking pure water after being in the desert for many days. How we rejoiced at the Spirit of the Lord that we felt testifying to the truthfulness of that which was taught. Our desire to be better and our resolve to do more to build Zion were strengthened.
On Sunday morning we used our portable projector to show the Saturday afternoon session at the branch next door (Nyandeyama). We also showed the talk from the Women’s Conference were President Nelson announced the temple. By then most people knew about the temple, but there were still a few reverent “ooh’s and ahhs”. We had about 90 people in attendance. In the past, there has always been a request from Ghana to gather the people together at the Stake or District Center to watch conference. Here in Kenema, that means that a lot of people will not get to see it as they cannot afford the cost of a ride on a bike to the district center. This time, we provided the downloaded session on a USB stick and every branch was able to watch it in lieu of sacrament meeting in their very own building. We have never had this many people view a session of General Conference!
Sunday afternoon and evening we again listened to conference with the missionaries here in Kenema. At the intermission of the first session we shared some chocolate cake and ice cream with everyone. It actually turned out to be Elder Paongo’s birthday so at the end of the session we sang “Happy Birthday” to him. It was nice.
We again want to express our gratitude to a loving Heavenly Father who inspired his prophet to announce a temple for Sierra Leone. All week long as we have talked about what we would write about, the recurring thought was “there will be a temple to talk about”. We did not know if that was wishful thinking or inspired thoughts. We hope it was the latter. We have mentioned in past posts that we have felt that change is occurring in Sierra Leone, that something good has been happening. That change has been real and we believe rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. There comes a point in a person’s life when their spiritual progress seems to slow and the only way to move forward at a quicker pace is to take the next step on the covenant path.
In this case, we have felt that the progress of the entire membership here in Sierra Leone has collectively reached a point where something big needed to happen before that progress could continue. We believe the temple is the answer to that need. Just the announcement alone will begin to focus the members on the day they will be able to enter that holy edifice. It will encourage greater repentance, greater sanctification and greater service. Yes, “It Is Time” for a temple in Sierra Leone. We are so grateful to be here and be a small part of this amazing miracle as we work hand in hand with the marvelous members, leaders and missionaries in the Kenema District.