Gathering Strength

Since arriving in Sierra Leone we have always had an expectation about the 2019 fall District Conference for Kenema. In our minds, this would be the conference when the district would become a stake. We had imagined all the fanfare, general authority visits, new callings, new directions and excitement surrounding the creation of the seventh stake in the country. But for whatever reason, it didn’t happen on our own imagined timeline. We will continue to hold out hope that it will occur before we leave in December.

Except for our own failed expectations, the conference held this past weekend was terrific by all standards. The God of the universe poured out his Spirit upon the speakers as great wisdom was shared and the Holy Ghost carried those messages into our hearts. We came home energized, enthused and motivated to continue pressing forward. We were especially impressed with the topics covered in the different sessions that, in our view, were exactly the messages needed to help the District progress. Just one more evidence that the leaders of the Church, whether in Tomball, Texas or Kenema, Sierra Leone are called of God and inspired by the Holy Ghost to give the people the messages they need to hear. We are grateful for this poignant reminder – one more time.

Here is a list of the topics that were covered in the talks

  • Courage to face our challenges
  • The importance of choosing marriage
  • Becoming more engaged in family history work
  • The power of the Book of Mormon in the conversion process
  • Becoming worthy to enter the temple – especially now that one is coming to Sierra Leone
  • Ministering to others as servant leaders
  • A change of heart through the atonement of Jesus Christ
  • Helping others to change
  • Effective leadership delegation and follow-up
  • What it means to be a servant leader
  • Living the law of chastity
  • Repentance brings us joy
  • Defeating the spiritual enemies that plague us
  • The gathering of Israel starts by us coming fully unto Christ and repenting

Here is a gallery of nearly all of the speakers –

We have had several members tell us how grateful they were for the conference.  When we asked them why, they said, “Because our leaders told us the things that we as members needed to hear”.  President Cobinah’s talk on the law of Chastity was mentioned several times as being very important for the young single adults in the district.  We definitely agree.  

There were numerous references made to the announcement of the temple and the need to begin to prepare now to build our own spiritual strength so we can be prepared once it is completed.  The choir did a great job and overflowed the hall with beautiful spirit-filled music.  It is such a treat for us to see so many saints that we have come to appreciate and love in one place.  It was a special treat when many of the members and a few investigators from Tongo rolled up in an ambulance and piled out one after another. It was an even more joyful reunion to see both Rebecca and Grace.  Our hearts were full!

There was also a “first” associated with this conference.  The Kailahun branch had wanted to rent a small bus and make the trip to Kenema.  Unfortunately, there was simply not enough money to make that happen.  So instead, we figured out a way that we could stream the sessions of conference over the Internet. logo

We will be the first to express concerns about the do-ability of such a bold undertaking given the weak infrastructure here, but with some effort (and help from the “weatherman” on Sunday), it actually worked. Using my iPhone clamped in a selfie stick, taped to a tripod, sitting on top of a table, we were able to stream the entire Sunday session to the members in Kailahun using a program called Periscope.  We had tried to stream the Saturday sessions, but there was bad weather in Kailahun and the Internet signal was, as a result, simply not strong enough.  On Sunday, however, the weather was perfect, so no interference from clouds, rain or lightning.  I am pretty sure this will go down as the first District Conference to be streamed to an outlying branch in the history of the country.  In the event anyone might be interested in what a district conference is like in Sierra Leone, you can view the first half of the Sunday session here.

Weekly Highlights

On Tuesday, we took David Gbow and Peter Ngekia to Bo to receive their Patriarchal Blessings from Brother Berewa, the patriarch of the Bo West Stake. How we love this good patriarch and his tireless commitment to providing these blessings to these good young men who will soon be leaving on missions. We dropped them off and then ran a few errands including a few things at Sky Market in Bo. We then went over and spent about 45 minutes with the Moomey’s, which is always a treat for us. By then, it was time to go back and pick up David and Peter and return to Kenema.

Mohamed Sherrif (right) and Elder Daniel (center). Elder Sylvanus is hiding behind Elder Daniel

Later that evening we traveled to Dauda Town where we met Elder Daniel and Elder Sylvanus who helped Mohamed Sherrif submit his family history. Mohamed is a fine young man, currently serving with the young men in his branch and also trained as a literacy teacher. According to Elder Daniel, he has been working for some time to gather this information from his grandmother and parents and was so excited to actually get it into FamilySearch and submitted to the temple. The mission recently released the family history elders who have been training family history consultants as well as sending out names to a wide network of people around the world to complete the temple work. We are especially proud of the Magnolia First Ward (our ward back home) that really caught the vision of this work and have been busy performing temple ordinances for the family members of people we are serving here. It has been a nice connection – and whats more, we had a common reason to rejoice at the announcement of the Freetown temple. Every program runs its course and the need for family history elders had diminished to the point that they were no longer needed. The Burris’ are a senior missionary couple still focused on family history and many of the stake and district consultants have been trained. Time for the individual stakes, districts, wards and branches to do more on their own. We still have issues with internet availability and devices, but with time, solutions to these problems will also be found.

On Wednesday morning, we took the Sister Training Leaders back to Bo after their exchange here with the sisters next door. Sister Bitrosi and Sister Musangani are fine missionaries and are making a difference in their service as training leaders. It was a nice sunny morning as we dropped them at their gate. The way they are dressed in their jackets and sweaters looks like Utah in the fall. It was a beautiful morning for sure.

Later that day we worked with Dennis Samai to fix a couple of electrical problems at IDA apartment and then with Peter and David who cleaned the Simbeck Apartment compound. We are so grateful for all three of these men. They are honest, hardworking and thorough. We are lucky to be able to use their expertise and experience in sustaining the missionaries here.

In the evening, I drove out to the District Center to work with Tobechi Inmpey in our first test of using Periscope to stream. LaDawn stayed here at the apartment so I could send her the link and she could make sure that she could see the video stream. I was most surprised to find that in the chapel at the district center I had 4 bars of strong 3G service. That is what made all of this possible. The test was successful and gave us a few things to think about for a subsequent test the next evening.

On Thursday we attended the Kenema North District Council where Elder Fajardo is the new district leader. We focused on and discussed the zone goals: 1) Ministering to branch leaders. 2) Focusing more on teaching about Jesus Christ. 3) Constantly finding people to teach. If we had one takeway from the meeting it was this: As missionaries we should know where every member of our branch lives. We should begin to find their homes and then ask them where other members live who are close by. We should find them, and in doing so, find their friends and family that they want to be taught the gospel of Jesus Christ. There are so many simultaneous opportunities to serve and teach and teach and serve. We just need to be focused and disciplined and willing to do the hard work. Our experience here in Sierra Leone is that if missionaries do not have people to teach, then they are not working very hard, because it is easy to find people, good people, who are willing to sit down and learn about the gospel.

After district council we picked up a few groceries since President and Sister Harper would be arriving later in the evening and then we also went over to Mission Road and picked out 3 long poles in order to make a ladder. The ladder we have been using for the past year finally broke and we can either spend $100 and buy an aluminum one, or we can spend $8 and make a wood one. We chose the latter (ladder :-). We dropped the poles off at the carpenter shop just up the road from us where we have had other work done and he said he would have it for us on Friday evening. But when we got back to Kailahun on Friday, we completely forgot about it.

When I went over on Saturday afternoon after district conference, he had everything cut and laid out, but he wanted me to determine the distance between the steps. We picked one of the cross bars that seemed to be about right and used it as a measuring stick. We ended up being one crossbar short, so they cut a board and made me one. I had no idea that this new ladder was going to weigh so much. Definitely more than an aluminum one! Fortunately for me, two of the guys carried it to our apartment. Now I am not sure if we are strong enough to actually pick it up and use it! The wood is still pretty wet.

As mentioned earlier, I drove out to the district center a second time for another test to stream the conference. This time I brought a laptop and we tried to connect it to the SierraTel modem in the far back room of the cultural hall using a cat 5 cable. We also had President Morison in Kailahun at the church building testing it there. Unfortunately, the internet was not good enough to use the laptop, but again the streaming from my iPhone worked fine. President Morison was able to receive it and our confidence was growing that we might actually pull this off. Shortly after I returned to the apartment, the Harpers arrived from Moyamba where they had spent much of the day.

On Friday, we drove with the Harpers to Kailahun. It was an absolutely beautiful drive, and one we were able to do in just a bit over 2 hours. President Harper first met with President Morison at the branch building for about 45 minutes and then the missionaries joined us and we participated in their district council. We loved Elder Nwangele’s inspired leadership of the meeting. In ten days, Elder Marcus Nash, the area president, will conduct a mission tour. In preparation for the combined zone conferences that will be held, Elder Nash has asked the missionaries to consider three questions: 1) How to teach with the Book of Mormon 2) How to teach with power and 3) How to work successfully with members At the District Council in Kailahun, Elder Nwangele asked the following questions: 1) Why is the Book of Mormon so important? 2) How do we use the Book of Mormon effectively? and 3) How do we teach with power? The order and timing of the questions were absolutely inspired. For me, it was one of the best district councils we have attended. The questions were open ended and provided opportunity for discussion and discovery by each of us, as we were taught individually by the spirit. I will mention four of my own takeaways. 1) The Book of Mormon is saturated with the spirit of the Lord and when we read from its pages, the spirit influences us for good. 2) We should use stories from the Book of Mormon to share doctrines and the principles behind them. 3) Our calling is our authority to teach, but it is in the keeping of our covenants that we are able to teach with power. 4) We can sharpen our teaching skills, as they are learnable, As we learn and practice them, we will be able to teach with greater power. Such a great meeting!

After the district council President and Sister Harper went first with Elder Nwangele and Elder Abad to visit a young woman they have been teaching and then they went with Elder Shill and Elder Wagner to visit the “chief of police” in Kailahun with whom they have been meeting. Both sets of missionaries and the Harpers had great experiences. When they were finished with the appointments, we drove over to the missionaries apartment and had lunch together. LaDawn had made some delicious chicken sandwiches and we brought some Pringles, pickles, carrot sticks, cucumber slices and barbecue sauce (for the sandwiches). It was like a family picnic indoors! We had the opportunity to sing happy birthday to Elder Shill, which he thoroughly enjoyed. We suggested to President & Sister Harper that they should have a birthday meal with every one of the 166 missionaries currently serving! 🙂 Unfortunately, the drive back was not nearly as pleasant as the drive up as we ran into quite the rainstorm halfway between Kailahun and Pendembu. We were grateful to make it safely back to our apartment and then enjoy a delicious spaghetti dinner that LaDawn had prepared.

LaDawn with Emma Tailu

It’s been another great week here in Kenema. The district conference was just icing on the cake of progress as we could feel the strength of the gathered saints along with new momentum from inspired conference speakers. This momentum, however, is not just here in Kenema District. It is across Sierra Leone. The announcement of the temple is bringing forth greater focus, new energy and stronger commitment from the members of the church. The Kingdom of God is gathering strength, even as the missionaries, leaders and members work together to gather Israel. What a wonderful blessing it is to us to have a front row seat as all of this unfolds and as we work with these marvelous people, hand in hand, arm in arm and shoulder to shoulder.

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