Once a year, a member of the Area Presidency comes to Sierra Leone and does a mission tour with the mission president where he meets all of the missionaries and provides counsel, encouragement and support. Last year, it was our privilege to meet Elder Marcus B. Nash, Africa West Area President in Bo. You can read about that visit in our blog titled Kreativity in Kenema on September 1st of last year (where has the time gone?). This year, we were pleased when we heard that Elder Nash would return again to Sierra Leone for this year’s mission tour.
This last Wednesday, October 29th, we traveled to Bo with Sisters Akwara, Awortwe and Tweh and enjoyed a full day of gospel instruction and fellowship with Elder & Sister Nash, President and Sister Harper and 75 young, vibrant missionaries. Our cups were filled!
We want to share just a few of the highlights through quotes that we captured:
- The Book of Mormon is the engine that drives conversion to Jesus Christ – Elder Conner Hansen
- “The Book of Mormon connects people to Jesus Christ.” – Elder Conner Hansen
- “When we lose our focus on Jesus Christ, it is easier for us to become discouraged.” – Sister Harper
- “Here in Sierra Leone the harvest is great. We are in the midst of that harvest and the laborers are few, so we must be about our Father’s business.” – President Harper
- “Joy comes because of Jesus Christ. As we stay focused on Jesus Christ, we will have greater joy. To stay focused, we must keep the commandments.” – Sister Nash
- Tells the story of Christian Larsen, Elder Nash’s great great + …… grandfather. Christian and his missionary companion were in jail for 6 months for preaching a faith other than the state religion. While there, they preached to Mr. Jensen, a preacher from another church who was also jailed for the same offense. While he was initially very hardened and resistant against the gospel message, with time, he came around and eventually joined the church. President Russell M. Nelson is a direct ancestor of this Brother Jensen. The point is that we never know when a difficult situation that we find ourselves in has a much greater purpose. – Elder & Sister Nash
- “Why does the Lord call missionaries? Because Heavenly Father wants all of his children to return to him and there is only one way home and that is through Jesus Christ.” – Elder Nash
- “As we reach up and interlock our fingers with the hands of God, he will then lift us up to be worthy of eternal life. He sets the terms of the covenants we make because he knows what it takes for us to return to Him.” – Elder Nash
- “Jesus stands at the door and knocks. He paid the price so he has the right to open the door.” – Elder Nash
- It is the principle of repentance that brings us to the Savior and his redeeming power of salvation unto our souls (see Helaman 5:11) – Elder Nash
- “When we teach someone the gospel, we must make sure they 1) understand what we are teaching. 2) Feel the influence of the Holy Ghost. 3) Invite them to act. 4) Follow-up.” – Elder Nash
If there was a downside to the day, it was sitting in those hard chairs from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. We had a couple of breaks and enjoyed a nice lunch, but the chairs were tougher than our backs for sure. Overall, we had a great day and rejoiced in seeing many of the missionaries we have served with here in Kenema. The spirit of the Lord bore a powerful witness to the truths that were taught. We arrived back at our apartment about 6 pm.
There were three highlights to this week. The first was the mission tour / multi-zone conference mentioned above. The second was having 28 men who serve as branch presidents, members of the district council and the district presidency come to our apartments to fill out an interview form for an upcoming “special conference” and the third was the rollout of gospel literacy in the Burma Branch.
On November 24th, we will have our second District Conference in as many months. This one has been termed a “special conference” and we will have Elder Edward Dube and Elder Richard Ahadjie from Ghana, as visiting authorities. As part of that conference, members of the district in leadership positions, past and present, will be interviewed. Below is a picture of the current leadership in the District.
In preparation for those interviews, each man has been asked to fill out a biographical form with an attached picture. It has been such an honor this week to have these wonderful men come to our apartment and spend ~20 minutes with us as they filled out the form and posed for a picture. These visits were on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday throughout each day when it best suited each individual leader. In a district, all of the leaders are elders. In fact, the district does not have the authority to ordain high priests. Whenever we reference the district “high” council, we always put the word “high” in quotes, since none of them are high priests. The official term is District Council, but it is then easily confused with the District Council that includes the leaders of the other organizations like Relief Society, Young Women and Primary. We need a new name for one or the other. Perhaps “District Organization Council” for the one including organizational leaders? Because Districts are always under the responsibility of the mission president and not the district president, it is further confusing because missionary districts now hold district councils instead of district meetings. So we have at least 3 district councils in a district – so confusing!
One of the other things we did on Monday was walk over to the market and pick up my new shirt that I had ordered. This one has some ornate embroidery on it. Here they call it “planting”. It is all done by free-stitching – usually with a treadle sewing machine without any sophisticated electronics – and in our view quite impressive work. On Friday of each week, many men will be found wearing such a shirt. Now I can fit into the landscape without even being noticed as being different! The only problem there is no pocket, so no place to put my name tag. I guess I will just have to keep wearing my white shirt and tie in public on Fridays! LaDawn also found some African prints that she really liked so picked up several yards of these unique cloths.
On Friday evening, we met with the Burma Branch Presidency as we started the 3 day process for rolling out Gospel Literacy in their branch. Burma is actually one of the pioneer branches of gospel literacy here in Kenema and in all of West Africa. Sister Grace Kongoley is an outstanding gospel literacy teacher and there are several in the branch who have benefitted from the program thus far. The hope and the desire of the branch presidency is to now take it to the next level.
Photos above: LEFT – The branch presidency and President Fomba from the District Presidency watching the Literacy Vision Video. RIGHT – All in attendance pose for group selfie after the meeting.
Our meeting with them started just a few minutes after 5 pm and were finished by 6 pm. President Konneh and his counselors Br. Kpallu and Br. Kabu along with their clerks were also there. Such a wonderful group of men, devoted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and to lifting members of the Burma Branch to the next level. We watched the Gospel Literacy Vision Video and the video of Charles David’s progress through the gospel literacy program. Both are so well done and both were well received. Charles’ video is especially inspirational. While the video cannot be posted to any social media, it can be viewed here. It is only 4 minutes 23 seconds long and well worth the time.
As soon as we left Burma, we drove down to the NP Station on Blama Road and met the Moomey’s. They were bringing Elder Tenney and Elder Hansen back to Kenema. They had been at the Mission Leadership Council with Elder Nash and Moomey’s met the mission driver in Bo and brought the Elders to Kenema. It was already starting to get dark, so we quickly transferred the Elders and let the Moomey’s get back on the road before it became any later. We took the zone leaders back to their apartment in IDA and returned home near 7 pm.
Saturday was cleaning day in the morning (first Saturday of the month) and as soon as that was over, we had a couple of more priesthood brethren come over for pictures and filling out the form. At 3:30 pm we left to go to Burma Branch where we met with the Branch Council and trained them on how to be facilitators for Gospel Literacy the next day.
Above pictures: LEFT – members of the branch council write their plans for studying the gospel in their home. RIGHT – the branch council shows off the pictures they drew of the gospel plan for home learning.
We were able to get started shortly after 4 pm and finished by 6 pm. We had such a great experience with this branch council. They were engaged, interested and committed to doing a great job on leading a gospel learner discussion. We also showed them the vision video, modeled how to facilitate the lesson we would be using the next day and then gave them some time to practice for themselves. There was a great spirit that accompanied the meeting and after having done 10 of these implementations, we know a great branch council committed to gospel literacy when we see one. Well done Burma Branch!
With both the branch presidency and branch council meetings completed, we were now ready to roll gospel literacy out to the entire branch. Sunday was fast Sunday and so with the branch fasting, the spirit was unrestrained and we ALL had a great experience. We arrived at 8:50 am and enjoyed a few minutes of prelude (Burma has great pianists) and then a wonderful fast and testimony meeting. It started with the confirmation of 7 new converts that had been baptized the day before. [As an aside, after the meeting that day, I went up to Elder Maeser and asked him, “How many of your friends from back home who are serving missions do you think had 7 baptisms this weekend?” He just smiled, with both of us knowing the answer – just one more reason why it is so great to serve in Sierra Leone!] Back to the sacrament meeting. We only had about 20 minutes left after the confirmations and there were so many who wanted to bear their testimonies. Each who shared did so in a very gracious and succinct manner. No one took too much time and each testimony was heartfelt and spirit filled. We could have gladly listened to the members for another hour. It was wonderful. When President Konneh finally stood up to end the meeting, there were still people trying to come up to the microphone. He apologized and told them there would be more opportunities. This is what happens when there is such a great outpouring of the spirit that people are moved to share their own testimony.
During the second hour, it was chaos for the first ten minutes (like it always is), as we worked to get over 100 people into familial groups in two buildings. But as always, it seems to work and by 10:20 am, the gospel literacy lessons were underway.
Photos above: The 10 family circles where the gospel literacy lesson was taught. LaDawn is speaking with President Fomba, first counselor in the District Presidency as they plan the wrap up of the meeting. The two sisters at the bottom are Sister Foday and Sister Jabaty who are both gospel learners.
The facilitators did a great job, and when a few of them went slightly off course in terms of speed or method, a gentle nudge (mostly by LaDawn) brought them quickly back to the planned agenda. In fact, she pretty much managed the entire session, as I went around and took pictures. One of my favorite subject are the Pikins. Sunday was no exception.
In the end, it was obvious that the branch had a great experience with the lesson and we had a great experience with the branch. There are always two key objectives to this gospel literacy Sunday School lesson. The first is for every family to create plans to study and share the gospel more in their homes. The second is to identify those who could most benefit from attending a gospel literacy class. It was clear that the members of the branch understood the importance, as well as the process, for simple sharing of gospel messages at home. To close out the lesson, Maseray Jabaty and Sallay Foday bore their testimonies in regards to how Gospel Literacy has already blessed their lives and how it can bless the lives of others as well. It was cute that they were both wearing dresses made from the same fabric. After the meeting was over, we met with the facilitators (branch council) and identified 11 members who will benefit from this program, about half who have been involved in the past.
We have come to love everything about the Gospel Literacy program. It is a big commitment and it takes time and patience, but it changes lives. We have no doubt that it will continue to do so in the Burma Branch, now in a bigger and better way.
Mission tours and zone conferences are a great way to re-energize the full-time missionaries. The counsel, the spirit, the fellowship all contribute to a commitment to be a little better and do a little better. We loved being with the Nash’s, the Harper’s and the Moomey’s last Wednesday as well as all 75 of the young missionaries in attendance. We were inspired. But as MLS (Member Leader Support) missionaries, we are also inspired, energized and our cups are filled as we work closely with the leaders and members in the Kenema District. The experiences this week with the Burma Branch have strengthened our testimonies and our desire to serve. We love working hand in hand with the members, the leaders, and the missionaries as we continue to build and strengthen Zion in Sierra Leone.