The key ingredient in soap making is lye, which is also known as caustic soda or sodium hydroxide. All soap requires the use of this ingredient, in fact not even commercial soap can be made without it. Soap is made by virtue of a chemical reaction between the lye, water and oil(s). When the caustic soda or lye is combined with the oil, the reaction is called saponification. Saponification is the process by which triglcerides react with caustic soda (lye) to produce glycerol and a fatty acid salt, which we call soap.
Here in Sierra Leone, the most common triglycerides are palm oil. When sodium hydroxide is used, a hard soap is produced. Using potassium hydroxide (also called caustic potash) a soft soap is produced. Here in Sierra Leone we have only seen the hard soap made, as caustic soda is readily available (even in Kenema!).
Mixing 20 liters of palm oil with 12 cups of caustic soda will produce about 250 baseball size “balls” of hard soap. The soap is made by mixing the lye with water, which will start a chemical reaction, generating a temperature between 100-110 degrees F. The palm oil must then be heated to close to the same temperature and then combined with the lye mixture. By stirring the combined mixture it will slowly thicken as the chemical reaction continues.
Once thick enough to stick together, it can be formed into “snowball-like” balls, which are set out in the sun to cure allowing the saponification process to be completed over a period of a few days to a few weeks. It is during this period of curing that any remaining liquid evaporates. The harsh, corrosive lye is completely eliminated in this process, thus “It’s No Lye” in the finished product. I wish I would have known this as a kid. My mom always made her own soap to wash clothes with. She called it lye soap, and the skull and cross bones on the can of lye was enough to scare me from even touching the finished soap. It is also possible to add essential oils for a more fragrant soap and/or dyes to make colored soap. In Sierra Leone, these last two additives are generally too expensive for home soap production and are considered luxuries.
The secret to success of any business here in Salone is to sell a large number of inexpensive items. Selling soap for Le 500 or Le 1000 is a successful formula because most people can afford to purchase it and everybody needs it.
We chose to write about soap making this week as Rebecca has now started her own very small soap making business. Being in Tongo last Friday, I was able to snap a picture of her showing off her finished product as well as bring home a packet of the powdered soap. Even as I prepared to snap the picture a neighbor came buy and purchased two balls. We are amazed that she has pulled this off successfully by herself, and it looks like it will be a blessing for little Grace and the entire family into the future.
On Monday, Mustapha Kanneh came to our apartment and we trained him to be a gospel literacy teacher for the Kenema Central Branch. Mustapha was baptized just over a month ago on September 28th and with David Gbow leaving on his mission last month, President Komba has been looking for a replacement for him. Based on the 90 minutes we spent with him, we believe President Komba was inspired to call this 22 year-old new convert into this important role. He is a quick learner with a spiritual understanding far beyond his few weeks in the church. We are confident he will do quite well.
Tuesday morning was filled with apartment checks. IDA, Airfield, Dauda Town, Simbeck and the Sisters apartments were all in really great shape. This transfer, as a whole, these apartments were cleaner than ever before. We are so pleased with the efforts they are making to have apartments where the Spirit of the Lord can bless and inspire them as they study, eat, exercise and pray each day. Though the apartments were all very good, there was a tie between IDA and Dauda Town for the very, very best. LaDawn made each companionship in the award winning apartments some delicious chocolate chip pumpkin muffins which we delivered to them Saturday morning.
Wednesday morning, Joshua Laundeh and Michel John Steven came over and we discussed some work they can do to earn money for their missions. Joshua just needs enough to buy clothes and accessories (he leaves in January) and Michel John is starting from ground zero. The work is difficult (brushing), but they have been great about going over every day for 3-5 hours and doing the work. Our view is the harder the work and the harder they work, the better missionaries they will be!
The mission recently signed a maintenance agreement with Junior Bendu to care for the solar installs once we are gone and to do preventative maintenance each quarter – to the extent possible. Wednesday was the beginning of that effort and because we had identified a problem at Dauda Town the day before with their freezer, we were grateful that it was now covered under the agreement. Unfortunately one thing turned into another and by today we had a significant problem. We know this solar stuff is boring to many, but perhaps a short lesson is worthwhile. Each solar install consists of panels, a controller, batteries, an inverter, LED lights, DC Fans and a freezer. If panels wired in a series are putting out 12-15 volts and the power is being consumed by lights, fans and freezers, a solar controller is not necessary. The purpose of the controller is protect the batteries so they do not overcharge. The first set of panels purchased were all 12 volt panels. This made it okay to connect the batteries directly to the panels in the event the controller went out and needed to be replaced, requiring a few days without a controller. Junior did this quite often without a problem. However, yesterday we learned the hard way that these new panels we have been buying are 24-30 volt panels, which tend to be much more efficient – and produce a lot more power. With a good controller, this is not a problem as it reduces the charge to the battery down to 12-13 volts. What we learned at Dauda Town last week is that if you connect 30 volts directly to 12 volt batteries wired in a series, it will fry the batteries. We have had difficulty keeping these controllers working as they tend to get hot and the quality of the product out of China is just not made with great components. Eku has been repairing them for us as the problem is generally solder that has melted breaking the power circuit. So while we were getting a replacement controller, Junior wired the panels directly to the batteries on a particularly sunny day and the result for the batteries was death by electrocution. Oh the struggles we have in Africa.
At 4:00 pm we had been asked to go to Dauda Town and help train the priesthood and organizational presidencies on their duties and effective and inspired leadership.
We were grateful that Sister Mbalu Bangura (District Relief Society President), Sister Jeneba Kamara (District Primary President), and John Martin Sesay (District Young Men’s President) were able to attend and perform most of the training. We had spent much of the day preparing packets of information (handouts of the presentations) for those who would be instructed. This required having copies made and then collating the handouts. We also created a short introduction presentation on the importance of unity, discipleship and urgency associated with leadership responsibilities. The branch had a good turnout and we think all were edified and uplifted by the opportunity to refresh this important information. One of our goals is to help enable the District Leaders to be effective trainers and experiences like these provide an excellent training ground.
On Thursday we attended the Hangha Road District Council meeting led by Elder Fajardo.
A few of the comments that stuck with us: 1) “Setting goals is about accelerating the work. We must set goals under the influence of the Spirit or we could go in the wrong direction.” 2) “Invitations to keep the commandments that are tied to Jesus Christ help those being taught to accept an invitation because they want to please their Savior.” 3) Everyone has had experiences with God. When we can help those we teach identify and connect with those experiences, it makes them more aware of God in their life and makes it easier for them to connect to additional gospel doctrines.” 4) “If we are dressed in our priesthood / proselyting attire when we start our personal study, we will be more receptive to the spirit as we present our best selves before the Savior – coming with a desire to be taught.”
In the afternoon, Elder & Sister Moomey came to Kenema, dropped off some fans to be repaired, a package for Elder Tenney and some USB sticks we ordered from the U.S. (difficult to buy sticks here that are not knockoffs with poor components) and then had lunch with us. We always appreciate seeing and talking with these good friends and valiant senior missionaries!
On Friday, I took the zone leaders to Tongo for a full day of teaching. I am not sure how to put it into words, but the day was special – and I have been there enough to know a special day when I experience one. And last Friday was one of those days. The elders taught 12 people and could have taught more but we ran out of time. Musu Lahai, Ishmael, Augusta Steven, Agnes Lahai, Moinya, Hanna, Esther, Joseph, Sama, Ibrahim Kargbo, Alex Musu and Samuel Kanu.
We started at Moinya’s home and the lesson was on Temples and Families. Because she lost her 14 year-old daughter last week, her feelings are still very tender. The spirit with which Elder Hansen and Elder Tenney taught the lesson was magnificent. What was most impressive was how Elder Hansen applied the lesson just taught by Elder Nash at zone conference about how the covenants we make with Heavenly Father allow us to firmly grasp His hand so that he can lift us back into his presence. Joseph was sitting next to him and with their hands clasped he explained the principle. It was a memorable and powerful teaching moment.
We then drove into the bowels of Tongo (if that is the even the right term) to the Eastern end where we taught Musu Lahai (not related to the Agnes Lahai). Musu had been part of the Winner’s Chapel group and has been coming to our Church for some time now, but she has never been taught. She is not married and has no children. We had quite an audience of young children, teenagers and a couple of other adults. We are confident we could grow the teaching pool there in her neighborhood, although getting there was a bit of a challenge with the truck. We crossed a creek where the bridge was broken. We had to set a log across one side of it so that I could place one front tire on it and the other on the bridge portion still intact. Finding someone to guide me across was the problem. If I needed to turn right or left, rather than just point in that direction I needed to move, most would start waving their hands and shouting to stop. Finally, one of the many men who had gathered was able to help me. It was both funny and serious at the same time.
From there Elder Tenney and Brother Konuwa went to see Sister Augusta Steven and Elder Hansen and I went to teach Agnes Lahai. Sister Iye Dennis lives next door (she was recently baptized) so she joined as well. What was amazing was how quickly Agnes understood the concepts and it was she who was able to explain it to Sister Iye. She is a smart, impressive and spiritual 11 year-old young woman. When we finished at the Lahai’s we drove over to Sister Steven’s home where the other Elders were just finishing with their lesson. We met Brother Steven (they live in the police barracks and his office is just 100 feet away from their home). Again Sister Steven prepared food, this time pumpkin stew on rice. It was amazing.
Our last stop of the day was at the Kanu’s where we wanted to teach Samuel (the father) and Sama (the 12 year old daughter). What happened though was we had two men from Panguma join us. Whether they will show up again this week is unclear, but they were very interested in the message.
(Above left) – teaching at the Kanu’s. Alex is the man on the left closest to the camera and Ibrahim the man on his right. (Above right) a selfie with Ibrahim Kargbo.
Alex Musu used to be the principle of the secondary school in Tongo, but has now moved to Panguma. He took notes and wrote down questions as the elders taught the restoration. Ibrahim Kargbo also lives in Panguma. He is a chemistry teacher (he refers to himself as a scientist), and is articulate. He too was impressed with the message. Both left with a Book of Mormon. If there was a downside to the discussion, it was the minimal attention the elders were able to give to Samuel and Sama, but it was such a spirit filled experience that I believe we were all edified.
On Saturday, we started the day with a seminal event. Patrick Laundeh was baptized. It is hard to explain just how significant an event this was. For those who have read the story of Bernard Laundeh that was published to the Church’s Africa West pages, you understand some of Patrick’s history. While four of his children have joined the church, he has never really been interested. He says the timing had never been right. But something clicked for him recently, and the sisters began teaching him and on Saturday he finally made a covenant with Jesus Christ by entering the waters of baptism. There were 4 other people from the Coker family baptized at the same service. It was wonderful to be there, especially as we witnessed Bernard baptizing his father.
Following the baptismal service we traveled to the District Center to participate in a Church History training focused on completing the District and Branch histories for 2019.
We don’t know the brother’s name who came from Freetown to do the presentation, but he indicated this is his calling as “Country Church History Specialist”. He said that Kenema District had been the first Stake/District in Sierra Leone to submit the history over the past two years and he was grateful for the effort. Unfortunately, the presentation wandered a bit and what should have been a 60 minute presentation turned into nearly 3 hours. We left at 1:40 pm because we had other commitments and we never expected it would go so long. The men of Sierra Leone have a gift of public speaking. While many people in the world consider public speaking their number one fear, it doesn’t seem to be that way here. The downside to this is that sometimes people who have this gift are still learning to channel it in a constructive and efficient manner. So was our experience on Saturday.
When we left the meeting we drove to Airfield apartment, picked up two beds and a wardrobe and then took them over to the Simbeck apartment to prepare for two more missionaries moving into that apartment. Later I went to Dauda Town apartment and picked up two mattresses and brought them back for the beds. We ordered some mosquito nets and began to look for a way to provide them electrical fans (there is no solar in the apartment). It never ceases to amaze us how much effort it takes to make a two man apartment into a four man apartment.
Saturday evening we visited with Eku starting at 6 pm. Now that they have solar power all the time at OTC, it is easier to meet with him later in the evening. We had a wonderful discussion about service in the Church, how members serve each other and the expectations to live the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. In his current church, he has to turn in a report each month about how many hours he has proselyted and how many hours he has spent in bible study at home. Ralph and Bernice are now back in Kenema (Our JW counterparts), but Eku has not yet had an opportunity to speak to them. We discussed that it is but natural to worry about meeting with them and telling them that he is leaving the Jehovah Witnesses to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We told him we would pray for him and his family that they will be able to take this important step. He said he would be praying as well.
On Sunday we attended the Simbeck Branch and as soon as services were over the branch council gathered together for training. Similar to what we did in Dauda Town, we did an introduction to the training based on 4 themes. Unity, Integrity, Discipleship and Urgency. President Foday, the branch president, had made a special request to discuss the important of integrity, especially when dealing with branch budget funds or fast offerings. We had a nice discussion accompanied by a confirming spirit. After the introduction, we broke into three groups.
Karim Kenewah (District “High” Council over the youth) taught the young men, young women and primary leaders about the new children and youth program; Br. Francis Bundu (District “High” Councilor attached to the Simbeck Branch) worked with Michel John Steven on Branch Mission Leader training, and LaDawn presented training on ministering to the Relief Society and Elders Quorum Presidencies, both who are new since we did this training late last year. It was a good to be with them and we feel that we all learned how to be better at our callings in doing the Lord’s work. We finished about 1:20 pm, just in time to go back to the apartment for a quick sandwich and then be on my way to transport missionaries to Bo for transfers.
I picked up Elder Colonia, Elder Maeser and Sister Tweh and drove them to Bo and picked up Sister Oyewole, Elder Kraemer, Elder Sabau and Elder Pasikala and brought them back to Kenema. The highlight of this travel from Kenema to Bo and back to Kenema was a discussion with each set of missionaries about what it means to be riveted on the Savior and His gospel. On Monday, I made the trip again with different missionaries and continued the same discussion. The question comes from President Nelson’s April 2017 talk titled “Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives“. In that talk he made this statement: “There is nothing easy or automatic about becoming such powerful disciples. Our focus must be riveted on the Savior and His gospel. It is mentally rigorous to strive to look unto Him in every thought. But when we do, our doubts and fears flee.” I learned so much from these good elders and sisters as we counseled together. This is a topic I will continue to study.
After getting them to their appropriate apartments, I went back to Dauda Town and picked up the Kpayama Elders (Elder Paongo and Elder Isiguzo) and took them to the Simbeck apartment. The new area that was opened was in the Dauda Town Branch (Kakajama) so now all four elders serving that branch are in the same apartment. For the Kpayama elders, the distance to their area is about the same from either apartment, so moving them was least disruptive. By the time I got home around 6:30 pm, I was pretty beat. (Just one of the reasons why this post is late this week).
It’s no lie that the work of God is moving forward at an accelerated pace here in Kenema and across Sierra Leone. With the announcement that a stake will be formed in Kenema on November 24 (two weeks) there is new excitement in the air. Just as soap keeps our bodies and our clothes clean, repentance keeps our spirits clean.
Identifying the small “cracks in our armor” that need repair is at the heart of repenting every day – not because we continue to make the same mistakes over and over, but because we become more sensitive to the Spirit of the Lord and we recognize areas in our lives that need to be better. This is part of the expectation of becoming a stake and having a temple. We must all arise to be just a little bit better than we are today. We love Elder Hallstrom’s comment, “Who we are is not who we can become”. The future has never been brighter for the saints of the Kenema District as it is right now. We glory in our Savior that we have been privileged to play a small role in the unfolding of this great work as we walk hand in hand with members, leaders and missionaries to build Zion.