One of the biggest opportunities for improvement here in the Kenema District is the amount of attention given to the youth. With half of the district consisting of wonderful Young Single Adults (YSA), the youth are somehow lost in the masses. To further complicate matters, we have YSA who refer to themselves as “youths” and that makes it even more challenging as the Church’s definition of Youth (ages 12-17 – with some 11 year olds in the mix) is not clearly understood. For the branch leaders, making the youth now their highest priority is going to take some time. Yesterday, however, was a big step forward as a young man took the leadership role at a District YM activity for the first time since we have been here, and we suspect, the first time ever.
John Martin Sesay, is the district young men’s president. He had been asked by the district presidency to have an activity for the young men before the end of the year. John Martin is a returned missionary, committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ and his calling, and has been diligently working with the branches to increase the emphasis on the young men specifically. Ibrahim Kanda, a young man in the Simbeck Branch, was selected as the Aaronic Priesthood holder who would conduct the meeting. Brother Sesay also arranged to have three branch presidents talk about the duties of each of the Aaronic Priesthood offices, with an expectation that each would work with a deacon, teacher and priest (respectively) from their branches as part of their presentations. Seeing the involvement of these young men is a reminder to all of us as to just how capable our youth are. This new youth program is based completely on the premise that our youth can receive personal revelation to discover areas they need to improve on and then create a plan and follow through with actions and reflections. It will take some time to get this program up and running in Sierra Leone, but the meeting on Saturday was a big step forward in the right direction.
Near the end of the program, 12 boys were able to participate in an hilarious balloon game. Three boys on one side blew the balloons up and the three on the other side had to retrieve them and then sit on them with enough force to pop them. It was especially funny when the boys could simply not get the balloon to pop. We all had good fun with the game.
Following the game, the young men sang two hymns to non-traditional acapella music.
I was especially impressed with their rendition of “Ye Elders of Israel” Definitely unique. If you are interested in giving a listen, I recorded a part of it and you can hear it below. Make sure you listen long enough to get the rhythm and the tune in your head.
Monday turned out to be a full day, starting with the movement of missionaries from Kenema to Bo and then from Bo back to Kenema, essentially a repeat from the day before. We mentioned last week that we talked the whole way on both round trips about what it means to be riveted to the Savior and His gospel. I decided I would capture the many great ideas that we discussed in a document so that it might be preserved for the future. We have attached that document here for those who might be interested.
Monday was filled with apartment issues. We were still working on solving the problem at Dauda Town with the fried batteries. Their well pump also went out which is causing them to draw water from the well manually. This makes life tough for a missionary. Because the pump is still under warranty, and the seller is resisting replacing it, life becomes difficult, especially when the decision maker (mission facilities manager) is in Freetown. We hope it will get resolved soon.
Junior came by and we went over to check the solar setup for the Sisters (part of Junior’s maintenance contract) and found a problem with a wire on the one of the panels that had burned. We again traced this problem back to the manufacturing of these Chinese panels. It took a bit of time, but Junior was able to get it replaced and connected back to the controller with the full power of the panels. We were happy to catch this problem early.
We mentioned that we moved the Kpayama Elders (Elder Paongo and Elder Isiguzu) into the Simbeck apartment last week, but since they do not have solar, we needed to arrange for electrical fans. Fortunately the sisters had two in their apartment they were not using. Junior had just fixed their 6 solar fans that had problems with the connections and switches (more high quality Chinese merchandise) so they were willing to part with the electrical fans. We also had ordered some new mosquito nets for the elders from our neighbor down the road, so we collected the nets and fans and took them over to them later in the day.
On Tuesday, much of the day was spent on finishing last week’s blog post. We had been so busy over the weekend and Monday that very little progress had been made. In the afternoon, we went over to OTC to take Eku two of the solar controllers that had failed so he could try to repair them. We also checked on some fans he was working on. While there, one of the little girls that is often around when we visit was crying. One of her shoes (more like a plastic flipflop with a rubber strap) had broken and her mom had “swatted” her for “spoiling her shoe”. We felt sorry for her. When we finished with Eku, we went to the little girl, took her shoe and drove over to where Brother Vandi sets up each day as a cobbler.
He is a new convert of the Nyandeyama Branch and works very close to OTC. He has repaired shoes and even luggage for us that has suffered the ravages of age and abuse. Br. Vandi immediately fixed the little girls shoe and I gave him 5,000 Le (about 50 cents), significantly more than he would charge. He said, “Elder Kunz, why do you do this? You can buy a new pair of shoes like this for Le 4500.” I explained that we are not in the business of buying new shoes. If we were to do that, then everyone would want new shoes. But to repair a simple shoe for a little girl is something we can do, and he also benefits. We were thankful for his humble attitude and skilled hands. The little girl was so excited when we brought her repaired shoe back. We were grateful that we could bring a smile to two people with very little effort or resources on our part. Ah, the joy of service.
On Wednesday afternoon, I met with John Martin Sesay and Ibrahim Kanda about the Young Men Activity to be held on Saturday. Ibrahim is a 16 year old, and the son of Lawrence and Fatmata Ene who moved last year to Nigeria. Ibrahim stayed behind with his extended family so he could finish High School with the plan to join his family later in Nigeria. He is one of the finest young men that we know, and we were happy to see him selected to conduct the meeting on Saturday. We spent about an hour talking about the program and some of the details.
At 4:00 pm we drove over to the new Ahmadiyya Muslim Hospital, where Dr. Faateh is the only doctor on the staff. Elder & Sister Moomey had visited him a few weeks ago and worked out an agreement to do missionary physicals for Le 150,000 ($15) instead of the Le 250,000 ($25) charged by the government hospital. Christian Lawson of the Kpayama Branch is pulling all of his paperwork together so he can go on a mission and is currently in the process of getting his medical work completed. It always takes a bit of time and effort to get a new service agreement in place and this experience was no different. While Dr. Faateh was willing to keep his side of the agreement, there were a number of questions that had come up as he worked through the form for the first time. On Wednesday, our meeting was in regards to clarifying the expectations around immunizations. Dr. Faateh thought he was responsible for all of the required immunizations listed on the form at the agreed upon price of Le 150,000. He was relieved to find out that those will be given Christian in the MTC in Ghana. Even though Sister Moomey had gone over all of that with him, he had forgotten the details and needed assurance he was not responsible. It took Christian four visits to get the kinks worked out and his physical completed and the good news is that he has now paved the way for others who will come after him to get a less expensive, but equally good, physical.
In the evening, we walked over to the Nyandeyama Branch next door and worked with Elder Jardine and Elder Kraemer as they helped Onome James and Isabella George input their pedigree charts and submit their ancestors’ names to the temple. It has been a while since we have been asked to help with Family History, and as always, it is one of our favorite things to be involved in. Wednesday evening was no exception. Both sisters left the building happy as they felt the spirit of Elijah fill their hearts.
Thursday morning was Zone Council. These meetings have essentially been discontinued, but with permission of the mission president, this was held to further the priorities that President and Sister Harper have established. During this meeting there were two discussions associated with these priorities. The first was led by Elder Kennelly as we discussed why we should improve our teaching skills. Here are a few of our takeaways: 1) We must teach for understanding so that those we teach can gain a testimony of the gospel. Otherwise they are converted to the missionaries and not to the doctrine of Jesus Christ. 2) If we are feeling the Holy Ghost, then those we are teaching are feeling it. We need to bring this to their attention to help them learn to recognize the spirit. 3) If our teaching is ineffective, then it is like “fire without heat” (Elder Uchtdorf).
Elder Hansen then led a masterful discussion about being riveted on the Savior. Using the story of Peter walking on the water and then being overcome with fear, there were several key points that we were especially impressed with. 1) To be riveted on the Savior we must know him and desire to be like him. 2) If we do not see Christ in our leaders, or accept them as having been called by revelation, we will never desire to come to Him, to follow Him. 3) Jesus needed Peter to have this difficult experience in order for him to learn how to rescue others. We often see this as a failure on Peter’s part, but as the future president of the Church, he needed to learn this lesson firsthand about how to come unto Christ and be rescued. 4) Peter’s gasping for air and grasping for the hand of Jesus is the level of desire we must have if we truly want to come unto Him. We all left the zone council buoyed up by the spirit we felt and the desire to be better and do better.
Thursday afternoon we drove to Bo for several reasons. First was to get some much needed groceries and supplies, in particular butter, pickles, ketchup, Cadbury chocolate, paper towels, toilet paper and toothpaste. (Did you notice how we sneaked that Cadbury chocolate into the middle of that list?). We also picked up 5 cans of Afrigas as well as some items that the Moomey’s had brought back from Freetown for us.
We returned home in time to walk over to the Nyandeyama Branch where we met with the Branch Presidency about the roll-out of the literacy program. President Fomba from the District Presidency also joined us. We shared both the vision video as well as the story of Charles David. We laid out the plans for meeting with the Branch Council at 4:00 pm on Saturday and then the entire branch during the 2nd hour class on Sunday. It was a great meeting. Unfortunately Brother Koroma, the first counselor, arrived just in time for the closing prayer.
Friday I was back in Tongo with the zone leaders. It was another very good day of teaching. Moinya, Esther, Hannah, Steven, Ali, Joseph, Hannah (2), Sahr, Emmanuel, Agnes, Samuel, Sama and Augusta. How we wish we had missionaries who could serve there full-time. We believe the church would blossom in a short period of time, even more so than it has. And with the road as bad as it is right now, getting back and forth every week is hard. Despite the hardships of the road and the infrequent teaching opportunities, the next baptism is scheduled now for the 14 December. There is a lot to do between now and then to get everyone ready. We are hoping to have 6-8 people prepared by then.
Top left – boys “riding the tire” at the Kanu’s with their upgraded tires. Below that is Elder Hansen teaching Agnes and Emmanuel and below that is the teaching of Moinya and her family. To the right is a picture of Sahr who is part of Moinya’s family. Bottom left is the road to Tongo (a challenge right now.) Bottom right is Elder Hansen teaching Steven and Joseph. Above that picture is Elder Hansen teaching Sama and Samuel Kanu. Marie, Joseph and Sarah (already baptized are on the right side of the photo.)
On Friday evening we again visited with Eku. It was nearly 6:30 pm before we were able to get together, but it was such a wonderful visit. We showed him the closing remarks from this last conference from President Nelson. He loves to hear the prophet speak as much as we do. We have been talking to him about attending the historic conference next week where Kenema District will become Kenema Stake. Elder Dube from the Area Presidency and Elder Ahadje of the Seventy will accompany him. Eku has said that he will come both on Saturday and Sunday. Now that Ralph and Bernice are back he is hoping to speak to this this week. Bernice came by on Friday, but he was in a meeting away from OTC, so he missed her. He was hopeful she would come back on Saturday. We hope to find out soon.
On Saturday morning we held the monthly inservice meeting with the Literacy teachers. Simbeck, Kenema, Kpayama and Burma Branches were represented. We were missing Favour Tucker, our District Literacy specialist as she was in Bo visiting her mother. President Fomba was working with people in the village of Largo on a farming project and without the two of them, we did not feel it would be worthwhile to hold the coordination meeting, which generally precedes the inservice meeting. Our big topic for this meeting was the new Gospel Literacy ABC book which is now being prepared for piloting. The book helps the learners to learn the sounds of each of the letters through pictures and through a song. We printed the words of the song and gave each teacher copies of the new pictures with the sounds (e.g., the Angel Moroni to learn the LONG A sound). The beauty of this new book is that there is a gospel lesson with every single picture that will help to cement the memory of the sound. It is a brilliant piece of work! We are hoping we can get copies of the booklet made before we leave so that we can get the teachers using them. We believe this new method will be a game changer for beginning Gospel Literacy learners.
From there I traveled to the District Center for the young men activity mentioned above. As soon as I returned, LaDawn and I walked over Nyandeyama Branch for the meeting with the Branch Council. We got started about 20 minutes late, but still finished within two hours. We were so happy to have all four missionaries attend as without them we could not have done the roll out as several of the branch council leaders were either out of town or not feeling well. It was absolutely delightful to be with these wonderful men and women as we trained them how to facilitate a gospel literacy lesson.
On Sunday we attended Nyandeyama Branch in order to complete the roll-out of the Gospel Literacy program. The sacrament meeting was done by the Primary.
Before completing her mission, Sister Akwara (full-time missionary) had done some amazing work in helping to prepare them. Where she left off, Elder Jardine jumped in and picked it up. He played the piano for them and gently helped them to stay on track. Sister Sesay, the counselor in the Primary was also on the rostrum helping them as they came up and said their part. It was a tender and sweet sacrament meeting to see these children share their testimonies in both word and song. At the end there was some time left, so President Fomba spent a few minutes talking about missionary work, about teaching our children at home and about being reverent in sacrament meeting. All in all a great meeting.
Afterwards, the nearly 80 people were divided into 9 circles with between 8-10 in each circle. The facilitators were those we had trained the evening before and they really did a nice job. LaDawn and I couldn’t help but notice the excellent spirit that filled the chapel as the lessons were taught. It was obvious everyone in that room today was having a great experience.
Before closing the meeting, Brother Gbetuwia, himself a gospel learner, bore a sweet testimony of what he had learned that day about Gospel Literacy and teaching the gospel at home. After the meeting, we met with the facilitators and President Fomba and identified about 15 members of the branch who could benefit from the Gospel Literacy program. Sister Ada has already been called as a gospel literacy teacher and we will get with her this next week and train her on the methods and materials. Our hope is that the week after stake conference that they can begin with the class.
It has been a good, albeit busy week here in Kenema. We are getting close to finishing the roll-out of the Gospel Literacy in every single branch in the district. On Kailahun and Tongo remain. We continue to be involved in family history and additional training of new and existing leaders. We also serve with the missionaries whenever possible. It is such a joy for us to serve these amazing people as we continue to help them establish Zion, working hand in hand with them in this marvelous work. While this was a week of a big step forward for the young men in the district, it will pale in comparison with the expectations of next week, where Kenema District will finally become a stake of Zion!