“Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved” – Matthew 9:17.
This was counsel from Elder Edward Dube, a General Authority Seventy and first counselor in the Africa West Area Presidency. The occasion was the Saturday afternoon adult session of the Kenema District, which on Sunday became the 3,431st stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are now 7 stakes in Sierra Leone, 6 of which have been organized in the last two years. The Freetown Stake was the first in Sierra Leone and was organized on December 2, 2012 by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. November 24, 2019 was definitely a banner day for the Saints in the Kenema District, and for us as well.
Once again, using Periscope, we transmitted the conference to Kailahun. The Facilities Management Group authorized the purchase of two Orange Flybox routers which provided 4G LTE speeds at the Stake Center and much stronger 3G service in Kailahun. We had a plan to improve the sound as well, but the adapter cord we needed that we had to order from Amazon did not arrive in time. Still, Kailahun said the transmission was “perfect” – with the exception of the sound from time to time.
The counsel regarding new wine in new bottles is especially relevant at the creation of a new stake. The Kenema District was organized 7 years ago. Over that time much has changed as the Church has continued to grow in the Kenema District. Jonathan Cobinah has served as the District President since its inception and has done a masterful job of managing the growth of the church and increasing the spirituality of the members. Due to his length of service, it was unclear to many as to whether or not he would continue to serve as the new stake president. The good news is that no one had to worry about that decision except Elder Dube and Elder Ahadje, an area authority seventy who was Elder Dube’s companion on this assignment. And since they take their inspiration from the God of heaven, the decision was His, not theirs.
As the new stake presidency was announced on Sunday morning, the question was answered.
The Lord recalled President Cobinah as the new stake president. As for his counselors, Paul Aruna was selected as his first counselor (he had been serving as the second counselor in the District Presidency) and Stanford Moijeuh, a member of the “high” council, was called to serve as the second counselor. These are good men who have worked hard in the Lord’s kingdom and will now have an opportunity to do even more. The biggest difference between a district and a stake is the reporting line and the level of authority granted to the district president. The district president reports to the mission president. That means the mission does a lot of work to support the district. For example, currently, the mission does all of the work to arrange for departing missionaries, including obtaining visas and arranging transportation. This will be a big task for someone in the new stake to take on, as most families will not have the means or the access to the internet to make the required arrangements. Other big changes is that the stake presidency can now sign temple recommends and will be responsible for disciplinary councils. We think the latter may be the most difficult, as the process of receiving forgiveness for significant sins is still viewed as punishment rather than love. But it is a maturing that the stake, the leaders and the members will develop with time. The Church here is still very much like it was in 1837 in Kirtland, but progressing at a more rapid rate. As the Church grows here, the country will be better. As the country is better and the economy improves, the members will also be better. A reciprocating system that is beginning to work.
In addition to being made a stake, there were a number of other highlights over the weekend as well. A large group of members from Tongo again made the trip in the back of an ambulance.
As part of the formation of the Kenema Stake, the Tongo Home Group has now been approved to become a branch. This brought great joy to the members who live there as well as to entire stake as they have seen the church grow in an area that many here in Kenema know very well. For us it was a highlight of our mission to see this important milestone achieved. Solomon Kongoley has been serving as the Group Leader since the Home Group was organized earlier this year. His priesthood strength has been incredibly important and the key to the success of the Church there. We recently learned that he has been transferred with his job to Moyamba where he will be in charge of the lab at the government hospital. We rejoice in his success and wish him the best, but recognize he will be sorely missed in Tongo. The good news is that he has done an amazing job training a number of men who can replace him without missing a beat.
Another big highlight was the attendance of Eku Scotland at the conference Saturday afternoon and then again on Sunday. We were able to introduce him to Grace and Rebecca and couldn’t help but snap this picture of Eku holding little Grace. We have arranged to meet with him this evening after we return to Kenema from taking the zone leaders to Bo. He said he thoroughly enjoyed the conference and has lots of follow-up questions he wants to discuss.
Another highlight was the opportunity for both of us to bear our testimonies at the invitation of Elder Dube. While the spirit had already forewarned us that this would happen, the moment was even sweeter than we had imagined. Standing in front of this large congregation, all we could feel was love and joy for people we have come to know and love. And that brings us full circle to the concept of needing new wine for this new bottle called a stake. Our encouragement and hope is that everyone will follow the counsel of this new presidency. That they will begin to do more home centered gospel learning, fulfill their callings to their very best ability, be filled with the Holy Ghost because of their obedience to the commandments of God and make repentance and forgiveness a central theme in their lives. With a new stake it is time to do away with old traditions and open a brighter and more blessed future through faith, repentance, obedience and love.
This post would not be complete without a summary of 20 topics shared by the speakers: 1) Importance of becoming more home centered gospel learners 2) The importance of ministering visits and ministering interviews 3) Daily repentance as counseled by President Nelson 4) Invitation to find one person in the next week with whom to share the gospel 5) The Temple is the garner spoken of in the scriptures wherein we are to be gathered. There is safety in the temple and the covenants we make 6) The unwritten order of things – we must pay attention to these as well 7) The importance of keeping the Sabbath Day holy 8) Engaging in family history work as we prepare for the temple coming to Sierra Leone 9) An invitation to find joy in partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life 10) More on repentance. 11) Following the covenant path 12) Living worthy to receive temple ordinances 13) Living the law of chastity 14) Being riveted on Jesus Christ 15) The importance of having the Holy Ghost active in our lives 16) The role of a stake as a refuge from the storm 17) The importance of not being found asleep in the work of salvation 18) Listening to the voice of the Lord 19) Invitation to read and study the Book of Mormon every single day 20) The importance of acting upon the impressions of the Spirit.
On Monday we left for Tokeh Beach. This is probably the nicest Beach Resort in Sierra Leone and is truly like walking out of Africa and into the Caribbean. President and Sister Harper hosted a couples retreat for the senior missionary couples in the mission. Those of you who read this blog may remember that we were there once before with the Clawson’s earlier this year. You can read about that in the post titled “Paradise“.
This time around we were able to be there nearly two full days, which for us made it worthwhile since it is between a 4-5 hour drive one way. This time we had swimming suits so we enjoyed the pool and I took a dip in the ocean a couple of times. We also had a delightful time taking an early morning walk on the beach and enjoyed time together visiting as couples. Many of us played a short game of “Cover Your Assets“, which is a very simple game, with some pretty significant strategy implications. It was fun. The food at Tokeh Beach is expensive and average at best. The dish we enjoyed most was their Kung Pao Chicken. Not very spicy, but it was good. Their African breakfast was also good. Omelet, mushrooms, sausage (sort of), potatoes with onions and what we would consider pork and beans (without the pork). Sort of a spin on an English Breakfast. I am guessing the African part was the peppe in the omelet? In any case it was so nice being away for a couple of days, enjoying the company of President and Sister Harper and the other couples, getting in the ocean and sitting on a sandy beach. So uncommon here in Sierra Leone that it is worth writing about! Unfortunately President and Sister Harper were not able to come until Tuesday as they were caring for three missionaries who needed to return early to the U.S. due to medical issues. This caused us to miss a devotional he had planned to share as well as counsel together about mission issues, but we still so enjoyed the time together.
On Thursday, we attended the Kenema South District council where Elder Daniel is the District Leader. The Zone Leaders also joined as did Sister Musangani, one of the Sister Training Leaders (her companion was with the Simbeck Sisters in a different District council). Since there was no one around to open the branch building, we invited everyone here to our apartment for the meeting. The main discussion of the council was about teaching effectively. There were some inspired questions asked: How do we come unto Christ? What does it mean to be of one mind and of one heart? How do we achieve this oneness? How can we use the scriptures to teach more effectively? A few of the comments we really liked: “The covenant path is the same for everyone.” “When we are praying for our companion, we are helping him or her just as we are helping those we are teaching.” “In order to draw nearer to the Savior, we must have the Spirit with us.” “Sometimes we focus too much on the mind and not enough upon the heart.” “Understanding is in the heart.” “Scriptures help those we are teaching understand what they are feeling, not just what they are learning.”
In the afternoon, Juliette Massaquoi who is the acting Facilities Manager (FM) for the Church here in Sierra Leone came to Kenema. One of her purposes was to provide the funds to purchase two Orange Flybox Routers to be used to transmit the conference to Kailahun. We had gone over to Orange earlier in the afternoon and started the process, which took them about two hours to complete. After starting the process, we left and returned home and then later picked them up on my way to the district center to meet Juliette so I could give her the receipts and she could reimburse the purchase we had made. Now that we had a Flybox for Kailahun, we would need to get it to them, that meant a trip to the 12th largest city in Sierra Leone the following day.
We left Kenema just after 7 am and arrived in Kailahun two hours later. We had brought a can of Afrigas for the Elders as well as a new mosquito net for Elder Abad. From there we went over to the chapel with Elder Wagner and Elder Sabao. Since President Morison would be coming to Kenema for the conference (as one of the branch presidents he would be interviewed by the visiting authorities), we needed someone in Kailahun who could handle the details of setting up the TV and connecting into the broadcast and communicate back with us if problems should they occur. Elder Wagner was elected by the apartment and he did a great job both Saturday and Sunday. We had also brought a new battery cable terminal, as the belief was that it was the reason the branch generator would not start. But even after replacing the old connector with the new one, the generator was completely frozen (and it wasn’t even cold outside!)
President Morison called a generator guy that he has used in the past and he indicated initially that the problem was with the starter. But after he tore everything apart to get to the starter, he realized the problem was not the starter at all. It was the piston and rod that were completely broken.
(Left) Broken piston and rod. (Right) Strong missionaries lifting a 350 pound generator into the back of the truck
We had planned on being in Kailahun about an hour to drop off the Flybox and walk through the connecting process, but that turned into 5 hours. Worried that the generator guy would not be able to fix the branch generator, we drove the truck back to the missionary apartment, unhooked the missionaries’ generator and brought it over to the branch building. Before doing that, we needed the missionaries to fill their water tank from the pump in their well. That took a bit over an hour. By the time we got the missionaries’ generator up and running at the branch and everything tested, it was 1:00pm. The good news is that everything worked well once we had a working generator. As for the branch generator, there were no available new parts in Kailahun to repair it. Fortunately, the generator guy had a used piston and rod that he said would work. Once we figured out what it would cost to repair everything, I called Juliette and received her approval and the repair was started (the repair comes out of FM’s budget). By the time the repair was underway and money given to Francis Musa (first counselor in the branch presidency) to pay the repair guy when he finished, it was 2 pm and we were headed back to Kenema. This time with President and Sister Morison Nabieu and Jamie Moijeuh, the wife of Stanford Moijeuh who would in the coming days be called into the new stake presidency (she is from Kailahun).
A couple of hours after returning to Kenema, President and Sister Harper along with Elder Dube and Elder Ahadje arrived at our apartment for dinner. The Harpers had been in Bo during the afternoon for a training session with zone leaders and district leaders. Elder Dube and Elder Ahadje had been interviewing priesthood leaders all afternoon as they were determining who the Lord would have serve as the new stake president. We had ordered barbecue chicken and fries from Food Master Restaurant and LaDawn made a nice salad to go along with it. It was a delightful evening. The original plan was that we would all have dinner again on Saturday night, but plans changed and Elder Dube and Elder Ahadje had dinner with the new stake presidency instead. Our regret is that we did not snap a picture with them on Friday.
After the conference sessions on Saturday, we came back to our apartment and President and Sister Harper led a discussion with the zone leaders and district leaders centered around improving missionary exchanges.
The meeting lasted nearly 3 hours, but it was inspiring to see these young elders, hungry for information and counsel that could help them be more effective leaders vigorously taking notes and asking great questions about how to be better and do better as young leaders. How grateful we are to be associated with the leaders and missionaries in the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission.
Just as Elder Dube counseled members of the new Kenema Stake not to put new wine in old bottles, there is also personal application in this scripture. The Lord expects each of us to constantly improve ourselves each day as we invite the Holy Ghost to refine and sanctify us.
This requires us to repent each day as we find small (or large) traces of impropriety, sin, bad judgment, recklessness, carelessness, lightmindedness or any other action or words that draw us away from the Savior. As we “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him” (see Colossians 3:10) we must make sure that our commitment to be better remains with us. That our newness of spirit matches a newness of life and a commitment to be better and better and better. Our experiences on this mission has been an opportunity to do just this. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new” (2 For 5:17). We are grateful for our own newness of spirit and are grateful for old things that pass away as we continue to strive to be more like the Savior. What joy is ours as we continue to walk hand in hand with the leaders, the members and the missionaries here in the new Kenema Stake!