While there is still much to do before we finish our mission at the end of this month, the fact that Thanksgiving was last week did give us pause for reflection.

An aerial view of the heart of Kenema City

There are SOOOO many things for which we are grateful, not the least of which is the tremendous opportunity we have had to serve the people here in what is now the Kenema Stake as well as experience significant growth ourselves. We wanted Thanksgiving to be special this year, just like last year when the Moomey’s invited us to come to their home for a Thanksgiving feast. Several months ago when we were in Freetown, we found a frozen turkey at Freetown Mall (Mall may not be exactly the right word for it, but it is a food store and general merchandise outlet with a western flavor.) We bought it and have dutifully kept it frozen until last week (not always an easy task).

This year, we invited Elder and Sister Moomey to our apartment where we had a very nice Thanksgiving meal. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, French style green beans, cranberry sauce, apple pie, salad and gravy (the last four items provided by the Moomey’s.) It was a feast fit for kings and queens but eaten by pauper missionaries, grateful for the change of pace and delectable flavors of forgotten foods. We had a great meal and then enjoyed a game of “Cover Your Assets”. Sister Moomey cleaned our clock, but it was still fun. The afternoon ended too soon and the Moomey’s returned to Bo around 5:30 pm and by morning, Thanksgiving 2019 was already becoming a memory to cherish.

Thanksgiving Day with the Moomey’s

With Thanksgiving as our backdrop, we wondered how locals might respond to the question, “What they are you most grateful for?” We asked 10 people and here are their responses:

  1. One of our guards: I am grateful for all of the great things the Lord has done for me.
  2. Another one of our guards: I am thankful that today is the Sabbath Day.
  3. A counselor in a branch presidency: I am thankful for what He has done for me. He has done a lot.
  4. A branch president: I am thankful for the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
  5. A Muslim man we have befriended on our walks: I am thankful for God because he created me.
  6. Stranger #1 in front of the fire station: I am thankful for my life.
  7. Stranger #2 in front of the fire station: I am thankful for my education.
  8. Stranger #3 in front of the fire station: I am thankful for my son and all my children.
  9. Stranger #4 in front of the fire station:  I am thankful for myself and my strength to be able to do all things.
  10. A recent convert: I am thankful for my son for getting well. (He had ingested caustic soda and had to have a tube in his stomach which when removed left a hole. Only recently they were able to take him to Freetown and have the hole stitched closed)

We think it is noteworthy that people here who have very little in way of resources, comforts or means, are still quick to respond how grateful they are for their lives, their families and for their God. And for us, this sets the people of Salone apart from many people in much more prosperous and idyllic circumstances. The humility and gratitude that is naturally engrained into their culture and souls is refreshing and causes us to reflect on our own level of gratitude.

Weekly Highlights

This week there were four major highlights, and we have already discussed the first one – Thanksgiving.  The other three include 1) teaching in Tongo on Friday, 2) rolling out gospel literacy in Kailahun and 3) three visits over 7 days with Eku Scotland.  But first we want to mention four “less major” highlights.

On Monday morning, we drove the zone leaders (Elder Hansen and Elder Tenney) to Bo to catch a ride with Bishop Sandy to Freetown along with the other leaders in Bo to attend the Mission Leader Conference.   It was a quick trip there and back.  These Mission Leader Conferences are the heartbeat of the mission.  It is here the mission leaders council together about moving the work forward.  On Wednesday evening, the zone leaders returned from Freetown to Bo and the Moomey’s then drove them to Ahmadiyya Junction on the western end of Kenema where we met and delivered the missionaries back to their apartment. This allowed the Moomey’s to get back to Bo before night set in.  As we have mentioned before, it is no fun driving the road from Kenema to Bo due to the number of pedestrians on the side of the road, the vehicles with only one headlight (or none) and the number of motorcycles with no lights at all.  Fortunately they made it safely back to Bo and we delivered the zone leaders safely to their apartment.

LtoR – Joshua Laundeh, Brother Patrick Berewa, Edward Kemokai

Tuesday morning we headed back to Bo, this time with Joshua Laundeh and Edward Kemokai.  Two young men who have their mission calls.  Edward will be leaving this week and Joshua will be leaving mid-January.  They are both going to the Nigeria Enugu mission. We had not seen Brother Berewa, the Bo West Stake Patriarch, for quite some time, so it was a nice reunion.  Now that we are a stake here in Kenema, we will be getting our own patriarch in the coming months.  Those may be the last two blessings that he will provide to Kenema members.  Such a fine, fine man.  We will miss him.

Michel John and Mary

On Sunday afternoon, Mary Mansaray and Michel John Steven came to our apartment along with President Joseph Aruna and his first counselor Maxwell Foday.  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss Michel John and Mary traveling to Freetown together on Monday to get their passports.  They have both been working very diligently to earn enough money to get their passports so we were meeting to figure out the logistics, the timing and the plans.  Traveling together we felt they had a better chance of success than going separately.  While it ended up costing them more than it should have due to some “help” we requested from the man who is the head of immigration, it looks like they will be able to get their passports over two days and be back in Kenema by Tuesday evening.  This is always such a huge step for a person who is trying to go on a mission.  We are happy that soon Michel John and Mary will have this behind them and be able to press forward with the next steps.

A daughter (Ashley) of a good friend of ours (Kevin Ball) set out on an ambitious project to provide personally made dolls to the young girls here in Kenema.

From our blog she came to know that young girls here often have few if any toys and she wanted to do something about it. In the spirit of true charity, Ashley setoff on sewing and constructing 14 rag dolls, each one unique in its own way, and then sent them to us with a request to give them to young girls who would love to have a baby doll. In addition, she made a lap quilt that she also sent. So far we have given out 4 of these dolls. Grace, Susan, Janeth and Effie. The response is always the same. They are so excited to have a new doll. In many cases their very first. It doesn’t take long before they have a sling around their back with their baby in the sling. Thank you Ashley for your selfless service to these beautiful and amazing girls of Salone!

On to the major highlights.  On Saturday and then again on Sunday we drove to Kailahun to roll out the Gospel Literacy program.  The road continues to get better and now that the dry season is here, there is less mud to slog through.  We decided it was better to drive up and back both days then it would be to drive up and spend the night – especially since there are no great options for food in Kailahun. 

Training the branch council

On Saturday we left our apartment at 7:45 am, picked up President Morison who had come to Kenema the day before and then arrived in Kailahun about 9:40 am.  We dropped off a few things for the missionaries and were back at the church by 10:00 am.  We had a strong showing from the branch council and other members who had been invited to help out.  Counting the four missionaries we had 17 people who were trained.  The purpose of meeting with the branch council is threefold.  First, we want them to be inspired by and knowledgeable about the Gospel Literacy program so they can champion it in their branch.  Second, we train them how to conduct an effective lesson for their family using methods that we learn from “Teaching in the Savior’s Way”, the same method inherent in “Come Follow Me”.  Third, we teach them how to assess the learners in their circles to determine if they could benefit from an invitation to attend a Gospel Literacy class.  The whole process takes about 2 hours, and true to form, we were finished by 12:15 pm and back on the road to Kenema by 12:45 pm and home by 2:45 pm.

On Sunday, we arose earlier and were on the road by 6:35 am, arriving in Kailahun by 8:30 am, in fact, we were the first ones to the church building.  Sacrament meeting started a little late and it ended early.  Very unusual.  There were about 60 members in attendance.  We have been in Kailahun when there have been over 120 in attendance, so we were surprised when only 60 showed up.  The fast & testimony meeting was wonderful, albeit a bit short. 

above: Gospel Literacy circles; Elder and Sister Kunz with President Morison Nabieu and his family; LaDawn enjoying the giggles of Jesse Alma Moijeuh

The good news is that we started with the gospel literacy lesson early and had plenty of time to complete it before 11:00 am.  We arranged the members in 7 circles, so in most circles we had multiple trained facilitators, which was very helpful in keeping the lesson moving.  There was a wonderful spirit in the entire building as members learned about and discussed what it means to ponder on the word of God and why it is important.  At the end we did a quick debrief about the experience and it was not lost on them that they had just learned an effective way to teach their families at home.  Success!

Branch Council assessment

Following the debrief and closing prayer, we gathered all of the facilitators together and reviewed the members who the branch council thought could benefit from attending a Gospel Literacy class.  In total they had 6 beginners and 2 intermediates in Kailahun; and another 4 beginners in Dia.  While we had originally planned to train the new teachers on Saturday afternoon, we decided we would come back to Kailahun next week and do the training so that President Morison would have time to call a teacher in Dia to come into Kailahun for the training as well.  Like most branches, there is a real opportunity here to bless the lives of the members as well as expand the pool of potential investigators by helping those who cannot yet read or write have a path to literacy.

On Friday, I again drove Elder Hansen and Elder Tenney to Tongo to teach those who are preparing for baptism as well as those who are just now learning about the church for the first time.  On Friday, we taught 13 people in just under 6 hours.   Such a wonderful day.  We currently have a baptism scheduled for December 14th, and we are anticipating at least 3 more will be baptized.  Moiyna, Agnes and Sahr.  There are others who are close, but need more time.  Our experience has been that having baptisms on a regular basis becomes a real motivator for others who have maybe been lagging a bit behind in attending the missionary lessons.  We will see how it goes.  On Friday we taught:  Moinya, Sahr, Joseph, Esther, John, Hawa, Bockarie, Bundu, Agnes, Emmanuel, Sama, Sheku and Satiatu!

Eku reviewing the baptismal interview questions

The final highlight was the time we spent this week with Eku and members of his family.  On Monday night we met with him and LaDawn shared the baptismal interview questions with him.  He is so ready.  He has no issues with any of the questions, although his testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet is still developing.  We gave him the movie, “Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Restoration” in order to help him understand more about his life.  We were only with him about an hour, but it is always a special treat to spend time with this spiritual giant.  We discussed his baptismal date and agreed on the 14th of December at 3:00 pm. 

On Thursday, we stopped by for a moment and asked him if he wanted us to come see him on Friday.  He said, “Please do” and we agreed on 6 pm.  When we arrived on Friday evening, he was anxious.  He had had a discussion with his wife Martha and she was feeling very anxious herself about his own decision to be baptized.  The annual Jehovah Witnesses Convention is to be held in Bo at the end of December (Dec 27-29th) and his family has been saving and looking forward to going for some time now.  It is definitely a highlight of the year for members of their church.  Because JW’s will ostracize and disfellowship any member that studies with another faith or attends another church, there is a great fear about being social outcasts from members they have considered friends for many years.  This has understandably really hit Martha hard.  In fact, Eku asked if we could come back over and meet with him and his family on Sunday at 4:00 pm.

On Sunday when we arrived we could tell things were not good, especially with Martha.  She is usually happy to see us and very friendly and kind, but she was not in her regular joyful mood.  From her perspective her world had been pulled out from under her and she was trying to get her bearing.  Our hearts went out to her.  Martha was in the middle of making a large pan of ginger drink to sell (she puts it into used plastic bottles and plastic bags and then puts it in the freezer to make it cold) and so we sat with their family for almost an hour before Eku, Martha, Marion (oldest daughter) and Gloria (Eku’s daughter from an earlier union) moved to the OTC office and began a discussion about the dilemma.  Eku is quite resolute that he wants to be baptized.  Martha is quite resolute that if he does that it will split the family.  And that she and Marion will suffer.  Marion is trying to find a happy place between the two points of view.  Gloria has no skin in the game as she only recently came to stay with her father, although she agrees that a church that ostracizes one for leaving the faith seems wrong.  She stated, “Shouldn’t there be an increase in love to try to win them back rather than throwing them out the door?”  We spent nearly 2.5 hours with them Sunday evening, and feel that some progress was made, but more is needed.  If Marion or Martha does not report Eku to the JW Elders for associating with the Latter-day Saints, then they will also be punished for not doing something to stop him.  We told all of them that this decision was theirs and not ours and we will not push one way or the other.  Eku has received a prompting from heaven and he feels responsible to act upon it.  Neither Martha or Marion have had that same prompting because they have not put the effort into knowing for themselves that Eku has.  And the conundrum is that if they want to research it for themselves in order to contrast and compare and they are discovered by the JW’s as looking into another church, the decision will be made for them as they will be also be ostracized and disfellowshipped.  They are in a difficult place as a family and we know it.  But we also know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church here upon the earth.  It is authorized by God himself to administer the ordinances of the gospel and to teach doctrine that if followed will land us in the Celestial Kingdom in the presence of God the Father.  So we will not push or prod, but we will stand as witnesses that these things are true and will bring more joy and happiness in this life and the next than any other path.  For those who may read this blog, we invite you to join us in praying for this amazing family.

Gratitude is such an amazing gift. The more of it we have, the more joy we experience and the more we are able to help others feel of that same joy. We know something about gratitude. We are grateful for our family, our friends, our leaders. We are grateful for the opportunity to serve and experience a new culture. We are grateful to get to know the amazing people who live here in the Kenema stake. For us, it is Thanksgiving every day as we work hand in hand with the members, the leaders and the missionaries to further build the Kenema Stake of Zion.

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