During the month of December, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrates the birth of the Savior by encouraging people everywhere to “Light the World” with goodness. If you haven’t seen the new nativity video put out by the church, it is, in our opinion a “must watch”. Historically accurate and beautifully filmed, it will bring the spirit of the Christmas season into your heart. In addition, there is a calendar with ideas of ways to serve each day. Like many, we signed up to receive a daily email reminding us of something we might do that day. It immediately became apparent to us that there are many service opportunities that are simply inherent in the call of a senior missionary couple. No wonder we are so happy! There are also items on the calendar that are probably not a great idea in Sierra Leone, (e.g., giving blood).
As part of the Kenema Zone of missionaries, they undertook a service project last week over at OTC. This is the Opportunity Training Center where Eku Scotland is the director. Not long ago, we requested a set of crutches for Ishmael out in Tongo. When Dyor, Eku’s 20+ year old son took me in to select a pair, the room was such a mess that we had no idea how to find a matching pair. We suggested to Eku, that perhaps the missionaries could come one day and help them organize the room. He immediately took us up on the offer. So on Tuesday, December 10th, the Kenema missionaries (too far for Kailahun to come in) gathered at OTC and began the task of cleaning and organizing the storage room. It was a big project and included sorting not just through crutches, but significant amounts of used electronic equipment that had been kept in order to harvest the components that can be reused. But like for many of us, “out of sight – out of mind” seems to rule the day. That was certainly the case here. The missionaries worked diligently to pair the crutches and then tie them together as well as organize the rest of the room. In addition, 6 elders went with me up to the “Old OTC” location where some of the members still stay at night, and finished “brushing the weeds” around the compound.
Top left: Pulled out all of the crutches and matched them up by size and tied them together. Top right: all of the electronic waste waiting to be harvested for their parts. Middle left: After cleaning and organizing the room there was enough space to snap this picture. Below that picture is 4 of the 5 missionaries who “brushed” the grounds around old OTC. Middle right: Elder Sylvanus. Bottom left: Elder Tovomaro, a “rake master” who also helped brush the old OTC compound. Bottom right: Full picture of all the helpers and some of the “helped”.
Following the service project we drove into Bo and planned and practiced our own little surprise for the missionaries. Keying off the song “Sisters” as sung by Rosemary Clooney and Vera Allen from the movie “White Christmas”, the Moomey’s and we created a version we call “Couples”. If you are brave, you can watch it below. The revised words can be seen by clicking here.
We continued to try to “Light the World” by attending our last Family Home Evening lesson with Charles and his family. The lesson was on the restoration of the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods and how the priesthood blesses our lives. Charles did a nice job making sure his family understood the concepts. It is always good to be with them and I know they appreciated us coming. We will miss this sweet family. Their youngest is Abibatu. She is a sweet little girl that loves to tease us. Charles says she often says she wants to call us on his phone, but then “chickens” out at the last moment.
We brought one of the dolls that Ashley Ball made for the “girls of Sierra Leone”, but she was too afraid of us to accept it. So we handed it to her mom who was taking good care of it for her until she was brave enough to accept it on her own. How fun it has been to give these dolls to the young girls here in Kenema and Tongo. They have so appreciated the handmade toy that most have never experienced. Thank you Ashley for “Lighting the World” in your own special way as only you could do!
We are having a difficult time knowing when “Lighting the World” ends and “Weekly Highlights” begin. Rather than try and figure it out, we will start here with a few other highlights.
Wednesday morning was apartment checks. Since we are leaving, Dennis Samai will be doing these from here on out, so on Wednesday we went him to all of the apartments (except for Simbeck because we had to meet the City Council garbage truck to pick up the remaining trash at OTC from the project the prior day), but he did the apartment checks. At each apartment, Dennis would do a review with the elders, identifying areas they need to improve upon and praising them for those areas that bordered on perfection. At the end, he shared a scripture with them from D&C 58:26-28 about “being anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do[ing] many things of their own free will, and bring[ing] to pass much righteousness”. Before leaving, they shared a prayer together. Very nice!
Wednesday afternoon was filled with LaDawn baking “Texas Sheet Cakes” (what else would make sense?) for the zone conference the next day.
In the evening we went next door to Nyandeyama Branch and worked with Elder Jardine and Elder Kraemer as they helped Sister Jenneh Metzger and Sister Fatmata Jimmy. We had some trouble with getting Sister Metzger’s membership number, but with some help from President Moriba, the branch president, we finally got her set up and managed to enter her family information. By the time we were finished, it was pitch dark.
One other thing for Wednesday. I finally made it over to Gomez’s auto repair shop to get my oil and diesel fuel filter changed on the truck. They did a nice job in a short period of time. Jiffy Lube has nothing on these guys! I brought the oil, the filter and the diesel fuel filter. Total cost for the labor was $20. Probably a little high, but I really appreciated them jumping right on this right when I got there. Saved me some time and they did a nice job.
Thursday was our multizone conference in Bo. It was a great event. The training in the morning was good, but to be honest, everyone loves the afternoon the best. Good food, great fellowship, a group picture, a few skits and songs and then interviews with the mission president for the young elders and sisters. A glorious day all around. Too many pictures to post, so we made a short 5:23 minute video for those who are interested.
On Friday, it was back to Tongo with the Zone Leaders and this time President Jonathan Cobinah, our new Stake President came with us. Having just called a new branch presidency, as mentioned last week, now we needed to spend some time training them. Solomon Kongoley, John Charles and Bob Raymond Steven were all prompt and ready to learn. We started about 10:20 am with the training and finished about 12:30 pm. We simply cannot say enough about the strength, commitment and desire of the leaders in Tongo. They want the Church to grow and are willing to do whatever it takes to help it along.
Friday was special for me as I was authorized to conduct baptismal interviews for Moinya and Sahr starting at noon and then later for Augusta Steven. Usually these interviews are conducted by the district or zone leaders, but since the zone leaders taught them it would need to be a district leader, but we couldn’t figure out how to get one there on Friday, so the Assistants to the President authorized me to do it. It has been about 41 years since the last time I did a baptismal interview for a new convert. It was even sweeter than I remember. This is a day I will not soon forget.
After leaving the chapel, we went to the Steven’s home and taught Augusta. She is such a wonderful woman, desirous of learning everything she can about the church and the gospel. It has been a privilege getting to know her, her husband, and their young son Maada. What a joyous event it will be this coming Friday when Augusta, Agnes, Sahr and Moinya are all baptized!
On Saturday, I attended the first High Council meeting of the new Kenema Stake. The time was set for 11:00 am and that apparently made it difficult for 5 of the members to attend. The good news is that we had a quorum and were instructed well by the stake presidency. In order for the stake to progress at an accelerated pace, their is a need for the high council to lengthen their stride. With new members now in place, the assignments for the wards and branches as well as oversight of the different stake organizations were announced and reviewed. I can only see good things ahead for the stake with these 12 men working closely with the stake presidency to further the work of Zion. We are pleased that President Stanford Moijeuh will be responsible for Gospel Literacy and know he will work hard to keep it progressing. Brother John Martin Sesay will be responsible for missionary work and helping young men and young women prepare for and complete the process for submitting their missionary papers. Tobechi Inmpey has also been added to the council with responsibility for family history and technology in the stake. Divine Kanneh will be over the Sunday School. All in all it is an excellent group of leaders who will make a difference.
Saturday evening we were able to visit with Eku Scotland for about an hour. We showed him the new nativity video that the Church has put out (see the reference at the beginning of this post) and he thoroughly enjoyed it, as did we. We also showed him the short video on the “Light the World” campaign. He really loves all the Church does to bless the lives of so many throughout the world. It was a wonderful visit as we continue to be amazed at the goodness and spirituality of this good man. We again confirmed that he will be baptized on January 11, 2020 by Bishop Joseph Aruna. We will meet with him again next Saturday evening and hope to bring Elder Kraemer and Elder Jardine with us to introduce them to him.
On Sunday we attended the Kenema Central Ward. It takes some getting used to calling it a ward instead of a branch. We always love being with Bishop Komba and the members of the ward. After an excellent sacrament meeting with talks focused on Christmas touching on the life and mission of John the Baptist, the importance of Charity (a talk by Edwin Senesie who returned from his mission last week) and then Bishop Komba tied the importance of ministering into the spirit and feelings of Christmas. During the second hour, we attended the Gospel Literacy Class where Mustapha Kanneh is the teacher. Mustapha is a recent convert and is a very committed and conscientious young single adult.
We were impressed that there were 9 learners in attendance. I asked Mustapha if I could lead the lesson and he agreed. We started by showing them the new Gospel Literacy Alphabet song video to help them to get in the swing of the song and understand the melody. Before the class was over, we sang that song 3-4 times. They loved it.
After singing the song a couple of times, we then started with the lesson on the letter A. We talked about Angel Moroni’s visits to Joseph Smith, both in his home, at the fence and on the hillside. There was so much more we could have talked about, but tried to do just enough to help them remember the name of the angel and his role in showing Joseph where the plates were buried. We had them write the capital “A” and small “a” letters by tracing the ones on the page and then had them finish both lines and then do two more lines on their own. There were several that struggled with even making a small “a” at first, but we could see them progressing during the class. After writing the letters, we then had them draw something that started with the long “a” sound. Most chose to draw an apron, a couple drew an acorn and Sister Juliet’s husband drew the angel Moroni and Joseph Smith. Pretty spectacular.
At the close of the class we sang the song again. Our guard Charles was like an assistant teacher. Because I have been using this book with him, he was able to take a lead role in singing it. Charles’ wife Mamie attended which was wonderful as it has been a long time since she has felt comfortable attending a gospel literacy class. All in all, it was a magnificent class. One sister said it was the best literacy class they have ever had. And it wasn’t because of us, it was the content of the new learner book focusing on the sounds of each letter and giving them a song (audio), a picture (visual), a story (memory) and opportunity to draw and write (kinesthetic). The fact that everyone was singing and participating made it that much better. They absolutely loved it and we were inspired by their enthusiasm. We have felt since first seeing this new book that it was a breakthrough piece of work. We are now convinced even more. We are so excited about what this will mean across the stake in each of the wards and branches.
Later in the afternoon on Sunday, we went with Sister James and Sister Oppong to visit our friend Philip Bunduka. Philip was baptized earlier this year but then got busy with work and found himself tucked away in a village doing research where there was no branch of the Church. We had a wonderful visit with him and he assured us that he is “still with us” and that he knows he needs to start coming to church again. I told him I knew he had a testimony of the Book of Mormon, because he told us himself earlier that was case. We asked him if it was still true. He said it was. He told us that any reason he might give would only be an excuse and that he simply would start to come back. What joy we felt from this simple visit.
Two other quick mentions. We have been talking about the dolls that Ashley Ball made and shipped to us to share with the girls of Salone. She also shipped a small handmade quilt. Since first seeing this quilt, LaDawn has felt that Fatmata Mansaray in the Nyandeyama Branch could benefit from it the most. Fatmata suffers from Parkinson’s disease and shakes so badly that she needs help partaking of the sacrament. She is so thin that she is often cold, even when others around her are not. We felt that giving her this small lap quilt would be a great blessing in her life. After she left the market on Saturday, she came by our apartment where LaDawn presented the quilt to her. She was absolutely ecstatic. I wish we would have taken a video as she jumped up and down with joy.
We also placed two more dolls this week with Ahadje and Christiana over at OTC. Ahadje received hers on Tuesday during the service project and Christiana on Saturday evening. They were both so happy. What joy these dolls bring to us, the girls and Ashley, who made each one with such care and love. Thank you once again Ashley for your selfless service!
It has been another great week in the Kenema Stake. As our time draws to a close we realize just how much more work there is for us to do. We are doing our very best to put processes in place so that our absence will not slow the progress of the stake. This experience has been life changing and eternally significant. How we love to work hand in hand with the members, the leaders, the missionaries (and even the dolls!) as we establish Zion and help prepare the people of Sierra Leone for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ!