There is a circle of life in the human family. We are born as babies and then grow old (hopefully) before leaving mortality. When a new baby is born, an old person dies. The winter turns to spring and the summer to fall. Flowers blossom and wither away. Wheat is planted, cultivated and harvested. A mission follows a similar cycle. New missionaries come and old missionaries leave. The mission is constantly regenerating because new blood is pumped into the districts and zones as young missionaries arrive to take up the banner as the old missionaries depart. The new ones bring enthusiasm and vigor to the work and the seasoned, experienced and hopefully more humble, much wiser, missionaries return to their homes to begin a productive life. The cycle repeats itself over and over. Goodbyes are hard and hello’s are uncomfortable, but within the cycle there is growth from both joy and pain; and the circle of life continues.
This week Elder Michael and Sister Karren Boone arrived from Idaho to begin their second full-time mission as a couple. Their first was a 23 month mission to North Carolina where they served faithfully as MLS (Member Leader Support) missionaries. After being home for less than a year, they were once again finding their way back into full-time service, this time in Sierra Leone. They initially met as young missionaries on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Shiprock, New Mexico where they were serving at the same time. They are faithful and eager to now contribute to building the Church here in the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission. They will be replacing the Moomey’s in Bo where Sister Boone will work with Sister Harper to fill Sister Moomey’s role as the mission’s nurse . They will fill this role until a nurse or doctor can be found and called to the mission. Elder Boone will work with members, missionaries (and their apartments), and leaders. Both will help each other in their respective assignments. We love their faith and willingness to take on these significant and challenging roles.
We were fortunate this week to spend some time with the Boone’s as they were with us Thursday, Friday and half of Saturday as part of their orientation to the mission and their assignment. Since they will be in Bo, they will be the means for the elders and sisters here in Kenema to get diesel for their generators and Afrigas for their cook stoves. They will also be the focal point for Dennis Samai, the man who will oversee the care and maintenance of the missionary apartments in Kenema. We are also hoping they may have some time to help keep literacy moving by attending the monthly coordination and teacher inservice meetings on the third Saturday of each month. Time will tell.
On Thursday, with the Boone’s here, we traveled to Kailahun. Elder Wagner was transferred and Elder Sabao was assigned to train a new missionary. Elder Gallano (pronounced Galiano) from the Philippines is his new companion (how did we manage to not even take a picture of them?) They will be great together. He came in late Wednesday evening with Elder Chase from Ogden, Utah who is now a companion to Elder Sylvanus in the Dauda Town Ward. We traveled to Bo Wednesday late afternoon to pick them both up and bring them to Kenema. Because traveling to Kailahun at night would be no fun, we had Elder Gallano stay overnight at the IDA apartment and picked him up the next morning at 10:00 am as we headed to Kailahun.
While in Kailahun we worked with the missionaries to get a Samsung tablet from the mission setup with a new password. We were really struggling to get it to charge enough to start it up. Finally, after about an hour, it was able to get enough charge to turn on so I change the wifi password to match the new password on the mifi. This is an additional layer of protection for the missionaries so that they only use the mifi with an authorized tablet.
While in Kailahun we also visited the government hospital there with the Branch President, Morison Nabieu. We visited with the hospital administrator (not a doctor) about doing mission physicals, including X-rays ($3.00). We also talked to the lab supervisor about the cost of a hemoglobin blood test ($2.50) and a urinalysis ($2.50) that is required. It appears they are capable of doing everything needed. Unfortunately, the dentist that they used to have in Kailahun has left, so the dental check will still require a trip to Kenema or Bo. Sister Francess Salia is a young woman preparing for a mission and we had a chance to spend a few moments with her as well.
While there we also visited the home known as the Kailahun Slaughter house. We wrote about this in our blog post on War! earlier this year. It remains as a grim reminder of the perils of war as hundreds of civilians were slaughtered by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels in this single location. We will spare you the pictures of the rooms with blood stains still on the walls and just post this one of the house itself. The woman whose husband owns the home (he has now passed) was kind enough to allow us to take a peek as she lives just next door. A memorable and reflective visit.
On Friday we traveled to Tongo where three people were baptized. Moinya Pewa, Agnes Lahai and Augusta Steven. We were hoping that young Sahr (Moinya’s neighbor) would also be baptized, but his auntie that he lives with wants him to wait until he is 18. We are hoping the Lord will soften her heart as this is one of the finest young men we have met. He deserves the blessings of the gospel, but the Church will never baptize a minor against the will of the parent or guardian.
We arrived right at noon and drove first to John Charles’ home, but were told that everyone was at the chapel, so we went there. Right now the market is running every Friday instead of every other Friday, so things were crazy around the chapel. So much so that we could only get to within about 50 yards. Nevertheless, we loaded up the swimming pool and the pump and Elder Boone, Bockarie Konuwa, Sahr Lahai and Peter Kamanda drove out to the baptism spot and set everything up and filled the pool while LaDawn and Sister Boone stayed at the chapel and taught Messie Senesie and Augusta Steven how to use the new Gospel Literacy ABC book.
We had planned to have the baptism at 3:00 pm, but by 2:00 pm we had the pool setup and ready to go. I made a couple of trips back and forth from the chapel to transport people to the baptism (Gert Van Der Westhuizen’s – Messie’s boss at the diamond mine – lake home) and by 2:30 pm we were underway. With President Kongoley out of town, John Charles conducted the baptism. With a little help, Sahr Lahai was able to baptize his granddaughter Agnes, Bockarie Konuwa baptized Moinya and Bob Raymond Steven baptized his wife Augusta. It was a marvelous day in a beautiful location.
After the baptism we packed everything up, took a couple of trips back and forth to return people closer to their homes and return the pool back to the chapel and then setoff back for home. We dropped Johnson and his brother Mohamed (Johnson is a member from Burma Branch and the missionaries are teaching Mohamed) off at their home in Lalehun just outside Tongo. Johnson asked us to come and meet his father who is the village chief. His name is P.S. Johnson and his wife is Bendu. Such lovely people! Johnson has been trying to get the missionaries to teach his family, but it has been difficult because there is generally not enough time each Friday to teach those who are closest in to Tongo. Their time will come!
Just one more thing before we leave Tongo. Sister Messie was so kind as to arrange for, and then present a gift to Sister Kunz and me from the people of Tongo. The gift was a traditional Chief and Spouse attire. It is the Chief who wear this type of clothing. The dress for the woman is an indication is that she is the Speaker for the Chief and in his absence she will do his work. When they are together she is the spokesman for the Chief. They also had embroidered on the front of the clothing “Kunz’s Tongo”. We are very appreciative for such a gift as we know the sacrifice that went into it. We have often said that Tongo is our village, and now we are official!
On Saturday morning we did one more event with the Boone’s before taking them back to the Moomey’s in Bo. This was the monthly Literacy meetings. At 10:00 am, President Stanford Moijeuh and Favour Tucker joined us and the Boone’s as we gave President Moijeuh a brief introduction to the state of Gospel Literacy in the stake. As of now, we have 72 gospel learners and 17 teachers. We are grateful that President Moijeuh will be shepherding the program as he is eager to see it continue in the stake. Sister Tucker is wonderful, although probably feeling a bit overwhelmed. She will need some help, but she too is committed and eager to see this continue.
At 11:00 am, the teachers arrived and before we finished we had all but two wards represented. We started with a teacher council as we discussed what makes a Gospel Literacy program successful. We asked Mustapha Kanneh what he had done in Kenema Ward to grow the class from 2 to 9 in a very short time. From his answer, we concluded three things: 1) consistency in holding the class 2) learners having a great experience because the teacher is prepared and 3) gospel literacy is now during 2nd hour — word of mouth does the rest. Thanks Mustapha for being such a great example! The second item on the agenda was the introduction of Book 0 (Gospel Literacy ABCs) and the singing of the new song. Putting the sounds of the alphabet to music is a big help for people to know and learn these sounds. By 12:05 pm we were finished. Two very productive and effective meetings!
Even though the Boone’s will be working in Bo and not in Kenema, we have tried to give them a glimpse of life in Kenema, Kailahun and Tongo for an MLS missionary. It is so wonderful to see their excitement and enthusiasm for this new mission. They will make a great contribution during their time here.
Monday was transfer day and that meant taking Elder Kennelly, Elder Daniel, Elder Hansen and Elder Isiguzo to Bo to be delivered to their new areas by the mission driver. This has been an exceptional group of missionaries that will be greatly missed. All have been in Kenema for at least three months and some longer and all have made significant contributions to the growth of the kingdom. We have watched them grow spiritually as they have worked hard to make a difference. We are grateful for their service in Kenema and the work they will now do in their new assignments.
On Tuesday morning, we headed to Kailahun to complete the gospel literacy implementation by training the teachers who have been called. It was a foggy drive to Kailahun, but a pleasant one. Upon arrival we dropped 3 cans of Afrigas off at the missionary apartment and then drove to the church were we met with President Morison, Lucinda Musa and Mohamed Massaquoi and trained them on both the new Gospel ABC book as well as Book 1.
We also left both of them with a refurbished DVD player and a DVD with the Gospel Literacy songs on them as well as the Vision video and all of the success stories that were produced earlier this year. We hope it will be enough for them to get started and help the gospel learners in Kailhaun and Dia learn to read. We were especially impressed that President Morison sat in on the training. He feels that if it is going to be successful in his branch, then he needs to understand it so that he can nurture and guide the ongoing efforts that will ultimately strengthen the members in the branch.
Wednesday morning we took Philip Braima to Bo to receive his patriarchal blessing from Brother Berewa. These are two fine men that have much in common in terms of personality, church experience, age and even stature. It was clear that they connected immediately and enjoyed being together. We also took Michael John Steven with us so that he could get his dental papers completed. Dr. Conteh at the Government Hospital was very accommodating and within 30 minutes he was done.
We were also able to place two more of the dolls that Ashley Ball sent us for the “girls of Sierra Leone”. The first two were given to friends of Komba that lives across the road from us.
Effie and Mary on the left and Justina Gandi on the right
Effie and Mary were both very appreciative and grateful for the dolls. If we had 10 more dolls we could have given them out as well, as a group of pikins gathered outside our gate as we called these two girls over. We ended up bringing them inside our gate to present the dolls just to get away from the “mob”. When we picked up Philip Braima at his daughter’s home in Simbeck, we were able to present his granddaughter, Justina Gandi with a doll. She is a fun little girl who always comes and sits with us whenever we attend the Simbeck Branch. We were so happy to present this doll to her, and she was happy to receive it.
We then returned a second time to Bo on Wednesday in order to pick up Elder Chase and Elder Gallano who came from Freetown with Bishop Sandy, one of the mission drivers. Two very impressive missionaries. As mentioned earlier, we dropped Elder Chase off at Dauda Town to be with Elder Sylvanus, his trainer. Elder Gallano we took to IDA where he stayed the night and we picked him up the next morning to take him to Kailahun. One of benefits of Elder Gallano serving in Kailahun in Elder Abad, a fellow Filipino. It is unusual to have two Filipino’s in the same apartment, so for both of them it will be nice, especially at Christmas. No one loves Christmas as much as the wonderful people of the Philippines.
Since we have already covered Thursday, Friday and half of Saturday, we will jump to Saturday afternoon after returning from delivering the Boone’s to Bo. There was a nice Christmas event planned by the stake that was to start at 4:00 pm, but we were not able to get there until 4:45. We were late because we went to the Rogers street apartment in Bo and picked up the freezer that was not working in anticipation of them receiving a new freezer powered by their solar installation. This was the freezer that we converted from DC to AC, but never really worked well with the solar inverter. This caused us to get back to Kenema a bit later than we had planned. We arrived at the stake center at 4:45 pm and the program had just started. Generally we are on time and then wait for meetings or events to start. Even though it was not our intent to be late, it was nice to walk in and have the program underway.
The highlight of the event (in our opinion) was the stake choir singing with the high school brass and percussion band. It was so fun, I couldn’t help but record and make a short video of the band and a few other presentations that we really enjoyed. You can view this below.
Near the end of the program, we took Elder Jardine and Elder Kraemer and traveled to OTC to meeting with Eku Scotland. We wanted to introduce them to him since they will be the ones shepherding him to baptism after we are gone. We had a nice visit. Turns out Elder Kraemer had already had a 1:1 conversation with Eku. On the day of the service project, Elder Kraemer brought a bluetooth speaker and was playing church music while the zone worked on organizing the storage space. Sometime during the project, the speaker disappeared. A young man who is a member of OTC, reported that he saw a boy take it and walk off with it. Eku knew immediately that the thief was this very person and within minutes he confessed. Eku then reprimanded him and the boy gave the speaker back to Elder Kraemer. We have often felt that Eku is more like a Bishop to the people at OTC than he is the director of a training school.
On Sunday, we attended the Dauda Town Ward. Numbers were scarce. There were only 25 people in attendance when the meeting started and 50 by the time it ended. This time of year, many people from the villages come into Kenema and many people in Kenema travel to their home village. The sacrament meeting was focused on missionary work. We were especially pleased with the talk given by Mary Mansaray, a young woman we have been working with to get on a mission. Mary’s reading and speaking skills are still in development. The talk was an opportunity for her to practice speaking in front of people in good English. She did a great job! Hawa Kamara is a friend that lives near her in Kakajama, and it was obvious she had helped Mary prepare as we could see her anxiously nodding and smiling as Mary spoke.
After church we invited everyone outside where we took a drone shot with everyone holding hands in a big circle. Truly a hand in hand photo. We love the members of the Dauda Town Ward and were grateful to be with them on our very last Sunday here.
On Sunday evening we had all of the missionaries over to watch the First Presidency Christmas devotional. We started shortly after 5:10 pm with the Light the World nativity video and then around 5:30 pm we started the First Presidency devotional. We never get tired of seeing that nativity video and each time we watch it, the impact to us is greater. We wonder how the Church will ever be able to do anything better than that for Christmas. It warms our hearts and brings tears to our eyes each time we see the wise men kneel before this young boy and recognize him as the Savior of all Mankind.
This has been an extremely busy week for us as we begin to wrap up our activities. Transfer week with four trips to Bo, two to Kailahun and one to Tongo. Literacy teacher trainings along with a coordination and in-service meeting. Introduction of the Boone’s to Kenema and a baptism in Tongo. A stake Christmas celebration and a First Presidency devotional. A visit to the Patriarch in Bo and another one to Dr. Conteh, the dentist at Bo Government Hospital.
It has been a glorious week as we have felt the joy of serving others and the spiritual thrill of being lifted ourselves. How we love the gospel of Jesus Christ AND the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is so easy to see the difference in the lives of worthy, faithful members of the church compared to others who have not yet found the peace that the gospel brings. Our joy is full as we serve hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm in this great work of establishing Zion in preparation for the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. At this Christmas Season, we declare our witness that he is real, that He lives, and that He is our Savior and Redeemer.