We have been thinking about how we might end this very last post of our Sierra Leone Freetown Mission experience. There is no easy way to say goodbye and there is certainly no easy way to express a small portion of what this experience has meant for us. We have learned much about ourselves, each other and the amazing people of the Kenema Stake as well as the missionaries, leaders, and couples of the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission. We have had highs, higher than we thought possible, and we have had lows that we never thought would darken our doorway. We have learned with new hearts what it means to love someone who is different from us and we have experienced the joy of seeing what happens when the Master touches a lost soul and awakens them from a deep sleep. We desire to echo Ammon’s words as recorded in Alma 26:11-12:
“[We] do not boast in [our] own strength, nor in [our] own wisdom; but behold, [our] joy is full, yea, [our] heart[s] [are] brim with joy, and [we] will rejoice in [our] God. Yea, [we] know that [we are] nothing; as to [our] strength [we are] weak; therefore [we] will not boast of [ourselves], but [we] will boast of [our] God, for in his strength [we] can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.”
Together we sat down and compiled a list of 20 things that have been learned or reinforced to us over the last 18 months.
- Joy is not determined by location, living conditions or economic status
- Training and teaching leaders and members strengthen the church – not understanding how the church operates slows progress
- First generation members are laying the foundation for the strength that will come in the second and third generations
- Pride and anger do not respect neither the wealthy nor the poor
- Everyone loves to be greeted with a smile – a hello goes a long way and this too is a form of ministering
- It takes courage to do what the Lord expects us to do
- Leadership can be taught and it can be learned – not everyone has the opportunity to have a role model as they grow up
- Love is the key to all happiness – love of God, love of others and love of self.
- Repentance is the natural result of loving God and desiring to be like Him
- There is no priesthood power in sin and no amount of justification can change this
- Culture and tradition can be Satan’s greatest tools – and they are hard to leave behind – peer pressure plays a significant role and it requires great courage to break these bonds (which is what they are)
- If we want to teach our children and grandchildren to do hard things, we have to be willing to do hard things
- Miracles are common for those with faith in Jesus Christ
- Priesthood power is real
- Heavenly Father loves all of his children
- Skin color is a test for those who are different than the man or woman standing next to them
- Human nature knows neither country nor continental boundaries
- We are all children of God
- At some level, every single person seeks the blessings available thru the gospel of Jesus Christ, but most do not know where to find them
- Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven
On Monday evening, we were invited to the Sesay home out in Samai town for a Family Home Evening. All of the Sesay children were in attendance except for Samuel who is currently serving a mission and Mosiah who was traveling. Michael, Alpha, John Martin and Zainab were all there.
Above left, the beautiful environment around the Sesay home. Above right, Having Family Home evening at the Sesay home.
It is Michael (Aminata), John Martin (Rachel) and Zainab (Musa) who are married. Also present were Abdul and Isatu, the parents of this amazing family. A couple of years back, Brother Abdul Sesay had a stroke. He was a very well known and popular lecturer at the college, but the stroke has taken its toll. He is extremely well cared for by his family, but his gift of speech and mobility have been significantly curtailed. We had a wonderful lesson led by Musa Genda, a counselor in the Kpayama Bishopric and the husband to Zainab. Elder Woffinden and Elder Paongo also joined us. The topic was love and we had a powerful discussion on not only what love is, but how it applies in our everyday lives. The home evening was conducted by Benjamin, the 13 year old son of Michael and Aminata. He did a great job.
On Tuesday morning, we went out to the stake center where LaDawn and Favour Tucker trained Alice Ansumana from Nyandeyama and Josephine Coomber from IDA on the new Gospel Literacy ABC book. While they were training I was working with Tobechi Imnpey trying to find a way to broadcast conference once we are gone. We wanted to make sure Tobechi had the equipment and the know-how to make it work. We tried to download the “Periscope” app on the old iPad mini that he has been using for Family History work, but it would not work as the iPad is too old. Just getting that far was difficult as the iPad was locked with a password that only the Office Elders had. When we finally managed to get it, we were so disappointed to find out the tablet was too old to work. I called Juliette Massaquoi, the acting FM Manager and talked to her about purchasing inexpensive android tablets for each of the stakes in order to be able to broadcast. As I was finishing that call, Tobechi was continuing to think about how this might be done. He asked if we could try streaming from Facebook. I was concerned because I thought it would be very public, but he assured me that it can be private. We decided to give it a try and low and behold, it actually worked! Now we don’t know what the quality of the stream might be over a 2 hour period, but until we get a more stable solution, it is definitely an option. Way to go Tobechi!
After arriving home, we got a text asking for help to get some malaria medication for Elder Nathan Blatter who had been diagnosed with Malaria. Elder Pasikala, his companion, had texted us the prescription but when we got to the Pharmacy, the Pharmacist immediately recognized that the list was incomplete. After calling Elder Pasikala, he texted the remainder and we made the purchase and drove to the hospital. The cost of all the medications, syringes, IV drip, soap, rubber gloves and medication totaled $25. While here that is a lot of money, it is a real bargain in general for these life saving materials and drugs.
When we got to the hospital, it was clear that Elder Blatter was definitely suffering from malaria. The test was not yet back, but it was obvious as he had all of the classic symptoms. Dehydration, headache, nausea, fever and flu-like pain throughout his body. I asked Elder Pasikala if he had had a blessing he said yes. I kept feeling the need to give him another blessing so I asked if they had anointed him with the oil the first time, and he said no. Unfortunately my vial was empty and neither elder had oil with them. I told them I would come back later and bring oil with me. They immediately started him on an IV and when I went back later in the evening to check on him and to give him a blessing with consecrated oil, he was already doing better. We were grateful that we were now headed in the right direction and he was improving. We want to give a shout out to the medical staff and doctor at the hospital. In our view they did everything exactly right. Right tests, right diagnosis, right drugs, right timing and right level of care. Perhaps it was the angels that his family had called down on his behalf, I don’t know, but execution was flawless. Thank you Kenema Government Hospital.
Later in the afternoon, Mary Mansaray from Dauda Town came to our home with her friend Hawa Kamara from Kakajama. Hawa has been working with Mary to improve her reading skills. We reviewed the gospel literacy ABC book and went over each of the letters and the sounds. Our intent was to teach Hawa how to help Mary. We will meet with them again on Friday. Mary has everything done for her mission except her dental checkup, but until her reading improves she will not be able to submit her papers.
Wednesday was Christmas and the entire day was focused on helping missionaries, especially those who needed an internet and a device to be able to video call their parents. At 8:30 am, I drove over to the hospital to check on Elder Blatter and to bring Elder Pasikala my iPad and my iPhone hotspot so he could call his family in Tonga. It was fun sitting with Elder Blatter and talking with him as Elder Pasikala spoke to his family from the room across the hall. Elder Paongo, also from Tonga was at our home when I left, speaking with his family. Around 1 pm, I needed to find an open pharmacy as Rodyna was closed and the hospital had asked for some additional malaria medication to give Elder Blatter before releasing him. With some divine help, I found an open pharmacy, purchased the needed anti-malarial drug – artesunate – and took it to the hospital where the nurses administered it before releasing him to go home. I drove them to their apartment and made it back by home by 1:30 pm just in time to start receiving missionaries at 2 pm – which continued until the last call finished around 8 pm.
Facetime, Skype, Facebook, Google Hangouts. Here at the Kunz Internet Cafe we can do it all! It is so wonderful having the missionaries here to call home. They so look forward to speaking to to their families and that enthusiasm is contagious. While there were 11 missionaries that called home using video chat on Wednesday, there were another 9 who called their home African country using a voice call as their families do not have access to the internet. The four in Kailahun used a mission Samsung Table to successfully call home. All in all we think everyone enjoyed being together while they waited (we got a bit behind due to technical issues causing some overlap) and they enjoyed even more connecting face to face with their families.
On Thursday morning, we went for walk, talking 4 missionary pamphlets and 4 Book of Mormons to give to some of the people we have made friends with over the last 18 months as we walk each week. We were grateful that we found all four of them in the places where we see them on our walks. Jeneh, Dukulay and a man we call “washer man” (he is usually washing clothes when we come by – a job usually done by the women) were the first three on our route. They were all very gracious and grateful that we would think enough of them to share this precious gift. Our final stop was in the market at the stall of Bendu Toma and 3 of her 4 children. We have mentioned before that we see this little family as an extension of our own, and LaDawn often calls the kids our “African Grandchildren”. Bendu lost her older sister last week and has been in deep mourning. We gave her a Plan of Salvation pamphlet and a Book of Mormon and then took a snap together. Such a wonderful family! We also exchanged WhatsApp numbers so we can keep in touch with them.
After returning from our walk and getting cleaned up, LaDawn continued with the arduous task of washing, packing, cleaning and organizing while I ran errands. Our biggest need was to fill up the gerry cans with diesel for the missionaries who were running low on fuel for their generators.
No sooner had I left the apartment than I received a call from LaDawn. Our guard, Lucinda, had notified her that the right rear tire on the truck was nearly flat. When I stopped and looked, sure enough. I noticed it was low the day before but now it was nearly flat. I made sure my next stop was the tire repair shop. A couple of the boys starting arguing over who was going to help me and I told them they needed to work together as a team. They settled down and did just that. They found two nails in my tire and I told them these nails were “bad boys”. They responded that they are their “friends!” Meaning they bring them business. It all depends upon one’s perspective. I always get a kick out of going to the tire shop as everything there is done manually, except the air compressor of course – well sort of… We put together a short 20 second video of today’s visit.
As I was leaving the tire shop, I received a text from Elder Pasikala, so I quickly called him and headed back to the government hospital. I needed to exchange one of the medications and get the remainder of the artesunate for today and tomorrow’s follow up treatments. I went back to Rodyna and exchanged the medication, but they were out of artesunate. He called the other big pharmacy in town and they were out as well (making my experience of finding some on Christmas day even more of a miracle). He suggested I try the government hospital pharmacy. So I went back to the “ward” where Elder Blatter was taking an IV and spoke to the nurses. It just so happened that Sister Musa, the YW President from Dauda Town (she is a nurse who works in Maternity) was there talking to her colleagues. She took me to the “pharmacy” which really was a dispensary. The guy there said they do not sell medications, only issue them on doctors orders. He also said that if the patient had malaria then the medication was free. Sister Musa went back to the nurses who directed him to Ibrahim, the medical professional overseeing Elder Blatter’s care and got the single page chart showing he had malaria. She then went to the maternity ward where they store the artesunate and the other few medications that they have on hand and we were able to get 4 doses for no cost. She also agreed to arrange to have the final dose picked up in the morning. At that moment she was my angel. She said she was planning on going to the market, but felt like she needed to go to the hospital instead. Interesting that no one has ever mentioned that malaria medication is free for those who have been diagnosed with the illness, as we have always had to purchase our own for the missionaries. As Sister Moomey said, we can afford to do that and perhaps it helps someone else who cannot. We were just grateful that when we really needed it, we were able to get some. I later learned that the entire Blatter family was fasting that day for Elder Blatter. It is no wonder that Sister Musa felt inspired to come to where we needed her. The power of fasting and prayer and the power of faith. It is real!
From the hospital it was over to the Total station where we filled up thirteen 20 litre gerry cans of diesel as well as the truck for the drive to Freetown on Saturday. We wanted to make sure that every available Gerry Can was filled and returned to the missionaries before we left.
At 5:45 pm we left the apartment and drove over to OTC where we met with Eku and his family.
It was an opportunity to say goodbye and also to have Joseph Aruna come over and meet the rest of the family so they will get to know him as well. Both Marion (the oldest daughter) and Eku said some very nice things about the friendship we have developed with them. One of the hardest parts about leaving Kenema is no longer being able to interact with Eku on a regular basis. He is an extremely fine man, one who is loved by Heavenly Father because despite his hardships and trials, he has never given into his disability. He is a role model not only for the disabled, but also to anyone who ever believed that they were limited by their own physical capabilities. If we allow the God of Heaven into our lives, he can make so much more of us than we can without him. Eku is living proof of this. We were also grateful that Bishop Aruna could come and join us. Knowing that men like Joseph Aruna will be here to help him integrate into the Church and help his family to progress makes it easier to leave. We will have a grand reunion one day on the other side of the veil if not before. We can foresee the day when the Scotland family will be sealed in the Sierra Leone Freetown Temple. Our prayer is that we will be able to be there!
Friday was a very busy day, start to finish. You know how it is, your last day before a big trip and you have to pack and get the house cleaned and make sure everything is done so that in your absence everything will keep right on flowing….
We started the day by taking the diesel fuel we had procured the day before along with Afrigas containers we were storing to Simbeck, Dauda Town and Airfield apartments. We also picked up a new (thicker) mosquito net for Elder Blatter and took that to Dauda Town and sprayed it with Permethrin so the mosquitos will quit biting him through the net. He reported that during the night if his arm or knee touched the net, the mosquitos were biting him through it. Unfortunately , the Elders had very little spray left so that required an additional trip to bring them more, which we gladly did. We also visited with the Charles David family for a few minutes and took them a few items of food and clothing that we decided not to take home. We love this little family and know of their goodness and humility. Mamie was especially sad to see us go, but we did manage this shot with LaDawn with a very minor smile on her lips.
After we returned to our apartment, Alice Ansumana came over at our invitation. We had something we wanted to give to her. For several weeks now we have been writing in this blog about the young girls that we have given the dolls to that were made by Ashley Ball. She sent 14 and we had given all but one away. As we contemplated who to give the last one to, Alice’s name came to each of us independently.
We knew that the spirit had directed us to Alice Ansumana. In October, Alice and Moses lost their baby girl at birth. This was heartbreaking to both of them. When we did the literacy implementation in their branch, during the part where everyone is to draw a picture about how they will study the gospel at home, Alice drew a picture of herself, her husband and another daughter. We wanted to both honor the memory of the girl who was lost and this future daughter by presenting this last doll to Alice so she could give it to her future daughter. The next day, Alice sent a text to LaDawn, again expressing appreciation for the doll and indicating that when they do have a daughter, she wants to name her Ashley. For us, we think the significance of this story is that Alice came to know that Heavenly Father had not forgotten her. It was clearly a prompting to both of us to give her the doll and this gave Alice some degree of comfort that the God of the universe knows her and loves her. To think that Ashley, half a world away, would make a doll that would send this message to Alice is more than magnificent, it is miraculous.
In the afternoon, Mary Mansaray again came over and we spent some time working on the sounds of the letters. One of the problems she is having is that those who are helping her are not sure of all of the sounds either, so she will now have to teach them! She is making progress and we are confident that if she keeps working hard she will make it.
At 4:00 pm, we arrived at the stake center for a leader – missionary celebration dinner. President Cobinah and his counselors did a great job putting on a very nice event. All of the bishops and branch presidents were there except for two (Simbeck and Nyandeyama). We had a delicious meal and LaDawn and I were given another opportunity to share our thoughts and testimonies along with several priesthood leaders, full-time missionaries and Bishop Jusu’s wife from Hangha Road Ward. One of the highlights was President Cobinah inviting missionaries to share a musical number. Elder Paongo and Elder Pasikala shared a Tongan song, Elder Obinna shared his version of “I hope they call me on a mission” and then Sister James and Sister Oppong started singing “Called to Serve”.
One by one the other missionaries (including us) joined them. By the time the hymn was finished, every full-time missionary was standing in front of the ward and stake leaders singing this anthem of missionary work. What a glorious moment it was! For dinner we had couscous, rice, a beef kabob, a small pasta salad and a nice pice of fried chicken. It was delicious. Afterwords we took some pictures of the young full-time missionaries and the priesthood leaders and their wives. We told President Cobinah it was the perfect picture for the front of their 2019 Stake History.
Afterwards we came home and finished packing, cleaning, washing and adding to this blog post since we knew we needed to finish it before leaving Sierra Leone on Sunday.
Saturday morning we were again up early, finishing up the remnants of packing and cleaning. It took us longer than we had anticipated. Our plan was to leave at 7:30 am, but it was just before 8:00 am before we pulled away. Bishop Samai, his wife Mah Sombo and daughter Susan came by one last time to see us off. With the work he has done and will yet do with all of the missionary apartments, he has been and will be a great blessing to the missionaries and the mission – just as he has been a great blessing to us over the last 3 months.
The reason we wanted to leave Kenema so early was to attend a baptism in Bo. Elder and Sister Moomey introduced Jorge Khoury to the gospel and on Saturday he was baptized by Elder Moomey. What a perfect end to an amazing mission. We were so happy to be there and participate in this sacred and special day. An additional bonus was being able to again see Elder Conner Hansen who had recently served in Kenema. It was a sweet reunion indeed.
We arrived in Freetown at 3 pm and after getting settled and few loose ends tied up with Elder and Sister Pack (receipts, reimbursements, missionary paperwork, etc.), we printed our boarding passes and then all of the couples went to dinner at the Radison. President Harper had been in Sierra Rutile and Moyamba and joined us at the restaurant as soon as he arrived back. It has been a wonderful experience working with these talented senior missionaries and mission president (we missed you Sister Harper) who have given of themselves and their time to make the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission a safe, productive, and positive experience for the missionaries. We will miss them greatly and look forward to future reunions with all of them.
Upon our arrival back to the mission home, we were chagrined to see that the tire that we had fixed in Kenema was again flat.
We are very grateful that it waited until we got here to give up the ghost. Today we attended sacrament meeting at the Dwazak Ward where the talks were focused on loving and serving each other. We cannot think of a better subject to end 2019 and begin 2020. We will be eating lunch together as couples and then leave for the ferry at 12:45 pm. Our flight leaves this evening from Lungi just after 5 pm. For the next 12 days we will on a safari in Kenya and Tanzania with the Moomey’s and their daughter-in-laws parents, the Kohlert’s. We are looking forward to this once and a lifetime experience. We will be back in Houston on January 9th.
What a marvelous and life changing experience this has been. We are so grateful we said “Yes!” to the call from the Lord to come to Sierra Leone and serve. We have developed deep and eternal relationships with so many. Our hearts are caught between wanting to return to our family and continuing our association with the wonderful people in Kenema Stake and the committed missionaries and leaders of the Freetown Mission. Truly we have walked hand in hand with them and with each other as we have served and been served. What a glorious blessing it has been to be a full-time missionary. To the many who have looked in on our blog and have offered prayers in our behalf, we have felt your prayers and are grateful that you have taken the time to share this glorious experience with us. To the people of Sierra Leone we say, WE LOVE YOU, and may “God be with you ’till we meet again”. Our hope is that the dedication of the Sierra Leone Temple will bring us back together once more. Let’s all begin those preparations now.