The Southam’s apartment which we will eventually inherit in June is a really nice apartment with 3 large bedrooms and 3 baths. It is a little cleaner and nicer than ours and also has Internet. It is located just a block or so away from the chapel. Right now we are grateful for what we have. We hear rumor that President Dill is going to come over next week with some wheels for us which will make it a lot easier. Now if we can just figure out how to get around town without being lost. Right now that is quite a challenge and we are glad for the Southams to Chauffeur us. The other challenge is the literally thousands of motorbikes that travel in hordes everywhere. You would be amazed at what you can put on the back of a motorbike. They haul everything from the rest of the family to building materials. There are basically no traffic rules so you just go and get by as best you can. Elder Southam says it is at least 100% better now than a year ago but I have a hard time to imagine that. I guess the government here is very progressive and has been, with the help of the USA, doing a lot of road building, putting in traffic lights and in other ways attempting to better the way of life. That is good but there is a long way to go.
Well today we really started getting acquainted with the Church in Benin. This morning the Southams came over and picked us up about 10:00 to go to their apartment for a District Meeting. There we met all the elders, took some pictures and enjoyed the meeting. Of the eight elders, 1 is from Canada, one is from Cote d’Ivorie, a French speaking country the other side of Ghana, and the other 6 or from the US. All of them speak pretty good French and the meeting was held in French. It appears also that they are also very hard working elders. This afternoon I went with a couple of them to purchase a cell phone. They really know how to get around and get things done. This afternoon we also gave piano lessons to 5 of the Branch members. How is that for being out of our comfort zone? Fortunately, we knew just a little more than the branch members. I told Mom we will probably never get closer to the cutting edge of the church than we are right here. Almost no one has been a member more than a year or two. Some only a few months or weeks. Anything they lack in experience is more than made up for in enthusiasm and friendliness. The African people are extremely jovial and friendly by nature. In the church it is even more so. They just have a lot of fun. The Church through a donors generosity has purchased a lot of quite nice keyboards to help people in developing areas learn to play. The lessons have been developed to start very basic and teach someone without any knowledge of music how to play the hymns. We actually have 28 of the keyboards in the Branch and several of the members are doing quite well. One Sister, Carol, is doing really well. She helped us teach. Actually she did most of the teaching and Charlotte and I just watched and offered encouragement. Carol has a mission call and will be the first sister missionary going out from the Branch. She is going to the Cote d’Ivorie mission in May.
Finding people to teach is not a problem here. Most everyone wants to listen to the gospel. The problem becomes to determine who will be serious members and help to build the church and who just wants to have their ears tickled. Right now, the missionaries only work in the area located within a mile of the chapel. They can teach someone outside that area but only if they have the transportation means to get to Church and are willing to do so. They look for people who really want to learn and who have potential as church leaders which, of course, is desperately lacking. I think at this point that leadership training will probably become our biggest focus. The Elders are already talking to the Branch President about having Mom and I teach a teacher training course because many of the teachers just read the lesson each Sunday. A couple of quick experiences of the day to illustrate the missionary environment we are in. I mentioned that we have a guard who lives in a little house at the gate coming into our compound and watches the coming and going of everyone just to be sure all is well. It is quite comforting to have him there. This morning I went out to ask where to put the garbage and get better acquainted. His name is Saraphine. When he saw my badge he immediately offered that he was Christian and loved to read the bible but didn’t have one to read. I promised I would work on getting him one. Actually we have an extra but since we are still suffering a little culture shock, I didn’t want to give it to him until I thought about it a little. I want to be sure he isn’t in the Bible selling business on the side. I took the opportunity to ask him about religion in general. He offered that he was Christian, believed in God, prayed etc. I told him I had heard that there were a lot of Muslim people in Benin also. He told me that there were and they went to their mosque’s but they were good people and got along well with Christians. Everyone gets along just fine he said as compared to some other places where there are a lot of problems. Then I asked about Voodoo and got a quite different reaction. “You need to stay away from those people. They eat people,” he said. “There will be a body there one night and the next day it is gone.” Now I don’t know if Saraphine is an expert on the subject, but that is what he says. I understand from the elders that they do ritually offer chickens as sacrifices. Ouidah, which is just a few miles west of here is the birthplace of VooDooism. However the elders say that they would rather work with Voodoo people than Muslims. I guess some Muslims are not necessarily adverse to killing family members they consider to be infidels and our church can fit that category. Interesting place this Benin.
Also it appears that the rule to be in by dark is overstated somewhat. The Elders say that applies more in Togo. Togo is a dictatorship and less stable politically that Benin, Here the streets are pretty safe. A lot of people are out in the evening because it is so hot during the day and stealing is frowned upon. In fact, we understand that it is not impossible that you can get a hand cut off for stealing. Nevertheless, locks seem to be the order of the day to keep everyone honest. We were walking back to the Southam’s apartment from the chapel (only about 100 yards or so) last night just after dark. When we got to the apartment, a man came up and started talking to Sister Southam. She couldn’t understand him so she turned him over to me. Seems as though he had been contacted by the Elders and invited to Church but he was out of town last weekend so he didn’t come. He had taken the trouble to find the church on his own and then just happened to run across us. He just wanted to apologize for not being there and promised to come next Sunday if the elders would stop by and teach him some more. I don’t know if it was prompted by his desired to learn about the church, but he has also moved so that he lives close to the chapel. I think we will see the church grow really fast here. We just hope that with the help of the Lord we can keep it on the right track.