Last week Soeur Black and I were in a store in the downtown area rounding up things for the elders apartment. I was just standing there kind of watching people come and go while Soeur Black did the serious shopping. About that time a YOVO (white) lady came up and took a good look at my badge. Then she asked me if I was really a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I assured her I was. Once in a while this happens and someone thinks you’re a Jehovah’s Witness or something so I was really surprised when she almost gave me a big hug. She said she was a member of the church from Lyon in France and had been living here for three months looking for the church and had not been able to find anything. She had about decided it did not exist in Benin. She has been a member for a long time and her parents have their call to go to Switzerland and work in the temple there in January. She also knew Christian and Paola really well so we had a good visit for as long as we had time. She was leaving on the plane that evening to go to Lyon for some medical treatment and then will be back about the 1st of November. Her husband is an electrical engineer on the power system here in Benin and in Togo and Ghana. He is not a member but she says he is friendly towards the Church. We are looking forward to getting to know them better. For any who might read this that might be better acquainted with Lyon, her name is Miriam (I can’t find my note with her last name). I started to wonder why she just didn’t get on the Internet and get the information on the Church in Benin so I tried. Information is pretty hard to find. So far as any directories or chapel address are concerned there are none in Benin so I wrote a few e-mails trying to get us on the Church map. Hope it works.
It probably doesn’t do much good to state that this week was a busy one. Every week is busy and I am sure that is no different than yours at home. Monday and Tuesday were the usual preparations for the visit of President Ayekoue – going to the store, cleaning the house, and Soeur Black doing the usual fretting about what to fix for food. Sister Ayekoue fell and broke her ankle so she and our little Happy did not come. That took some of the pressure off from Soeur Black but not all. On Wednesday morning I picked up President Ayekoue at the airport, and we went directly to an apartment we have located in Akpakpa. Our search for an apartment for the Elders out there has led us to a home right on the main road which would make a wonderful chapel on the bottom floor and a fine elders apartment upstairs. So far everyone is impressed and in favor of renting the property. Now if we can just get Accra to move a little on approval and getting us a check it will be great but that may be a challenge. We have all the paperwork ready for the branch division but it will take probably three months to get it approved, so we have the happy task of trying to convince the church bureaucracy that we need a building for a branch that doesn’t yet exist. You figure our chances. The nice thing is that it is right on the main road going to Lagos Nigeria where a nice sign would be viewed by many thousands of people each day and within walking distance of all the current members out there. We will have to wait and see.
Wednesday afternoon we had a wonderful barbecued chicken and baked potato dinner after which we had the zone conference here in our apartment. Thursday was missionary interviews in the morning then member day with a training in the afternoon for branch leadership, which I missed. It seems like I still have a problem with the 24 hour time frame. I keep getting confused with 16:30 being 6:30 instead of 4:30 so I showed up about the time the meeting ended. It was okay. I probably didn’t need to be there anyway. Just a little embarrassing. On Friday I took President Ayekoue to the Togo border and put him in the keeping of the Gillis’ while Soeur Black stayed here and got a running start on the cake baking process for the triple wedding on Saturday – to be talked about later.
As we start to get better and better acquainted with the members, their problems and testimonies, we have some really good experiences and learn a lot. Friday evening I didn’t feel all that well and had no sooner gotten the car put away and into the house and taken my shoes off when the doorbell rang. A small delegation of Relief Society Sisters with a young man, Revelon, as their spokesman was at the door. They had volunteered to help Sister Lokossou prepare the food for the wedding and had showed up at the church when the food was being prepared at the Lokossou house. Since they had no way to get there and didn’t know where the Lokossou’s lived, they requested me to drive them out, which I did and all was well. I am not sure why Revelon was there except that he and his sister Christelle always show up whenever anything happens. Revelon is 18 but looks more like 16 or so. Christelle is 14. They are about the same size and look a lot alike. The two seem to be inseparable. You seldom see one without the other. Since there was just the three of us coming back, I started to visit with them a little. I asked them if they did not live out in that area somewhere and they said they did but several miles further out. Since Lokossou’s live probably 4 miles away, I was a little surprised and asked them how they got to Church. They said they come by taxi if they have any money and if not they walk. I asked how long it takes them to walk and they said they could do it in 3 hours if they hurry or if not it takes them 4 hours – ONE WAY. They were not complaining or anything. Just very matter of fact that sometimes they walked. Then I asked about their parents. They said their Dad used to go to Church when they lived closer but then he got sick and lost his job so he got discouraged and quit coming. Their mom goes to another church near their home. They said their parents tried to talk them out of continuing to come to church but they said “we love the church and we are not going to quit coming”. So on a given Sunday, unless they have money for a taxi which they rarely do, they leave their home at least an hour before daylight to begin the 3 hour walk. Revelon is the one I told you about a few weeks ago that usually gives the lesson in the young men’s class even though he is a young man himself. Next Sunday we have an appointment to take them home after church and meet their parents. They can’t be too bad if they are raising kids like Revelon and Christelle. If we can get the branch established in Menontin, it will cut at least an hour or so off their walk. That should help them some.
Back to the marriages on Saturday. I better let Soeur Black talk about that. I turned out to be the errand runner, and she was chief cake maker and decorator. Last Sunday when everyone in the branch was talking about wedding preparations, I (now it is Soeur Black talking) was asked to make the cakes and found out that two weddings had turned into three! I have baked many cakes in my lifetime but never a wedding cake so after an SOS call to Suzie, the planning process began, along with the frustration of trying to find all of the ingredients. I felt very fortunate to find everything we needed, including powdered sugar. That was the first time I saw any in the stores so bought all 10 boxes they had on the self. They wanted chocolate cake which was OK with me until I started to frost the things and then little brown specks of cake got in the frosting. One of the elders said it just looked like little pieces of chocolate chips! We bought glass platters for each cake which looked very nice. I finally got all three frosted, kind of, and decorated with white silk flowers, and they looked somewhat OK, but certainly not up to Blanding standards.
We were assured that the wedding would begin at 11:00 at the mayor’s office and they would be at the church by 12:00 so we had the cakes over there by about 11:30. Well, the timeframe was just an obscure wish in someone’s mind as they did not arrive at the church until about 1:30 and then they all went in the chapel for talks from the branch president and friends. That was all just fine except for the cakes. Even with dowels in them (actually sawed off chop sticks) one cake began to lean like the leaning tower of Pisa and the frosting on all of them began to slide off as it was an unusually hot and humid day as it rained the day before. Soon you could see some brown edge lines, but what amazed me was that everyone was raving about them! After the talks everyone, at least 150, was served a great meal prepared by the Relief Society. That too was all just fine except for the cakes. By this time, the electricity was out so there weren’t even fans moving the air around, but the cakes were all still standing. One piece had dislodged from the cake and was laying on the silk flowers around the bottom so I turned the cake around and stuck it in with a broken plastic spoon. Definitely not up to Blanding standards but functional, nevertheless.
The worst part was the cutting of the cakes. Soeur Black had envisioned a very orderly cutting procedure into very uniform pieces that would feed everyone attending. After the happy couples did the ceremonial cutting and feeding, she moved in with a couple of helpers to begin serving. Unfortunately, the helpers did not have the same vision, and with a hundred and fifty people pretty much swarming the cake table, Soeur Black’s vision did not last long. The feeding frenzy began! One sister was cutting the cake every which direction, big pieces, little pieces, triangle pieces, square pieces and whatever. Cake was going in every direction. Anyway, after all was over and the frosting cleaned up off the floor, the cakes received rave reviews. Now everyone wants to know how to make chocolate cake. The first obstacle for most is going to be an oven. One sure thing is that from now on, every marriage in the branch is not going to be complete without the ceremonial chocolate cake. Maybe we can improve the serving process.
So this week’s challenge to those of you who work in wards at home. Tell the Relief Society that they have to serve a dinner to 150 people with no tables, no stove, no kitchen, no kitchen tools other than what you bring from home, and tell your youth they have to get up and start walking to church an hour before daylight (5:00AM) on Sunday. All that is just another day in Africa.