They say a change is as good as a rest so Elder Schweiger and Samutamu should be rested up by now as Monday was the big moving day to Akpakpa. They have been working hard enough that I am sure they are not rested but are simply charged up with enthusiasm to be working in Akpakpa. We rented a moving truck for two hours so had to really hustle to get the job done. The elders were somewhat ready so we began the loading process. (Mayflower movers in the US would not have been impressed with the loose stuff but since we were going across town, it was OK.) After the first few jaunts down the stairs, the driver announced that the price had not been negotiated and he needed 30,000 cfas. That was double what the owner had quoted so we had to get that straightened out by starting to unload the truck and telling him if it was that much we would see him later. That got his attention so we settled on 20,000 cfas. He was simply trying to grease his own palms.
The apartment that the elders were moving out of has narrow terrible stairs which have a turn, so getting the fridge, bookcases and armoire down was quite difficult. There is no platform for the stairs, just those angled steps that go from normal on one side to non-existent on the other. The other elders from the apartment by us were there to help and it took all of us. Of course, the day was hot a humid so it did not take long for everyone to work up a super sweat. Elder Schweiger was the “pack mule” of the crew as he could just hoist something on his back and the job was done both leaving and arriving at the new apartment in Akpakpa. His shirt did not have one dry square inch on it. After unloading in Akpakpa, we came back to the original apartment for the cleaning process. In Benin you have to leave your rentals in “perfect” condition. Seems like you can never rent them in that condition but you have to leave them that way, so after a thorough cleaning, we had to hire someone to paint. It will be interesting to see if the landlord will give the deposit back or will find other things that are not “perfect.”
We are excited about the new apartment as the elders live upstairs and the downstairs will be the first meeting place for the new Akpakpa branch as soon as this one is divided. The owners painted everything inside and out and it looks real nice. The main room downstairs will hold about 75 people so it will do for awhile before something bigger is needed. There are several smaller rooms that can be used for classrooms. The location is right on a main street and is very visible and easy to access for the members. There are 228 members in the Gbedjromede branch so it will really help to have three branches instead of one and eliminate some of the overcrowding we have now in the branch building.
On Monday we finished moving early enough to have a home evening with the Briga family. Charles is the Elders Quorum President but his wife is not a member although she comes quite often. They have two cute little girls, Maelle and Mela. We gave them our standard “You are a child of God” lesson and sang the song, then played a game and had refreshments of chocolate cup cakes Soeur Black had made for the occasion. We always enjoy that, and I think our program of having a home evening with a different family every week is showing results. We are getting more and more requests for our services. Maybe it is just the cupcakes. This week it will be a little different. Brother Lokossou, the first counselor in the Branch, who is about our same age, is a retired banker and a really great guy. His wife is not a member. She is a business woman who goes to China quite often and imports things to sell in the market place. Ever since the weddings a few weeks ago, Brother Lokossou has been after Sister Black to teach his wife how to bake a chocolate cake. We have invited them over to our house this Monday and will do that and probably play a game or two and just enjoy the evening. It will be fun.
The Findlays were also here finishing up the preliminary work for the measles campaign last week. They collected all of the printed materials and delivered them to the Ministry of Health. They will be distributed all over Benin this week, and the actual campaign will start on Monday November 17. Each volunteer receives a badge to wear when they distribute flyers in their neighborhoods. About 30 or 40 of the branch members volunteered to be “neighborhood distributors” and will spend some time this week getting the flyers distributed around town. The flyers are very professional-looking and hopefully will motivate parents to get their children vaccinated. The local people call measles the disease of the wind as it spreads so quickly and is so contagious. I think that is a good project for the church to be involved with as it saves so many young lives here in Africa. We were able to view the TV spot using the branch children and mothers before Findlays went to Cote d Ivoire and it turned out so good. The TV production crew put it to some catchy music along with the spoken words so it should attract the attention of the viewers. They also have a spot on the radio for those who have no TV. For those with neither TV nor radio, the word spreads quickly around here.
The Relief Society sisters have been learning how to crochet. Here they call it l’ activite de tricotage. I am so thrilled that they are beginning to see the importance of associating one with another to learn together and build friendships. There was a fireside for the elders quorum on Saturday so I shared the tricotage time with the sisters. The newcomers were learning the simple chain stitch, some were to the potholder stage and one was making baby booties. We were all having a great time!
Today the branch experienced the first ever Africa-wide Stake Conference. It was a broadcast from Salt Lake City specifically for the Africa areas and conducted by Glen L. Pace. He spoke along with A. Roger Merrill, the general Sunday School president, Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland and President Deiter Uchtdorf. Brother Pace has lived in Africa when he was Africa West Area President and knows the people, their countries and customs. He expressed our observations exactly. The African people are ready for the gospel of Jesus Christ because they are very spiritual by nature. (We mentioned that to one investigator and he said that they have to be as religion is their only means of hope.) The African people are very teachable, are humble and learn gospel principles quickly. They know the scriptures and know that God is a God of miracles and accept revelation. They help other family members and respect older people and their ancestors. There are a lot of positive things here but learning also comes slowly. Sometimes we forget that here in Benin the Church is only 5 years old. I got a jolt today which reminded me of that. With the first ever Stake Conference as Soeur Black talked about, I had been busy explaining to President Desire and his counselors how it transpired, that we needed to have a opening hymn and prayer and then we would start the DVD playing and what would happen and getting the TV’s and DVD’s set up for the video. I thought I had done a really good job and just before the meeting was to start, one of the missionaries mentioned that perhaps someone ought to explain to the members what a stake conference was since that might be new terminology. I went into the Branch Presidents office where the Branch Presidency was putting the finishing touches on conducting the meeting and made the suggestion that perhaps they should do that. About that time President Desire said “Elder Black, sit down” I obeyed and then he said “can you explain to US what a stake is?” We spent some time talking about missions, branches, districts, wards and stakes, and I learned that just because you have been a member of the church for a while doesn’t mean that you know all about stakes when you have never experienced one. As brought out in the Conference, however, the people are learning fast and the church is growing. If people are willing to listen, they soon learn that there is so much more to the gospel than the neighborhood churches that preach Christ and pass the plate have to offer. Some of the statistics quoted in the conference are that there are 48 stakes and somewhere near 250,000 members in Africa now. There are also over 800 missionaries serving from Africa, most in Africa. Considering the difficulties of establishing the church here given the African culture, the poverty and all, it is quite remarkable.
This coming week President Ayekoue is coming for a Zone conference with the missionaries and then a Branch Conference next Sunday. That means in the last 4 Sundays, we will have had General Conference, Stake Conference and Branch Conference. I hope the members can keep it all straight. I think some of the investigators think all we have are conferences. We will write about the Branch Conference next week.