When Soeur Black made the cakes for the weddings a few weeks ago, the wife of Brother Lokossou, the first counselor in the branch presidency, was in China. She is a business woman and goes to China fairly often to buy goods, which she imports and resells in Africa. Lucy is not a member of the Church. Brother Lokossou really enjoyed the cake and asked Soeur Black if she would be willing to teach Lucy how to make that kind of cake. We have been looking for a chance ever since to invite them over to the house, so on Monday instead of our usual home evening with a family in the Branch we decided to invite them over to a cake-making event and dinner. Brother Lokossou is about our age and Lucy is a little younger. They have been married for over 30 years. Both have children, although they have none together. I guess all the children grew up together and count each other as brothers and sisters. Most of them live in France now. We had a wonderful time–told a lot of stories and had a lot of laughs. It was really fun to get to know them better. Brother Lokossou is a retired banker and gives us a lot of help with apartments and general advice on how to handle things. One of his brothers, along with his wife and family, are also members of the church so there are a lot of Lokossous in the branch.
Most of the rest of our week has been taken by another visit from President Ayekoue. Elder and Sister Gillis from Togo brought him over on Thursday morning and stayed until Saturday. We had planned their visit since they know the Findlays and the Findlays are also here for their final stay before returning home. The Gillis’ and Findlays both stayed at a little hotel not too far from the house and President Ayekoue has been staying here with us so we have had four adult couples for a few days minus Sister Ayekoue who is still recovering from a broken ankle and was unable to come this trip. As we had the branch conference in addition to the zone conference, the President’s stay has been a little longer this round. We will put him on the airplane on Monday morning to go back to Ivory Coast.
Soeur Black fixed a nice dinner on Thursday for everyone and then we had our zone conference with all the elders here at the apartment afterwards. Findlays and Gillis’ went around town to see some of the sights while that was in progress. On Friday, President Ayekoue interviewed the missionaries and then had a little meeting with us and the Gillis’ on the state of things here and in Togo, after which we all went out to a nice dinner. The last week when the Findlays were here we went to eat at a nice little restaurant that professes to be an oriental restaurant. Actually they pretty much cater to the Lebanese people and offer what is called a “Mezzo.” Seems like quite a few Lebanese people live here in Benin and are the shopkeepers etc. We were quite impressed so we took the Gillis’ and President Ayekoue back there for a rerun of the “Mezzo.” It is a collection of 25 different dishes of Lebanese food. Some of it is a little strange, but most is really good and we did not go away hungry. Maybe Soeur Black will have to describe some of the plates later. For me it was just a great meal. They give us our own private dining room also, so we had a really nice time visiting and enjoying the evening with good friends and good food.
On Saturday, we had engineered a meeting between President Ayekoue and the landlord of the Akpakpa building. They had invited us out to their house to sign the copy of the contract with all of the dates corrected and everything in place. We cheerfully accepted the invitation to get to know them a little better. The Agboton’s are a very nice older couple. They are quite wealthy by African standards, maybe even by western standards, and live in a very nice home in an exclusive area. We had an enjoyable meeting with them, signed the contract, and told them a little about the church. They are quite interested and want to come to a meeting as soon as we get moved into their house. President Ayekoue says that will probably be about January before we have the approval to divide the Branch. They seem to be thrilled that we are renting their house and are going to use it as a church. Quite a different experience from the Muslim man who couldn’t allow his property to used for Church.
During the week, we had heard a rumor that some of the members had planned to decorate the chapel and have everyone wear white to the Branch Conference. We weren’t quite sure just what to do. There isn’t a graceful way to call someone and ask what they are going to wear to branch conference. On Saturday morning I went over to the church. The members were there cleaning, and I saw no signs of decorations so we decided it was just a rumor. When President Ayekoue and I walked over to begin the afternoon interviews – BALLONS EVERYWHERE. With the help of some missionaries we managed to get them out of the chapel and tied them down in the entry way, which pretty much serves as our cultural hall. Then we found out that refreshments were planned for all the meetings also. It was too late to head that off for the evening meeting but President Ayekoue did get most of it stopped for the conference itself today – no drinks, just sandwiches handed out after meetings. I guess they were already made and he didn’t want to hurt any feelings. There was a lot of white in sacrament meeting today but also some pretty African dresses so it wasn’t too noticeable. It turned out to be a really good conference. President Ayekoue did a lot of good training and some other talks were really good. Soeur Black and Soeur Findlay were supposed to do some training in the Relief Society portion of the meeting on Saturday but the meeting was late starting and their time was taken up by others so they had to quit about as soon as they got started.
I suppose I have to accept part of the blame for the decorations etc. Since this is our first ever branch conference, I had talked it up quite a bit and tried to give the branch leaders the impression that is was important, which it is. I guess the translation of that into African culture is that if it is important it is worth have decorations and refreshments. It is just really nice to have a mission president who can give some training and help local leaders in their own language with no accent. President Ayekoue is a terrific speaker and knows the gospel as well as anyone. Probably we will see him as a general authority one day. That kind of leadership is having a huge impact on our little branch and will pay great dividends in the future as the church continues to grow here in Benin. We are really getting some good solid people who are capable leaders in the Branch and we can see great progress just in the short time we have been here. We also seem to be making a few inroads in working with the wives of some of the branch leaders. In addition to making good friends with the Lokossou’s, Pierre’s wife has been coming to church and now has a baptismal date set. Also the Elders quorum president’s wife, Helen Briga has been coming to church ever since we had the family home evening with them a couple of weeks ago. In addition, there are a number of other family members of some of the branch members who are being taught by the missionaries right now. There seems to be a good spirit, and the church is growing in Benin.