Faith

This week we taught Helene Briga about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We talked about faith being the first principle of the gospel. Faith in our Savior Jesus Christ is a very personal matter as we believe and trust in Him, even though we have not seen Him. We need to nurture this faith as we do a seed that is planted in the ground. When we plant a seed we have faith that it will produce the intended fruit, tree or vegetable. At the same time, it must be watered, have sunshine, and the weeds controlled for it to grow. The same principle applies to faith as it must be nurtured by prayer, keeping His commandments and following the promptings of the Holy Ghost. It takes effort to keep our faith nurtured and growing. As we meet some or our challenges here we are constantly reminded that we must keep our faith nurtured.

We came home from Togo on Tuesday and had a meeting with a proprietor of another building, but he is asking for a very high rental price so it appears that another find is lost. But we keep reminding ourselves that we must keep the faith and “work like it all depends on us and pray like it all depends on the Lord.”

Elder Aka\'s BirthdayWe were in Lome for Elder Aka’s birthday so we had he and Elder Samutamu over for a birthday dinner. One of our goals is to fix a special dinner for each elder on or near his birthday. We really enjoy this self-appointed assignment as it makes them feel special and gives us time to get to know the elders better. I think being invited over to a sit-down, American-style dinner is a new experience for the most of the African elders, but we don’t see them frowning at Soeur Black’s cooking.

Sister Felicite Akoha has been the Relief Society President of the old Cotonou Branch ever since we arrived. We have become pretty well acquainted as we have worked on various projects and have talked about her before. When she joined the church a few years ago, her husband was initially in favor and interested himself. Then, something changed and he became bitter and it ended in a divorce, so she has been a single mom to two children for 3 or 4 years now. Sister Felicite is a qualified nurse and helps everyone in the branch including us. It is very comforting to have her as a friend whenever anyone including an elder is sick. Between having her in Cotonou and Dr. Stubbs in Accra we at least have some good consultation for such occasions.

A few months ago, she came over to our house all excited. She had been corresponding with an old friend that she had grown up with, who was living in Ivory Coast, and he had agreed to starting taking the missionary lessons. In addition, Elder Elvis Sahoui from Cotonou was the missionary who was teaching him. To make a long story short, he was baptized, returned to Cotonou and they were quietly married at the mayor’s office a couple of weeks ago. The happy coupleThey are looking forward to going to the temple as soon as they can. We didn’t even find out about the wedding until the day before, and we were in Togo so we didn’t get to attend. We decided it would be a shame to let the occasion pass without some kind of recognition, so last night the missionary Blacks sponsored a reception at the church in their honor.

Soeur Black made a small but beautiful wedding cake and also a nice arrangement of artificial flowers. For refreshments, we served a fruit cup, a slice of chocolate cake, candy the Southams had sent over, and the required pop. No fete here is complete without the cases of pop. The kitchen helpSoeur Estelle coached us a little on how to serve refreshments in Africa. Generally speaking, people are not well enough disciplined that you can allow free access to food set out on a table. First you have all the plates ready to go and put them on the big trays that women carry on their heads. These trays are quickly refilled, and everyone is served who is sitting down. Two men carried the cases of pop around and gave each person a bottle of pop. It actually went very well, and we served about 125 people. Felicite, Guy, Hendrick and LilianneSoeur Felicite and her husband Guy we so thrilled and so were her two children Hendrick and Lilliane. It doesn’t take much to please people over here. Maybe our receptions have become too extravagant at home.

The branches are getting well established and we now have three nice branches meeting in Cotonou now where we used to have only one. Soeur Black and I try to get to a couple of Sacrament meetings whenever possible. Today I almost had to leave one meeting because I became so amused. The downside of having three branches is that three times as much music talent is required, and we were already a little short on talent. Nevertheless, we have some of the branch members who are rising to the occasion even though they haven’t been taking lessons very long and it is difficult and scary. One such “volunteer” is Eric who used to be the Branch mission leader and is now the Branch Clerk of Gbedjromede Branch. His wife Estelle (They were married in the triple wedding a few months ago) leads the music. On the closing hymn, Eric began to struggle a little with the tune so Soeur Estella just reached down and turned down the volume of the piano without ever missing a beat. When Eric recovered, Soeur Estella turned him back up again. Eric was concentrating so hard on his playing, I don’t think he ever even knew he had been “quieted.” So goes things in Africa.

Chairs to the New Hedzranawoe Chapel

Yard of Lome HomeFor those of you enduring a hard North American Winter, I thought I would send a few pictures I took around our yard in Lomé. We have mentioned before that the yard here is really beautiful. Last night we had a nice thunderstorm. It rained for about an hour and really washed the dust off things after quite a number of weeks with little or no rain. Yard and gate of Lome HomeSo this morning I ventured out with the camera. Our apartment in Cotonou is quite opposite. It is basically a concrete apartment. We have a nice tree outside and we used to have a tomato plant, but we didn’t water it enough and it died.

Front porch of Lome HomeI suppose it has pretty much become official that the Baileys who were supposed to be here next week have now been reassigned and will not be coming to Togo. Instead, they will be the office couple in Abidjan. We don’t yet know how permanent this “temporary” assignment is going to be but we hope it won’t last too long. It makes it so we have almost no time for the things we like to do and spend all our time just taking care of bills, traveling, and doing administrative things. The worst part is just not knowing how long or if or when.

Soeur Black had a great idea to write about and send pictures of “along the road to Lomé.” It was a great idea. The only problem is that the camera battery was almost dead so every picture was either too late or out of focus. I guess that part of the blog will have to wait for another day.

Branch Presidency - Hedzranawoe BranchOur purpose in coming this trip, in addition to the usual financial things such as paying bills and giving the missionaries their operating money, was to make sure the chairs were delivered to the new Hedzranawoe chapel and help the branch get moved into the building. The Hedzranawoe branch was created last August when I drove President Ayekoue over from Cotonou for a special sacrament meeting. Some of the Branch MembersThe area of the branch covers the northern part of Lomé, and the members in this area have had to walk for as much as two hours or take a moto taxi if they can afford it, in order to get to the chapel located about in the center of Lomé. In addition, they have had to start Sacrament meeting at 7:30 in the morning since there were 3 branches in the building.

Finding and purchasing the chairs was quite an adventure in itself. The Gillis’ had located some nice padded stacking chairs from an Indian named Mike. Mike the Indian TraderWe are not talking about someone straight off the reservation but from India. His little store is crammed packed with everything from sewing machines to plug strips and also chairs. I, Soeur Black, was very amused by him as he reminded me of a combination of Don Knotts and Ali Hakim, the peddler in the movie Oklahoma. His eyes would look everywhere when he talked to you and he always had a big smile on his face and could sell you absolutely anything you could possibly want or need. When we paid him, in cash of course, his counting speed could rival that of any card shark in Las Vegas.

Soon after the division, a nice little building was located that would serve as a chapel, and the building was rented about the last of October. Since then, it has been an uphill battle trying to get the building furnished so the branch could hold meetings there. Chair delivery to chapelOn Saturday, the chairs were finally delivered; we had a member in the branch build some tables for the sacrament and teaching stations and today, Sunday, they held their first meetings in the new facility. There were 65 people in attendance, the most the branch has ever had, and all went well and everyone was happy, even with the loud music blaring from the bar across the street and the Pentecostal singing of another church. I don’t know where that church is but it is within earshot for sure. Did you know that “Israel Israel God is Calling” and “What a Friend we have in Jesus” are the same tune?

This afternoon, we decided to go to another sacrament meeting in the Tokoin Branch as we had some things to deliver to the Branch President. We went without so much as our scriptures because we had already been to church and just planned to attend Sacrament meeting, meet the members, and come home. No sooner had we arrived, than the Branch President asked us to speak in the meeting. That worried Soeur Black as you can imagine but she stood up and did a very good job extemporaneously in French. I was very proud of her.

We are simply trying hard to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord here in Africa. Before leaving never did we dream that it might include finding chairs and rental facilities. But those are temporal things that need to be done so the members here can have the opportunity to progress in the gospel.

The Winds that Fill Our Sails

We left a quiet harbor
In favor of another, we know not where
But first, there are seas to cross
And storms to brave.
How could we prefer the foreign deeps
To the encircling arms of our bay?
Because some things
Can only be learned at sea.
Yes, our craft is watertight,
We can navigate the unknown,
And Lo, the winds that fill our sails
Blow from home.

–Steffanie Russell (with adaptations)

Lindsley, Janette,Maelle, JonasMore evidence of those winds “filling our sails” was provided on Sunday as we visited the primaries in the BRANCHES of Cotonou, talked about our 8th Ward Primary, showed pictures and handed out the little gifts that the kids in the 8th Ward had made for the primary children here. It wasn’t exactly Christmas but it was just as good–maybe better. First of all the African mail system is unreliable so the package didn’t get here until after Christmas and by then the branches were divided and President Ayekoue has assigned us to cover Togo also. We had not had a chance to spend a little time in Primary. It was fun to go to Primary and see the smiles on the faces of the children from something totally unexpected by them – Thanks Shauna and 8th Ward Primary.

Two of the primaries are very small, only 4 or 5 children, but the Gbedjormede PrimaryGbedjromede primary still fills the little primary room with 30 to 40 children. Our branch division was a little different here that it would be at home. The objective was to open branches in other areas of the city where people can walk to church rather than to equalize numbers. In both Akpakpa and Menontin there had really not been any missionary work done until a month or so before the division so there are not a lot of members in those areas. Already, however, we are starting to see some growth and some good things are happening. With the three branches here and three more in Togo, we have the makings of a stake as soon as the branches have time to grow into wards.

There are a lot of other things that fill or sails also. Close to the top of the list has to be visiting with everyone on the Internet and even getting to see the antics of the grandkids. Our mission would be a lot more difficult and lonesome if we had to get along without the close contact we have with family and friends at home. Today we received nice letters from the Kirks and Kirk and Heidi and family. Thanks for all the help, letters, good wishes, packages and all the other support we receive from everyone.

On Monday of this week, Elder Aka arrived from Ivory Coast to take the place of Elder Schwieger. Our missionary count in Benin now is African – 5, American – 2 and French – 1. For anyone who may be wondering about Elder Schwieger, we received word this week that he is now out of the hospital and doing better, although he is very weak. I guess he is going to be (or has been) released from his mission for the time being as recovery may take some time. After all the dust settled, the diagnosis was Severe Ulcerative Colitis and we probably got him out of Africa just in time. We spent a week or two thinking it was probably just an “African food adjustment” as oftentimes happens. Then we spent another week or two doing tests and working with physicians both here and Dr. Stubbs in Accra hoping the correct the problem with medication. We are very grateful to Dr. Stubbs for recommending we get him home. We really hated to let him go as he was such a good missionary and did so much good here. Elder Dr. Stubbs is also on a mission and assigned to Accra as the area physician. We can contact him at any time and he responds very quickly to any contacts. It is extremely comforting to have him available when someone is ill.

We might add that with Elder Schwieger, the doctors apparently do not feel that his condition necessarily had anything to do with Africa and could have happened anywhere. They really do not know what could have caused it but it was very serious and we wish him the best as he recovers.

One of the “blessings” of creating two new branches is getting to open two new bank accounts for the units. I suppose someone might think of a more time consuming and cumbersome way to create a new account but until then, the present system will have to do. In Africa, “trust” is a word with no meaning, and most of the time for good reason, especially when it comes to finances. Expecting the worst, I went to the bank about 3 weeks ago, armed with letters from Accra asking the bank to open accounts for the new units. After close to an hour of answering questions about how, why and wherefore, I came away with 3 folders full of papers and a list of instructions that needed to be followed. I gave those to the Branch Presidencies and put them to work gathering photos, identity card copies, signatures, etc. Last week President Lokossou and I went back down to try to open the Menontin Branch account. By that time, the list of instructions seemed to have changed and we came away with new instructions. Not only did we have to have copies of Identity cards, we had to have identity cards themselves, also certificates that the signers actually reside in the neighborhoods, (which can be purchased for 1,000 francs each). Armed with all of that, we went back on Friday and finally, after 2 1/2 hours came away with an account number and (hopefully) an open account. I could write a couple more pages of the details of this but I will spare you the rest of the details.

Not all is bad at the bank, however. This week I joined the VIP club. There are really two areas of service at the bank. One is the general area where everyone goes and it is generally hot and crowded. Inside that area and through a door accessed by a electronic badge is a nice, cool, uncrowded area with nice sofas where the VIP’s can do their banking. As a signer of the church account, I have always had rights to that area but have always had to depend on someone else’s badge to open the door. Right after the first of the year, I went to the bank and found that the guy we usually deal with was still on vacation. The person I was referred to in his absence was Lydvine Kpenou. That has turned out to be a blessing. I asked her about communicating with e-mail and getting a badge. Now I have my own VIP badge and all e-mails are promptly answered. Bank statements usually arrive about a month late. Since I have to have one to file the mission expense statement right after the first of the month, I usually end up going down to the bank and standing in a line for some time, after which I can usually get one. I decided to really push my luck and timidly asked Lydvine if there was any way I might could get one by e-mail. Before I hardly got my finger off the send button, I had the bank statement.

The couple’s home in Togo has a beautiful yard which we call the “garden of Eden.” Elder and Sister Bayley built an African type gazebo in the back yard when they were serving in Togo. When President Dill oriented us about our mission after we arrived, it was done in this gazebo–a good introduction to Africa. Frere DieudonneLast Saturday in Togo, Frere Dieudonne came over and had on his traditional boomba. Whenever we have seen him before he has had on a white shirt and tie as he is a counselor in the mission presidency. Africans look so good in their boombas as the beautiful colors look striking against their chocolate colored skin so we couldn’t help but include this last picture. Frere Dieudonne joined the church in England in the 1990′s and after returning to Africa was instrumental in getting the church established in Togo. He has a son that is waiting for a mission call.

Akpakpa Primary, Victor, Favor, Destiny Dike, Eunice and Victor G

Akpakpa Primary, Victor, Favor,
Destiny Dike, Eunice and Victor G

Gbedjromede

Gbedjromede

Gbedjromede Primary

Gbedjromede Primary

Menontin Primary and mothers

Menontin Primary and mothers

An African Snowman

We are really keeping the road hot between Cotonou and Lome, Togo. I think if we cross the border very many more times we will be on a first name basis with the guards! I think that they do recognize the pick-up as they don’t seem to have very much interest in searches. African Snowman. This is a close as we will getWe made the trip again this week and spent Thursday through Sunday in Lome. The biggest surprise came after arriving at the home in Lome–winter is here and it snowed! We even made a snowman just to prove the point. The background for the picture is the little garden that is in the center of the house with a roof open to the outdoors. When it rains, it actually rains in the house but the little area full of tropical vegetation is beautiful. Snowball fights are possible in AfricaYou walk past it when you go between the kitchen and the dining room. Unfortunately the snow storm was only in the freezer as we discovered it wasn’t frost free and that is a problem in an area as humid as we live in.

We feel that we are losing some of the spirit of our mission by doing mostly administrative functions. Then we started to discuss some of the reasons we are here and one is simply to be an instrument in the hands of the Lord. One way to serve Him is to serve the people and some of the responsibilities given to us would be too new and over-whelming to newly baptized members. If we can help get the branches established here and functioning successfully, we must accept that with a happy heart.

Every Tuesday we teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Helene Briga, the wife of Charles who is a counselor in the Menontin Branch Presidency. It is such a wonderful opportunity to go into their home, visit, play with their little girls and share the gospel. Last time we began the discussion about the plan of salvation. Their friend, Jocelyn, also receiving the discussions, is a very spiritual person and is also receptive to our message. We talked about our spirit life with Heavenly Father in the pre-existence before coming to this earth, why it is important to receive a body and have agency to choose good or evil so we can live with Him after we die. Next week we will continue the discussion. This is another reason we are here-to share the plan of happiness with others.

Ecobank, the bank used by the church, is located in down town Lome. All transactions in Togo and Benin are handled in cash, and to cash a big check for operating expenses it is necessary to go to the main bank, not a branch. On Friday we made the trip but this time we decided not to park on a side street where the soldier protected me but to go closer to the bank and try to find a parking space. Big mistake! A large marche begins just past the bank and we thought that the road would continue on but soon we were engulfed by marche on all sides of the pickup. There were taxis traveling in front of us so we thought they knew what they were doing. They did but we did not! In a few places people had to move their wares so we could go through as we inched our way along. This is how you get your birds to marketWe even got a few dirty looks like the one from a girl who had big birds on her head when I took her picture. We finally escaped and parked and once inside another process began. You can’t go to teller’s window and withdraw your money. First, you go into a back room and are cleared by a high ranking employee and then ushered into the inner sanctum. It is air conditioned with nice soft chairs and the wait begins. You wait , wait and then wait some more until finally you are called to a window and handed a big wad of bills. You are ushered out the back door by a guard. We even made it back to the pick-up without getting mugged! I was carrying the equivalent of about $4,000 in cash in my purse. That is probably more money than many Togolese will see in their entire lifetime. The whole process took about two hours so you need to be very patient or you will end up having a coronary.

Sunday is the time to cross the border as there were not many trucks and the guards were more interested in a championship soccer game between Ghana and Cameroon than anything else. At this rate our passports will be full of stamps before we get home.

Do you think we can make it through?

Do you think we can make it through?

Maybe we can make it through

Maybe we can make it through

Still trying to get through

Still trying to get through