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)
More 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 Gbedjromede 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. Last 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,
Menontin Primary and mothers