A couple of weeks ago, Soeur Black talked about our teaching a lesson on faith. The past few weeks we have had a real live lesson. Alma’s discourse on Faith tells us that as you have faith and see it rewarded it leads to more faith. Right now our faith is pretty strong. I may have already shared some of this so if it sounds familiar I apologize but for my own record, I need to record the story from start to finish. The story starts back to about last October when a Hussier (probably our equivalent of a Deputy Sheriff) showed up at the chapel and gave one of the members who happened to be there an eviction notice if we didn’t pay the rent within 24 hours. That caught us completely by surprise since the area office in Accra is supposed to take care of those little details. Without going into a lot of detail, by the time the real estate people in Accra and the Church attorney got involved, it came to light that in fact the rent was due on April 1 and here it was October and no rent had been paid. I guess you could not really blame the landlord for being upset, but it would have been decent of him to contact us and let us resolve the problem. It was a typical African story of the Attorney here supposed to negotiate a new contract but did not have it done etc., etc. After a lot of finger pointing, the rent finally got paid and all was well.
Before this happened, the Branch Presidency had grumbled a little about our facilities. It was probably fine at the start but now the only way we can get everyone seated is to use a balcony, which leaves the chapel basically exposed to the street and all the moto engines, honking, neighbors yelling or whatever. Everything happening on the busy street automatically becomes a part of our meetings. Also it was quite expensive since the contract that was signed a number of years ago provided for a percentage increase in the rental fee each year. I took advantage of the whole scenario to tell the Area Office that perhaps we should find new facilities, which they more or less grudgingly approved and then I held a meeting with the Branch Presidency for discussion of the matter. That was the shortest meeting we have held in Africa. They just said “let’s move” and that was the end of the story except for the work of finding a new place. Adding to the frustration is that fact that in Africa you are normally required to give 90 days notice to the landlord before vacating a rental and the renewal date on the lease was April 1. This means we would have to notify the landlord by January 1 that we were leaving.
During November and December Soeur Black and I didn’t have much time because of the branch division, but we looked a little for a new building without finding anything. As the notification date came I spoke with the Branch Presidency again asking if we really dared do this. Again the response was a resounding yes. They expressed confidence that we would find something. We weren’t sure who “we” were but we were getting suspicious it was Soeur Black and me. During January and February, we started really looking hard. We looked at over 40 buildings. Some were new and way too nice and expensive. Others were dumps. Some were under construction. I think we probably knew real estate about as well as anyone in Cotonou. Most were too small. We were mainly looking at large homes hopefully with enough bedrooms to serve as classrooms and a living room big enough to seat 150 people or so. That is quite a large order. We continued to pray as if everything depended on the Lord and work like it depended on us. When the first part of March rolled around and we still had nothing, we really began to worry. It didn’t help any that we were now spending almost half of our time in Togo and were told by the area office in Accra that it would take them at least 8 weeks to do the paperwork to rent a building. We had less than 4 weeks left.
Sometime during the first few days of March, we received a call in Togo from one of our real estate people (we probably had 8 or 10 by then that we had gathered up) that he had the perfect building for us. We had heard that before. The “Demarcheur” or real estate finding people get one month’s rent as a standard fee for finding a property. That is a pretty nice fee when the average wage earner probably make $5 or $6 per day maximum. We had plenty that told us they had just what we wanted and then would try to convince us that the 3 bedroom dump they showed us was just exactly what we needed. This Demarcheur was so excited we contacted him as soon as we got home and he didn’t even want to wait until the next day so we went and picked him up to see the house. It turned out to be a large building that was used as a school for some time. It is located on a quiet street less than 250 yards from the current building and probably a couple of hundred yards from the Branch President’s house. It has a large room that can be used as a chapel and about 16 or so other rooms as classrooms. Also on the 2nd floor is a large covered area that we can use as a cultural hall for activities. We were very excited and I went down the street to see if President Lokossou would like to come and look at it. He came and to our surprise greeted the landlord as a long lost friend. They have known each other and been friends for years. Without belaboring the point, we now have the key to the new building even though Accra still does not have the contract written and will be moving all of our things from the “old” chapel next week. It is not a finished product as you can see from the picture and will require some work but it is a well built building and will make a nice meeting house with plenty of room.
When I told President Desiree that we had located a building he simply said “I knew you would. I have seen it happen over and over again since I joined the Church. Just at the last moment, things always work out.” I guess faith is just a way of life in Africa. These people have a lot to each us and we are trying to learn all we can while we are here.
Here is what Alma says:
Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. . . .
Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea; nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.
But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow, then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow. – Alma 32: 26, 28-30
So this seed grew and yes it was a good seed and yes it began to enlighten our understanding and it is delicious to us. We have much to do and much to learn before we come home in 6 months but all is well in Africa.