When we left Blanding for a mission here in Africa, we thought we had a vague idea of what we might be doing to serve the Lord, but in reality we did not have the slightest idea. As our mission has progressed we find ourselves doing more things with finances, real estate and administration for the young missionaries and working less and less with the wonderful people here, as time for these other responsibilities is very demanding. The highlight for the week is our family home evenings with the members which we schedule when we are available.
Home evenings are a great time for a family to learn more about gospel principles and bond together. We had a really good home evening with Elizabeth Lokossou, a new member, and her daughter Jeanette this week but did not get any pictures. We asked her if we could come to her home. She said we could, but she did not have any chairs to sit on so we invited them to our house instead. Most of our members have not been a member for very long so the purpose of our home evenings is basically two fold. First, we teach a gospel principle geared to the age of the children. Secondly, we teach the parents how to have a home evening with their children by observing the process of a home evening. We have taught “I Am a Child of God” several times with emphasis on our Heavenly Father’s love for us even though we are all different just as earthly family members are different. We then play a game, “Don’t Eat Pete” followed by refreshments. Here in Africa, parents and their children generally don’t know how to have fun together so it is a new experience to get them laughing and having fun together.
We were in Lome again last week and that usually calls for a trip to the bank, which is located in downtown Lome. This trip to cash a check can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours so I decided to go to a nearby grocery store and then walk down to the bank while Elder Black worked on the check. (A year ago I would have been too scared to walk that far by myself.) The streets are packed with beggars and sellers, and I was accosted several times by sellers, but the one that got my attention the most was a guy carrying Barack Obama tee shirts. He thought that since I looked very American, I would not be able to resist. The Africans were elated when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States and have renamed some of their businesses after him. I think they think it will be their financial salvation to have him in the White House. I personally think that he has too many problems at home to cure the African ones.
Other activities in Lome included taking our French Elder, Elder Fontaine, to Lome to be a companion to Elder Missigbeto who flew in from Abidjan. The significance of that is that Elder Missigbeto is from right here in Cotonou. We met his mother right after we arrived and have been to her place many times to teach her the gospel. She badly wants to join the church, but her husband (not Elder Missigbeto’s father) isn’t that interested and they are only married traditionally, which is not a legal marriage in Benin. He is nice enough and we have had some good visits, but he hasn’t yet been willing to pay the fee for a marriage license and be civilly married without which she can’t be baptized. Elder Missigbeto was an assistant to the President in Abidjan before being transferred to Togo where he will probably finish his mission as he finishes 3 days before we do. He is an outstanding missionary and it was really great to get to know him other than just on the telephone.
We came close to getting kicked out of Benin last week due to visa problems. The visa that we obtained before we came to Benin was clearly stamped with an expiration date of March 23, 2009 and boldly stated that it was good for one year. I thought that was pretty clear and we went down two weeks ago to get the visa renewed before it expired. It took a few days to get it done but they gave us a receipt and said it should be okay. When we got back from Togo last time, the member who works at immigration said the chief wanted to visit with us. That is not usually good news. I went down and after a certain amount of waiting was finally ushered into his office where he pointed out that that below the expiration date is says it is a three month visa. Turns out that the visa is good for a year but you can only legally stay for 3 months. Figure that one out if you can. I asked him if he knew how many times we had crossed the border and each time they check our visa to make sure it is okay. That didn’t impress him. He just said his office issues the visas not the border. It doesn’t pay to argue much when the boss is convinced you have been in the country illegally for 9 months. I told him we also had residence cards and that made him feel quite a bit better. He quickly decided that it wasn’t anything a hundred dollars wouldn’t fix. So now we are legal again and this time it was for a year. We also renewed our Togo visa so we should be through with that part of our mission except for helping the elders stay legal.
Otherwise, the chapel continues to thrust itself onto center stage. Work is progressing well but never fast enough. Before we left for Togo they had started the baptismal font. All blocks are made on site by hand. I asked if it was not possible just to buy the blocks and have them delivered to the job and I just got a funny look like “what is this guy talking about?” Everything is done on-site with sand and cement. Building with wood is a foreign concept. Maybe that is because termites seem to eat anything made of wood. A lot of the painting is done now, and the once dark and dreary building is taking on a bright cheerful appearance with the colors that Soeur Black chose. We will send some more pictures as it gets finished in another week or so. We think it is going to be a wonderful facility for the church here.