The most outstanding item this week was that, after wrestling with the area office in Accra for some past weeks and months to get chapel facilities established in Cotonou and Lome, we finally received the checks this week and were able to sign the contracts and bring all of that to a close – almost. The Gbedjromede building we have completely remodeled and have been using for a couple of months now without a contract. We are now official renters and also have a building for the fledgling Menontin Branch. As was the case in Lome, this will eliminate a lot of difficult travel for the members and will more firmly establish the branches as time goes by. It also paves the way for more missionaries as they will be spread throughout the city rather than being all bunched up together. Our understanding is that plans are in place to put more missionaries into both Benin and Togo, although we do not know how soon this will happen.
We got home from Lome on Sunday and President and Sister Ayekoue were scheduled to come on Wednesday for Zone conferences. Also Southams were here and getting ready to leave on Friday. That would have made the week plenty busy without any mechanical problems, but this is Africa and such problems occur – always at an inopportune time. On Tuesday afternoon, we suddenly discovered that the back doors on the pickup were locked and could not be opened. I drove over to the Toyota garage and they said they knew exactly what was wrong. If I would be back at 9:00 on Wednesday morning they could fix it in a couple of hours. I showed up right at 9:00 as I needed to pick up Ayekoues’ at 1:00. Being on a tight schedule in Africa is never comfortable. It seems that if you are on a tight schedule, you are alone as no one else is. They did get started about 9:30, however, so I thought everything would be fine. A little after 11:00 they came to have me look at the vehicle and I thought, “Great – all finished, and I will have plenty of time.” Imagine my disappointment to find pieces of the car laying all over the garage. They only wanted to inform me that three of the electric lock mechanisms were burned up and it was going to take longer and cost more. I don’t suppose I should have been surprised. With some prodding, they did get it finished about 12:30 and for $450 I was back on the road in time to pick up the President at the airport. Thursday I got to go to most of the Zone Conference but also had to run around getting everything done so we could leave on Friday morning. There were contracts to finish and the electricity in one Elders apartment to get turned back on. (That is another long story, but bottom line is that it was turned off because there was a $2.10 bill from November 2008 that had not been paid. One would think that would give rise to a balance forward on the statement, but such is not the case in Africa.) Soeur Black did her usual super hero job of preparing a zone conference dinner and keeping everything going at the apartment.
Thursday night we had asked President Ayekoue to do a teacher training seminar. Many of our members in Cotonou have not been members for long, and teaching is new to them. Since President Ayekoue is a master teacher, we made the request and he accepted. It was an outstanding meeting. He covered everything from why we teach in the church to techniques for teaching primary children as well as adults and did so in a masterful way. He has the ability to speak for an hour or more teaching from the scriptures and using all kinds of examples and never has a note of any kind in front of him.
After the meeting we went to get in the pickup to go home and could only open the driver’s door. All the others were locked as before. After worrying about what to do most of the night, on Friday morning we hired a taxi to take President and Sister Ayekoue to Lome for the Zone conference there, and I went back to Toyota to get the pickup fixed–again. Another three hours of waiting and again we were on the road. This time, they said they found a wire that was causing the problem and think it is fixed. We will see. To their credit, they did not ask me to pay again.
So, we sent Southams and former Elder Ellis off on Friday night and then traveled to Lome early Saturday morning. Luckily, we had decided to have the zone dinner at a restaurant and had made arrangements for that so things worked out pretty well for the Lome Zone conference on Friday without us.
Even though we missed Zone Conference in Lome, the elders were around the couple’s house most of the day on Saturday for interviews with the president. Some of us did leave for awhile for the baptisms, though. Little Happy is a one-girl entertainment committee for all of the missionaries, including us. She just celebrated her first birthday, so she is at such a cute stage of life. She loves to play and, of course, she has many who love to oblige her. Elder Black taught her how to growl and imitate a fake cough. She can even patty cake every time the word is just mentioned. She is just learning how to walk and we were privileged to see her take her first step.
The Lome Elders were reported to have about 20 people ready for baptism on Saturday. A week ago, in anticipation of that, we visited a little with the Branch mission leaders and, after hearing some disturbing reports, inspected the baptismal clothing. We found them to be pretty grim. Soeur Black refused to let people be baptized in most of them so she took on the assignment of buying some heavy white fabric and getting the baptismal clothing made. Luckily, there are some good seamstresses and seamsters in both Togo and Benin and by Saturday we had a suitcase full of nice baptismal clothing. It turned out there were only 12 baptisms instead of 20 but the candidates looked really nice. Another project is to get adequate baptismal clothing distributed to all 6 branches and hopefully they will assign someone to take good care of them so baptisms can be what they should be.
Saturday and Sunday was the Hedzranawoe Branch Conference. Soeur Black and I were both assigned to talk in the Saturday evening meeting. Soeur Black reworked her Akpakpa talk given a few weeks ago and gave the same talk. It is getting better and better. She gets all kinds of complements, and I get none. How is that for justice? When we were leaving the branch conference we found out how one young member enjoyed the conference. This photo may give the High Priests at home some better ideas for enjoying a meeting!