President and Sister Harmon (Ghana MTC)

We went out to Calavie a while back to visit Mama Carole (actually Soeur Julianne, but over here you can call anyone by most any name. Since she is the mother of Carole, the girl who is on a mission, Soeur Julianne or Mama Carole work equally well). Her daughter Josianne is a cute girl about 13 or 14 years old who is growing up and filling out. When the member who was with us to translate saw Josianne she excitedly told her she was getting so fat. That comment didn’t set well with Soeur Black who argued that she was not fat but rather looking really good. The member wouldn’t back down and a pretty good argument ensued, which I quite enjoyed, about whether Josianne was fat or not. To understand the rest of the story, you need to know that in a culture where people do not always have enough to eat, to be fat is a considerable compliment and simply means that you are growing and looking good. So it turns out that the member was actually trying to pay her a compliment and Soeur Black was adamant that she didn’t deserve the compliment. Now that she understands that, Soeur Black is thinking she may want to stay in Africa. We will see if that happens!!

This has been a wild and interesting week. President and Sister Harmon from the Ghana Missionary Training Center wrote us a couple of months ago and suggested they would like to come over in July and give some firesides on missionary preparation. We got it all arranged for one in Cotonou on Tuesday, July 21 and one in Lome on Thursday, July 23rd. On Tuesday they came over and spent the night with us after the fireside. About 30 people attended in Cotonou and it turned out really well.

President and Sister Harmon

President and Sister Harmon

President Harmon and I were both missionaries in France a lot of years ago and have kept in touch a little since. Some of you may remember that he is the doctor that treated Dad (Frost) when he had prostate cancer. Soeur Harmon and Soeur Black seemed to have a lot in common, both enjoying cooking, sewing, shopping, and a lot of other such “women” things. Basically this is the first contact we have had with any couples from our culture since the Gillis’ left in January so it was greatly enjoyed. They stayed in Cotonou with us on Tuesday and we had planned to come to Lome on Wednesday but we got so busy showing them around that we decided to postpone our trip until Thursday morning. We stopped in Ouidah and visited a slave castle, a python temple, and the beach and then headed onto Lome. The Lome fireside was attended by about 60 or so. On Friday, we took President and Sister Harmon to the border to cross, in company with President Blaise who rode to Accra with them in order to be there to pick up Marlene and the boys on Saturday. How good it was to see them when we picked them up at the border where we had left the others the day before.

With all the activities with Marlene, Jared and Aaron (for those who may not know, Marlene is our daughter-in-law and Jared and Aaron our grandsons) we will have plenty of pictures next week. The other part of this last week is that the Internet has been down more than it has been up. Between that and traveling, this installment is late. Hopefully we can still get it sent even though it is time to start another.

Obed’s Father Comes to Church

We actually managed to slip in a little missionary work this week in between all of the business chores that crowd our weekly schedule. There is a young man in the Gbedjromede Branch by the name of Obed. He is 12 years old and was baptized a year or so ago. Normally we don’t baptize children by themselves (without a parent) but in Obed’s case, he was a neighbor to the Relief Society President and a good friend of her children of the same age. He wanted to be a part of everything and kept after Soeur Black for a Primary song book until she finally got him one here. I think she wrote about that in a previous blog. For that she earned her first African kiss from a young man. He wanted a subscription to the Liahona magazine but didn’t have any money so I let him come over and wash the car and paid him enough for a one year subscription. (It only cost $2 over here because the Church tries to make things as inexpensive as possible for the member to afford. Sometimes that can cause problems because Bibles also sell for $2 but on the street they bring $6 so we have to be careful we don’t create a business opportunity in the process of trying to get scriptures in the hands of the members. A $4 profit is a very good day’s wage over here) Obed never missed church until a couple of months ago when we suddenly became aware that he was not attending any more. We started asking questions and found out that he and his dad and little brother had moved away and word was that his Dad didn’t want him to attend any more. We got Lillian and Hendick (the Relief Society President’s children) to go with us and show us where they now lived and paid the family a visit. They invited us in and were glad to see us. We had met Obed’s father before but didn’t know him well. I told him that he really needed to come to church so he would know what Obed was being taught as he needed to be comfortable with it. Turns out he went to school for 3 years to become a Church of Christ minister, knows the Bible well and seems to be a very good man. Last Sunday they came. On Wednesday we set up an appointment to teach them and had a very good lesson which Obed helped us to teach. He is a very smart kid. This Sunday they were not able to come but we are hoping he will continue or at least encourage Obed to participate.

We are very proud of our new Super Walmart here in Cotonou. Well, maybe not exactly a Super Walmart but a very nice similar kind of store opened here a few weeks ago. The Erevan store has wide aisles, a great variety of things from food to hardware and is in general very nice. Prices are a little higher than the smaller markets where we normally shop and it is located by the airport, which is a ways away, so I don’t suppose we will change our allegiance but it is nice to have another possibility for shopping.

Pierette

Pierette

Pierette, the little daughter of Pierre and Rosemond, turned one year old on Sunday. We were there to help Rosemond when she was born one year ago so it was a good occasion to help her celebrate. We have not been over there as much lately so she cries when she sees us coming. We are making progress as she will tolerate us now. Her birthday was like our birthdays at home–the older sisters were more excited than she was.

1 year old celebration

1 year old celebration

It was a fun time to be with their family. She did not think much of the cake, though, but the rest of the family appreciated the refreshment. We also visited the two little girls of Charles and Helen Briga. Their aunt and uncle are taking care of them while their parents are away with the military. We got our usual grandma and grandpa welcome!

Car cleaning crew

Car cleaning crew

We have been driving a lot on the muddy streets lately and the pick-up was in a pretty sorry condition. The kids are out of school for the summer holiday so we asked Obed, Lillian and her brother Hendrick to come over and wash the pick-up. Most of the kids have almost nothing to do so they were most eager to help us out, especially for a few cfa’s.Washing the car

Washing the car

They took the assignment very seriously as every inch was scrubbed and shined. Besides, it appeared that they enjoyed the water and they went away with big grins on their faces and so did we!

Surviving Another Two Zone Conferences

Another two Zone Conferences have come and gone and we are attempting to get back to normal, whatever normal is here in Benin. President Ayekoue announced transfers at zone conference so that will mean another quick trip to Lome for Elder Black. We went to Lome on Tuesday, thinking that President and Soeur Ayekoue were coming on Wednesday but at the last minute found out they were coming on Tuesday also, so the pressure was on. Elder Halterman was sick so we had to go to the clinic for tests as we were very concerned about malaria as he had some mosquito bites. Fortunately, all of the tests were negative and it appeared that he had a touch of the flu. The week before I had similar symptoms but it is always best to make sure of a diagnosis here in Africa. After the tests on Tuesday we took him to our home and had him sleep, take fever reducing medication, and eat chicken noodle soup. Sometimes all the elders need is a good dose of Dr. Mom! He was better the next day and fully participated in zone conference but was still a little weak. Unfortunately, Elder Guillory also came down with the same symptoms during the conference so we also had to take him to the clinic but this time we knew a little more what to expect and he required some rest and then was okay.

Early Birthday, Elder Ounleu

Early Birthday, Elder Ounleu

We left Friday morning to come back to Cotonou as Zone conference was scheduled here for Friday afternoon. Elder Ounleu, an area seventy was in Lome for Seminary and Institute graduation and traveled to Cotonou with us so he could attend zone conference here with the missionaries. Zone Conferences are basically the same format in Lome and Cotonou so will talk mostly about the one in Cotonou. We always have a special Zone Conference dinner for the elders and after several months of trying to do both in our apartments, we decided that we would do one at a nice restaurant. This month we went out to eat here in Cotonou which turned out to be quite the experience as we were about two hours late for the actual conference to begin. After leaving Lome and crossing the border, we found ourselves in a torrential rainstorm which slowed us and everyone else down to a snail’s pace. Traffic was stop-and-go for about 10 miles out of Cotonou so we were an hour late at the restaurant. When we finally arrived all the missionaries who were supposed to meet us there were nowhere to be found. After a few calls we found out they were on foot about a mile away trying to wait for the rain to quit. It never did quit and when Elder Black finally retrieved them, they came in “soaked to the bone.” We had pre-ordered the main entrĂ©e and all we needed to choose were two side dishes. Sounded simple enough to us but not so, as it took another hour and a half before we saw any food. (West Africa Won Again!) It was really good when it finally came, though, and a nice dinner was enjoyed by all. Elder Ounleu was the mission president in the Cote d’Ivoire mission before President Ayekoue took over 1 year ago so most of our African Elders knew him as a mission president also. He is a young man in his 30′s. Speaks English well and gave some excellent training to both the missionaries and the Branch Presidencies while he was here. Before serving as mission president, he served as a stake president in Cote d’Ivoire and President Ayekoue was his counselor so they know each other very well.

Lome Zone

Lome Zone

President Ayekoue opened and closed the conference with a special musical DVD about the life of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ accompanied by the music to “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing” It showed pictures of paintings depicting the life of Christ and actual scenes of the area of his ministry. As missionaries, we testify of Christ, we teach of Christ and invite others to follow Him. I am reading the book, “Jesus the Christ” and it made it more meaningful for me. Several of the elders commented how much they felt the spirit when viewing these scenes from the life of Christ. Elder Ounleu also gave an inspirational message. Elders Halverson and Ghisquiere were also asked to bear their testimonies. They both have been on their missions for about four months and are two more top notch elders. It is such a thrill for us to associate with such dedicated and focused young men. After zone conference, President interviewed all of the missionaries one at a time so the rest of us ate cake and ice cream and honored all of the elders who had upcoming birthdays. The last interview ended about eleven o’clock so there was another late night for us. Elder Black had about four of those in a row so by Sunday, he was getting worn out. In Lome, he came struggling in to bed about 12 o’clock one night saying that, “I’m not as young as President Ayekoue.” You need to be a survivor to live in Africa so he is now a “true African.”

Saturday afternoon began the Branch Conference for Gbedjromede. The first meeting began at three o’clock and was for the leaders of the branch. The Presidencies of the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary met together for an hour and a half while the Priesthood leaders met together. Soeur Felicite, the Relief Society President gave an excellent talk about staying focused on our responsibilities. Soeur Ayekoue was scheduled to take most of the time but she went to Missebo Marche and didn’t get back in time so I ended up giving an extemporaneous talk using the thoughts from President Monson’s talk to the young women in March about having courage to: “Refrain from judging others, to be chaste and virtuous and stand for truth and righteousness.” Elder Black came and translated and we made it through. In the next meeting all the leaders met together and we were both scheduled to give a talk. I decided to bear my testimony in French, which was a challenge. The members are so forgiving of terrible accents and are thrilled when you try. Elder Black talked about having our lives and hearts turned to the temple as our ultimate goal in life. It was well received by everyone, including President Ayekoue. Sunday was well attended and a good spirit was felt as the branch conference continued. By Sunday afternoon, even President Ayekoue had to admit that he was tired.

President and Soeur Ayekoue left on Monday evening and we took the rest of the day off. We did survive. Just one more zone conference to go!

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Did you know that “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” is a good hymn for prelude music in Sacrament Meeting? We have been struggling to get all the chapels outfitted with everything they need. One of those items of course is a piano. Yamaha makes a electronic piano for the church that has the hymns pre-programmed onto the machine. Not being successful in finding out how to get one, we solved the problem in each branch so far by using one of the little student models that we have to teach people how to play. It has some pre-programmed music but not any hymns. Last Sunday in Lome it was raining and rain always keeps people home. It is not fun to ride a moto or even walk in a torrential rain. Of course, we are one of the lucky few who have a vehicle so it doesn’t bother us as much. When we arrived at the chapel, the piano player was not there (He arrived about half way through Sacrament Meeting) but the piano was reverently playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” over and over. We listened to that for probably 30 minutes or so before the meeting started (almost a half hour late on account of the rain). Everyone was very reverent, even more so than on most Sundays. Maybe we should consider putting that one in the hymnbook. I remember years ago, President Joseph Fielding Smith gave a talk–I think it was at BYU–and although I don’t remember the context, I still remember his poem.

Twinkle, Twinkle little star,
I don’t wonder where you are.
I surmised your spot in space,
When you left your missile base.

Any wondering I do,
Centers on the cost of you.
And I shutter when I think,
What you’re costing us per twink.

That is probably even more appropriate today than it was then considering the pace of government spending.

Lome Zone Activity at Kpalime Falls

Lome Zone Activity at Kpalime Falls

Missionaries at the falls

Missionaries at the falls

Back to mission things. We had promised the Lome missionaries for some time that we would have a zone activity. President Ayekoue has allowed and even encouraged us to do that once in a while. As the missionaries come and go, some of them miss out or get in on several depending on the timing. Elders Halterman and Carver, two brand new missionaries, arrived in Togo on Thursday and the activity was planned for Monday to go see some waterfalls at Kpalime. We thought it was an hour or so out of Lome but it turned out to be a 2 1/2 hour drive. We only got to see one waterfall as the rain had made the road very bad according to the report but the one was almost worth the trip. Best of all we got to see some small mountains which was a welcome site as we have seen nothing but flat land and seashore for a long time now. Soeur Black and I fixed a fine lunch and we got in the two mission vehicles and headed out with Blaise and his son Alma as guides. We will let the pictures tell the rest of the story. At the base of the falls, it is damp and dare I say even cold. Soeur Black says “The elders were anxious to see me drive and I found out that I can still drive but the motos scared me some. Thankfully most of the driving was out of Lome. When we went around a corner and saw a mountain in the distance, it was mighty thrilling.”

Dodger Black and Parents at 1 Day

Before coming back to Cotonou, we arranged to get some benches built for the Lome Chapel and worked on some other problems in the missionary apartments. Then we learned the other big news of the week–the arrival of a new grandson. This caused us to hurry a little faster back to Cotonou in hopes of being able to see him on the web cam. Dodger M Black, son of Andy and Alicia, is the newest member of the Black family and the 2nd one born since we left for our mission. Once again we are so thankful for modern technology as a picture was e-mailed to us when he was only one day old and then we saw him on Skype when he was two days old. All he needs is a Grandma and Grandpa to help rock him in a big rocking chair.

We got back in time to welcome the two new missionaries that came to Cotonou the same day the ones arrived in Lome. They are not brand new, having been in Africa a couple of months now. Elder Halvorsen is from Washington State and Elder Ghisquiere is from France. We are really glad to have them here and it brings our count up to 10 elders in Cotonou and another 10 in Lome. Ironically, we also have the same makeup in each city — 5 from Cote d’Ivorie, 4 from the US and 1 from France. I don’t know if President Ayekoue planned that or not but that is the way it turned out.

4th of July festivities

4th of July festivities

7up (wish it were root beer) floats

7-Up (wish it were root beer) floats

We have mentioned that it is absolutely essential to have a good sense of humor here in West Africa, and another music story is applicable for the 4th of July. We had a nice baptism in Cotonou on Saturday, July 4 for three people. Elder Ahoutou was playing the prelude music before the baptism. He is really getting quite good on the keyboard having practiced quite a lot since he came to Cotonou. Of course, we and the American elders were thinking a little about our hometown celebrations and patriotic songs, when the prelude music turned to “Joy to the World.” If you stop and think about it, a baptism is certainly a joyous occasion. After the baptism, all of the missionaries came over to our apartment for a little Fourth of July celebration. We had hamburgers and French fries and 7-Up floats. Root Beer is not even heard of over here so we had to substitute 7-Up for the root beer. We put some Mormon Tabernacle Choir patriotic music in the computer to put us in the right spirit. All we needed to hear was “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy, born on the fourth of July.” Everyone had a great time even without fireworks.

Kpalime Picnic

Kpalime Picnic

Closest thing to being cold

Closest thing to being cold

Base of the falls

Base of the falls