Africa to U.S.A.

Saying goodbye in Togo was a little easier than in Benin. First of all we had not been there nearly as long and secondly our schedule there never allowed us to get intimately acquainted with a lot of the members. We attended Lomé Branch on Sunday because I had not yet finished the midyear audit. President Sessi again invited us up to give our parting testimony. Lomé Branch now has their new benches finished and they look really nice. I suppose if you compared them to the benches that adorn most U.S. chapels they might be considered crude but they are well made, look good in the Lomé chapel and should last the saints there for many years to come. I did not make a count but I am sure there were probably at least 150 in attendance. It was reported later that there were 194 in attendance at Tokoin and more than 70 in Hedzranawoe so the church and the activity continues to grow in Togo. On Sunday afternoon Soeur Black and I fairly well collapsed and just enjoyed the afternoon and evening of our last Sunday in Africa. On Monday and Tuesday we finished delivering the chalkboards, AV stands, TV’s and CD players to all of the chapels. Every chapel in Lomé and Cotonou now has a nice set up for playing CD’s to assist in teaching.

Chinese Birthday Dinner for Elder Bowman

Chinese Birthday Dinner for Elder Bowman

We have tried to remember each missionary on or around his birthday and the last one before we left was for Elder Bowman. We did cheat a little though and took him and his companion to a Chinese restaurant instead of a home cooked meal. They did not seem to mind and it was easier at a time when there was no food left in the house!

Lome Missionaries

Lome Missionaries

We also invited all of the Lomé missionaries over on Monday for a little going away cake and ice cream. That was nice and it turned into a little tearful farewell from some of the missionaries. I think they are most sad to see Soeur Black’s cooking slip away but we really have formed a good bond with many of these missionaries and appreciate them a lot. We will truly miss them!

On Wednesday, Blaise called us a taxi as soon as all of our bags were ready and Blaise, (our guardian and expert at crossing the border), former Elder Missigbeto who came over to go on to Accra to the temple with us, and Soeur Black and I crowded into the small taxi with all our suitcases to begin the journey to Accra. After seeing all those overloaded taxis for a year and a half, this time we were the overload. Arriving at the border we were immediately surrounded by a number of women offering to carry the luggage through the border. Blaise chose three, each of whom put two suitcases (about 100 lbs) on their head and started across with us hurrying to keep up. A half hour and a few filled out forms later, we were on the Ghana side, found a taxi and headed for Accra. Ghana in general appears to be more progressive than Togo and Benin. This is perhaps not true if you get out of the city but Accra is quite a bit like an American city complete with a freeway.

President and Sister Harmon had invited us to stay at the Ghana MTC. It is located in Tema, about 15 miles before you reach the City of Accra. We arrived early afternoon and were warmly welcomed. We spent the evening there mostly just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful apartment which is much like a very nice condo and something we had not seen for many months. President and Sister Harmon had just shipped off a group of over 60 missionaries and they were also relaxing and of course tending our needs. The group included two elders from Togo and one from Monticello, Elder Butler, whom we had hoped to see but missed by about an hour.

On Thursday, Sister Harmon drove us into the temple and we attended a session. In the session were President Gbedjangni, Desire and Soeur Vivian from Cotonou. Also Soeur Pascaline was going through for her own endowment. There was also a couple from Togo. It was a nice to attend the temple with some people we knew. The room was almost filled and Soeur Black and I were the only white faces in the session. Afterward, the Cotonou folks did some baptisms and asked me to do the baptizing. The Accra temple is beautiful all done in beautiful African woods and stained glass windows in African designs and colors. Such a change from the outside world. The African members look striking in their white clothing against their black faces. It was a very fitting and wonderful end to a mission.

You have heard of the longest day. We had one on Friday. The flight from Accra to New York is 11 hours but another 3 are required for check in, boarding etc. Our stay in New York was a couple of hours and then another 6 hour flight (including the world’s longest taxi before takeoff) to arrive in Salt Lake City. The trip was largely uneventful except that Elder Black got a little sick and we left the camera on the airplane in New York. The camera had been dropped anyway and we did not feel especially bad about losing it but our blog will be missing a couple of pictures of Ghana and the temple. We arrived in Salt Lake City to our much anticipated reunion with family just a little before midnight.

Top of the Escalator

Top of the Escalator

The reunion at the bottom of the escalator was all that we had anticipated it would be. All of the grandkids except 3 who just couldn’t wait up that long were there with hugs and kisses a plenty. Also the Southams and Elder Phillips had waited up for our arrival. Thanks to all for this effort. We think it may be worth serving a mission just because of the fun of coming home to a grand reunion with family and friends.

After a wonderful weekend at Jody’s house in Pleasant Grove with all the family except for Tony and Kerry and children (they live in Kansas and will be coming next week), we returned to Blanding on Sunday evening where we were released from our mission by President Redd. As we look at our mission in retrospect, we experienced everything from the exhilarating to the frustrating to the spiritual. We worked hard and tried to serve the Lord to the best of our ability. We prayed daily that we might know how best to serve Him, the members and the young missionaries. We know without a shadow of a doubt that the gospel was restored in its fullness by a loving Heavenly Father so we might have the privilege knowing his plan of salvation and live with our families again when we return to our Father in heaven. The gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives. We saw it happen again and again in Africa as people accepted it and were willing to live a Christ-like life.

Thanks to all who have shared with us our experiences in the small countries of Benin and Togo in the big mystical place called Africa.

Elder Pete and Soeur Charlotte Black

Loves all around

Loves all around

Meeting new ones

Meeting new ones

Here is a brand new one

Here is a brand new one

Love for Grandpa

Love for Grandpa

Airport Reunion

Airport Reunion

A Roller Coaster of Emotions

Our last week in Cotonou has been a roller coaster of emotions as we have made our final preparations to leave and return home to our family and friends. We have grown to love so many of the members and missionaries here that it has been very difficult to say good-bye knowing that we will probably never see many of them again. The gospel of Jesus Christ is true and constant everywhere and at all times but missionaries come and go as servants in the Lord’s army change. Our only prayer is that our work has been consecrated and accepted by the Lord.

Most of the week was spent preparing for our departure. Elder Black spent his time with the final financial responsibilities. Elder Jerman will pay the bills etc., so he needed to learn where all of the places were located to pay the water, electricity, phone, internet, etc. It sounds easy enough but they are all located in different places for six different buildings, are due at different times and must be paid in person with cash. He also needed to make arrangements with the bank to make an authorized change from his name to the new couple who will be here in October. Then there was also the post office and customs at the airport where the packages arrive. The list goes on and on but when we left for Togo on Saturday he had all of this done plus audits in the branches and last minute visits with the branch presidents.

Soeur Black spent the week cleaning the apartment and packing the suitcases. Both projects seemed to call for big garbage bags for things to be given away and trashed. By Friday night the apartment looked a little bare but clean and organized. The airlines has strict restrictions on luggage weight and size so the scales were in constant use trying to come up with the proper balance of weight in all of the suitcases. We are allowed one carry-on which can weigh 18 kilos and two checked pieces of luggage which can weight 23 kilos each for each of us. We have had so many gifts given to us and souvenirs that the weight added up real fast!

Victor and Harmonica

Victor and Harmonica

We have developed a great friendship with President Gbedjangni (Lets hear you pronounce that) and his family. They have been members of the church for approximately 13 years, and have been instrumental in helping the church to grow in Cotonou. They invited us to dinner on Tuesday evening for one last feast of Soeur Viviane’s superb African cooking. It always amazes us to see how so much good food can be prepared on small charcoal cookers outside on the ground. As we were in our final preparations to leave, Elder Black had three harmonicas which were given to him or sent from home. He can only play one at a time so he decided to give one to Victor, their 11 year old son. His eyes were extra large as he heard Elder Black give a demonstration of how a harmonica works. Much to our surprise, by the time we left that evening he had one stanza of “Come, Come, Ye Saints” down real well. The harmonica was given to the right person!

Cotonou Missionaries

Cotonou Missionaries

Four missionaries were being released this week so Elder Black made a quick trip Togo on Wednesday to retrieve Elder Missegbeto and Elder Ayeoutou so Elder Ayeoutou could go back to Cote d’Ivoiore with Elder Aka and Elder Ayaman and Elder Missegbeto (be sure to pronounce all those correctly) could be back in Cotonou for their releases. On Thursday afternoon we invited the missionaries over to help clean out the fridge and have a little farewell party. Of course, the missionaries were more than happy to help us with that project. There was a big container of frozen spaghetti sauce in the freezer which disappeared quite quickly plus other mismatched items from the fridge. What was left we boxed up and sent across the street with Elder Jerman and Elder Kpagnni.

Dinner at the Pierre and Rosemund home

Dinner at the Pierre and Rosemund home

We have also become good friends with Pierre and Rosemond Aggasain and their girls. Pierre is a good person to know. He is one person in Africa who knows how to do things. He is a carpenter by trade and does some beautiful wood work which has made the chapels look a lot better. He also did all the remodeling of the new building when we got it and generally knows where to go to get most anything accomplished. They invited us over for an authentic African meal on Friday evening. They served rice jolof and fried fish followed by pate rouge and a sauce. It was absolutely delicious and a good one to remember African cooking with. Rosemond sells fish at Tokpa marche and goes to the port every day for fresh fish so the fish was fresh and cooked to perfection. Their two older girls, Elizabeth and Cecilia, were two of the dancers at our going away party the previous Saturday. Then there is the little Pierrette. When she was born we were with her a lot. Now she is a year old she screams every time she sees us. Lately she has been getting more friendly, however, and before we left on Friday we actually got a smile out of her.

Saturday morning we left the apartment with our suitcases and memories and headed for Lome. We needed to stop and see a couple of members on the way so we took the long way to Lome via Calavie to bid farewell to Soeur Juilianne. Cotonou would not be Cotonou without several major traffic jams on a daily basis and we found ourselves in a “doozie”. It seemed as if everyone in Cotonou was headed for Calavie and everyone in Calavie needed to be in Cotonou. With the road construction and trucks, motos and cars on the road there was plenty of horn honking and near misses.

Josianne, Julianne, and new boomba

Josianne, Julianne, and new boomba

We eventually made it to Soeur Juilianne’s home for a nice little farewell visit. She had made a beautiful boomba for Elder Black which fit him to perfection. This is another family we will miss very much and have certainly enjoyed going there during the past year. Juilianne is a beautiful seamstress and you may recall the she is deaf and is an expert at reading lips. The only problem is that they must be Fon lips so we have always needed a translator. We always tried to have a Fon speaker with us but her daughter Josianne speaks French so she was the translator this time. About eight hours after we left our Cotonou apartment for the last time we arrived in Lome on Saturday night. The couple’s home there is quiet and peaceful and we literally collapsed but were ready the next day to finish our responsibilities there.

Missionary farewell for 5 elders and 1 sister

Missionary farewell for 5 elders and 1 sister