Monday, August 31, 2015

A Letter to Aunt Lavinia

The following is a portion of an email Elder Walls sent his aunt:

August 31, 2015

Dear Aunt Lavinia,
In response to some of the questions you asked:

The experiences that have built my testimony the most...that's a very deep question! I don't have a lot of time to reflect, but I will try to give a good answer. 

There is a scripture in one of the gospels that talks about Christ in Gethsemane and said something to the effect of, "Being in an agony, he prayed more sincerely." (Sorry, my English scriptures, the ones where everything is marked, are back in the apartment. And my French ones have just the bare necessities, so I don't have the verse of the top of my head.) But like you said, there are a lot of challenges that accompany any mission and this one isn't any exception. When times have gotten the toughest, are the times when I've prayed the hardest and when I have gotten the best responses. There have been a few times when I've been discouraged or scared, and have just asked to feel God's love. And the response has been just a feeling that someone was hugging me. I've definitely learned how to REALLY pray as a missionary.

Another experience that built up my testimony was when I was training my American comp--I was a brand new American myself, and he had a really difficult time with learning French, and he felt really self conscious about it. I don't know if he believes it, but there were times when he was teaching and would just go for it and try his best to teach a lesson, that he had the gift of tongues. Not that he spoke perfect French, but he spoke French way better than he could around the apartment.

Another experience was with two of my favorite investigators, L and M. They lived in Cococodji, where I was trained. I was transferred right before they got married and baptized, which bummed me out a little. Later, at a district conference, they flagged me down, and I honestly almost didn't recognize them! L. was so well groomed and well dressed (usually when we would teach them, he would be shirtless). When I saw his wife behind him, I came to myself and was so excited when I recognized who they were. Members can live miles away, but they really do their part to participate in the gospel. And you can see the Light of Christ in their eyes. So seeing those two amis, as members was really special. You could see the difference the gospel had made in their lives. I wish I had had my camera with me because I would love a photo of them. Maybe the next conference I will see them if I am still in Benin.

Anyways, those experiences are definitely special. I am sure I have had others, but these are the ones that come to my mind first. 
As for the distance from Cotonou, it takes about an hour by car to get there. However, because the road conditions are so bad here, that doesn't necessarily mean that we are that far away. If you look at the map of Benin, the church has really only has a small presence along a small portion of the south, along the coast.
I imagine so much has changed with you all since I left, I can't wait to see you all again.

With Love,
Eric--I usually just sign emails to family as Eric, but some people don't like that, if so--
Elder Walls

Monday, August 17, 2015

Rogenio's Baptism

Rogenio's Baptism
August 17, 2015
I always love getting all of your news and updates. I am glad to hear that you are all doing well. It's been a pretty long week, looking back some of the details seem distant. Let's see if I can remember everything.

Tuesday, we got to see one of my favorite amis, Prundencio. Do you remember me telling you about him? He is the son of the man who is the equivalent of a senator here, and the one whose car caught fire right in front of our house. He is making good progress, he reads the Book of Mormon more than most of our other amis. He is always very interested in the stories, and fills us in on everything he has read. We are working on getting him to come to church. One of the challenges, though, is the distance--our church building is quite far away. 

Wednesday, I woke up with a crazy knot in my right shoulder and neck. Must've slept poorly, however, this time was worse than other times. Looked in the mirror and saw th

(Mom's note: The email only went this far, leaving us worried about what had happened. Not sure if the cyber cafe lost power (which happens quite a bit), or if Eric was just going for dramatic effect.Thankfully, another email came through with the rest of the story.)

Looked in the Mirror and saw that one shoulder was actually higher than the other and my neck was cocked to one side. I felt like I was standing up straight, but I guess not. I made a makeshift brace for my neck, and that helped quite a bit. 

That same day, I did a split with Elder Legbanon. We walked pretty far out in their sector to meet with a former voodoo fetisher. He had some interesting stories to tell about mobs of angry men trying to bury him alive. 

Saturday we had our baptism for Rogenio. I am not sure I have told you about him. He is 20 years old, so that makes him my peer even though we've been raised on different sides of the globe. He has friends who are members and he was interested in being baptized himself. He took the lessons and progressed rather quickly. He really liked learning about the Plan of Salvation. Now that he is baptized, he is considering going on a mission and his 2 brothers are also interested in learning about the gospel. 

Sunday, Rogenio was confirmed. We were a little worried if he would show up on time. However, upon arriving, we found that not only was he already there, but was wearing very nice Sunday attire. We hadn't even told him he needed to start looking for a white shirt yet, so his friends must have helped him. It is so great to see him making efforts to integrate himself into the church. 

Rogenio looking classy in his new church attire!
Our apartment was not touched by transfers. Elder Marurai and I are still together, as are Ribera and Legbanon. I love the people of Porto Novo, I could stay here my entire mission!

A bit of business: Now that I am officially in my 2nd year, there will be some things I need you to do for me. Do you remember that list I typed up for you before I left (things like finding housing at the Y, course selection, etc.)? Maybe you could email me a copy of that so that I can help keep track of things, and maybe send some friendly reminders. Would that help? 

Anyways, hope you guys have a great week, I swapped computers so I will try to send some photos now.

Elder Walls
Rogenio with his friends, Grace and Gracia
Another photo from Rogenio's Baptism
Gave our study a makeover, my desk in on the right

Monday, August 10, 2015

One Year Mark! Celebrating with Grilled Pizza!

August 10, 2015

Dear Family, 

It was great to hear from you guys and see all of your photos. Glad things are going well at home.

We are doing well here in Porto Novo as well. We had a lot of things going on this week, so it went by fast.

Tuesday, we had a tennis activity with some of our neighbors which was a lot of fun. The only downside though was that we didn't make many contacts. We had planned on also playing some basketball (which is better for meeting people), but there was an organized competition going on, so we kept to the tennis courts. 

Wednesday, we went to Akpakpa in Cotonou for a street contacting activity. It was great because we all got to work with different people. I worked with Elder Dakuri from Cote D'Ivore. He has a tremendously good sense of humor with the other missionaries and with those he finds in the streets. It was fun to be around him for the day.

Thursday, I did a split with Elder Ribera which was very effective. We taught 7 lessons in one day which felt awesome! We were able to see our ami, Prudencio, who is starting to make some good progress. He read the first 5 chapters of the Book of Mormon and said he wants to be a missionary and to take the Book of Mormon all throughout Benin. He really wants to visit the hill Cumorah, to witness where Joseph Smith had the First Vision. We are really encouraging him to attend church on Sunday. 

Friday, was my one year mark!!!! Very exciting! I made everyone pizza which was easier then I originally thought. The only real difficulty was finding ingredients. Thankfully, while we were in Cotonou on Wednesday, I was able to find cheese and pizza sauce. We made the pizzas on our neighbor's grill, and that worked out really well. We made a ton, so everyone had plenty. 

That night, I burned a shirt which was in really poor shape. That was fun too. Ribera and I joked around that it is almost a rite of passage in missionary life. 

Saturday was a normal day of work. We started teaching some of our Nigerians neighbors, which is great, because I don't have many opportunities to teach in English. They asked a lot of inspired questions and generally concluded that most churches today only preach prosperity, but that a real church would teach repentance. We talked about how one of the primary teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we are able to repent of our sins. 

After our lesson, they fed us rice with tomato sauce and goat meat, which is a pretty common dish. However, once I began to eat, I discovered that the particular piece of meat that I was given was the snout, which had not even been skinned. I could clearly see the hair nostrils. I did my best to rip the thick, rubbery skin away to get to the meat that was inside. I was mostly successful, although I did make a bit of a mess in the process. 

The work in Porto Novo is going well. I am not sure if I will be here much longer--transfer calls come this weekend. We'll see. Wherever I go I will be fine. I love Porto Novo, but I am sure I would love any area I am sent to. I do hope to be able to go to Togo at some point. 

I have a ton of photos to send. I want to make sure you have all of the photos in the event that my memory card gets another virus. 

Have a great week!

Love you,
Elder Walls

Making grilled pizza to celebrate my one year anniversary. They say kneading dough is one of the most relaxing things you can do. I know this much, the finished product was a beautiful sight! 

  Ahh, it's been too long since I've had pizza! We used our neighbor's grill to cook them, since we don't have an oven. We made a ton, so everyone had plenty---and they were awesome!

I guess it's almost a rite of passage for a missionary to burn a worn out shirt to celebrate their mission midpoint. I had a shirt that was in pretty poor shape--starting to get some holes. Didn't think anyone would want it, so I decided to burn it. Mom, don't worry, we didn't burn down the house!

Some more food pictures. The first is the lunch Ribera and I had while we were out on splits--we ate well: chicken, rice, eggs, fries and Polynesian sauce. The second picture is Boudakasa with sauce Boma.

Before our Branch building got its own baptismal font, we would travel to a hotel and use their swimming pool.

These photos are from Ronald's baptism. 
(Please excuse my dirty shirt--it was just before wash day, and a bird pooped on my other shirt, 
so I had to wear this one a little longer than I normally would)

Isaac's baptism (this is going back a bit)

It is an amazing experience to be a part of someone's baptism, and to witness them taking 
their first steps in following Christ. 

The Young Men's group: With Maserick, Fabien and Gael

Mom, you said you loved seeing the pictures of the children. 

Beautiful African sky--the clouds looked like rainbows

Now, this is the way to move furniture in style!

Ribera and I trying to keep cool

My old sandals that fell apart from all the walking on rough terrain--they didn't even last a year! 
Thankfully, for my birthday, my family sent me a more rugged pair. 

This photo is going way back: Our former apartment in Aimlonfide. 
And Mom, don't worry, we keep our new apartment here MUCH cleaner!

Elders Ribera and Legbanon

Elder Marurai

This one is going way back, but I love it! Elders Bailey and Jackson from our MTC days.

Another way back photo. Us with the the senior missionary couples. Love them!

Poor lost goat.

A strange sight here in Africa--Yovos! 
When you run into white people here, most likely they are French and/or Jehovah's Witnesses. 

Memorial to the first missionaries to arrive in Benin.

The rest of these are from our trip to the zoo and to the Temple of Pythons (awhile back)--the power cut out last week before I could finish sending them. The first picture is some sort of sacrificial ball. I believe they open it every 7 years to put things inside. That's red flour on top with oil--apparently, that is the food of the gods. 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Week-end à Wèkè‏

Jose's Baptism

It’s great to hear all of your news--seems like everyone is getting married or doing something exciting. I'm sure everything will be different when I come home. 

I am doing well. I got the anniversary package that you sent. Thank you, I love everything you sent! I shared some of the Oreos and Cliff bars with the other Elders in the apartment. And Friday, I will cook something special to commemorate the 1 year mark. It's been so neat to have the Book of Mormon manual. I appreciate it so much more now than I would have before I was a missionary. I really enjoy using it in my study of the Book of Mormon.

We celebrated Benin Independence Day on Saturday. They really don't do anything special for the holiday. Most people here cannot afford to take a vacation day from work. If they close up shop, they could miss a sale.

The Dysons, the missionary couple, came to visit, which is always fun. I spent some time talking with Elder Dyson and tried to squeeze some information out of him regarding the plans for Porto Novo. 

Sunday school was great we talked about missionary work and ordinances done vicariously for the dead. I really tried to emphasize that without temples, God's plan of salvation would not be just, and it could not work. Through the work that is done in temples, ALL of God's children can receive the ordinances they need for salvation. 

This morning I organized an activity to go to a small zoo, called Wèkè. We'd heard from multiple sources that there was a lion there, but upon arriving we learned that he died 2 months ago. We did see a jackal, a Gila monster, crocodile, baboon, peacocks, etc. It was a fun activity. It is good to do some fun things on our P-day to keep up morale. 

The best news of the week was José's baptism! He is the ami that we reconnected with at the English competition. It was great to see him enter the waters of baptism, and participate in his first gospel ordinance. 

It has been awhile since we've had a baptism, which has caused me to reflect on the scripture in 1 Corinthians 1:17, which talks about not being sent to baptize, but to preach the gospel. It is easy to base your success as a missionary on statistics and numbers (especially with the records we keep, and having to send in reports every week). However, the call is to be a disciple of Christ--to be an example and guiding light to everyone around you, whether they are fellow missionaries, members, investigators . . . to all. Baptism is an important, and necessary, step. So, it was great to see José take that step and make that commitment to follow Christ. 

Things are good here. The Church is growing. Soon we will have a Zone of missionaries, then a district. Eventually a Stake will be formed here . . but all things in their time. 

Love you all! It doesn’t seem like its been one year already. I’m convinced that the second year will be even faster. So I’ll see you in a few! 

Thanks again for the package, I love everything inside. I appreciate all of the support and the weekly letters. One thing that would be nice would be some current photos of everyone (hint hint!). 

Take care and have a good week. 
Elder Walls
Great view of this beautiful country
More photos from the baptism 

Chillin with the gorilla
Marurai and I got a little thirsty at the zoo--hoping they use filtered water!
Ribera and I
Our guide warned us not to get too close to the baboon--they can claw or bite you

Tennis courts
We have an activity arranged to play tennis with some of the children in the neighborhood
Goat in the middle of the road