Monday, September 28, 2015

Porto Novo, Adieu


It is going to be so hard to leave Porto Novo! It is amazing how much the Branch building has changed. When I first came to this area, we missionaries lived upstairs (Elder B and I slept on the floor no less!). Now that we have moved out, there is a huge Chapel on the second floor. The building now has its own baptismal font. Ceiling fans, purple paint, walls busted up, we even have a sign on the front--lots of changes. The church will continue to grow here--I am so glad to have been a part of it!
Dear Family,

So I guess I will skip most of what happened during the week and go straight to transfer calls—I'm being transferred! This week the Assistants are going to come get me and take me to my new sector, ..... Cocotomey! (Pronounced Coco—like the word coconut—toe may.)

I will be the zone leader of the Cocotomey zone. This is the same zone where I did my training. My sector is the next-door neighbor to Cococodji (where I was trained with Elder A). I'll be working with Elder A from Nigeria, He was Elder B's companion in the MTC, so he's relatively new and I don't know much about him--I am sure we will get along great! The other companionship in the apartment is the Assistants, Elders M and T (from Utah and Hawaii). I'm looking forward to working with them as well.

I'm excited because this means that: (1) I will probably get to see many of my converts and amis from Cococodji while doing splits. (2) I will most likely be present for the creation of the new stake! (I will actually be in the stake boundaries now.) And (3) I will get to eat charwarma (a Middle-Eastern chicken wrap thing) every month during the ZL meetings.

I've actually been to Cocotomey a few times while in Cococodji. It is more rural than Porto Novo, but not as much as Cococodji. I remember seeing a few decent places to eat and shop. We actually spent last Thanksgiving there--we would go there for baptismal interviews, and on Thanksgiving, we stayed a little longer and had charwarmas for dinner. There was a great place you could get charwarmas for about 1000 frances (about $2)--most places charge 1500 or more francs.

Elder M (an Elder from Nashville who I really like) also just got called ZL for the neighboring zone of Menontin, so we'll probably get to see each other occasionally. 

I imagine it's going to be kind of difficult at first because I’ve never worked as a zone leader. I will have to quickly learn my responsibilities and my zone--our first zone conference is in October, and there may be a member of the 70 there.

So that is the exciting part about transfers, now for the sad part:
I will really miss Porto Novo. I have loved the sector and the branch and everything about the area. It has been a real pleasure to be able to play a little part in the branch's initial growth—to see people getting baptized, leaders being called and trained, auxiliaries being established, etc. It’s very likely that in the next 10 years or so that there will be a stake here. Right now it’s still in the 'seeding' process I suppose, but the soil is very rich and very ready to accept and nourish the seeds that missionaries and angels alike are sowing in every direction.

I've planted some seeds, and I've seen some of them start to grow and flourish. I’m sure others will eventually follow. It is easy to count the baptisms you were a part of, as the "influence," you have had in a sector. However, you have a bigger impact than you think. Even just being outside in a white shirt and tie, wearing your missionary name tag and carrying a copy of the Book of Mormon does something. People see it, and start to wonder who are all these white guys walking around everywhere. Quite often they will stop us and ask questions. Eventually, they will no longer confuse us with Jehovah's Witnesses or students at a local school. One day they might even start shouting, "Mormon!" instead of "Yovo!" when they see us in the streets.

I'm only the 7th missionary to have come into this city, and many more will follow. Hopefully people who have seen us in the streets, or gotten brochures from us, will start listening to the message we missionaries have and come unto Christ.

This area is so ready for the Gospel! I would imagine if you were to take a missionary serving in France or someplace where the people are not very interested in listening to the missionaries, and send them here for a month, they wouldn't want to stop to eat or sleep or anything. They'd just be proselyting 24/7.

Africa is not a difficult place to serve. Quite often you will hear people complain about the heat, or the food, or being sick, but honestly, you get used to all of those things. You get used to the heat, and the food and all the little microbes after a few months and after that you are good to go. Benin is a great place to serve a mission! So many people are willing to listen and accept our message. At the very least, they will talk to us. 

I am sad to leave Porto Novo, but I am excited to start with a new comp in a new sector. I have learned a lot in the past 10 months here in Porto Novo; about doing missionary work and also about getting along with people. I’m hoping to hit the ground running in Cocotomey. I’m excited to get started in a new branch and to put everything I’ve learned in the past 14 months to practice. 

Love you all,
Elder Walls

PS Thanks for the photos! It is crazy to think that Nathan is already 17 and a junior in high school, he'll almost be 18 when I get back. It's always fun to see you guys, sometimes photos speak louder than words. Thanks for the photo of the cheerleaders as well, I might need to print this one off to hang up in my room, haha--just kidding!

Here are some photos--don't ever want to forget these wonderful people!

The Porto Novo Elder's Quorum--a few members are not pictured

President and Sister Z. It is amazing how the Lord calls inexperienced people to do His work. These two wonderful people have had to learn all the rules and traditions of the church. They have worked hard and tried their best while learning to lead the Branch.

One of my favorite members, A. He would often help teach Sunday School, and is going to take my place as SS president. He speaks both French and English. He recently received the Melchizedek priesthood, and is considering serving a mission.Hard to believe he was baptized only a little over a year ago.

These two are not a couple, we just took a photo together. I love them both. P (the man) is our Branch clerk. He works in the Benin Historical Archives--I visited him once at work and his job looks so cool! ML (the woman) lives so far away from the church building but always makes it on time to church. Quite often she brings food for the missionaries. She asked that if I ever meet the prophet, that I show him her photo--I'll do my best!

E is a former voodoo practioner, and now is one of the first to show up for church every Sunday. He is a great guy and wants to be baptized.

B is always fun to be around--love him!

Another great member here is A. To look at him you would think he is in his 20's, but he is in his mid 30's. He always has a very serious face while listening to talks or lessons--you can tell he really pays attention to what is being said.

My first converts here in Porto Novo! They are awesome. They have a really long walk to get to church, but they never miss a Sunday! We are working on getting their parents baptized.

Elder B and I taught I a long time ago, and he has changed so much--I guess the gospel changes all of us. He loves to wear his boombas to church!

This is R, a recent convert of Elders R and L. He did a lot of work in order to be married so that he could be baptized. I was glad to be able to teach him a few times while on splits.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Called to Serve


We had boombas made in honor of Elder L's completion of his mission

It seems like it’s been a long week, so remembering everything that happened is hard. 

We have been trying and trying to reach one of our amis, A. Several times we passed by his house and he hasn’t answered his door. Then Tuesday, we passed by and he wouldn’t respond to our knocking. (It's not really knocking, people here say "Co! Co! Co!" in place of knocking.) His yard wasn’t raked as it usually is--he is usually very meticulous about leaves on the ground. We found his door unlocked which surprised us. We peeked our heads in and found he was sleeping. We also saw that he had his yard brooms right by the gate, so we decided to rake for him, thinking it would be a surprise for him when he woke up. It was fun, but I don't know if he noticed or not. More leaves were falling and probably covered up our work. But that's no problem--the best kind of service is the service that goes unnoticed!

Sweeping the leaves in the yard of one of our amis
We didn't see our American friend, Rostand Kiki, this week. That was kind of a bummer. He is giving his wife a tour of the country, so they were probably in other parts of the country.

Let's see what else happened this week . . . We started teaching a new ami named D. He seems really cool.

Friday, we went to the church of one of our amis. He had promised that if we went to his church, that he would visit ours. It was a different experience. First of all, at the beginning there were only about 5 people there (including us), so we felt like all eyes were on us. It was basically a prayer meeting, and they prayed with what they called the gift of tongues (not at all like the gift of tongues we talk about in our church). There was a lot of gibberish spoken. And everyone was supposed to stand and wave around, shake their hands, and mutter gibberish under their breath. It was very awkward for us. Overall, it was a good experience because it helped me see the contrast between the teachings our of church and others.

Today hasn’t been too relaxing of a P-Day, I had to accompany Ribera on an errand this morning that was about a 30 minute walk each way. We made it there and as we left, it started raining. We made a stop at our branch clerk's work, and then continued on our journey. By this time, the rain had become pretty heavy, so trekking through it was interesting. People always shout at us when we walk in the rain ("What are you doing Yovo!!! Come stand under this cover!! Quick, Yovo!"). But we just wave and keep on going, maybe one day someone will be impressed by that, and stop the missionaries to talk.

Walking isn’t always fun, but it is our most effective way of getting contacts. Pretty often people will just stop us and say, "I see you guys walking all of the time, what is it that you do?" They usually think we are college students or Jehovah's Witnesses. It gives us a good opportunity to explain who we are and why we are there.

Anyways, today we sang Called to Serve as we marched through rain and the puddles. We were soaked by the time we got back to the house. I had finished my laundry before we left, but now I have more to do.

Then a church leader from Togo came to look at the apartments that we found.We have looked at two decent places, so I think this time we will actually succeed in getting more missionaries sent out here.

And now were back home! That’s basically all I have to report.

Oh, we finally received more chairs from Ghana for the branch building!!! It’s been months of waiting, but now no one will have to worry about sitting on the floor during sacrament meeting!

The church has progressed so much since I first arrived. I’m glad to have played a role in its initial growth. I hope the work continues and that they have a Stake here one day. 

Transfers are this Saturday. It is supposed to be a big one. We have several missionaries going home, and just as many coming in new. So, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. I would love to stay here, or go to Cotonou (they are close to having a Stake organized there), or it would be cool to go to Togo (that's fun to say--"to go to Togo!"). There are perks on all ends. We'll see how everything goes!

Love you all,
Elder Walls

PS Here are some photos.

One of my converts

My comp and I realign our zen as we prep for a baptism!
L's baptism--he's a great guy from the Congo

Our district

My comp and I

A sunglasses salesman

The road to Sangai

Monday, September 14, 2015


Dear Family,
This week we’ve had some fun experiences. On Sunday, right before we got into our taxi, the office Elders called us to say that there was a couple from Utah visiting and that they wanted to come to church. So I called and directed them on how to find the church, but I never got their names. We weren't really sure who to look for, but when they got out of their car I was sure that I knew them from somewhere. 

They were in their 30’s, the husband was Beninois and the wife was Utahn. They had a little girl who was about 2 or 3 years old and super cute. We got to talking. (Side note: Speaking English has become an amazing stress release for me!) They told me that they were here because the husband was participating in the Africa Games. And suddenly I remembered who the husband was--He was Rostand Kiki, a Beninois-American professional Taekwondo fighter and he joined the church 4 years ago in Richmond Virginia. I met him in March while Elder Rich and I were running an errand for the Branch. He'd seen us on the road and hadn’t believed that the missionaries were here in Benin. On that day, we talked for only a few minutes. 

On Sunday, though, we got to talk for awhile because church started about 35 minutes late. He and his wife seem so very nice and generous. They offered to cook for us, take us out, and even cut our hair for us--his wife is a hairdresser and must not be satisfied with the job that we're doing on our own!  We'll see them again this next Sunday, and maybe during the week. They both were invited to bear their testimonies by the Branch President and I really enjoyed both of them. They were really genuine.

Sunday school was fun too. I planned on using the NEW!!! chalkboard to do the lesson. I wanted to draw a stick figure of a man and have Satan's arrows heading towards him. And then draw the armor of God. However that didn't work out, so we went with Plan B--live acting. I scavenged around the church building and found a broken broom (aka the sword of the Spirit), a dust pan which I turned into a shield of faith, and a straw hat that became the helmet of salvation. Arafat, one of my favorite members, played the soldier and I had members throw crumpled up paper at him every time they thought of one of Satan's weapons. It went over well.

This week, I was able to read James E. Talmage's Jesus the Christ. It is an amazing book, Talmage has really done his research. It really helps to understand certain sayings and things Jesus did when you understand the cultural background of the Jews.

To answer some of your questions:

First, getting visas done is simple for us as the office does most of the paperwork. We just show up, wait in line, take a photo and get fingerprints taken. Then we come back two days later. take fingerprints again, sign a paper, and pick up our visas. It's simple because on the first day of the mission they have you fill out all of the visa forms and then they scan copies of them and reuse the same info every time.

Goat snout isn’t special, or in any way considered a delicacy. They just use every part of the animal in cooking, so sometimes you end up with the goat snout. Fish head is really common as well.

I can give you an African recipe that is really pretty good. (Mom, maybe you can make that the next time you have the missionaries for dinner!):

There is something called red patte (traditionally called Amiwo)
To make it---
350g corn flour
200g chopped tomato
50g tomoato paste
1 onion bulbs
50g bouillon or season
1/8 liter oil
1/4 liter water

Pour oil into a pot and add chopped tomatoes, chopped onions, tomato paste, and any bouillon or seasoning desired. Let cook for a few minutes.

Add water, let cook. This should make a red tasty liquidy soupy sauce.

Add corn flour to your sauce, mix, and let cook for up to ten minutes.

Mix in the rest of the corn flour quickly. You have to stir pretty intensely, making sure to get flour off of the sides of the pot. Let cook until you have a nice semi solid red dough.  

You should make a simple tomato sauce to accompany this (just with oil, tomato, onion, tomato paste, water and season). You can also serve with chicken

Measurements aren’t that important, maybe you could google Amiwo to see pictures. 

The Senior couple and President M. and his wife came to our apartment after Church a few weeks ago. We made red patte (Amiwo) for them. Apparently, it was the first time they had eaten it. They said they liked it.

Mom, don't worry about when Nate graduates and not having anything to do. I will always have need of baking from you. Not to mention, the calling of mother is eternal.  I've been keeping a mental wishlist of things for you to make when I get home--the list is already a mile long. You should probably start preheating the oven now =) 

Thanks for your photos also, feels like I am there. All in all, the week has been fine. I miss you guys lots.

Love you all,
Elder Walls

Monday, September 7, 2015

Small World


Dear Family,

The week hasn't been the most productive week, mainly because I've been back and forth between Cotonou and Porto a couple of times. Tuesday, we went in to renew our visas, so we got to do a lot of sitting and waiting in line. However, it was also really refreshing because I got to speak a little English with some other Americans. I also met Elder Moss for the first time. He is from the Nashville stake! I really liked him and he seems like a really good Elder—as most East coasters are =)

Thursday, we were back at the Bureau for visas and I saw Elder Bretherton, who is from LA. He's the only other missionary in the mission that did a year at BYU before coming on his mission. I don’t remember ever having seen him in Helaman Halls or on campus. He's an office Elder, so he does a lot of work with visas, baptismal forms and so forth. He also sees Elder Barnes frequently because they are in the same district.

Apparently, on Wednesday he and Barnes got to talking about mission calls, and Elder Barnes brought up that I had opened my mission call in the McDonald's play area there in Provo. Elder Bretherton thought that was funny, but then remembered that he'd been at a mission call opening in a McDonald's play set. So, Thursday, when we were talking, Bretherton brought up the subject, and it turns out it was MY mission call opening that he was at! He just happened to be at the McDonald's with some friends and was hearing some buzz about a mission call. Then when I showed up and went in, he and his friends decided to jump in too. I remember having seen a few people that I didn’t recognize there, but I don’t remember any of their faces. He said he thought that getting called to Africa was terrible, because it would be so hot. And then a few months later he got his own call to Benin, ha ha! It’s definitely a very small world.

Then Friday, I had district leader training meeting. I love the DL meetings because we get to hear from President Morin and also his assistants. Pres. Morin spoke about how building Catholic cathedrals used to take 200 years, so one man could start building, and never see the finished building. He related it to how missionaries can lose track of the real importance of the work they’re doing and just get weighed down by the routine of things. He stressed the importance of helping missionaries stay motivated.

Mom asked about how our amis are doing --- We are still working with them. Two of them are really interested in being baptized, but they also don't want to leave the Catholic church. And we're still working on getting Prudencio to church. His phone hasn't been working, so it's been hard to reach him. I am hopeful that we will be able to baptize all three soon.

I happy hearing about you guys and things back home. I hope that everything goes well with all the different surgeries, business deals and what not. 

Love you all--Have a good week!
Elder Walls

PS Hey mom, quick question: A few weeks ago you mentioned a specific field of biology where you go around the world researching diseases. You said that you had been talking with a cashier at Wegman's, and he was getting his master's degree in that field. What was that field called again? It grabbed my attention and I've been thinking about it for awhile now.