Monday, November 30, 2015

Come, Come Ye Saints (District Conference with Elder Vinson)

Elder Vinson visits the mission
Dear Family,

It’s been another good week. We baptized E--! He's been very fun to teach and has been great about reading and following through with commitments. He and his friend, J-- (who we baptized about two weeks ago), now follow us around in the sector to help us teach in the native language. They do a really great job, especially considering that they are such new members of the church. 

E--'s Baptism
The other day we were out, and walked by a house with an open door. Inside we could see a mother and her children. We waved as we passed by, but after passing J-- stopped us in the road and said, "Why don't we teach her?" We went back and had him introduce us in Fon (the local language), and then we were able to sit down with her and 2 of her children. She had a lot of questions--mostly concerning why God wasn't doing what she asked him to do. She is a struggling single mother of 3 teenage children (one of whom has special needs). She was left by her husband, with nothing. She is now squatting in a house that is not hers. The landlord originally offered to let her do so because she was struggling, but now he is looking for tenants. So the family will probably be pushed out onto the streets. 

We had a really good lesson, and she is interested in being baptized, along with her family. She also explained to us that she'd been pondering these questions in her head all morning. She was going to close the door to her home, but something told her not to. One of her sons explained that that morning, he had read in Isaiah the scripture, "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tiding and publisheth peace." (Isaiah 52:7)

Everyone has a personal story, with their own problems and questions. Even random people you just happen to run into on the road. I think most missionaries end up being an answer to more prayers than they realize. 

Elder Vinson from the Quorum of the Seventy came to do a mission tour and speak to us. He is an amazing teacher, everything he said was great. From the various conferences, councils, etc. that the missionaries did with him, some of the ideas that stuck with me are:

1) One thing we learn from Christ's example is how personal he was with everyone. (Blessing the people one by one, finding individuals in the crowd like Zacchaeus, the woman with the issue of blood, letting everyone come and touch him.)

2) The system of faith leading to results, leading to confidence needs to be something we feel or notice every single day.

3) If you can't tell the difference between a personal thought and a spiritual impression...if it is in line with the commandments, then just do it. Even if it isn’t the Spirit whispering, it can still be inspired.

4) We don’t need to worry about the breadth of the gospel, but the depth.

We also had District Conference with Elder Vinson. It was sooooo great to see all my different converts from both Cococodji and Porto Novo. I FINALLY got a photo with L-- and M--, who I taught a year ago with Elder A--, but never got a photo with. Their marriage and baptisms happened the month after I left, but they are among my favorites when it comes to converts. They are very very very active, and are great parents to their 3 kids.

I saw I-- from Porto Novo, and also his girlfriend S--, who is investigating the church. Apparently he is starting up a clothing boutique and is making decent money from that project. He was also well dressed (white shirt; tie, and vest).

Elder Vinson announced that he sees us having a stake in benin in the next 6 months! I would be super excited to be here for that! Now I am hoping that I stay in Benin. 

It's been a good week. I hope you guys are also enjoying yourselves.

Elder Walls

PS Chocolate cake mixes for my Christmas present would be awesome! And vanilla frosting (not cream cheese), vanilla =)

Elder M taking a photo of the Palais de Congres, where the District Conference was held
Come, Come Ye Saints!
Buses and members begin arriving
Sky view of the hustle and bustle
Buses that were provided so members from across Cotonou could attend
L and M from my first area, Cococodji
I-- from Porto Novo, looking sharp!
Cococodji Branch Members
On the way back from the Conference, we found a Kolo Moto taxi--these are not against mission rules!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thanksgiving--a Week Early

Elder Walls with his comp, Elder M.
Dear Family,

I am glad to be back at the cyber and to hear from everyone. I hope you all are doing well and getting into the holiday spirit.

Our week has been great, I’ll try to cover everything.

Tuesday: District Meeting at the University District:
We assisted at the district meeting for University District. The assistants decided to go with us, which was nice because it meant we got to ride in their air-conditioned car). We left on time, but just before arriving, we found a guy's truck stuck in a dip in the road. We decided to tow him out with our chain. It ended up being a more difficult and messy job than we expected, so we ended up showing up at the district meeting a little late, and not so fresh and clean. Interestingly, the car had broken down right in front of a voodoo rite that had been left in the middle of the road. 

Thursday: Thanksgiving Comes Early!
We woke up as if it were any other ordinary day, but at noon Elder T reminded us that it was Thanksgiving. We asked him if he was positive--Us: "Are you sure? Doesn't it always fall somewhere in the 20's?" Elder T: "Ya, ya, YA! It's always the 3rd Thursday, I'm sure." We went along with it and piled into the assistant's car during our language study hour to go to one of the better supermarkets in Cotonou to get some last minute Thanksgiving food. 

Our dinner was great! Fried chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, corn, and some yellow rice. We made some chocolate cake to top it all off. It was all very good food, but also very expensive. We definitely can’t afford to eat like that very often. Oh, and we started what could possibly be a great Thanksgiving tradition as well. As soon as everyone finishes eating and feels nice and sluggish, we pulled out the 'Twister' mat that Elder T and Elder P had just found some lady selling randomly in the streets. Very fun! Although, not the easiest of activities after eating Thanksgiving dinner Maybe you guys can give it a try.

Our Ami, C’s, Birthday:
We had the chance to eat well a second time in the week when Sister C invited us over for her birthday, We helped her make ingyam pilĂ©, which is one of the high quality doughy ball foods. You make it by boiling yams then smashing them over and over with a huge stick until it makes a ball like food It is served with a grain sauce (I am not sure how she made that since she had it already made up). We also made her a chocolate cake. (Sometimes we go a little overboard with cake--we have a toaster oven in our apartment and the assistants know where to find cake mix in Benin.) It was very fun to celebrate with her and soon-to-be husband. They've been amis for over a year, and just about have the marriage thing determined, so they will soon be baptized. 

My New Convert, J:
J is progressing great. He’s working with us a few days a week and always has friends and neighbors that he wants to introduce to us, We got around 7 contacts from him in total this week, so hopefully we’ll be able to keep working with him and help his friends start coming to church as well.

We met a few other new amis during the week (other than J's contacts). Here are a few: 

R-- and G--: 
We had nothing to do one morning, so we just tried street contacting. I found one young man and decided to talk to him. (Generally, young men between the ages of 18-30 understand French, and also generally are not living with someone yet.) He said he was interested in talking and brought us back to the night club that his brother and he run. It was a very nice looking place, well decorated, and surprisingly no naked pictures or paintings on the walls. (Kudos to them, most bars do have that kind of stuff.) He understood the first lesson well enough, so we returned the next day to teach him again. This time we found R-- instead. She is one of the servers at the club. She was very interesting to teach--she is very honest about her beliefs and also really thinks for herself. She is interested in our lessons, and recognizes the we are not like the other churches in Benin. We are looking forward to teaching them again. 

We also met Ro who really seems to already have his testimony of the church.He has come to church twice and says the gospel has changed him. He really appreciates the law of chastity, saying that he understood it and knew early in his life he would be different. He has agreed to be baptized next month.

It is interesting too how he found the church. He was introduced through his ex-girlfriend, A (who happens to be our Primary president). They had 3 children together, but later separated. They have stayed friends since then. She found the church and joined, and Ro said he noticed a real change in her which led him to want to investigate the church. And yesterday, they showed up to church together in the same moto. (Wink, wink!) If they were to get back together, that would make for a very neat story!

E is not a new ami, but I really love him. He is 19 and loves talking about the church, reading the Book of Mormon and everything. He is getting baptized next week. 

Playing the Piano =)
In other news, I thought I had the piano situation figured out. The counselor told me to just pick the hymns for this week, which I did and sent to him so that he could approve them. Then Saturday night he called and gave me 4 new hymns to play for Sunday. I practiced maybe 20 minutes and thought I would be OK. Then Sunday, midway through Sacrament meeting, they changed one of them! So after church, I made him sit down with me and pick FIXED hymns for next week. He told me to just play the same ones as for this week. Hmm. I am thinking I will be getting a last minute change again. I don't like making a fool of myself on the keyboard, but it is still fun being able to play. I got to play for the Primary as well yesterday--or at least tried to. We couldn't fit the piano in the tiny little room with all of the kids, so we just tried to teach them a song by singing it ourselves. My comp and I were having difficulty remembering how the song went, so this might prove a difficult project to continue. 

Love you guys, I’m doing well out here, less than 8 months left to go, what?!?!
Elder Walls

PS I actually did have a bit of congestion two weeks ago that I caught from my comp. Never realized you can catch a cold in Africa.

Towing a man out of a ditch. Notice the little pile of stuff in front of our truck. That is voodoo. Not sure what it was there for--most voodoo is for protection. Maybe it was protecting the house. 
Elder M and Elder Walls peeling yams for ingyam pile
Ingram pile. Boiled yams that are then beaten into a doughy ball and served with a sauce
My Thanksgiving dinner plate
Our Thanksgiving spread
Don't worry, we didn't eat this! The couple missionaries were coming over to do a cleaning inspection. I remembered one Christmas where mom put oranges and cinnamon sticks in a pot of boiling water and made the house smell nice. So, I thought I would try it. It worked, the whole apartment smelled great, but then all the water evaporated and I was left with this burned cruddy pot to clean. 
Sister C with her children

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Little Humor Never Hurts

Baptism of M and J
Hey guys, 

I am always glad to get to hear from you. We had to wait for a while for the power to come back on so that we could email. It finally just came on. It is Elder M's first time emailing in a cybercafe for over a year (he usually got to email at the mission office), so he’s going to have to get used to the noise and bustle in the cyber.

Last week, right after we got home from the cyber, I opened the front door to see Elder R in our apartment! It had been months since I saw him last, and it was great getting to catch up. He seemed to enjoy Togo quite a bit. He spent the night with us since he was leaving for home the next day. He left me with a stinky towel that he didn't want to take home with him. It is crazy to see him leave--I remember when he and my trainer, Elder A, hit their one-year mark together. Crazy how fast time flies!

I am sending my email in fragments this week--the lights are flickering here and the connection is bad. The power could cut out at any time. 

Working in the sector with Elder M is great. He has so much energy! Most missionaries here are more tired after their first three weeks, than he is with only three left to go.

Being both American seems to make the crazy aspects of African lifestyle standout a little more.

One funny story: We were teaching a few women outside of their small homes. One young toddler was pooping just next to us in a little baby plastic toilet. He finished, stood up, and tried to put this little plastic lid on the bowl like he'd been taught to do. However, he put too much weight on his hand and ended up falling into the bowl and getting his hand covered in . . . well, you know. Needless to say, he wasn’t to happy. His mom brought a little bowl of water in which to wash his hand. When she was done, she then threw the dirty water over the wall (hope no one was on the other side!). Later, I joked that she'd probably use the same bowl to offer us water at some later visit. Elder M wasn't too happy at that thought. 

Another funny story: One day, just for fun, I thought I would play the part of an American tourist. I went out in my wide brim hat, sunglasses, a white strip of sunscreen on my nose, and a walking stick. Again, it was all just for fun, but we ended up getting stopped by a ton of people. We ran out of brochures after an hour! Maybe it pays to joke around every once in a while. 

Many amis are progressing, so I’m enjoying myself. 

We had two baptisms this Saturday for J and M. They are both great amis, and I'm excited to see them baptized. I'll send some photos through later (power allowing). 

As for Sunday, I played the piano again. I had asked to have the keyboard during the week to practice, but the Branch President wants to keep it locked in his office during the week. He let me get it on Friday, and I spent the weekend practicing the hymns to the point where I felt confident enough to play the selected hymns. Sunday, as I was playing some prelude music before Sacrament meeting, one of the counselors called me over and said they had to change all 4 hymns and gave me 4 new hymns I had never played before. I ended up playing very, very simplified versions of the hymns, using only one hand. Not very impressive. I am trying get them to not pull last minute changes on me, and to coordinate more. 

I did have a little fun with the piano--I decided to play a bit of a joke on everyone. The keyboard has a prerecorded version of Silent Night that is very well put together. So during the prelude I decided to just put it on and pretend to be playing. A LOT of heads turned! And NO ONE talked until the meeting started--there was dead silence, except for the music. The other Elders just smiled, knowing what I was doing!

So the power just cut out for the second time--luckily, Google saved my draft. 

The new AP (assistant), Elder P, is very fun to be around. He is very French. And very short. They invited him to give his testimony on Sunday at church. As he started to head towards the front, the counselor jumped out of his seat and pulled out the podium's step (what you would use for a young child so they can be seen behind the podium). It wouldn't have been a big deal except the step is heavy and made a lot of screeching and squeaking as it was pulled out from the podium. Elder P seemed very, very tall using the step. It wasn't necessary, but it was funny.

We played some futball and ultimate Frisbee with the Cococodji district this morning Lots of fun, even though I’m still pretty bad at soccer. 

I will try to get some photos through. 

Love you guys,

Elder Walls
Elder R's last day in the mission. Elders M, R and Walls
Another photo of M and J on their baptism day
Good Eats!
Most missionaries get an hour after coming home at night before it is lights out.
We get an hour and a half since we don't get the hour break to go have dinner at someone's home.
That time includes cooking and eating. It took a long time to cook this! 
Our study desk is a disaster! We did clean up today.
My side is the one that doesn't have the photo of Carrie Underwood!
Can you see the orange speck at the top of the tree?
A guy climbed this really tall coconut tree that is in front of our house. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

La La Lala!

Farewell to Elder A!
It's a shame we have to split up so fast--he's one of my favorite comps
 Dear Family,

It's been a great week!

On Tuesday, we had zone meeting. I was a little nervous because it was my first time having to teach and lead one, but it went great. I had Elder H from Tahitii teach about finding new amis. Then I taught about fixing baptismal dates during the first visit with a new amis--I focused on addressing different situations that keep us from inviting amis, or that keep amis from accepting. 

Both lessons went over well and we are starting to have noticeable results. Last week, the companionships in our zone averaged 3.6 fixed baptismal dates. This week we averaged 5.5.  And the number of new amis is going up as well. I made some phone calls around the zone and we have a new goal of finding and teaching one new ami everyday. And I think we can make that goal!

The zone is doing really well, and so is my sector. We should have 3 baptisms this upcoming Saturday for M, J and P (ages 16, 24, and 18 respectively). They aren't siblings or related, they all just ended up with the same date. Hopefully, a few others will be baptized at the end of the month. 

I finally got to see General Conference! Well, at least the Saturday morning session. We scheduled the activity for Saturday at 2:00, but apparently no one from the district had brought the DVD. We then had to try to download it from online and put it on a USB. Meanwhile amis and members starting arriving at the building, so we had to stall a little. The branch president told us to start singing hymns and we did, but after the 4th or 5th, people were getting tired. So, In the middle of a hymn that my companion was leading, President Comi came up and cut him off saying, "Alright, we're going to spice things up a little---everyone turn to 'Joy to the World.'" He then told Elder A to stay there and conduct with him. The two conducted together which was funny to watch because President Comi gets very animated while conducting and my companion tried to copy him a little for fun. 

We finished the hymn and Pres. Comi announced, "Ok now were going to sing it again, but without the words." So everyone just kind of hum-scatted Joy to the World, By this point, I was kind of giggling, so I couldn’t really sing. Then after the first verse, Pres. Comi said, "Ok now we're going to do the 4th verse, but with LA's!" Everyone started singing  lalalala and I couldn’t keep myself from laughing I had to duck out of the room quickly to compose myself. I really like Pres Comi, the way he sings is just great! Sometimes he just kind of makes up complimentary parts to the hymns and sings them that way--it is fun to hear.

In other news, we have a piano for the branch now, and guess who the branch pianist is? Moi! Yep, two years of lessons over 10 years ago and I am the one in the branch with the most experience. We'll see if my drumming skills help me out at all. 

I was supposed to start playing next week as we were going to have a member from another branch come to play for the week. So Pres Comi assured me that I could relax for this week and then just take the piano back to our apartment to practice for he next Sunday. Then Sunday, right before meetings started President Comi pulled me over and asked, "You're playing, right?"
Me: "Isn't  Fr. L-- coming to play this week?"
Pres C: "No, I thought you took the piano home last night to practice. Anyways, here are the hymn numbers for today."

I did my best, I’m hoping most people didn’t really notice how poor the piano playing was. I sure did! It was definitely interesting. While everyone did their talks (including mine), I was frantically fingering out the hymns, trying to figure out how to best play them. I am trying to convince Pres C to let me take the keyboard home with me so that I can practice all week. He keeps it locked in his office during the week and says I can pick it up on Saturday. 

Anther funny story: We were all sitting around on our balcony last night talking, when out of nowhere, a bird flew into me. I jumped, surprised. Everyone laughed, and then it flew towards them and they jumped too. The little thing looked like it broke its legs or something. We tried to make him a little bird shelter and give him something to eat, but he ended up flying off somewhere else.

Also, transfers are in, Elder A will go to Cococodji and Elder M will be a ZL with me for his last 3 weeks before going home, then Elder P (French) will come and replace him as an assistant.

This past transfer went by incredibly fast compared to the past 7 months. The next few weeks will probably be the same. My trainer, Elder A is going home this week as well. He's one of my favorite missionaries--I will miss him. 

Love you guys,
Elder Walls

PS As for the Christmas package, I really have no idea of what would be good to send. Not sure who my comp will be at that time. Most Africans don't really like the sweet, sugary things. I would like a mid-sized American flag that I could hang up and pledge allegiance to every morning. And the tortillas you sent awhile back were amazing. You can't really find anything like that here, so that would be really nice. 

PS So I just barely sent that last email and the power cut...very good timing. I was planning on taking my comp out to a nice restaurant after we finished emailing. So, when the power cut out, I suggested we go eat and then come back when the power returned. The food was pretty good (chicken, fries, salad, rice). Really well prepared and not too expensive. I would rather have really well prepared African food more than shabbily prepared American food that you sometimes find here. 

While eating, a stranger came up to us asking if we spoke English. He explained that he came from Ghana to work here with a friend. However, he had no email or phone to contact the friend. And his friend wasn't at the rendezvous point at the right time, so now he was in a foreign country, lost, with no money and speaking no French. He wanted me to go around to everyone else in the restaurant and help him beg for money. But that didn't seem appropriate, so we ended up just paying for his taxi to take him all the way to Lome. I am glad to help someone out--even if that is kind of an expensive ticket. We did give him a brochure, so maybe something will come of it. We went back to our seats and found that they had cleared our plates already. And all of my fries that were still on my plate! So, I ended up spending a lot of money for not very much food. It's alright though. Patience is a virtue I guess. 

Pres Comi and Elder A conducting music together
The Elders in Cocotomey
Sr De F
Elder Walls in front of the Cocotomey church building
Cocotomey church building

Monday, November 2, 2015

Time Flies on Wings of Lightning

Dear Family,

Happy Birthday, Mom! I hope you have a wonderful birthday!! I am singing to you from out here in the jungle and I might try to find something cake-like to celebrate with too :)

There is not really much to report this week. Everything is well and we are working hard. We did 26 lessons, plus zone leader errands this past week. (For comparison, while in Novo we might get like 8 lessons a week.)  We are focusing on just asking for contacts from anyone and everyone. And when we teach the first lesson, we are inviting everyone to be baptized. This approach is working really well. We are finding lots of new amis and getting a lot of baptismal dates set.

One of my favorite new amis is E--, who is 17, and very excited about the lessons. We are hoping to baptize him on the 28th along with one of the contacts he gave us, T--. E is funny and always has a big smile on his face. When we first ran into him, we didn't think he would be very interested in listening to us (he seemed much younger than 17). So we just gave him a brochure on chastity (which we give to a lot of the youth). The next time we saw him, he was super excited, saying how great everything was, and we were able to sit down and teach him. 

We're finding new members that are willing to work with us as well, so we are able to teach people in their native language.

Elder T and Elder A hit their one-year mark this week. We made sure to celebrate with grilled chicken (which is a pretty big deal---we usually have to boil all of our meats).

We went to Tokpa, the huge market of Cotonou, today to get our groceries in bulk for the month. I also picked up a muslim prayer mat--not for praying, but for sitting on. We don’t have couches in our apartment, so its nice having a mat.

That’s pretty much it. It's been a great week. Nothing really crazy happened which is nice. And the time is flying by!

I love you guys,

Elder Walls