Monday, April 25, 2016

Make Room for Zion. The Cotonou Benin Stake is Created (formerly the Cotonou Benin District)

Elder and Sister Stanfill visit the missionaries in Benin
Dear Mom and Dad,

It’s been a GREAT week! Stake Conference was wonderful!

We rented a bus to take our investigators to the Palace of Congress and had a great turn out---17 investigators for our companionship and 15 for the Assistants. Lots of people were eager to take the opportunity to see the beautiful part of Cotonou, where the Palace and other government buildings are located, even if it meant leaving really early to get to church. 

Once again, I had the opportunity to meet with other members from all over Benin. I got to see some of my former converts from Cococodji, Luc and Marina, who are still very strong in the church. I also saw, Annafreed and her daughter Eloïde who are also still very active. From Porto Novo, I saw the family of Dieudonné (whose children Elder Barnes and I were able to baptize, but we were waiting for the parents to be married before they could be baptized). It was the first time I have seen them since I left Porto Novo, so that was really special for us all. Rogenio also came and it sounds like he is going to go on a mission once he's got a little more experience in the church. The one person I didn't see was Isaac, I will have to give him a call and make sure everything is fine with him. 

The session itself was great. The Spirit was so strong as Elder Korentang, an Area Seventy from Ghana, announced the official organization of the Cotonou Benin Stake. It was as if the dark clouds of voodoo and evil spirits, slavery, etc., were pulled back to make room for Zion.

They called Benin's First Stake President, President Modest Padonou. He’s an amazing guy. A funny and sociable guy with very good teaching and leading skills He is so very, very humble. He’s a returned missionary from the Ivory Coast and he was also the District President before the stake organization. He will do a wonderful job as Stake President. 

I got to talk with Elder Stanfill and his wife as well during our leadership councils. I suppose their daughter already mentioned that there was a missionary in Benin from Kutztown, because they already were on the look out for an Elder Walls. Elder and Sister Stanfill are an amazing couple, and had lots of good insights and stories to share. 

One of the messages that stood out to me is how Christ's Atonement not only serves to forgive us of our sins, but serves just as much to help us to do incredible things. His grace truly is an enabling power. And also, how obedience leads to the gift of discernment, which is essential to missionary work. Elder Stanfill shared a story that illustrated how quickly the Adversary can blind us when we take little steps away from what we should be doing. 

President Morin spoke as well, and gave a great explanation on the difference between sin and weakness. Sin is introduced by the Devil and is healed through repentance. Weaknesses are introduced by God and are healed through Grace. 

Elder Stanfill's visit came at just the right time for me. I didn't start my mission with the intention of only giving 50% by the end of my time here, but I sometimes find myself thinking that now certain amis have been baptized, or now that the new Stake has been organized, or now that I am down to only 11 or so weeks left, I could let up a bit on my studies. Or work a little less hard. Sleep a little later. 

Elder Stanfill's visit was definitely a good reminder for me that my mission is so much more than just the influence we have on the Church (converts, reactivating nonactive members, etc.), but it is also about personal sanctification and learning to do hard things. 

I have seen some missionaries slack off the last 12 weeks of their mission. The first 12 weeks of your mission you are training--or learning how to be a missionary. So, some look at the last 12 weeks as a kind of un-training, or "deformation." I think a more appropriate title for my last 12 weeks will be, "reformation," because it is my last chance to profit from the spiritual experiences I am having on my mission.

By the way, transfers have me working here with Elder Pellevoizin! I am super excited! He is an amazing guy. And I will have the opportunity to work more closely with President Morin and the Dysons. 

I will keep you update on the adventure. I will be emailing on Sundays now, btw.

With Love,

Elder Walls

The First Benin, Cotonou Stake Conference

Monday, April 18, 2016

In Joy!

Dear Family, 

Sounds like everything is going well back home. I am glad to hear that mom is recovering from her surgery. I am also glad that you guys are staying put for now, and I'll be able to give my homecoming talk in my home ward! And that is great about Nate's Eagle ceremony! 

I don’t have too much news for this week. Normally we would have had transfer calls this past Saturday, however, the assistants and the president decided it would be easier to do transfers next week, after Stake Conference. That way everyone who has been working in this area can be present for the creation of the new stake. 

This past week, I got the chance to spend a day working with Elder Marie, a missionary in training from France. He is in my former sector, Cococodji and is doing really well. I enjoyed working with him. We were surprised to learn that one of his amis is the recipient of multiple Nobel Prizes in economy. Elder Marie told me he was very smart, but we had no idea exactly how smart he was. He has written several books and accomplished all sorts of things in his life--though you would't know it to look at him. He lives just as humbly as the other Beninois. 

Also got to go on a split with Elder Pellevoizin for the day. Since we live in the same apartment, we know each other and each other's amis fairly well. We still had fun. In the evening we were able to accompany a couple who are preparing for baptism to President Morin's office for their baptismal interviews. When they finished, President asked the couple how they would be going home (trying to figure out if they needed transport money for a cab or a moto taxi, etc.). They responded, "In joy!" Elder Pellevoizin and I laughed at the misunderstanding, but it was great to see how happy they were to be that much closer to baptism. 

Then on Saturday, and I went with my comp to visit Menontin, for a baptismal service for one of his former amis. It was good to see the missionaries there--they aren't in our zone so we rarely get to see them. 

Cecile (as in the Cecile and Joseph that were just married and baptized) gave her first talk during church! She chose her own topic, "Having a happy marriage." She did a great job! I believe Joseph will be giving a talk soon as well. They are such a great family.

I’m excited to give you all the details on the creation of the new stake, and Elder Stanfill's visit, so stayed tuned for next week.

In Joy!

Elder Walls

Monday, April 11, 2016

Le Jour Beni Est Arrivé‏ (The Blessed Day Has Arrived)

Baptismal service for C and J
Dear Family,

The best news! Cecile and Joseph's baptism finally happened!!! They’ve been amis since before I even came out here on my mission. And they have been waiting soooo long just to get married and then baptized. It finally happened! 

It was a really special day. We were able to get permission for lots of the missionaries who have taught them in the past to attend. And practically the entire Branch, and lots of people I don't even know were there to support them. 

The service was really special. One moment that really struck everyone was when Cecile started crying after coming up out of the water. She took her towel and covered her face with it (wanting to hide). And then she stood at the steps for a good minute, not wanting to get out. It was very touching to see how much this meant to her. People here rarely cry--hardly ever. I think I have only seen a few amis or members cry my entire mission. 

After the service, the Relief Society threw a big reception for them with music, food and drinks for everyone. Then the next day, they were both confirmed without any problem. It was great to be a part of such a special ordinance for such a great couple!

Reception after the baptism
Food served at the reception
We continue to work hard, anticipating the new Stake.

I’ve got quite few photos to send, so I will probably get going on that.

Love You!
Elder Walls

PS You know those ultra rugged sandals you sent me last year? They are starting to fall apart, as are my regular dress shoes. With all the walking we do here, especially on such rocky and sandy conditions, shoes don't last long. I will probably look for a cheap pair just to get me through to the end of my time here. 

And along those lines, I will need a new set of scriptures when I get home. My set here is worn out--pages falling out, the binding coming off . . .

Elder N'sengyiumva and Elder Bailey were able to come for the baptismal service
We had a lot of missionaries attend the baptism, including: Elders Bailey (from MTC) and Elder Nsengiyumva, Teihotu, Arek, Archer, Adjo,Miller, Teaupa, Pellevoizin, Mutumbo, and, of course, Mayamba and Walls

J, looking fresh after his baptism (like the world right after rain),
and photobombed by Roman, one of the Young Men in the Branch
Cecile after the service, it was touching to see how much this meant to her
One of our amis, Phillip
The secret to getting our shirts so white!
Close up on our little laundry helper
Birthday party for Cecile's daughter, Mathilde, who turned 1
Elder Archer and Adjo work in the bureau and have some flexibility in their schedule, so they came to the party
Come, similar to patte, but spicier. When I was training, Elder Adeji made me eat this everyday.
Mama Cecile loves to feed the missionaries--and we love to eat!
Mama with her little piggies hanging out in the trash, a pretty common sight here
Zone meeting we held a few weeks ago.
From L-R back: Marie, Walls, Neubert, Bailey, Moss, Kincaid
> front: Gozo, Kiala, Mayamba, Yoboue, Kabuyah, Barou, Ranriamalala, Nsengiyumva

Monday, April 4, 2016

Back to Normal

Hey Guys!

I suppose the last few weeks I have been so focused on my health, that I have done a poor job of filling you in on the details of life here in Africa. I will try to be more specific about my week. 

So this week we had interviews with President Morin, which I really enjoyed. This time, he focused the interviews on the gospel and asked everyone to share an event from the life of Christ that we found touching. I chose Luke 7:36 - thru the end of the chapter. Jesus was being hosted at the house of a Pharisee who scoffed as Jesus allowed his feet to be washed by a sinner. Jesus gave the analogy of two debtors--one owing 50 pence and the other, 500. Both debtors were frankly forgiven, even though they could not repay their debts. Christ then asked which of the two had more reason to love the man who forgave their debts. The Pharisee answered, the man who owed more. Though the Pharisee was most likely very obedient to the laws of Moses, he completely lacked the most important of qualities.

We are teaching a cool new ami named, Romaric. He works at the Center of Arts, which is a large campus of artists that was created by a French art enthusiast. We taught him the first lesson is his studio surrounded by paint and half-done pieces. We are also trying to work with an ami named Frank.

Really good news, we got Cecile and Josephine married!!! It’s very exciting! It’s taken so very, very, very long but it finally worked out. They got married this morning, the paperwork is done, so it's all official---the baptism should be Saturday. I’m very excited, they are both two of my favorite amis, and they’ve worked very hard to get this far. Unfortunately, I couldn't attend the ceremony as it took place out of my zone.  It's not a big deal---I’m just happy that it is all figured out. More details should come soon.

That’s about it, lots of good things happening. We're getting close to stake creation, so that exciting as well, great way to finish things off here.

Thanks for everything you’ve done to get all of the arrangements for BYU taken care of. There is one more thing I need you to check on--I sent in the application for marching band and gave them your email. They said that they would send a confirmation email letting you know that they got it. Could you check on that for me?

Love you all, 
Elder Walls

Photos from the wedding of Joseph and Cecile

Joseph signing the papers

Exchanging rings 
The wedding guests

Joseph and Cecile with their marriage certificate
Joseph and Cecile with Brigitte and Roland, another couple that were recently married