Monday, August 8, 2016

Last E-mail!

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Well, it's hard to believe every one, but this is my last mass email of my mission! Next week I will be spending Monday in town with the other Elder who is leaving with me and I don't think I will be able to get online, so I'll try to make this email as sappy and cliche as possible. You know, the typical "I'm coming home" email. I only get one of these in a life time, so I'll try to make it count...

It's incredible to me that my two years are over. I can still remember so vividly the day that I left; waking up in the morning, driving to the airport, hugging goodbye, (getting checked for explosives) and watching my house fly by as my plane left the Salt Lake Valley. In many ways that feels like last week, but in other ways it feels like a different lifetime. As I started my mission in Ghana, the Lord blessed me with the strength to do hard things, especially at the beginning of my two years. As with most other missionaries, I really struggled at first to adjust to the culture, the language and the physical and spiritual demands that come from being a new missionary. But Heavenly Father was there with me every step of the way. In many regards, I've never felt more divine guidance than what was given to me in my first few months of my mission. 

As my mission in Ghana progressed, I was given companions, areas and experiences that have helped me grow so much. In Nketsiakrom and Eshiem, I learned how to work hard no matter what my circumstances. In Dunkwa I learned the importance of maintaining the Spirit at all times. In Axim, I learned the virtue of patience. But I never would have thought that all of those things were just preparing me for greater things. When President Stevenson called me last year in August, the day after my One Year mark, and told me that I was being transferred to Liberia, I felt as if my unsaid feelings for the previous few months were finally confirmed. I had always desired to serve among the Liberian people, and the Lord was giving me the chance.

When I first arrived in Liberia, I felt extremely confident as a missionary having a year of experience under my belt, and I was immediately one of the oldest missionaries in the mission. Oh how quickly the Lord humbled me haha. When I first opened up the Paynesville area, large challenges arose. I quickly realized that it's not easy to open up a mission from scratch with no knowledge of the culture, the areas or even the branch members and nobody available to teach me these crucial things. But I sure learned a lot those few months with Elder Carlson. Even more than the blessings that I received though, it was more incredible to see the blessings that Heavenly Father was giving to the country of Liberia after the Ebola epidemic. The immediate humility of the Liberia people was something that I will never forget. Baptisms and lessons were in abundance and the Lord's hand was so apparent in my life. This is was the Lord had prepared me for.

As my mission slowly started to close in New Georgia and Caldwell, those feelings of gratitude only increased. While the missionary work wasn't as productive as Paynesville, I overcame challenges that came and I became a stronger missionary because of these things. As usual, the Lord was with me through all these experiences. As I began to focus more upon the Liberia people instead of myself in these areas, I developed a love for these people that is hard to describe. Liberians are certainly not perfect, but they sure are resilient when it comes to the challenges that come in their own lives. I've tried my best to take this quality into my life.

And now, as I'm about to go home to my family and friends and my life of luxury (what I've been looking forward to since the day I received my mission call), it's a lot harder than I thought to leave all these things I've come to love here in Africa. It's funny how our Father in Heaven does that; leaves us in a hard situation just long enough to learn what we need to before he removes us from that situation and places us in another position for us to grow and improve. I think that's certainly the wisdom of an all knowing Father, but dang, it's not easy!! I'm going to miss West Africa so much.

I often think of my mission as a parallel of the Plan of Salvation. My pre-mission life seems like eons ago, and I can see how immature and weak I was. But that's why I came on my mission, to leave the comfort of home and learn for myself things that my parents already have learned through their own experiences. In many ways, this is exactly why our Heavenly Parents sent us down to this Earth. My mission wasn't easy, but neither is this Earth life! But I think that's just the point. It allows us to grow and progress. But in life, every one eventually reaches their time to return home to their Divine Parents, just like a mission. Next week I'll see all of you at the airport and I can imagine I'm going to feel that same happiness as those who pass on to the next life and greet their families with open arms and thankful hearts. I can't wait. 

I love you all so very much and I want to thank every one of you for your constant emails, prayers, and fasts. I've felt your love every day of my mission. I'm going to be pretty weird when I come home, and I probably won't be able to express myself very well (I'll probably smell too), but if there's anything I want to get across when I get home is that I really do love my family more than anything. I'll see all of you soon! 

Elder Gavin Stewart Degen

Monday, August 1, 2016

E-mail dated 8/1/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! It was a great relief to see everybody is still alive and well at home this week after some scares last week! I'm so glad that the Lord answered my prayers. Once again, I'm sorry for the sicknesses/surgeries that everybody has been going through, but I'm grateful things are getting better!

I am also doing much better this week, thankfully! The sinus infection is completely gone and now I'm healthy enough again to hear and proselyte. Elder Tayie and I were able to to have a great week with very little casualties! We have been teaching a larger group of people now, and we are really focusing upon Less Actives and Recent Converts because there are so many of them in our branch. We worked long and hard this week seeking out those who have left the Church for some time. The Lord certainly listened to our prayers though as over 10 Less Actives came to service yesterday!! Elder Tayie and I were so happy. It doesn't matter who it is, whether investigator or recent convert or full-time member, it just feels good to see people doing what they know to be right. It was so rewarding for me.

Elder Tayie and I are also working hard to prepare a great family for baptism next Saturday before I go! They are the Gballeh family, and they are awesome. The mother, Hawa, is a little Less Active but she has been improving recently and she gave us her husband and her children to teach. So we are hoping and praying that Norris (her husband), Laurena, Kevin Beauty, Cynthia and Alice will all be baptized on the 13th of August! We are struggling to meet with them though because of the husband's work schedule, so your prayers would be much appreciated. Thank you!
Now to answer your questions...

1.  So you said your generator broke and you ran out of water and food.  I understand that generator breaking -- not really much you can do about that, but how did you run out of food and water?  How far and where did you have to go get water?  How long were you without?

Our landlord's pump burned out this past week, so we weren't able to pump the water from the well to the water tank, that's how we were out of water! It lasted for about 4 days, but thankfully there are a few wells close to our compound that we fetched from, or we caught the rain water. The food part was definitely our fault though... We've repented though.

2.  How is Elder Tayie doing this week?  I was glad to hear that he was finally diagnosed and that the meds are helping.  How are you feeling?

He is doing great and so am I! Finally.

3.  Are there some RM's from your mission in Ghana or Liberia that live close by home that you will be able to see and hang out with when you get home?  I hope there are some that can come to your homecoming!  

Yes! I have a few that we all met at the Salt Lake airport 2 years ago, like Elder Nielson and Elder Stulce and Elder Hanneman. I also have a TON of my mission friends going to BYU or UVU, so I'll be able to see most of them at least once or twice.

Well, thank you all again for the emails and the support! It's been great the past two years to open up my inbox and see all of the love that my Father in Heaven has given to me through others. I can't believe it's all coming to a close soon. I think I will only send one more long email next week, and then on the 15th I'll just send something small, maybe a paragraph. I love you all so much, and I can't thank you enough for all that you have done for me! 

Elder Degen

Monday, July 25, 2016

E-mail dated 7/25/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! Thank you to every one for the emails this week. It sounds like it was a successful and (hot) 24th! Of course, I know that the parade is going on right now, so the festivities aren't quite over yet. It's a shame I'm not able to be there.... NOT! Haha I'm just kidding, I would honestly love to be at the parade right now. I would just follow behind that one float with all the gospel singers in it. I love those people. 

Well, after a little bit of thought, I've decided to be honest about my week! Since everybody at home is either sick, not feeling well, or went through life-altering surgery, I will come out and say that I was sick too this week. I had a sinus infection and it was pretty rough, but not just because of the sickness. Let me tell you what else happened that just added to my misery... Our generator broke. We were out of water for 4 days. And we completely ran out of food. I think the Lord was just trying to humble me this week! Thankfully all is well now, but it was quite the experience.

God did bless us though this week, because last Tuesday we were able to find out what was wrong with Elder Tayie! He has something called GERD (nope, I have no idea what that is either. But the Egyptian doctor we went to sounded pretty convincing), which apparently has been causing the pain in his lower back. Thankfully he been given a lot of medications to take (much to his displeasure), but they have been working! I can't help but marvel at the modern medicine that has blessed so many people in the last seven days. It's incredible to see the knowledge that the Lord is giving his children in the last days.

Anyways, since I wasn't able to do a whole lot of proselyting this week, I don't have any good stories or pictures! I apologize for that. But I might as well answer your questions now...

1.  I have heard you have had a problem with mice in your apartment.  One of the pictures you sent home last week confirmed that.  How is the war with the mice this week?  Are they winning or are the humans?

Well... We were winning until we ran out of traps.. Now we just try to chase them around with stick and hammers and things and it's just not quite as effective!

2.  Besides the people, what are some of the things you are going to miss most about living in Western Africa?

Wow, I will actually miss a lot of things! The food (somewhat), the beautiful scenery, the beaches, the culture in general. I certainly would love to come back and visit soon.

3.  Besides the people, what are you most looking forward to when you get home?

Now that's a really hard question... Probably food and just being independent! It's going to be strange doing things by myself, but I'm looking forward to it (I think).

Sorry my email was pretty boring this week, but I'm not quite sure what else to say! It's pretty crazy that I only have three weeks left of my mission.... It still hasn't hit me yet! I know that it will soon though. I will see all of you soon, but in the meantime I will keep praying for all those who are sick and recovering. I love you all so much! Thank you again.

Elder Degen

Monday, July 18, 2016

E-mail dated 7/18/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! It been a nice (and dry) week here in Liberia! I was glad to see that many of you also enjoyed your summer. I'll be honest, my desire to sit in this hot and humid cafe is slowly depleting every week, but it is always nice to hear from the family. Thank you, as always, you guys are the best.

My week was great, and also not so great in some ways! I'll start with the bad news... My companion has not been feeling well and it's really been hindering him with the work. He has had really bad lower back problems this week, and nothing seems to be working. Elder Tayie doesn't have too much faith in Western medicine, so he resorted to some herbal African medicine that he... well, when I get home I'll explain how he uses it! But anyways, we only missed a few hours of proselyting, which in and of itself is a great miracle. Hopefully we are going to the REAL doctor this week to get things checked out. Yay!

But the great part of our week happened with our baptism on Saturday! David Solo and Mohammed Donzo were both baptized and confirmed this past weekend, and it was a great success. I was even able to be the baptist for the first time since Ghana! I usually like letting branch members do the actual ordinance, but I felt as if I should do it for one of the last times. I will try to send pictures! We have another baptism scheduled for the 30th of July, and my last baptism will most likely happen on August 13th. We aren't too confident in the 30th, but we're hoping for 6 or 7 on the 13th!

Now to answer your questions...

1.  Did your baptism take place last Saturday?  Are you teaching any others that are close to committing to baptism? 

Yes, it did! We are planning on baptizing Otis Nelson on July 30th and Lauren, Kevin, Beauty, Alice, Cynthia, Abraham and Ofelia on August 13th! Please pray for them.

2.  Do you know if you will be traveling home with any other Elder(s)?

Elder Randall and I will be traveling to Amsterdam together and then that is where we will split! I'm so happy that we'll be together for awhile. Elder Randall is one of my best friends in the mission.

3.  With only 1 months left of your mission, what are your thoughts and feelings about completing your time in Africa?  Would you say that the 23 months have gone quickly?

Well that's hard to say... When I look back on it, I feel like it was the fastest 23 months of my life, but that day I said goodbye to all of you sounds like a lifetime ago. It's hard to explain, but my pre-mission life feels like forever ago, but my first day with Elder Mocke seems like a few weeks ago. It's like somebody put me in a time machine and I'm just waking up!

4.  Will you have the opportunity to speak in Sacrament Meeting in your Branch branch before you leave?

Yes! I will speak in 4 Sundays I believe. It won't be a full blown talk, but probably just a short testimony!

5.  What was your greatest success and biggest challenge of this past week?

Well, I think that I outlined my successes and challenges in the beginning part of my email, but maybe I can elaborate on them a little. My biggest challenge was easily seeing Elder Tayie sick. He's an amazing athlete and he's in great physical shape, so he's very frustrated that he's sick and deterring the work. For me, it's really hard to see him like that! When I train people, I really do take them to be my best friends and It's hard when they suffer. Of course, conversely, my biggest success was the baptism. I think I've told you all before, but my favorite part of baptismal services is the testimonies that the converts give! There's a spirit that's hard to describe at these services.

Well, thank you again for all of your emails! I love you all so much. Please send your prayers to Elder Tayie this week, I don't need anymore blessing than what the Lord has already given me. He needs them much more than I do. Have a great week!

Elder Degen