Monday, December 29, 2014

E-mail dated 12/29/14

Mom and Family,

Afehya Pa! Merry Christmas! I was so happy that I was able to Skype on Thursday! Thank you for your patience with my stupid African internet, it was a miracle that it was able to work. It was so amazing to see everyone's faces though, I miss you all so much. I hope that everyone enjoyed their Christmas as much as I did, and I hope that everyone was safe. From what I heard, it was an eventful day for the family and there was a lot of work to be done the day after Christmas! I'm glad that everything works now though! Santa always comes through for the Degen family, even in Ghana :)

My week was full of visits to members and lots of food!! I have had fufu every single day this past week, sometimes multiple in one day. In case anyone was wondering, the most popular Free Meal that we receive is fufu because nobody thinks that an Obroni can eat it like a Ghanaian, so it's fun to prove them wrong! The types of meats we got with the fufu ranged from goat, to chicken, to fish, and they were all delicious. The members spoiled us here this holiday season and I have a feeling the the FM's aren't done yet! I love this ward so much, the members are going to be hard to say goodbye to, that's for sure.

To answer your questions though, here it is!

1.  Did the packages arrive to you unopened or could you tell that the post office or someone else had opened them before you received them?  

If they were opened, they were packaged back up pretty well. I can't tell if they were or not, but my guess is that someone at the Cape Coast post office opens them up to check if they have anything illegal (or valuable) in them and then they send them to their various destinations. That's just what I heard though and I'm not 100% sure!

2.  Do you still have a washing machine in your apartment?  If I remember right, the washing machine you told me about belonged to Elder Mocke.  

Oh yeah, I never told you! When Elder Mocke left, he left with me his washing machine(!!) It's a nice big one, and it even has a spinner to dry my clothes. It was a gift from his father (Elder Moore) (your father is your trainer on your mission, so Mocke is my father) and he passed it on to me. I'll admit, it's really nice being able to do my wash once a week without having to do much! I really hope that I can make it last my whole mission, or at least until I can give it to my son.

3.  Do you ever have meetings/events where all the missionaries in the whole mission get together?  Are you too spread out for that to happen?  I would think that you would enjoy seeing Elder Mocke again.  

Our mission is too spread out to do that sadly, but mainly the two different regions meet up together at certain times. There are about 58 missionaries in Western Region (where I am) and 142 in Central Region. The rumor is that when the Takoradi Stake splits, the mission may split as well, but that is just a rumor. I definitely would enjoy seeing Elder Mocke again, and I bet that I will be able to!

4.  Was your companion able to Skype with his family on Christmas after we talked?  I noticed that you called him "companion" instead of Elder Ntlhaakgosi.  Is that because "Companion" is easier to say than calling him by name?

No, he wasn't able to Skype sadly. But he was able to call them! And the trend in our mission is to call your companion "Companion", not so much because I can't pronounce his name! Some call them Comp, or by their last names, but rarely is it both Elder and their name together! Which is probably how we should say it...

5.  We all noticed your African accent.  It's totally awesome!!  Eric said that he had to learn to talk like that so that the people could understand him easier.  you probably don't even notice that you are doing it.  Eric said that if you don't talk like them then they will tell you that they don't speak English and can't understand you.  Do you have to consciously do it or did the accent just come naturally because you are around it all the time?  I love it, FYI.

Yup, Eric knows exactly what's up. When I first got here, nobody could understand me. They all told me that my English was too fast and that I need to slow down. It wasn't until a few weeks in that I realized they just need you to really enunciate your words and then they can understand! I had to consciously develop it, but then it became second nature as I spoke like that all day. It certainly was frustrating when I first showed up, but I'm glad that it's getting better! I can hear myself get back to an American accent at night though when I start to talk with the other Elders about football and things. It's interesting, but that made me laugh that you all thought I sound different! 

Well, I'm out of time for this week!! But thank you all again for making my Christmas an amazing one. I love you all and I wish you a happy new year! God be with you all.

Elder Degen

Monday, December 22, 2014

E-mail dated 12/22/14

Mom and Family,
Akwaabo! How is everyone?? I hope everyone is safe and sound as this Christmas approaches on Thursday! I loved hearing from everyone about how they are all getting ready to celebrate their day in different ways. Thank you to everyone who emailed me this week! I'm going to apologize in advance to those I did not email, and apologize for this email being short. I figured I don't need to say too much this week because I am going to see and hear from you all on Thursday! So let me begin...
First off, I want to tell everyone the gracious opportunity that I have to be here in Ghana at this time of the year. Without any snow, Christmas trees, commercials, or family, it certainly doesn't feel like the Christmas's that I have experienced in the past. But this year I have been able to truly see what this holiday is all about. These people here don't give extravagant gifts or bake a ham, but they give everything that they have to other people at all times during the year. They believe in Jesus Christ and they never lose sight of the importance of his birth. Being here has opened my eyes to the true meaning. I know I would always hear "Remember the true meaning of Christmas this year" when I was home, but it hasn't hit me until this very moment. It's taken me getting away from everything that I love, coming to a foreign country and relying wholly upon my Saviour to support me. The love that I have for my redeemer who came to this Earth to die for us is unmatched. The Lord was homeless for much of his Earthly life and he was a poor man. These people can relate. I have found that the people who have the least, usually give the most. I am so grateful to be here among these people this Christmas, and although I miss everyone at home, I know this is whom I need to be with right now. 
To answer your questions from this week...

1.  Did you get my package?  Please, please, please tell me you got the package I sent made it to you!
Yes, I received your package, Jeri's package and Missy's package!! First off, what in the world are you doing family?? I saw that price tag before I even opened it and almost peed my pants. President Stevenson said it was by far one of the biggest ones he's seen. You all spoil me and I thank everyone so much who contributed. It was an amazing day when I got those packages! Thank you Jeri, and your young women as well! I love you all so much.

2.  Give us all the details about Christmas Day.  What are you going to do, etc, etc.
So, I have given Eric my information about Skype on Thursday and I should be able to talk sometime around 10 to 12 in the morning (Utah time)!! Is that okay? Let me know if you need me to change the time or anything. My day will consist of going to a zone activity in the morning, followed by eating a ton of fufu at our member's houses and then Skyping in the evening!! I'm excited for it :)

3.  I know you are about an hour away from the Coast (right?).  Are there areas of your mission that are further inland than where you are or are you about as far away from the coast as the mission goes?  I should really get a map of your mission so I can have a better idea of where you are.
Actually, I'm not far from the coast at all. If you climb a telephone tower near our apartment you can see the ocean! It's maybe two or three miles away to get to the beach. I'm about an hour away from Cape Coast, the city, if that's what you mean! Most of our mission is in the coast line, but there are areas (Swedru, Assin Fosu, Twifo Praso, and Tarkwa) that are farther inland. If you get a map of Ghana, you won't find Nketsiakrom, but you might find Kojokrom, which is my zone! I live right outside Takoradi, one of the biggest cities in the country.

4.  I know you said that there are not many decorations up where you are, what about Santa?  Do the kids there know and believe in Santa?
Hmm... Good question! I haven't even asked because I haven't even heard the name since last year. They know the figure of Santa (He's on some Coke bottles this time of year) but they don't believe in the same type of thing that we do in America. The kids definitely don't get gifts from him under a tree here!
Anyways... I hope to see all of you on Thursday!! Have a Merry Christmas and please be safe. I love you all!

Elder Gavin Degen

Monday, December 15, 2014

E-mail dated 12/15/14


Akwaabo! How is everyone?? It's been an interesting week here in Ghana and it sounds like it was an interesting week back home as well! I can tell that everyone is very busy and getting ready for the Christmas season, which is sweet. I'm jealous of the experiences you all get to have, but I'm selfish for saying that I'm happy right where I am :) I can tell you that I am excited to spend Christmas here in Ghana and that I know I couldn't have these experiences anywhere else in the world! I miss everyone like crazy though, and I'm very excited to Skype home soon! 10 more days!

Anyways, I really want to share with you all this spiritual experience that I was able to have this week. This experience was one that strengthened my testimony immensely and gave me a rekindled fire in my missionary work. As we were visiting members this week, we came to an older gentleman in our ward named Brother Buckman. We asked him his conversion story and found he has been a member since 1989, the longest membership in the ward. We asked him the blessings that he has received since he has joined and he then told us of one the most life changing stories I have ever heard. He told us a story of how his daughter, Vida, was in a car crash in the 90's and he got a call from the police telling him that his daughter was dead. He rushed to the hospital, only to find her body bloodied and mangled. He said he was uncontrollable with his sorrow. He walked down the hall as they pushed her body on a stretcher to the exit, where a car was waiting to take the body to the mortuary. As he was walking next to the body of his daughter, he said that he heard a voice behind him, loud and clear. It said to him "Are you not holding the Priesthood that has saved thousands before? Bless your daughter!" He turned around and found nobody there. He continued walking onward when he heard the voice again, this time louder than before. He stopped in his tracks and was confounded at what he had heard. As he turned back around to face his daughter, he found that they were beginning to load her in the car. He asked them to wait and, impatiently, the nurses did. He put his hands on her head and gave her a silent priesthood blessing. As his hands left her head, nothing happened. The nurses began to try and move the body again into the car, and Brother Buckman turned away as he couldn't stand the sight of seeing his daughter for the last time. As he began to become overcome with anguish, he heard again a voice. This time, it was the voice of his daughter. "Papa, don't go..." The nurses were astonished and scared as they backed away from this woman who was dead moments ago. Brother Buckman said his sorrow was overtaken by immense joy that couldn't be explained. The nurses and doctors all proclaimed him a prophet who has power over death and Brother Buckman responded that he didn't do anything; it was the Lord. As he told this story to my companion and I, we too were overcome with emotion. We wept with him as he shared with us the greatest blessing that God had given to him. I want everyone to know that with faith, absolutely anything is possible.


1.  Any sign of any other packages?  I really, really, really hope that my package has arrived!!  I was glad to hear that Grandma and Tammy's package arrived safely.  I saw on the Stevenson's blog a picture of the AP carrying a bunch of packages.  He said they have the task of delivering all the packages to the missionaries.  I hope everything comes before Christmas.  Know that a lot of thought (and LOVE) went into every item in the boxes!!

I have heard that I have things waiting for me at the mission home, but they have not gotten to me yet!! I'm sure everything is here though and that President Stevenson is doing all that he can to give his missionaries their things from home! I can't wait to receive them, and I'll let you know when I do!

2.  Are there very many young men and young women in the branch where you serve? 

Yeah, quite a few! We proselyte with a lot of YSA aged people, as our ward has some of the most in the stake. I enjoy spending time with them and love getting to know them better! They are great tools in the missionary work and can translate any lesson for us. We love the youth and YSA's! 

3.  Have you been back to the mission home at all since you arrived?  I keep looking for pictures of you on the blog but have yet to see any.  

Nope, the last time I was there was September 3rd! I haven't left Western Region since I arrived here! Hopefully I will be able to serve in Cape Coast one day, as I have heard incredible things about that area! We will have to see though!

4.  Have to had a chance to play any basketball?  Do they have any basketball courts?

The only basketball court I have seen is at the Stake Center in Takoradi and it's an outdoor court! I haven't yet been able to play, so the last time I touched a ball was at the MTC.... I miss it a lot! I do get the chance to play football quite often though, which is exciting!

5.  Still healthy?  (I am probably going to ask that every week!) :)

Yes, still healthy! No Malaria, no Ebola, no Flu! They take good care of me out here :)

6.  Do you know what your day will be like on Christmas?  I hope someone invites you to a really nice dinner!

We aren't sure what our day will be like on Christmas... All we know is that we are Skyping sometime during the day! We have all the things set up for Skype though, including a modem so we are good to go on the 25th! I'm excited. Hopefully we can get a nice big Fufu from a member and we can enjoy our day! :)

7.  Anything you need?  

Hmm... I don't think so!! Thank you so much for everything that you already do for me, 

Thank you again everyone who emailed me this week and I'm sorry to those whom I didn't get to! Is there anything that YOU need from ME??

Be safe, I love you.

Elder Gavin Degen

Monday, December 8, 2014

E-mail dated 12/8/14

Mom and Family,

I am so sorry about last week!! As you could probably tell, I didn't have much time to do anything last week because of our Thanksgiving. But I have a little bit of time this week so I hope that I can make up for it! Thank you all for your emails and support this week, I loved all of them. I hope I was able to respond to all those who emailed me this week, I will always try to email people back the same week that I get them! But I'm sorry if I skip a few weeks occasionally. 

Anyways, I feel like I haven't been able to give you a good summary of my life in awhile and I don't even know where to start... I am doing well and am loving my area! I am still in Nketsiakrom, but the next transfer is January 4th and it's possible that some people get moved, including myself. We will have to see, I really don't want to leave! I am continuing to teach our investigators that we have regularly been seeing and we are close to baptism with a few of them. I think I have mentioned Janet before, and sadly she has traveled for a few weeks so we weren't able to baptize her last week! (People seem to do that a lot here... it's strange). But she is an amazing woman, and after teaching her the law of chastity she broke up with her boyfriend (which is a big deal because in Ghana boyfriends give money and provide for the families in exchange for the woman's relationship). It really showed her commitment and her faith and it was amazing to see the change and blessings in her life. She was able to find money through other means and is currently providing for her family without the man. It's amazing to see the blessings of keeping the commandments! I can't wait to baptize her when she comes back.

Our other investigators include Samuel, the Mathias family, the Baidoo family and Sister Mensah. I've told you about Samuel before, and we are patiently waiting for him to finally take the step of faith and get baptized! He is being difficult, but we still have hope that he will come unto Christ. His trust in us has increased immensely ever since his confession to us, and we think he will be able to see the blessings of repentance! The Mathias and Baidoo families are both amazing and I love visiting them and their little kids. I will try and send pictures sometime, maybe over Christmas! As for Sister Mensah, her husband joined the church earlier this year and we are trying to get her to join him. It's easy though, she is a devout Pentecost! We are praying for her often, hoping that her heart will be softened. 

This week has been a sweet one though, and it's been crazy to see how fast it went by! it's already week 3 of this transfer and time doesn't seem to slow down. Christmas is so soon! Before I answer your questions for this week though, I want to say some things before I forget. Yes, I did get Tammy and Grandma's package this week! I loved it so much and have thanked them! The other ones have not arrived yet, but I realize that it's not easy when dozens of other missionaries in this mission are getting mail as well. I am being patient, I'm sure they will be here before Christmas! Also, I did receive two letters this week, one from you Mom and one from Marla Field. Thank you much for the clippings, I hope you know that all the American elders in the apartment join around me when I open the letters from you, trying to get as much sports news as possible! I would love it though if you include something small written by the family! Anything at all would be much appreciated:) Please thank Marla Field as well, and her Sunday school class!

So here it goes....

1.  So how is the new companion, Elder Ntlhaakgosi?  How do you you say his name?

Elder Ntlhaakgosi (N-Clah-ko-see) is a fun guy and a great missionary! It's definitely different than my previous companion, but it's good. We do things different, we teach different and we see different people but the work is all the same. He is a little over a year into his mission and was excited to be transferred here! When he arrived, he found out that his MT, (That's what you call people who came to the mission the same time as you, short for MTC...), Elder Thipe was in our apartment as well. They grew up together in the same ward and have known each other their whole lives! So now our apartment is 4 Americans and 2 Botswanians. It's a fun apartment and I have loved getting to know the new elders. 

2.  Any sign of any packages yet?  I know there are 3 on the way.  One from Jeri, Grandma and Tammy and one from me.  They should all be in there in plenty of time for Christmas.  Just wondering if any had showed up yet.  I remember it only took 2 weeks for my last package to get to you so I am hopeful that these will arrive in about the same time.

Woops, I already answered that.... Next!

3.  Any news if you can Skype on Christmas yet?  We are crossing our fingers!!

The answer is a definite YES! We are going to be able to Skype on Christmas. We are already making the preparations for that week! So if you could please make an account on Skype and let me know your username so I can do it, that would be great! I myself need to figure out how to do it... Oh well, I'm sure I'll find out!

4.  Do people there decorate for Christmas like we do here?  I saw on the Stevenson's blog that they put up a Christmas tree in the mission home.  I bet it is weird to see Christmas decorations when it is 85 degrees outside. 

No, I haven't seen any decorations besides the ones the American elders put up in our apartment! They do sell Christmas trees in Takoradi for a ridiculous amount of money though, but I have yet to see anyone buy one. It is weird knowing it's December and not hearing Christmas music or seeing any decorations!

5.  Have you gotten to ride on the back of motorcycles like Eric did in Sierra Leone?

Not yet, but we used to catch rides in lorry's on the way to Eshiem! These are like semi trucks without their cargo. Google the pictures and you'll see what I mean! We just stand on the bed and hold on for dear life. It's really fun! Don't tell President Stevenson though...

6.  Any crazy weather-related events lately?

Nope... It's always hot and dry now. Nothing exciting at all! 

Well, my time is almost out for this week so I had better be going! If you need anything at all, please let me know. Do you want pictures? Do you want me to try and send something home? Just let me know!

Thank you again everyone for you emails this week. I hope you are all staying safe and that you enjoy this Christmas season. Until next week, yebehyia! (See you later)!

Elder Degen

Monday, December 1, 2014

E-mail dated 12/1/14

Mom and family,
Akwaabo! I am so so sorry but this email has to be a little short this week! We got caught up in our activity today and had to travel far to get to a working internet cafe. It's coming up on 9:00 here and we need to be back in the apartment soon! Please forgive me for not being able to email people back this week, I hope next week will be better! I think I can answer (Mom's) questions this week though, I hope I can adequately explain my week in my answers! I did read all of your emails though and would love to respond to all of your topics and questions if time permitted. So, here it goes!

1.  Why are you not proselyting in Eshiem anymore?  Did they close that part of the mission or assign it to new missionaries?  Are you only serving in Nketsiakrom now?
Eshiem has been given to the Mpintsin elders to proselyte because their area was small and Nketsiakrom is huge. They didn't want us being in such a big area and then spending half of our time in a village. I'm not happy with the decision, but I trust in the Lord that it was done for a reason! So yes, now I am only serving in Nketsiakrom, and there is a ton of work to do here and a lot of people to teach. I am excited to get to work!

2.  Tell us about your new companion.  Name, how long he has been out, etc., etc.
Ah, the big news of my week! Elder Mocke was transferred on Wednesday and I went to the Trotro station and picked up my new companion. His name is (I can already see your faces when you read it...) Elder Ntlhaakgosi from Botswana. He has been out for a little over a year now and he is an amazing guy. He's extremely nice and really easy to get along with. I have enjoyed getting to know him the past few days and I look forward to being his companion for the foreseeable future! I will tell you more about him as time goes on!

3.  I see from the Stevenson's blog that 15 new missionaries this week from the MTC, and all but 1 from countries other than the U.S. (1 from Idaho).  Did any of them come to your area?  Are you glad you have just finished your training and not just starting it?
Wow, I didn't even know that. Our mission is kind of split into two, Western Region and Central Region and I'm in the Western. Cape Coast and the Mission home is in Central and we hardly get any news about the mission! Only one of those 15 new missionaries came to Western Region and I didn't get the chance to meet him. Poor guy, I am so glad that I'm done with training!! Don't get me wrong, I loved Elder Mocke and my first 3 months, but it feels good to be looked at as a fully competent missionary now instead of a new guy. 

4.  What did you do for Thanksgiving on Thursday?  Anything special?  I meant to take some pictures on Thanksgiving to send to you and I forgot.  Sorry!
We had Thanksgiving today actually! Elder Rowe, me and Elder Day bought a turkey and killed it ourselves. We then bought potatoes, butter, cheese(!!), vegetables, gravy and corn. We spent a lot of money, but we fed the entire zone and it was the best meal that I have had in a long time. I wasn't able to be with me actual family today or thursday, but these Elders are my family out here and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. 

5.  Do most people have full-time jobs and do they seem to make adequate wages?  
Most people have jobs, but they vary widely. A good paying job is 400 cedis a month (125 US $)

6.  What do you typically fix at your apartment for breakfast and dinner?  I know you told me a while ago that you eat a lot of the stuff like Top Ramen.
Still Indo Mie... Gotta love it!!
I'm out of time! I'm so sorry!! I love you all.
Elder Degen

Monday, November 24, 2014

Elder Degen and Elder Mocke leaving Eshiem for the last time

E-mail dated 11/24/14

Mom and Family,

Akwaabo! I can't believe it's been 12 weeks in this area already! My training officially ended yesterday as my 2nd transfer came to a close. It's weird not being a new missionary any more, it feels like I just barely got here! Thank you for keeping me updated about things at home this week, I'm really glad I get to read them on a Monday for a change! I can tell that the Utes disappointed everyone last week, that wasn't fun to hear... Stupid Utes! I probably would have been the one in the pouring rain at the stadium, waiting for the final buzzer to sound before I leave. Mainly because it sounds really nice to be somewhere that's below 80 degrees right now!! Haha I haven't been cold in over 3 months, that's for sure. 

I once again have a lot to say, but most of them can be answered in your questions! I would like to share with you a spiritual experience that Elder Mocke and I had this week. So our long awaited baptism was scheduled for Friday and we were beginning to get quite excited to see these candidates take this step. We ended up only preparing 3 people in Eshiem for baptism and postponing the rest until December. The three we prepared were Derrick Otoo (12 year old boy), Vida Asare (21 year old mother), and Prudence Afful (45 year old Fante woman). Eshiem is quite a different place than anywhere in the world, and we struggled mightily in teaching them because of the language barrier and village culture in Eshiem. We didn't give up though, and they all three passed their baptismal interviews. When Friday finally came, Mocke and I walked to Eshiem ready to baptize them! We didn't know the day of work that awaited us there. When we arrived in the afternoon, they had all forgotten about their own baptism that we told them about the day before. None of them were preparing themselves for the service and Mocke and I were getting quite nervous. We didn't know what to do, so we did the only thing we could; we gave service to every single one of them. We washed Prudence's clothes in a bucket for an hour until our hands were blistered, we fetched water from a well for Vida and we cooked dinner and cleaned for Derrick. The water wasn't running in Eshiem when we got there as well, and we were scared the font wouldn't have water. It was a difficult time, but the Lord answered our prayers. The water ended up turning on a few hours before the service, all of our candidates showed up on time and we had an amazing turn out at the baptism. I was able to see the fruits of our efforts as I sat there and watched the branch pour into their tiny chapel to support the soon-to-be members. I was able to baptize Derrick and Prudence myself and the joy that I could see in their faces when they came up out of the water was unforgettable. I love this gospel and have the strongest testimony of the joy it brings to individuals in families. I'm lucky to have this opportunity to be here serving the Lord!

As for the rest of my news....

1.  I know transfers are this week.  Tell me all about them!

So transfer news came out on Saturday... My trainer, Elder Mocke is being transferred across the mission to Winneba! I have loved the past three months I have been able to spend with him and will really miss him a lot. We have had a lot of good times and he has taught me how to be a good missionary. My new companion is from Botswana and I can't pronounce his name to tell you the truth! I will definitely let you know more about him when I meet him on Wednesday! I also found out that I will no longer be proselyting in Eshiem anymore, the small village that I was in. I was devastated at this news. I have told you how much I love it there and I am terribly sad to leave. We said our farewells today and we had kids cry as we walked away from there for the last time this morning. It wasn't easy...

2.  Do you miss not having any seasons (besides the wet and dry)?  I honestly don't think I would mind if it was 85 degrees all year round.  

I do miss having 4 seasons, but not being cold! Because the weather has hardly changed at all since I've gotten here, it's sometimes hard to judge the time! That sounds weird, but I hope you understand what I mean. 85 degrees sounds great all year round in Utah, but with high humidity it's not as fun! But it's way better than being in snow though...

3. So you said President Stevenson brought you a generator.  Does this mean you have power all the time now?  Even at night when you are sleeping so you can run your fan?

We can use the generator in the evenings from 7-10 p.m. so that we can close our days and cook dinner. We sadly can't use it to power our fans, but we will gladly take any electricity we can get!

4.  Are you still healthy?  Anything ailing you?  

Yes, completely healthy!! I have had no problems since I got here, and I know that's from the obedience I have had to taking my Doxycicline everyday.

5.  Do you have to speak in Church often?  Are the priesthood leaders well trained or do they rely on the missionaries a lot for guidance and direction?

The branches and wards rely on the missionaries for everything. In Eshiem we bless and pass the sacrament every week. We give talks in Nketsiakrom at least every other week. We planned the whole program and conducted the baptismal service on Friday. It's extremely frustrating at times to deal with such inexperienced leaders, but I know I am here for a reason. My patience is being tested, that's for sure! 

I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving this week, and that everyone is safe. I wish I could tell you more about my week but I'm running out of time! I do want to tell you that this P-day has been amazing today as we went to a really nice restaurant in Takoradi and had American food for the first time in months. Ah, it was so good. I love all of you back home, you're all in my prayers.

Elder Degen

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Eating a coconut

E-mail dated 11/18/14

Mom and Family,

Ma mo adwo! (Good evening!) It's almost 9 here in Ghana right now but as missionaries we do whatever we can to email! This is the first time we have had power in our area in about 48 hours or so, that's why I wasn't able to email yesterday. Sorry about that! I hope I didn't worry you Mom. Thank you everyone for all of your emails this week! I loved hearing from a lot of family. I'm sorry if I can't email everyone back today, I'm trying to upload pictures and it's kind of slowing the internet down! 

Mom, thank you for continually giving me spiritual thoughts every week form your preparation as a teacher as well. I love them and I always study them and pray about them. Same with Dad as well. I loved scriptures Dad gave me this week and I can't wait to study the material you have given me. Mom, I now sympathize with you about teaching, it's not an easy thing at all! It's a lot of preparation but the rewards are just as great as those you are teaching. I have learned that being a teacher to someone doesn't mean that you are better than anyone, just that God has given you this opportunity to proclaim His gospel. Once I realized that, my teaching improved significantly. 

I have a spiritual experience this week that I would like to share with you all as well. I've told you about our stubborn investigator, Samuel, before right? Well we visit him twice a week and share a message with him. He has been taught all the lessons and recently has been fulfilling our assignments of Book of Mormon readings. We have been so excited at the prospect of conversion, seeing as Elder Mocke has been teaching him for over 6 months. On Wednesday when we went there, something happened that shocked Elder Mocke and myself. We were in the middle of a lesson when Samuel got a call and stepped out of the room for about 5 minutes. We were preparing our scriptures while he was gone, getting ready to blast this guy with doctrine. When he returned, there was something visibly wrong. We asked him if he was okay and he replied that he wasn't. He then confessed to us a very deep sorrow and regret that he had and explained to us the situation he was in. Our hour appointment quickly turned to two hours and then to three. He is going through an extremely hard trial in his life due to his own choices and the first person he turned to (even before his family) was the missionaries. As Elder Mocke and I testified of the atonement of Jesus Christ you could see his demeanour change. You could see the hope fill his eyes as we told him his sins could be cleansed through our Saviour's sacrifice. I felt prompted to share with him the poem I recited in my farewell talk of footprints in the sand, and I couldn't control my emotions as the tears rolled down my face. It was an amazing experience and one that I will never forget. I have learned to never give up on someone, no matter how hard they deny the truth, there will come a time when they need to hear the word of God. I have seen those blessings in times of need in my life, and now I can share that testimony for the benefit of others. That may be the greatest blessing.

Now for you questions....

1.  Are Kingsley, Derrick, Vydah and Prudence that you are teaching all part of the same family?  How about Janet, Jennifer and Justice?

Nope, none of them are part of the same family!! Some of them are apart of part-member families though, and the other members are present. We are teaching a few families though and I can't wait to see them enter the waters of baptism!

3.  Have you  had the chance to give any Priesthood blessings?  

A lot! Usually around once a week or so we get one. We got the chance to dedicate a home in Eshiem a couple of weeks ago, so that was weird! I've never even heard of doing that before!

4.  Thanksgiving is a week from Thursday.  Do they celebrate Thanksgiving in Ghana?

We are trying to buy a turkey and kill it and roast it, but we will have to see... I sure hope that we have a nice dinner or something, it will be crazy though as it will be the day after transfers! Elders Rowe and Day both have gravy mixes that they got sent to them, so we will for sure have something smothered in gravy.

5.  Any big P-days coming up?  Will you have one before transfers?

We had a really fun one yesterday!! We went to the Julanders as a zone yesterday (18 Elders and Sisters) and had all you can eat french toast! Wow, it was amazing. Elder Day donated his Maple extract that he had and we all paid for 27(!) loaves of bread and 60 eggs to make our buffet. We then watched 17 miracles in their air conditioned apartment and talked for awhile, I was speaking with Elder Pearmain for awhile about Murray. It was a fun day! I should mention that yesterday was like Christmas for our apartment. We got home from our shopping and our attempt to email yesterday to find a generator at our apartment!!! President Stevenson truly is a man of God, and we have the privelage of being the first missionaries in the mission with a generator. We were freaking out at his generosity!! Say a prayer of thanks for President Stevenson, he is an answer to our prayers.

6.  Have you seen any pet monkeys yet?  

Yup, that time when I didn't email for a couple weeks was when it happened. We were all mad that we didn't get to email that day, so we took a tro home. Of course, the tro broke down and we were all stranded for about an hour or so on some backroad. There was a monkey on a fence to someone's house though, so we all took pictures and tried to make our crappy day better. It was actually pretty cool!

7.  Do you get homesick or are you too busy to think much about home?  (It's okay to tell me that you don't think about home much).  :)

Ah it varies. To be honest, it's sometimes hard to find the time to think of home because we're so busy! I would be lying if I said I never did though. It's hard at times, but prayer is a great tool. Hard work is the cure for homesickness though!

8.  Do people where you are use social media much?

Yeah, almost everyone has a facebook. It's really strange. Ghana is at least 50 years behind in development of their country, but their technology is only maybe 5 years. Most people have cell phones with internet on them, seeing as phones and credit is relatively cheap. Their power system though, that's terrible no matter what. 

Thank you all for everything this week, I look forward to next week! Some few things I would like to mention as ideas for my Christmas Package... Those mini cinnamon rolls from costco, a pack of 5 lighters (that would be very helpful!!) and any other food from home. Thank you so much!

Please be safe this week. I love you all!

Elder Degen

Monday, November 10, 2014

E-mail dated 11/10/14

Mom and Family,

E te den? (How are you?) And you will usually respond with "Boko" (I'm good). Anyways, hello everyone! I hope you have all had a good week. I was very glad to hear that everyone was safe and that it was an eventful week. The Utes didn't surprise me too much this week, I was happy to hear that they competed with the Ducks! Is it too early to call the tickets for that game in the 2016 season? Haha I also heard about the crazy Jazz game that was reminiscent of the Sundiata Gaines game when Eric was on his mission. It sounds like a crazy week in sports back home! 

I enjoyed getting updates about the other things back home as well. I'm glad that basketball tryouts are this week, I can't believe it's been a year since I was preparing for my last tryouts! It seems like it was yesterday. I know the coach of the sophomore team and if I remember correctly, he's a cool guy. He's really nice and knows how to work with players. Good luck Josh, you're in good hands! I would also like to continue to hear about how the varsity team does this year, I love those guys on that team. I didn't enjoy hearing about Marcos or Nate though this week. I was totally unaware of Nate and I can see how that would be hard for anyone. Marcos is continually in my prayers as well and his situation is something that is hard for me to hear. I know the Lord has a plan for him. Whatever he chooses will be for the best, that's all I can say.

As for myself, I have had a good week! Elder Mocke and I have been preparing 7 people for baptisms for the 21st and 22nd of November, so we have been very busy. We're hoping to have at least 4 of those go through, but we have faith they all will! There are 4 in Eshiem; Kingsley, Derrick, Vydah and Prudence. None of them speak much English, so we get one of my favorite kids in the world (his name is Samuel Otoo, 13 years old) to come and translate for us in every lesson. This kid is a powerful missionary and has become an amazing tool for translating. He speaks the best English in all of Eshiem and he's 13! His family is one of the only active families in the branch and they are always feeding us Fufu. They're entire family is definitely one I will forever remember. I have attached a picture with Justina Otoo, and this girl is like my sister. She's the cutest thing and I love her to death. It's going to be really hard to leave Eshiem one day, there are people there I really do love.

In Nketsiakrom we are preparing Janet, Jennifer and Justice for baptism as well! Janet is for sure and the others are hopeful. We have a member in the ward who teaches these people with us who's name is Brother Asare and this guy is the biggest spiritual giant I have ever met. All of our investigators in the area are referrals from him. ALL of them. He farms 4 days a week and on the days he's not farming he goes around with the missionaries, visits less actives, and teaches lessons himself. This guy is 75! He proselytes more hours than we do on the days he has free and his testimony is unlike any other I've ever met. There are not many Brother Asare's in this world. I will try and send a picture with him sometime soon, words can't do this guy justice.

To answer your questions for this week...

1.  Do you have any senior couples that serve in your area that you have gotten close to?  I know that Eric really got close to the Petersons on his mission as he worked closely with them.  I gather from the Stevensons blog that there are senior couples who serve throughout the Ghana Cape Coast mission.

Yes, we have the Julander's for western region! We actually went to their apartment last Monday and watched the Best Two Years and The Other Side of Heaven! They made us brownies and we all enjoyed our p-day! I love them a lot and I hope to get really close to them before they go home in 9 months. They're my favorite mission couple for sure!

2.  Did Brother Samuel that you told me about a month or so ever get baptized?  

He's still our eternal investigator... He is slowly making progress though. He has read all the chapters of the Book of Mormon that we have assigned him and he even told us he knows it's the word of God! But he just can't accept that the church is true and he refuses to come to church until he has received his answer from God. He's a frustrating investigator, but we still see him twice a week!

3.  Any new investigators to tell us about?

I think I told you about the ones I was thinking about when I told you our baptismal candidates! Please keep them in your prayers as they prepare to make the biggest step in their life.

4.  Any crazy weather lately?  Is it the "dry season" now?

It's dry season and it's getting hot! To make things worse, our power at our apartment is hardly ever on and it's hard to sleep when you're sweating everywhere. Our apartment is generally regarded as the worst in the mission because it's very large (hard to maintain), there is hardly ever power, and when there's power, there's no running water. It's hard, but i'm getting used to it! Elder Pearmain said that our apartment is pretty much what all the missionaries lived like in Liberia, so I don't have it any worse than Eric!

No, I don't think I am losing weight yet though! I maintain my weight by eating Fufu all the time! That stuff is filling. For my daily exercise I walk all day. Eshiem is about 2 miles from our apartment, and 2 miles back in the evening, along with all the walking through the village. Nketsiakrom is one of the biggest areas in the mission and we can have one appointment that is an hour walk away. I'm staying in shape, that's for sure! 

I am loving the work and am really looking forward to the coming weeks. I have great faith and hope that the Lord will bless those who want to come unto Him. I love all of you and thank you so much for your support back home. Have a safe week!

Elder Degen

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

E-mail dated 11/4/14

Dear Mom and Family,
Akwaabo! Another week has passed and has gone by incredibly fast. I'm sorry for not being able to email yesterday, we got about a half hour of email time before the power went out! Thankfully it's okay today though. Thank you for your patience and not calling president Stevenson ;) If I ever don't email on Monday I will almost always be able to email on Tuesdays! There's no need to worry, I promise.

Thank you for all of your emails this week and the news (good and bad...) that I received! Stupid Utes.... I'm glad to hear that the Halloween party was a success and that nobody was hurt swinging the stick at the Pinata, that's always good news! I also dressed up on Friday, and probably stuck out just as much as people at home as I was in my Priesthood uniform walking the streets of my area. Nobody gave us candy though, so that was a bummer... I was really sad to hear about Elder Pickett though, I have been keeping him in my prayers ever since I heard what happened last week. I love that kid and I can only hope that he stays out in the field. He has gone through a lot more than most and I know Heavenly Father has great things in store for him. Send my comfort and greetings to his family, I have obtained his email through Elder Erekson and am going to send him an email.
Wow, this week was quite eventful! Thankfully I can recap most of my week as I answer your questions though, so I think I will just provide long answers this week!

1. How was your Halloween?  Did you eat the goat you were planning to eat?

It was actually really good! I went on splits with one of my zone leaders, Elder Odongo (from Uganda). He is Elder Pearmain's companion, by the way. I took him to Eshiem on Friday and we had a pretty successful day before returning to the apartment. We killed and ate the goat earlier in the week because Mocke wanted to see it, so we did that on Tuesday. We celebrated on Friday evening by making a huge batch of no bake cookies (the only cookies we can make, we don't have an oven, milk, or anything else thats good..) and we put Fan Ice all over them! Fan Ice is vanilla ice cream in a little 100ml plastic sachet that you bite the corner off of and suck the ice cream out. They're actually really delicious!
2.  So, I know you are learning/speaking Fante.  When you leave the area, will you have to learn a whole new language or are the other languages based upon the Fante dialect?
Most of our mission speaks one of two languages: Twi or Fante. They are both similar to each other but have some differences. If you have learned one, you can easily pick up the differences, so when I leave my area it shouldn't be too hard if I go to a Twi-speaking area. Good question!
3.  Did you get to watch conference?  I think the Ensign will all the talks is out.  We haven't received ours yet, but I heard you could get it at the Distribution Center.  Do you know if you will get a copy or should I send you one.
Thankfully we all went to the stake center on Sunday and watched conference as a stake! (There's only one stake in western region, the Takoradi stake, which covers 3 zones of our mission). It was an amazing experience, even though we only got to watch the saturday afternoon and sunday morning sessions. It was easily the best conference I have ever listened to. The difference it makes when you are actually listening and taking notes is immense. I can tell you that I regret how lazily I treated Conference back home! It was also nice to see all of the other missionaries in western region, including a few from my MTC group. By the way, yes, I would love to receive the Ensign! I don't think we get a copy and I would be very grateful If I had one. Thank you so much!
4.  Are there restaurants where you are where you can buy lunch or dinner?

Restaurants are called chop bars here (chop means eat for some strange reason) and they are everywhere. They mainly serve Fufu, but you can find a few stands that sell rice. You can get a good Fufu for about 5 cedis and same with a good fried rice. We usually eat out once or twice a week!  
5.  Are you healthy?  Do you take daily medication for malaria?  I think Eric did (or was supposed to) take a pill daily.  Have the missionaries in your area/mission generally been healthy?  I have to ask!

We all have to take Doxycycline everyday to combat malaria. I have been healthy and haven't had any sickness at all! There sadly is one missionary going home because he didn't take his Doxy and he got Malaria. For the most part the only sicknesses that missionaries get is a runny tummy! I've been blessed.
6. Did you think of anything else you want/need for Christmas?
Hmmm... so maybe:
Scripture markers, the laminated scripture mastery cards with chronology on the back, and any other gospel related things that you think would be helpful!
Burts Bees
Any type of candy that you can think of.
Anything that you think I would like or enjoy, absolutely anything is appreciated :)
7.  When are transfers?

November 23, coming up really soon. My companion is almost definitely leaving and I will receive a new one in 3 weeks. I'm nervous and excited at the same time. It will be interesting to see what happens!
Thank you all again for you emails this week and everything you all do for me. I'm sorry I can't respond to everyone this week, I'll hopefully have more time next week! I hope you all have a safe week!
Eldah Degen

Monday, October 27, 2014

E-mail dated 10/27/14

Mom and Family,
Akwaaba! I am able to email on a Monday for the first time in a while! I was really close to not being able to email this week again. The cafe in our area didn't have any connection and we were waiting for hours there with no luck. We caught a trotro to Takoradi (The biggest city in our mission) and were able to find a cafe here thankfully! It's been a little crazy today, but it's starting to calm down now. I loved hearing from everyone this week! Man, the Utes are really killing me. I didn't expect them to be very good this year and they're surprising everyone. What the heck?? My district leader Elder Rowe, from Idaho, loves talking sports, and so we have grown to be really close friends in our apartment. He's amazed as well at the Utes success this year! It sounds like it hasn't been easy, but they're making me proud that's for sure!
Even though the Utes make me so happy, strangely I don't miss watching the games or being caught up in sports. It's the weirdest thing. Never once on a saturday have I thought about college football. My focus isn't on the Utes right now and I can see how Heavenly Father has blessed me with a diligent mind to not worry about that! My week has been very productive with Elder Mocke and I have seen the fruits of our efforts. We have a difficult task to be honest with you. Because we are over two areas, we have to split our time with the areas and investigators. We haven't had much success in terms of baptisms, but this week I was able to finally see why we're here in this area. Even though baptisms are nice, these areas need the presence of the priesthood, especially Eshiem. We work with building the branch and ward, because we realized that's what these people need most right now. Maybe one day there will be full-time elders in Eshiem, that's our goal. But as we split our time, we get to see a lot of members and I truly have grown to love these areas so much. We have members that feed us every time they see us and they love the missionaries. We feel like we are being watched after, and it's an amazing feeling of comfort! One of my favorite families is the Baidoo family, and they spoil us whenever we share a message with them or even pass by. They are like my Ghanian family, and I love them so much. The father was in a car accident in February and he broke his leg and hasn't been able to walk since. We are the only ones who visit him and we are praying daily he will be healed soon. He is the only one of his family who has not been baptized and we can only hope we are the ones to do the ordinance! Please keep him in your prayers.
I am still anxiously looking forward to watching conference sometime soon! I know I've never been this eager before. I think we may get to watch the rebroadcast either this sunday or sometime next week! I'll let you know.
Your questions for the week...

1.  I was on the Stevenson's blog today and it looks like they were traveling throughout the mission all week, but not to where you are.  Are they coming to your area soon?
They already visited my district, about a week and a half ago! My companion and I got to go with one of the Assistants on splits because this was his first area at the beginning of his mission, so we visited his recent converts! It was amazing to see these people start crying when they saw the missionary who baptized them. They truly do love the gospel and have strong relationships with the missionaries. Coming back to the question... the Stevenson's didn't mention the Kojokrom zone or district in their blog? Hmmm...

2.  How educated are the people/investigators that you teach?  What is the school system like there?
It varies... In Eshiem, it is normally not very good. It's a Fante village and we need a translator in order for some investigators to understand. It's frustrating at times, this certainly isn't an American mission! But you can normally tell how educated some one is within the first few appointments with them and we can adjust the teaching according to their needs. The school system is interesting here, but it follows a similar pattern. Primary school, jr high school, high school, university. The schools themselves are much different though, and it's hard to explain how they work. There hasn't been school in Eshiem for a couple week though because the teachers are on strike.... It's an interesting country!

3.  Were you able to find somewhere to buy a backpack?  I am very glad that you were able to get money out of your account.  
Yes! Thankfully I found one. I was able to access everything with ease and it was much appreciated. Thank you so much!

4.  It is Halloween on Friday.  Do they celebrate Halloween there?  I bet I know what you are going to dress up as!
Our apartment is going to celebrate by buying a goat and eating it on Friday! Apponkye (the Fante word for goat) meat is actually better than you would think, and we think it sounds fun to do. I'll tell you how it goes! I plan to finish my candy you sent me as well on Friday :)

5.  Is the water safe to drink?  I think Eric had filters on his water in his apartment.  What do you drink when you are out all day?  
There is one filter in our apartment that we all use to cook with and fill drinking bottles when we are home. No tap water is safe to drink, ever. When we are out in the field we buy water sachets. They are plastic bags that you bite the corner off and suck the water out of it. The sachets are filtered, so there's no need to worry! They're actually really refreshing and are very cheep (about 10 pesewas, or 3 american cents) for a 500 ml sachet.

6.  I asked you this a few weeks ago when you couldn't respond, but who's baby are you holding in the picture you sent to Missy?  I put that picture on your blog and Gram printed it out and she has it on her fridge.  Oh my gosh!  That baby is so cute.  
That is one of our investigators baby's :) She's a cute baby, huh?? She left the room and handed me her baby so my companion quickly took my camera and snapped a picture. The investigator's name is Vydah and she is actually preparing for baptism next month! The baby is 2 months old.

7.  Were you able to see the pictures I attached?
Yes, thank you so much! All the missionaries in this cafe came over to see you all :) to answer another one of your questions, yes, I do think I get to Skype on Christmas! I'll keep you updated.
Thank you to everyone for continuing to offer words of encouragement and prayers for me. I love all of you so much and I miss you. But I know I'm where I need to be! The time is flying by and I can't believe I'm halfway through my 2nd transfer in the field. My trainer will be transferred next month and I will get a new one already! I can't believe the work that I have done already and the work that is to come. I hope everyone has a safe week!
Elder Degen

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

E-mail dated 10/21/14

Mom and Family,
Wow, I am so so so so so sorry about the emailing these past couple weeks!!! We have gone to Takoradi to email and the cafe that we have gone to has been terrible. We've been able to get on to our accounts, but not send any emails. It has been so frustrating, so we've decided to stay and email in our area from now on! I have tried writing you back a few times, but the computer deletes it before I could send it... I'm sorry, I know how badly you must have been worried! Please know that I am safe and sound and nothing is wrong :)
I have so much to tell you, but I can't fit two weeks of information into one email... But I will do my best! These past few weeks have been sweet, I learn more and more about my area everyday. I am learning to love these people and have really developed a connection with some families. I have enjoyed the work so far and my companion and I work hard everyday. Elder Mocke is 7 1/2 months into his mission and he has spent his entire mission in this area. He knows a ton of people and a lot of things about our areas, and he has helped me out a ton. He knows quite a bit of Fante and he is the best teacher for the language. I need to send more pictures of me and him! He is an insanely hard working missionary. We are always the first ones to leave the apartment and the last ones in. He has definitely showed me the guideline for the rest of my mission. We are over two areas, like I have said, Nketsiakrom and Eshiem. Nketsiakrom is a large area and we share it with 2 other elders. It has one ward and it is a high baptizing area. Eshiem is the small village that I have told you about and most of the dang people there are already members. There is a branch that is there (church is held in someone's old home) but there are maybe 25 people there on a good day. Eshiem is a hard area to work with, but it's teaching me a lot of patience! It's hard to balance our work between the two areas, especially because we can only see our investigators twice a week when we really should be seeing them every day. Everything is given to us for a reason though, and I know the Lord wants me to be here, doing this very thing, at this very time.

Even though I didn't get to email yesterday, I still had an amazing P-day! We had a zone activity and went to Vienna beach, which isn't too far from our zone. We all got there in the morning and it was pouring rain, but we still played rugby (Mocke is a huge rugby fan and is going to play for BYU when he gets home). Man, rugby is fun! We all played on the beach for a few hours next to a nice resort (okay, nice for Ghana... I'll try to send pictures today) and we ate fried rice for our lunch. It was a really fun activity and I think that's the first time I've been to the beach in a long long time!
I don't want to go over anything that you have asked me in your questions, so I'll answer those now!

1. Do you hear much about ebola where you are? It is all over the news here. Do you have to take any precautions?

I have heard absolutely nothing about ebola. Maybe a few seconds on a members tv, but nothing that made any sense. What are they saying back home?? Is it spreading? One of the Elders in the mission from Liberia lost his sister to the disease, but thankfully nothing else has affected our mission too badly. The Elder's name is Elder Freeman, by the way. I know Eric might want to know.

2. How is the language coming? Do you speak it all the time?

It's coming along! I speak it everyday, all the time. It mainly greetings that I can say and small things about the gospel, but I can understand what most people are saying to me. It's really strange how I can understand them, I really have no idea how. I have a strong testimony of the gift of tongues, I know the Lord blesses his missionaries.

3. On the Stevenson's blog, they have what is called a "creature of the week". Lately, they haven't posted anything, but I have seen some pretty interesting reptiles/insects. What crazy things have you seen?
Man, I have seen some weird things... Rats the size of small cats, spiders as big as your palm, cockroaches, huge millipedes, all sorts of things. Last week on P-day our trotro broke down on the side of the road and we saw a monkey on the side of someone's fence. Naturally, all the missionaries shook its hand and got pictures with it! Don't worry though, we were reassured it didn't have ebola or anything...

4. What is the best way to find people to teach? Referrals? Street contacts? How many people are you teaching now?
Referrals, referrals, referrals. Street contacting is easy because everyone believes in God and wants to listen, but all of them think that it doesn't matter what religion you are, just as long as you believe in God. The best way to get someone to join the church is through members and recent converts. 90% of the baptisms in this mission come from referrals. We have a strong emphasis on Gordon B. Hinckley's advice, that all new members need 3 things: Nourishment by the good word of god, a calling, and most importantly a friend in the church. I know this is the absolute best way of bringing souls unto Christ and I deeply regret not trying harder to give referrals back home. We are teaching around 10 to 15 different people or families, but not all of them are investigators. We usually get around 20 to 25 lessons a week, and they all vary of who we teach them to.

5. When do you write your weekly letter/e-mail President Stevenson? Do you have to do it during your e-mail time?
During our email time... It's not too bad though!

6. What do you want/need for Christmas? I will be sending off your Christmas box the end of November/first of December. Please tell me what you need.
Hmm.. Anything is much appreciated! Candy, peanut butter, deodorant... Something that actually would be amazing is something I probably should have gotten before I came on my mission: New scriptures. If at all possible could I please get a black quad in the smallest size? with the tabs please!! I would really love that :) Thank you!
Thank you so so much for everything you do for me. I'm sorry I can't email everyone back today, hopefully next week will be better! I got your letter by the way, thank you so much for the blessing and the clippings. I love you Mom!

Elder Degen