Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Elder Degen's e-mail dated 8/26/14

Wow, it feels so good to email everyone again! I look forward to your emails so much. Yes, the MTC is very hard and very tiring! We wake up very early (5:30 because all the african elders think they need to iron their shirts and shine their shoes for an hour...) and go to bed at 10:30 (More like midnight because the african elders need to study..) So yes, it is very taxing and tiring! I'll run you through a typical day here.. Wake up, personal study in our class rooms from 7 to 8, breakfast (usually bread, pinapple and a hard boiled egg), 3 hours of classes and then a break for lunch at 12 (Rice, chicken and coleslaw). After lunch we have 3 more hours of classes until we have physical activity at 4 or so. Dinner is at 5 (Rice, chicken, coleslaw), folllowed by our final 3 hours of classes. On top of all that, we're all still jet lagged. As you can tell, it's not very fun, but it sure keeps me busy! Let me tell you this; saturday was the hardesy day of my life. My companion, Elder Day (He was at the airport, from Delta Utah, cowboy, kind of reminds me of a Blonde-haired Landon Smith), has been really struggling here in the MTC and was really bringing me down the first few days. It was extremely hard to remain positive amidst all the negativity. The days seemed to drag on, and by Sunday it felt like I had been here for weeks. Many Elders were considering going home, mainly the American ones. It is such a huge transition that it shocked a lot of us. Yesterday, a stress management teacher came and met with 3 or 4 really bad americans. I tried as hard as I could to fight the feelings of homesickness, but it was no use. I missed everyone back home and was starting to wonder if going home was an option. Then everything changed Sunday afternoon. I have been praying more than I ever have in my life and I was finally given peace and comfort in one moment. I realized that I left everything and everyone I've ever cared about back at home, and that I chose to be out here. What better teaching tool than love? I left all of that behind for 2 years to share the restored gospel with these amazing people; and it took a lot of faith, love and trust. That is a powerful thought that came to me. Instead of forgetting those that I love back home (which many missionaries here try to do), I have decided to do the opposite; think about them all the time and use it to teach. What a difference it makes! My eyes were opened and I was finally able to feel the spirit. Things have been much better since then and time seems to go by much faster now, I'm already a week into my mission and halfway done with the MTC. We got to go to the temple today which was an amazing experience.
Enough about me... How has your week been? Tell Josh Happy Birthday!! I'm sending something home with the sister that took my picture for facebook, it's for everyone though (Sorry Josh). I honestly dont have much time to write letters or do anything, I'm doing things all the time! Before I forget, thank you so much for telling me about your visits with Missy, you have no idea how much they mean to me. I worry about her everyday! I'm sorry that I have to go already, I'm trying to upload some pictures before I go. I'm still working on my sign off phrase, don't worry, it will be good:)
Last thing... I cannot tell you have amazing these African elders are. They are so knowledgable of the gospel that it puts the American missionaries to shame. I thought I was prepared for a mission until I met these Elders. They can recite scriptures from memory, teach lessons like it's nothing, and talk to anyone. I have learned so much from them that I feel inadequte at times. Many of them have been converts for less than 5 years and have served as branch missionaries before. They love the gospel and would do anything for it. At first I thought it was because they had nothing better to do, but they are very busy people and make time for the gospel in their lives. As someone who grew up in the church, It makes me sad I didn't take more advantage of it.
I love all of you and look forward to your emails next week! I'm so sorry if i wasnt able to email some of you back, they are very unprediatcble on the amount of time we get to email and when we get to.
Love, Elder Degen

Friday, August 22, 2014

First picture from Ghana

So, Gavin's first day in the MTC and he meets a sister visiting some friends there and finds out that she has a relative in our ward. Small world!

Safe arrival in Ghana!

Hello! I made it safely to the Ghana MTC! It took awhle, but I made it eventually. So, I'm sure youre wondering what happened at the airport when you dropped me off... When I went through security they found traces of explosives(!!!) on my hands, so they had to do a pat down really quick, nothing too bad. After that, I met up with the other 5 elders traveling to Dallas; Elders Hannemann, Neilson, Stulce, Day and Caelyn. They are all very nice. After our short 2 hour flight to Dallas, we had a layover before our flight to London. We had our last American meal at a BBQ place in the airport. Airplane food is awful. Before we left to London, we met up with even more elders, Elders Wightman and Lefler. The 8 of us flew to London in a huge airplane and I was lucky enough to sit next to a nice Indian Family. I made friends with their youngest boy, who gave me some candy and I gave him some gum. I thought about trying to place my first book of Mormon, and then I remebered the scene from The Best Two Years... After we arrived in London, we found 5(!) more missionaries. Elders Wight, Miller (from Lester, 2 hours from London), Brown, Mckonkie, and Cocheivar. I've made pretty good friends with all of them! All 13 of us flew from London to Accra, where we were met with a wave of heat and humidity the moment we stepped off the plane. I was expecting it, but nothing can prepare you for that. We went through customs and security, found our bags (mine made it safe!), and went downstairs to meet the brothers from the MTC who picked us up. We were supposed to pick up 12 more elders from Congo, but their flight got cancelled. We loaded up the 3 vans with our luggage and and all got in a van the size of the expedition. 4 or 5 guys kept trying to help us with our luggage, but we had been instucted to tell them we didn't need any help. They were very persistent. We all were wide-eyed, wondering what the heck we had gotten ourselves into. Our driver seemed to drive 100 mph on the way to the MTC (are there speed limits in Ghana?). We arrived safely around 11 p.m. Ghana time. We changed out of our clothes, finally, and went to bed. So far, I actually do enjoy the MTC. The hardest part of the past few days was watching as our house, and then Missy's, dissapear out the plane window. I'm very happy with my decision, but man, it can be hard. I hope all is well back home, I love all of you! Love, Elder Degen

Thursday, August 21, 2014

And, he's off ....

We took Gavin to the airport Wednesday, August 20. It will take him about 24 hours to finally arrive in Accra! He flew to Dallas, and then to London and then to Accra. He was anxious and happy and ready to go. Thankfully, there were other Elders flying with him. Can't wait to hear from him!