Monday, September 29, 2014

E-mail dated 9/29/14

So, Gavin wrote a long e-mail but it did not make it to me.  He sent this shorter, second e-mail answering the questions I had asked him:

Just in case you didn't get my long email I just sent, I'll send this!

1.  How many investigators are you teaching?  Do you give the lessons in English or Fanti?

9 or 10! We were supposed to have a baptism yesterday but the village didn't have water and the river was too high. My first baptism will be on Friday! We are supposed to teach mainly in English but that can be hard because many people don't understand. We try to teach as much as we can in Fanti and have a translator there whenever possible!

2.  Has President Stevenson been to your area since you have been there?  

No, but I go to the mission home in a week or two when it's halfway through my training! I'm excited!

3.  What are the grocery stores there like?  I  assume they are smaller than the Smith's by our house, but how big are they?

Hahaha. The shops that sell food are about the size of a closet. They sell flour, sugar, and other provisionals. We go to the market (stands about the size of a wheelbarrow) to get our vegetables and fish. There is a place called Garden Mart in Takarodi that is similar to a large gas station back home. They sell American food but it's exremely expensive!

4.  Do you have to be in your apartment before it is dark?  What do you do in the evenings after you get back to your 

It gets dark here around 6 or so. We usually return home at about 9. We proselyte for quite a while in the dark, which can be difficult when there's no power! When we get home we close our day, make dinner, and go to bed. we don't have energy for anything else!

5.  Do the members or your investigators ever feed you meals?

Occasionally! usually once or twice a week. It's always fufu, which is great for me. When I first got here it wasn't my favorite, but it has become delicious to me now!

6.  Did you get Kalli's letter she sent you several weeks ago?  She sent it through the mail.

Yes, I did! a few weeks ago... sorry I didn't tell you earlier! There is a letter for her that I am sending soon.

7.  Any crazy weather yet?

Yup, we had a huge storm on saturday! We were wading through water up to our knees to get to some of our appointments. The railway was underwater. 

Disregard this email if you received my longer one, I just wanted to make sure you heard from me this week! I'm so sorry if you didn't get it. 

I love you!

Elder Degen

Monday, September 22, 2014

Roasting a pig!

E-mail dated 9/22/14

Mom and family,

Go Utes!! Haha I'm so happy to hear about the game. I don't even think one bit about football on Saturday's but it's nice to see them doing well. Thank you to everyone who emailed me, I love hearing all the different views and details. It sounds like everyone is doing well back home, which is very comforting to hear! I love all of you so much. Please forgive me for my shortcomings on emailing everyone back, trust me, I read every single one. Keep them coming please :)

I am very jealous that everyone got to attend or view the Ogden rededication yesterday. The peace and spirit that I felt in the Accra temple is something that I will never forget. That celestial room is breathtaking and I couldn't help but pray when I got in there. I was in there for at least an hour, I completely lost track of time. I would do anything to go back, but sadly it won't be for another year and 11 months (They take us on the way home). I know that you all appreciate the temple, and I hope that the proximity is not something we all take for granted in Utah! I know I did. If you could, I would go every day on my mission!

Okay, I can't tell you too many things about my week, except that things are going well! The teaching is becoming more natural, the language is coming along (kind of), and the people are even more amazing than last week. I feel like I am adjusted to the culture to an extent and am not overwhelmed as often as I was the first week. It seems so weird that I have so many unnecessary things back home! I can't believe that a month ago I was holding a smartphone in my hand, had dependable running water and the power was always on. The way we live was definitely something to get used to! But I really do love it. It has shown me that it doesn't matter of the material things in life, it's about your relationships with others and Heavenly Father. That's what makes people happy!

The only story that I really want to go in depth to this week is something awesome... I killed and roasted a pig today. Elder Mocke and I were in charge of this combined zone activity today because the guy to buy pigs from lives in our area. We bought the pigs (3 for 130 Cedis) and put them, while they were still alive, into big rice bags. We caught a trotro to the Sofokrom chapel with the pigs on our laps and then waited for a few other elders to show up. Elders Ma'afu and Kano'ngata, because they actually knew what they were doing. We took the pigs down near the sister's apartment in the area and then killed them with a knife. Elder Mocke and I held them down while the Tongan elders... wait, I won't explain too much! I'll skip ahead.. We cleaned the pigs, chopped down some trees to roast them on, and then made our way back to a members yard near the chapel. We made a huge fire, and started the roast. All the other missionaries started showing up when we were roasting, and since the roasting took awhile, we all played football at a nearby field. Ah, it was so fun! I scored twice on the African elders and earned their respect. These elders are so good at soccer, but the Americans were able to keep up! After a few hours of playing, we went back to the chapel to eat our pigs. My goodness, it was the best meal of my life!! I'll send pictures of this crazy day, hopefully you get them this week!

Thank you so much for the package as well! I cannot wait, you have no idea! I want to answer your questions now;

1.  Do you get to spend much time with the other Elders who live in your apartment? Any of them from Utah?
I spend quite a bit of time with them! I love all of them, but only one, Elder Day (my MTC Companion) is from Utah! The other's are from Idaho and two from Nigeria!

2.  Do you know if you will get to view General Conference on conference weekend or will you have to wait?
I have to wait until november sadly... I wish!

3.  How often do you have a zone conference?  
Hmm.. hardly ever! District meeting every tuesday, and occasionally we combine with other zones for activities like Elder Curtis' fireside last week! Sorry for not mentioning that in my last email.

4.  Are you able to sleep well at night?  I am assuming you sleep under a net.  Is that crazy?
I sleep so well!! I'm so tired that it doesn't matter about anything else. The net doesn't bother me one bit, and when we have power I have a fan on me at night. It's very nice!

5.  About how many lessons do you teach a week and do you have to do any proselyting (knocking on doors)?
We teach about 20 lessons or so a week. I laughed when you asked me about knocking on doors... Most don't have doors! Haha we only teach when we have an appointment, but we do Gospel Conversations everyday, which is tracting.

Thank you all for everything you do for me. The influence you all have had and the prayers that I have heard have been incredible from all of you. I hope everyone has a safe and happy week!

Elder Degen

Monday, September 15, 2014

Gavin with little kids!

Pictures from first area

Gavin with his trainer, Elder Mocke

First area

Railways they walk on

E-mail dated 9/15/14

I'm doing great! My week had it's ups and downs but my goodness, the field is awesome. Before I start into my week, I want to address your email! I'm sad that I couldn't be at Josh's setting apart as a Priest this week, I'm sure it was awesome. I remember being set apart for that like it was yesterday. Mom, Congrats on your Half Marathon!!!! That sounds awesome. I'm sure you did amazing and I would have been there cheering you on. I really can't believe that it's been nine years since Dad has been in the stake presidency! I'm very jealous that you get to listen to two general authorities! That is an amazing opportunity that I took for granted big time when I was home. It will definitely be weird seeing Dad in the pews with us! Ah... Thank goodness that both of our football teams are doing well! What the heck Murray? The year after I graduate is the first year they're doing well?? Haha oh well, I give all the credit to the cheer team ;) And the Utes are undefeated, which is always good to hear! Hopefully we can keep it going against Michigan on saturday. Please keep me updated! 

Anyways, my second week in the field has been a whirlwind of events. After I emailed last monday we went to a Family Home Evening with a family in our ward. We played that game where you put a cookie on your forehead and try to get it into your mouth without using your hands! It was so fun and we tied that into working together and that families can be together forever. It was a testimony building experience that made me realize that families of all different races, languages, and backgrounds are going to be together for all eternity. They had so much fun with just a small package of cookies and it truly spoke to me that it doesn't take expensive things to be happy. Their living room floor dirt and their house is about the size of a garden shed. But they were still so happy. I loved every minute of that FHE and I can't wait to go to another one tonight.

Let me run you through a typical day here... We wake up at 6:30, take a cold shower, and make pancakes every morning (Elder Mocke has tried to feed me some other stuff, but pancakes are definitely the best). We eat, and then begin our personal study at 8. Thank goodness we have the biggest room in our apartment! Then at 9 we have our companionship study for an hour. After that we do training for a little bit and then make lunch. The absolute greatest food in Ghana is Indo Mie. It's top ramen pretty much and that's what we make for lunch or dinner everyday! After lunch we go out into the field and begin proselyting.Elder Mocke and I have two areas that we have been assigned. We have the Nketsiakrom area, which is a very densely populated town near Takoradi (google it if you can!) and then we have Eshiem, which is about an hours walk away into a small village. We go to Eshiem on Wednesdays and Fridays and then for church on Sunday at 9. It's hard walking that far and back, but my goodness the walk is beautiful! There's a stretch of road that you can see Tucans flying around. I'm definitely in Africa! So the days we're not in Eshiem, we're in Nketsiakrom, which is where our apartment is. Speaking of our apartment, it is very nice. There's running water most of the time and power about half the time. There are six elders living there and compared to the other buildings in our area, we live like kings. The little kids call it The Palace! Oh man, I love these kids.

I can't tell you everything about my week, so I'll tell you bits and pieces from each day. On wednesday we went farming (weeding) for a family in Eshiem. It was hard work, but it was awesome to draw closer to the members. After farming with a machete, I went and bought one from a member. I tried to say that casually, but I can't do it.... I BOUGHT A MACHETE! A lot of Elders have them and I thought it was freaking sweet. It was really cheap as well, about 14 Cedis. Oh, let me explain the money here! So the national currency is the Cedi, and it is about 3 Cedis to one American Dollar. We are given 280 Cedis every subsistence, or about 10 Cedis a day. I live off of 3 or 4 American dollars a day! That doesn't sound like much, but here its actually a decent amount. So, I bought a machete for about 5 dollars back home. Prices are going up every day though, because the economy here is going to crap, which is good and bad. That means that our personal money will be worth more when we exchange it, but our subsistence money will be stretched. Oh well!

Thursday and Friday were good days, even though I was exhausted both days. My companion is an extremely hard worker and doesn't allow much time for anything accept lessons, which is a good thing! I had some frustrating moments on both days, but they were bearable. Saturday was an amazing day. I felt like I was finally able to teach large portions of the lessons and even speak a considerable amount of Fanti! Man, the gift of tongues is real. Elder Mocke (who is from Johannesburg, but never met CJ) has only been here for six months and is fairly fluent in Fanti. Of course he can't understand everything, but he can pick up most words! It's crazy. I'm able to greet people and make small conversation with them and I've only been here for 2 weeks. The people go absolutely crazy when white people can speak Fanti! It really breaks the Ice and is neccesary to learn in my area. These people know english for the most part, but speak to everyone in Fanti, which is why Sundays are so hard for us. At least for me, I cant understand what theyre saying for three hours! They conduct all their Sunday meetings in their language and all the missionaries have given up trying to understand. After church, we visited a few members and started a few Gospel Conversations with people.

P-days are the best! We wake up, eat, do chores and then relax for awhile. After we rest for a little bit, we go to the market and buy our food for the week, and pick up a few treats along the way. There's no american candy here, and if there is any, it's insanely expensive, like 20 cedis for a pack of skittles. After shopping we go email for about 2 to 3 hours! It goes by way too fast. Then we go back to the apartment, cook dinner and then hopefully go to a FHE. Alright... now to your questions!

 1 How is the food and do you get feed very often from the members?
It's actually pretty good! I love fufu, but I can't eat a whole lot of it. Thankfully Elder Mocke has a big stomach!
2.  How many wards/branches are there in your assigned area?
Nketsiakrom Ward and Eshiem Branch.
3.  How are you getting along with your companion?  Is he teaching you a lot?  What part of South Africa is he from?
I love my companion. He's extremely outgoing and he knows a lot of the gospel and culture. I learn so much from him.
4.  How is your apartment?  Do you have power all the time?  What about air conditioning?
 I already talked about the power, and I literally laughed when you said air conditioning. I wish! we have ceiling fans though, which help a lot.
5.  Do you have to hand wash your clothes?
Ahhhh, no I do not!! Many missionaries buy washing machines for about 300 Cedis and I'm lucky enough that Elder Mocke has one. We just put or clothes in, turn it on, and then hang dry them. It's so nice!

I'm sorry this was so long, I hope I was able to answer all the questions you had! I'll try to send pictures now, I promise! My time did get cut short last week, but that won't happen too often. You're all in my prayers, and I love to get emails from you all every week! God be with you.


Elder Degen

Monday, September 8, 2014

Elder Degen's e-mail dated 9/8/14

Ete Den? (How are you?)
Wow. What an incredible first week in the field. Thank you so much for telling me all about the things back home, they make me so happy. I can't believe how fast these 3 weeks have gone. I can remember so clearly my farewell and setting apart, and it doesn't feel like 3 weeks ago. I have so so so much to say and there's no way in the world I can say it all! So I will try and start from where I left off last time we talked...
So President Stevenson and his assistants came to pick us up at the MTC last wednesday at about noon or so and we left around 1 oclock. We took a three hour ride to the mission home in Cape Coast, which is extremely nice (Well compared to everything else here). On the van ride there, we passed through Accra and other cities. We were all so taken aback at the change of culture. There are thousands of people on the streets and they all have wooden stands trying to sell things. There are SOOO many people here, it is so congested. All the new Elders and sisters were having a hard time adjusting to everything and we hadn't even gotten out of the car yet. We had to stop halfway along to the mission home because our van had a flat tire, which the assistants fixed and then we were on our way again. As soon as we started to go again, we were immersed in a green landscape and they informed us that this was now part of our mission. Ahh we were so relieved!
We made it to the mission home after a little while and put our bags and things inside. They then fed us the best dinner we've had in weeks (chicken and rice, but it was way better than the MTC). We had a small orientation and interviewed by President Stevenson. I like him a lot, he has such an amazing spirit about him. The 15 of us (12 elders, 3 sisters) then went to our rooms and enjoyed our last night together. I really am going to miss all of the friends I've made in the MTC, those guys are so fun. When we woke up in the morning we then got ready and ate breakfast, pancakes and pineapple, which was again the best meal we've had in weeks. 
We all sat down and then were given our first assignments and companions, who we would meet at the trotro station (trotro's are big vans that are the taxis of Ghana. You can fit up to 14 people in one, and not very comfortably I might add). My first assignment is the Nketsiakrom/Eishem area (about an hour or so away from cape coast) and my first companion is Elder Mocke!! I was so excited and scared at the same time. I didn't know what to expect. Elder Nielson, who was at the SLC airport, actually knows Elder Mocke and has met him before. Nielson's dad converted Mocke's dad some years ago. All that elder Nielson told me was that this guy was from South Africa and that he was a biiiiig guy. I didn't know anything else.
So I went to the trotro station with all the other Elders going to the western region where we met all the other missionaries being transferred. They told us all about the crazy things they had done in their past areas and how sad they were to be leaving. One of them even gave us a piece of pizza to share! Ahhh it was so good. The trotro ride to the Takoradi station wasn't too long, and it was there that I finally met my trainer, Elder Mocke. My first surprise was unexpected; he's white!! and the next thing I noticed wasn't too unexpected; this guy is huge. He immediately helped me with bags and gave me a big hug. He is one of the nicest people I've ever met.
He took me back to our apartment and made me some spaghetti, which was delicious. I started to unpack my bags but he told me we have work to do. So I dropped everything and headed out for the first time into the mission field. Wow. This is so different than anything I've ever seen. We definitely have the nicest apartment in our neighborhood, but it's not much. The houses around us are maybe the size of a garage and that's even pushing it. I have seen poverty before, but nothing like this. There are thousands of people in such a small place, and they all have shacks and tin roofs. They literally have next to nothing. The culture shock was at an all time high when I walked out of my apartment for the first time.
Elder Mocke started to take me to a recent converts house and told me one of his favorite views in the area is just up this hill. We got to the top and it was breathtaking. It really is beautiful here. We turned the corner to continue on our way, but were stopped by one of our ward missionaries. He realized that I was new and asked me my name. I told him, and he said he knew an Elder Degen in Sierra Leone. He served with Eric! His name is Michael Intefful. What are the odds? the first person I talk to and he knows Eric! He told me how fun he was and said he would contact him on Facebook. Eric, check your Facebook!
Dang, I am writing so much. By the way, we have at least 2 hours every Monday to email, which is very nice. We are normally able to upload pictures pretty easily, so I will try and send some every week! To summarize how the rest of my week went after the first day, it can be done in one sentence... Missionary work is hard, but very rewarding. I don't know anything about being a full-time missionary yet. I cannot teach very well, I can speak very little Fante (the language in my area, which almost everyone speaks), and I can't do the things that I want. But it is all so worth it. I have said a few words in our lessons and I actually invited a new investigator to be baptized. Since wednesday, we have had 3 investigators commit to be baptized on the 21st of September. Elder Mocke said I get the first baptism, and I am so excited to have that experience!! It truly was the best feeling to see our investigators follow up on these commitments we give them and are following the gospel. Lastly, I love the kids here. They are so amazing. They all run up to me and yell "Obroni, obroni" which means white-man. I they cannot wait to touch me and jump into my arms. They are the cutest kids I have ever seen!
I have to go now sadly, but I will definitely try to upload those pictures now.
Elder Degen

Brother Kotey

This is Gavin with Brother Kotey.  Brother Kotey served
with Eric (Gavin's brother) in Sierra Leone (2008-2010).  Brother
Kotey is an instructor at the MTC.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Elder Degen arriving in Cape Coast

Elder Degen arrived at the Mission Home on 9/2/14
This is President and Sister Stevenson

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Monday, September 1, 2014

Final pics from the MTC

MTC District

MTC Companion - Elder Day 

MTC Friends

Elder Degen's e-mail from 9/1/14

I'm finally done with the MTC! I can't believe its almost been two weeks since I left home, it seems like yesterday somedays and an eternity others. The MTC has gotten progressively better as the week has gone on though! I have made great friends here that I will never forget. I was struggling and praying constantly, and my prayers were answered. Elders Wight (from Oregon), Wightman (Arizona), Kochevar (Las Vegas), and Brown (Idaho), have been my refuge here! We have actually started to enjoy the MTC finally! My best friend here has been Kochevar, who reminds me of Jordan Erekson. We all meet every night in one of our rooms and share all of our precious american candy, which we can never get enough of (hint, hint). Sometimes it feels like we are all at a two week long summer camp or EFY, which makes things so much easier and faster. In all honesty, this week has flown by! Don't get me wrong, it had it's ups and downs, but I am in much better spirits than my last email home. To answer your question though, yes, I am excited to leave here at 1 tomorrow and head to cape coast! Oh, before I forget, if you want to see pictures and a slide show of my group at the MTC, go to !
It's so good to hear that you are all doing well and having fun in St. George! It sounds like a blast. I miss all of you so much! This week has taught me a lot and I truly do feel like I am ready to go out into the mission field. I knew the gospel before I came, but I had no idea how to teach it. Through hard work, study, prayer and practice I have been able to become a much more effective teacher than I ever thought I could become in 2 short weeks. The Lord works miracles on those who diligently seek him, I can testify to that! I just keep praying that my first trainer will be a great example and will learn even more as I am out in the field.
So as I said, I am leaving tomorrow at 1 in the afternoon. President Stevenson is leaving the mission home at 6:00 a.m. to come pick up the 15 missionaries serving in Cape Coast. It's about a 3 hour car ride to our mission. The elders and sisters who are in the MTC going to Nigeria on their missions (about 60 or so)  leave tomorrow morning at 4 a.m. because of their flight. There are 8 others who are going to the Accra West Mission (including Kochevar) whom I am going to miss. I have come to love nearly every one here, and I'll admit, it may be a little sad to see them all go.
Thank you mom for all that you do for me. I look forward to you email every week. I think that I will consistenly be able to email on mondays from now on, so plan on that! I love hearing from all of you that email me and I'm so sorry if I am not able to respond to all of you now. The MTC has no order and they kick us out of the computer room whenever they want, so I have at most a half an hour to read and email everyone back. Please understand if I'm not able to get to you! I still love all of you!
Elder Degen
(I'm still working on my catch phrase)