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

Monday, October 6, 2014

E-mail dated 10/6/14


Wow, another week gone? The time has gone by very quickly for me this week as well. My first transfer in the field is almost done, which means I'm halfway through training. It seems like yesterday I got into the field! The days are long here, but the weeks are short (Eric told me that and it's so true). I'm so sorry again for last week! I spent at least 45 minutes on an email to you and realized near the end of my time that it didn't send. It's okay though, last week wasn't too exciting, I think I only expounded on the questions you asked me.

Anyways, go Utes!! I still love hearing about sports and I'm always happy to hear about my Utes! Their probably going to go to the playoffs this year, only because that's what always happens when Ute fans go on missions! Haha I'm glad to hear it though :) To be honest, I would have much rather watched something else this weekend though. I am so sad I didn't get to hear any of conference. We won't be able to hear it or read it until near the end of November... Don't take conference for granted. To hear the voice of the Prophet and His servants is a privilege that not everyone has. Remember that every word from them is directly from Heavenly Father, do not take it lightly.

Anyways, I have some good news; I had my first baptism on Friday! We had it in Eshiem, the village that is about an hour walk away from our apartment. His name is Evans Otoo, he is 16, and it was an amazing experience being able to witness my first convert baptism. Elder Mocke has been teaching him for a few months, so he was able to do the actual baptism! We held it in the evening on friday, and we had about 10 people there. I wish I could have taken a video of it, but it wouldn't have captured the spirit that was there. It was an amazing baptism.

On saturday, we did a zone service project at a school in our zone. Some black American lady picked us up and we all weeded with our machetes for about 2 hours or so. While I was there, I got to meet my new zone leader for the first time! My first zone leader, Elder Shinasi, went home last monday. The new zone leader's name is Elder Pearmain, he was recently transferred from the Liberia mission. He has been out a year and half and goes home in February. Oh, and he went to Murray! Haha I went to high school with him when I was a sophomore, he graduated with Jordan Erekson and those guys. Eric even talked to him before he left on his mission if you can remember that! Small world. We talked for a long time at the service project, it felt good being able to talk to someone so close to home! I'm sure you will see him when he gets home. That's crazy, huh?

Before I forget, If you ever don't hear from me on Monday, that means that the power is out and that I will email on Tuesday. That will probably happen a couple times, but don't worry! By the way, I recieved your package on Thursday!!! Oh man, you spoiled me. I was the envy of the whole apartment and I know that I can make that candy last for a long time. Thank you so much! You really shouldn't have done that, I couldn't help but look at the price tag...

I got my first haircut in Ghana on wednesday! I asked for an Obroni haircut, but the guy definitely didnt know how... Needless to say, my hair is really short now! I don't care too much though, I have no one to impress here! I'll try and send a picture soon, I haven't taken too many this past week. I think I'm going to buy an SD card here and put pictures and videos on it, and then send it home. It works for other elders and it would be a lot better than emailing all of them! Maybe I'll film a lot of one day to show you what a typical day of mine looks like. 

I almost forgot to answer your questions!!!

1.  Did you receive the package I sent you?  Don't be too shocked when you see the price it cost to send it to you.  I just hope it arrives in one piece.

Yes!! Thank you so much!! it got here in about 2 weeks, which is surprisingly fast!

2.  Someone once told me that when you serve a mission the days can go so slow, but the weeks seem to fly by.  Is this true?  I can't believe you have been gone for 7 weeks, but at the same time I think, I can't believe you have only been gone for 7 weeks.  

It's very true. I can't believe how different time is. I'll wake up in the morning and think of how long of a day I have ahead of me, but then I look back on the week and wonder where the time has gone. It's interesting!

3.  Did the baptism take place that you were hoping to have a few weeks ago but couldn't because the water was too high?

I'm starting to realize I've answered some of these questions before... sorry!

4.  Are there any investigators or new members that you would like us to pray for?

Wow, that's a good question. We have an investigator that Mocke has been teaching for 6 months named brother Samuel. He knows it's true, but won't accept that he's received an answer. We fasted and prayed for him yesterday, and I will let you know next week what happens with him!

5.  How has the rain been this week?  Has it slowed down?

Not too much rain this week, just drizzles every day for about an hour or so. Just enough to make everything muddy for the rest of the day!

6.  What is the strangest (or yummiest) thing you have eaten this week?

We pounded our own fufu in the apartment yesterday! Man, it was really bad. These Fante women make it look so easy, but it's a lot harder than we thought! Fufu is really good though when you get a soft dough and good soup. The candy you sent was definitely the tastiest thing I had this week though. I'm getting very good and creative at cooking ramen noodles though!

Thank you again for everything! I love the work here, and there is no need to worry about me. I really am sorry about last week! Mom, I love you so much. Don't ever forget it. Thank you so much. God be with you all this week!


Elder Degen