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