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