Tuesday, December 29, 2015

E-mail dated 12/29/15

Akwaabo! Afe nko mbo hyen (Happy News Years in Twi)! Thank you to everyone who made my Christmas on Friday an amazing one. I was so happy that I could talk with so many of you and that I was able to Skype for even just a small amount of time! It was awesome to hear from all of you. It sounds like everyone at home had a fun (and cold) Christmas as well! 

Since I was able to talk with all of you not too long ago, I won't go into too great of details about my week. But I'll do my best to tell some new information! So after I stopped calling on Friday, the other elders in my apartment and I played phase 10 until we went to bed. On Saturday, Elder Cichoski and I had an awesome day. We both were not feeling very well and I had pretty much lost my voice, but the Lord blessed us with awesome lessons that day. We were able to visit some of the people we are preparing for baptism soon and we were able to really resolve some concerns that investigators were having. It's funny, I've noticed that some of the most memorable and productive days of my mission have been when both me and my companion have been sick! I think that's just our Father in Heaven rewarding us for going out and proselyting, even when we don't feel well. 

On Sunday we had Church in the morning and were able to teach a few lessons in the afternoon, but the members kind of overwhelmed us this week with FM's so we had to go to a few of those in the evening! I'm not complaining though... Yesterday was our beach activity! Our entire zone went out to a beach and played football, frisbee, and just relaxed. It was a lot of fun, but I can admit, it was a big hassle planning. Overall, it was a great activity though! I'll try and send pictures soon.

Anyways... Let me answer your questions now!

1.  Have you had the opportunity to speak in your new branch?  Do you get to teach any lessons?

I bore my testimony my first Sunday here, but I haven't had to give any talks yet! I also do not have to teach any classes during the 3 hour block, which is nice. This is the first time I haven't had to do that in almost a year (since I left my first area). It's a much needed break!

2.  Did you see a lot of Christmas decorations, such as trees, up in houses and stores?  Do the little kids know about Santa and does he bring them gifts?

When I went into town there were quite a few trees in store windows, but I didn't see a single one in anybody's house. There were a few colorful streamers at the chapel and other buildings, but nothing like home! As far as I know, the kids do not know about Santa... Which is sad! Their parents do give them small gifts, but there's just not quite the same atmosphere as there is in other countries. Like I've said though, I think their way of celebrating it is much more effective for remembering the birth of the Savior, so sometimes I have to step back and think "Who's really more blessed for their situation, us or them?". 

3.  If you haven't already, tell me about the Zone Activity on the beach (that has probably already happened)!  

Oh... Yea... I already told you about that! It was fun though. 

4.  About how many lessons does your Zone teach in a week?  I am assuming you have to set a goal each week. Are the goals usually met?

As a zone, we usually teach around 250-300 lessons a week. That averages out to be just around 26-30 lessons per companionship! Some weeks we fluctuate with our numbers, but it's amazing to see how the Lord has prepared the work for us here in Liberia. 

5.  Any plans for New Years Eve and New Years Day?

Elder Cichoski and I are having one of our candidates interviewed on Thursday who's name is Hawa Smith. She is married to a member who was baptized last year and she's been working hard to be able to be baptized herself. She's an amazing woman!

After that, we are traveling to another part of our zone to do interviews for one of our district leaders. After we're finished with all our interviews for the day, we are planning to come back to our branch building and join the New Year's Party! It should be a lot of fun. 

Well, thank you all again for your emails this week and your support! It's hard to believe that 2015 is almost over and that next year I will be able to see all of you again.. I hope that you all have a great holiday season and that you will all be safe! I love you all. Happy New Years!

Love,
Elder Degen

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pictures!





E-mail dated 12/22/15

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! Afehya Paa (Merry Christmas in Twi)! I'm sorry that I wasn't able to email yesterday, but there was a big mission wide Christmas Party yesterday at the mission home and nobody got to email! But I'm here today for a little bit to give you all the information that you need for Friday! 
Also, thank you to everyone who emailed me and wished me a merry Christmas this week! It was awesome to see all of your names in my inbox. my week was a really busy one, as it seems like most of yours was as well! Mine was full of meetings, Zone Training and interviews. Elder Cichoski and I traveled almost every day this week and we are so tired! But it was all worth it because we had a fantastic week as a zone as we are preparing for the holidays. Even the Christmas party was awesome yesterday as we all went to President Carlson's house and ate a lot of food and had fun activities. The strange thing though is that President and Sister Carlson aren't even in the country right now, they're in Utah because he had to get some kidney stones removed! We hear that he is recovering well though
Anyways, to answer your questions!
 
1.  Are you becoming well acquainted with New Georgia and the people?  What are the biggest differences/similarities between New Georgia and Paynesville?
Yes, I'm slowly getting used to the area! I don't get the opportunity to proselyte too much here though because zone business always keeps us busy, but we have some amazing investigators and members that we are visiting whenever we can! It's a lot dustier here than in Paynesville, but other than that, things are very similar. But, I do get to go out to the swamp to teach people here, as evidenced by the pictures I sent a few weeks ago! 

2.  Can you ask Elder Cichoski if his Mom posts his e-mails on a blog and if so, what is the blog address?
No, he doesn't have a blog because he just sends home voice recordings every week! He uses it as his journal and then he sends them to his mom on Monday's.

3. I showed the pictures you sent to Eric and he thinks he may have been to home of the orphans and abandoned deaf children.  Are many kids in the picture really deaf and do they really all live in that small building?  

Yes, almost all of those children were deaf or orphans! That building is in my area called Chocolate City! I'm not sure if Eric ever went there, but it's possible. Sadly yes, they do all live in that building by the way.
4.  What were you doing in the picture you sent with you standing/working in the mud?  Looks fun?!
We were farming for our branch president! It was fun, we got to weed and till the ground with hoes for a few hours. He seemed to really enjoy it because a lot of people don't think that white people can do manual labor, and Elder Cichoski and I really like proving people wrong!

5.  How many investigators are you working with right now?  Any that we could be praying for?
Please pray for the Dahn family! They are a sweet family of 4 who is dying to be baptized as soon as the parents are legally married. They are trying to set everything up for the wedding, but they're having second thoughts about if they want to go through with it  at this time. Please pray for them! We do have other investigators that we are working with, and we are planning a baptism for January 2!

6.  What are your plans for Christmas day? Have you been invited to lunch/dinner?  
We actually don't know our plans for Christmas day at all... Which is not good.. But we have been offered so much food for Friday that it won't even be possible to eat all of it! It's also possible that we spend Christmas at the Mission office, but we don't know yet.

7.  Do you have any zone activities planned?  As Zone leaders, do you and Elder Cichoski get to plan them?  How many missionaries are in your zone?
Yes, we are actually going to the beach this Monday! Elder Cichoski and I ask our zone members what they want to do for activities and then we are in charge of planning them and setting everything up. It's actually not an easy job.. We have 24 people in our zone, making it the largest zone in the mission. It's fun being a zone leader, but it's a lot of work!

8.  Did your Christmas box arrived unopened?  I couldn't tell from the picture if it had been opened or not.  I hope everything arrived in one piece.  
Yes, it was completely unopened! I was pleasantly surprised. Thank you all again so much!!

9.  Finally, what are the plans for your call home on Friday?
I will try and call home around 9 a.m. Utah time! I still don't know my complete schedule, but I'm positive that I can call around that time and talk for quite awhile! I'm so excited. I love you all so much and I can't wait to talk with you on Friday!

Once again, thank you for the emails and prayers this week. I felt so much support from unseen hands the past seven days. I love all of you and hope you have a very merry Christmas!

Love,
Elder Gavin Degen

Monday, December 14, 2015

E-mail dated 12/14/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Thank you everyone for your emails and support this past week! I loved hearing about how everyone is celebrating the Christmas season and how the family is still holding the annual holiday traditions. Sometimes I think "Man, I wish I could be there for all of this!" and I then I remember how awesome it is to be a missionary this time of the year :) I only have two opportunities in my life to celebrate the Savior as a personal representative of Him, and this is my last one. There's just a different feeling on my mission that's hard to describe. I know there's no snow, or any presents or music, but I just don't think I've really realized the importance of this holiday until I came into the field! 

My mind is drawing a blank right now on all the things that I wanted to write about this week, so I'm going to go straight into your questions so that I can at least try to piece together a decent email today! Oh, but before I forget, I received the package this week!! I was so amazed that it actually got here. I want to thank everyone who contributed as well as those who helped me in other ways. I love all of you! Anyways... back to the questions...

1.  Tell us about your new area.  Is it comparable to Paynesville as far as membership and leadership?  
Hmmm not quite. Paynesville Branch 1 is one of the most amazing branches I've ever seen in my mission and it's hard to compare it to other places. New Georgia has a very humble man as the branch president, but he's very inexperienced. The membership is smaller as well, but that's because this area got hit hard by Ebola last year and the branch was affected. 
 2.  How is your new apartment?  Does it have all of the “conveniences of life” you have come accustomed to?  (There is a little bit of sarcasim in there).  
Well, it has a generator and running water! That's all that I can ever ask for. We get 3 hours of electricity in the evening, and I always get a cold shower when I get home. It's definitely more than I've had in the past, so this is a blessing! 
 3.  How are you and Elder Cichoski getting a long?  
I love him haha. We get along really well and I'm excited to work with him!
 4.  How far away from the mission home are you now?  Eric thought that you were probably father away now than in Paynesville.
I'm actually probably the same distance away from the mission home as I was in Paynesville, but it probably will take longer to get there because I now live on Somalia Drive, which has the worst traffic in the world. 
 5.  Any word on plans for calling/Skyping home for Christmas?  Any signs of your Christmas box yet?  I can’t even begin to tell you how excited we all are to talk to you!!  
As of right now, because I don't want to get hopes up, please just plan on a call from me on Christmas! If Skype does become available I will email you as soon as I can.  
6.  Do you have a lot of investigators in New Georgia?  Was Elder Cichoski serving in New Georgia prior to you arriving?  
Yes, Elder Cichoski was here for 2 transfers before I was, but he was with an Elder that was not working very hard so we now have to revive the area because of the lack of effort from this previous companion! But the area seems really promising, and I'm excited for the people we are going to meet.
 7.  Eric mentioned that you told him that you have been called as a Zone Leader.  That is awesome.  What are your responsibilities as a Zone Leader?
We have to do baptismal interviews for all of the district leaders in our zone, we have to go to Missionary Leadership Council, we have to instruct our zone, take numbers from them every Sunday evening and just lend our support to any member of our zone that we can. It's a fun calling and I'm excited to take on the challenge.
Well, I'm sorry for not being to detailed in my email this week! I hope that I can have a little bit more time next week so that we can get everything set up for Christmas day. I love you all and I can't wait to hear form you again next Monday!
Love,
Elder Degen

Monday, December 7, 2015

Pictures!




E-mail dated 12/7/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! To be honest, it's a little hard to believe that it's December already. It feels like last week that it was the middle of November (there's some subtle humor in there because many of you probably haven't heard from me since then..) Haha but I want to apologize for not being able to email last week! It was Tubman day and absolutely everything was closed. I'm now emailing from a small cafe with really bad internet, but hey, it works! I did enjoy reading everyone's emails from the past few weeks though, and I especially want to thank those who email me often even though I can only respond occasionally. Just remember that I love all of you!

I had a busy week these past seven days, but it was also a lot of fun. I was tipped off earlier last week that I was getting transferred, so I was able to spend my last week in Paynesville making sure I said goodbye to everyone that I love! I'm glad that you were able to see some of the pictures that I sent! Elder Carlson and I also prepared a man named Anthony Flomo for baptism last Saturday. We have been teaching Anthony for a few months now, and he hasn't missed church once. He's a 17 year old who boldly joined the Church even though there was some opposition from his extended family and a complete lack of support from his immediate family. It always amazes me when I see the amazing character of these converts here in Africa. I think they understand the law of sacrifice a lot better than I ever will. 

On Saturday evening, it was transfer news! Elder Carlson was called to be a trainer and he is staying in Paynesville, while I am being transferred to a place called New Georgia! My new companion is Elder Cichoski (pronounced Chi-ho-ski) who is almost 18 months on his mission. I was really sad to leave Paynesville because I have had so much fun there and I have so many recent converts that I love so much. But, I'm excited for the new challenge that the Lord has in store for me in my new area! They picked me up this morning and I'm currently in New Georgia right now. 

I'll try and answer your questions from last week!

1.       Did you do anything special on Thanksgiving?  I know you said that you had pizza last Monday.  Just wondering if anything special happened.
Nope, our pizza was our celebration! Haha it was still a fun holiday though, as I'm positive that Heavenly Father blesses all missionaries when they spend family holidays away from home. 

2.                  Have you seen any Christmas decorations up yet?  Do you have any ideas how they celebrate Christmas in Liberia?  I think Eric was in Sierra Leone for both of the Christmases he was gone.
I see Christmas trees a lot, mainly in Monrovia though! From what I hear, Christmas is a much bigger holiday here in Liberia than it was in Ghana, so I'm excited to see what it's like! I'll try and keep you updated.
3.                  Have you received any more the envelopes I have sent through the mail?  I have been sending about 1 a week for several weeks.  How about your Christmas package?  
Nope, I haven't received anything besides that letter you sent! I'm sure they will get here soon though, don't worry :)
4.                  Are transfers this week?  I can’t remember if they are this week or next.
Yes, they were today! Haha I'm enjoying me new area so far. 
5.                  How many hours a day are spent teaching investigators?  Do you spend any of your time finding people to teach?
When I was training Elder Carlson, we would teach from about 11 in the morning (3 hours of study from 8-11) and then we would return home at 7 (our curfew). So about 8 hours! And no, I have yet to legitimately set time aside to find investigators. Finding as you teach is a much more effective way to do it here in Liberia because of the immense help from members in receiving referrals! 
6.                  Who are the two new Elders living in your apartment and where are they from?  Is your apartment big enough for 4?
I know your question applied to my previous apartment in Paynesville, but I'll answer it for my new apartment in New Georgia! It's me, Elder Cichoski (from Vegas), Elder Mehnpaine (a Liberian), and a new missionary that is coming on Wednesday! It should be a fun new environment.
7.  What holiday was last Monday in Liberia?
Tubman Day! Nope, I don't know much about it..
Well thank you again to everyone who has emailed me these past few weeks, I hope that I can hear from you all again next week! You will all be constantly in my prayers as the holidays are approaching. Please be safe! I love you all.
Love,
Elder Degen

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

E-mail dated 12/1/15

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! I'm going to apologize right now for not being able to email
yesterday! It was a holiday and absolutely everything was closed. And
today we have a lot of work to do so I don't have very much time at
this cafe! Please forgive me. I promise I will send a better email
next week. I love you all!

Love,
Elder Degen

Monday, November 23, 2015

Pictures!





E-mail dated 11/23/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Happy early Thanksgiving everyone! It sounds like the holiday season is upon you back home, and everyone is excited. I hope that everyone can enjoy their week off and that everyone stays safe for Thursday! I've forgotten what the holiday season is like back home, but I can admit that I might like the holiday season here in Africa a little bit more because I get to be around some of the most thankful people in the world for the little that they have. Don't take anything for granted this week, and really think about how much the Lord has blessed you in your lives!

Thank you for everyone who emailed me this week and gave me all the updates about back home. It was nice to see how everyone is doing. I am doing great this week as well, and I have a lot to say this week, but I think that I could do all of that while answering your questions, so let's just dive right into them!

1.  Tell us about the baptism.
Elder Carlson and I spent the whole week focusing on our baptismal candidates and the Lord blessed us enough to teach them all the lessons and have them interviewed on Friday. Rachel was even interviewed by President Carlson, which was a cool experience for her! All of them passed and their service on Saturday was amazing. There weren't too many people there, but I felt the spirit so strongly, especially as they all bore their testimonies after. The three people are: Adolphus Cornormia, Oscar Gono, and Rachel Roberts. Your prayers are much appreciated as they are now recent converts and new to the Church! I was glad to hear that you received the picture of the baptism.

2.  Do they celebrate Thanksgiving in Liberia?
They do, but it was in the first week of November! It wasn't very memorable because I can't even recall what I did that day and I forgot to mention it to you a few weeks ago... But to celebrate American Thanksgiving, today my district and a few other elders went to a supermarket and got a few pizzas! They were so good. Not quite like turkey and mashed potatoes, but it was more than anything I could have asked for!

3.  I heard this past week that a couple of new cases of ebola were found in Paynesville this past week.  Do you know anything about it and have you been told to take any precautions?
Yes, there were a few cases in Paynesville this week, but they were far from my proselyting area. The government has quickly contained them, and it's not a big deal, seeing as this happened in July and September as well! The area presidency is taking precautions though, as they moved the other Paynesville Elders out and moved them into our apartment because it's a little bit farther away from the outbreak. So now we have 2 new Elders living with Elder Carlson and I! We are also no longer allowed to shake hands, get free meals, or eat food off the street. Everything is perfectly fine, but the Church is just making sure that everyone is safe. My guess is that this was an isolated incidence and that it will blow over in a few weeks time! There's no need to worry about me :)

4.  Do they have large shopping centers close by, like a mall?  Where do the people there buy clothes and gifts?  
Hahaha no, there are no malls in Liberia. There were a few in Accra, but I only went inside one when I was leaving to come to Liberia in September. We do have supermarkets though, which were not available anywhere in Cape Coast! It's a blessing to have the option to eat nice American food occasionally. Most everyone buys their clothes from the markets, and almost all the clothes are second hand from America that they sell for cheap. As for gifts, I'll update you more on that when it gets closer to Christmas!

5.  The pictures of you and the little children are adorable.  Are these kids members of the Church (well, I guess are their parents members since not many of them look old enough to be baptized).  They look like they absolutely adore you. 
I think three of those kids are my recent converts (Mama, Cecelia and Morris) and the rest are just little children that live around their house! They are so funny though, and I love taking pictures every time I go there. My WiFi camera was the best investment that I have made in a long time, I'm so glad that I can send pictures home more consistently now!

6.  How are your clothes holding up?  
Well, my first pair of Ecco's fell apart last week! I was walking and the heel just kind of exploded. They lasted me a long time, and I'm proud of those shoes for lasting over a year. My shirts are noticeably more yellow now, but I didn't even notice it until I compared them to Elder Carlson's shirts. I have 6 left though, so I'm still fine! I'm down to 2 pairs of pants, but they are still serving me well. They are a little bit faded from the sun, but it's all part of the fun of missionary work! 

7.  I could tell from some of the posts on the Liberia Mission FB Page that Sister Carlson came home for a time.  Do you know why she came home?  Sister Verdoni was lucky enough to send Elder Verdoni's Christmas box with her when she went back.
She came home for a few weeks for her son's wedding! We all missed her while she was gone, so it was nice to have her back. We had interviews with President Carlson this past week, and we also got to do an interview with her and she is awesome! Her and President have lived in so many different countries and they have the greatest stories.

8.  Are you still healthy and happy?  
Yes, I'm doing great! I'm perfectly happy and healthy and everything is going well here in Paynesville. We are planning on another baptism of around 4 on the 5th of December and your prayers would be much appreciated for Anthony, Mercy, Terry, Oretha and Benita! Thank you all so much.

Well, I wish I could continue talking for awhile but my time is almost up for this week! I hope that everyone enjoys their thanksgiving and that I can get a lot of pictures next Monday! I love you all.
Love,
Elder Degen

Monday, November 16, 2015

E-mail dated 11/16/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Lots of news to digest this week! Thank you (as always) to every one for your emails this week, I love reading all of them. I was sad to hear about the Utes, Paris and the public outrage about the Church's new policy. But, I was happy to know that every one is safe and happy! That's all that really matters. 

So it was cold in Utah this week? I've said this before, but I've forgotten what cold feels like. Some of you may think that's a blessing, but I actually miss feeling cold and sleeping under a nice thick blanket! If I did that now, I would probably burst into flames.

My week was exciting in a lot of ways, but not in a way that I can accurately put into words! The reason why is because we have began proselyting with our recent converts, and they have blown us away. We tried proselyting with quite a few of them this week and they improved our lessons so much. There's nothing quite like hearing a new convert bear their testimony about the Church to another person! I've often described new converts' testimonies as a fire, and it's amazing to see the light they give off to other people. I've been blessed, all of my converts in Liberia so far are active and none have fallen through the cracks. I pray that the Lord will bless them to keep their fire burning for a long time. 
I wish I had more to say, but I'll try and answer your questions now!

1.  I would like to know what blessings you have received because of your service.
Wow, that is probably the hardest question you have ever asked me. The greatest blessing 'I've received has been seeing the blessings that others have received. I know that's kind of a cop-out answer, but it's probably the most true! I don't think I really believed my call letter when it said "more happiness than you have ever experienced awaits you as you serve the Lord faithfully" but it has been so true on my mission. I thought it was absurd before I left that anything could make me as happy as basketball, or Missy, or my family, but I have seen how the Lord has blessed me in my life with a happiness and a joy that's hard to describe. It's not the adrenaline joy that I feel when I play sports. It's not the social joy of being with my friends. It's not even the deep joy I had when I was with my family! It's an eternal joy. Knowing that I have been an instrument in the Lord's hands to bring happiness to other people has been my greatest source of happiness and my greatest blessing.

2.  Have you been able to view Conference with your Branch yet?
Yes, we were able to watch some of it yesterday! I had already watched most of it when I was at the mission office last month, but it was so great to see it again. I think it had a greater effect on our investigators though. James Dorbor, one of our favorite investigators, called us soon after the meeting and said one of the talks had a profound influence on him. We've been teaching him all week about the Atonement and after the conference, he said he now understands it in a way he never did before. He said all of him questions were answered. Elder Carslon and I were so happy!! I know it was with a lot of help from all of those at home who prayed with us for him. He is still working on getting out of his current situation, but this has helped him so much.

3.  I have been thinking about what you told us last week about the people there not being able to get baptized because they are not legally married.  It seems like such a small thing, the $50.  Are the missionaries allowed to give them the money?  I was wondering if I periodically put in $50 in your account if you could help them out.  
I wish that could happen, but as missionaries we are strictly not allowed to give money to anyone. If we gave money to one person, then everyone's entire perception of us would change. Everyone thinks that because we are white, we have a lot of money so we get a lot of beggars everyday. It's hard to say no a lot of times, especially cause I'm living in a house with running water and they only eat one meal a day. The hardest is saying no to members and investigators. I've also been periodically given children to take back to America (that's always entertaining) and I've been given girls to marry. Don't worry, I've said no to (most of) those offers. 

4.  How is Elder Carlson and his training coming along?  Will he immediately become a trainer after his training is complete in December and will you get another brand new missionary?  I enjoy reading Elder Carlson's blog each week as well.
I'll be honest, I have no idea what is going to happen after this transfer! Elder Carlson and I could stay together for another six weeks, he could train, or I could be transferred! He's doing really well though, he's a powerful missionary. Him and I get along really well, although sometimes we get lonely because we're in a two man apartment. We're on week 10 of training, so I'm sure he's getting excited to finish!

5.  We are praying for your investigators.  How are they progressing?  Still planning on the baptism on Saturday?  
They are progressing great! We had quite a few investigators attend the conference yesterday, but nothing can beat the experience James Dorbor had. We are still planning to baptize 3 people on Saturday though! We have Adolphus, Oscar, and Rachel. We are really excited for this baptism, because these are converts who could one day be leaders here in Liberia. They have strong testimonies, and Adolphus is of mission age! I will let you know more about them next week.

6.  Did the rain finally slow down?  I check my weather app often on my phone and it always says in that Monrovia it is raining and 84 degrees.
Yes, it doesn't rain too much here anymore! Only sometimes at night does it pour. It's been a welcome change, but of course it's gotten hotter. I'm excited for the beginning of January, that's the coldest time of the year here (it can get in the 70's in the mornings!).

7.  What was your greatest challenge of the week and your sweetest success?
My greatest challenge was a humbling one. It happened yesterday, when one of our favorite recent converts, Esther Parker and her family, fed us dinner. She had admitted to us earlier this week that she no longer had money to run her shop, but she never asked us for any money. Then, on Sunday, she was so so excited to give us and our branch missionary a bowl of dry rice. I watched her take half of a pot of plain white rice, and give it away to us, as her and her 2 children ate the other half. That was a challenging moment for me as I considered that this was what her family was having for dinner (possibly their only meal of the day). It was hard.

My greatest success though, came from my recent converts, including Sister Esther! Proselyting with them and hearing them all gush about conference was amazing. I love them all so much.
Well, thank you all again for your emails and prayers this week! Please continue to pray for my investigators. I love you all and I hope that I can hear from everyone again next week!
Love,
Elder Degen

Monday, November 9, 2015

Elder Bednar

If you would like to view the video clip the Church has produced about Elder Bednar's visit to Liberia this month the link can be found at www.mormonnewsroom.org.  Gavin is not in the video but it gives a glimpse as to what he experienced.






E-mail dated 11/9/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Thank you to everyone for the great emails that I received this week! It was nice to know that everyone at home is doing well and that you're all enjoying the cold (there's some sarcasm hidden somewhere in that sentence...) I'm also glad that many of you got to see the video and the link about Elder Bednar's visit to Liberia last week! I know it's not possible to feel the same spirit that I felt, but I hope that you all have a much greater idea now of much the gospel means to these people in Liberia :) I'm proud to be a missionary serving here.

This week was a great one, but I can't think of anything too eventful that happened! Elder Carlson and I worked hard and didn't have any conferences or events or meetings that obstructed our proselyting this week. So that was a blessing! We were able to meet with quite a few new investigators this week, including a girl named Benita and her family. Benita is 15 and she walked up to us last week and asked us to teach her and her family. Elder Carlson and I obviously agreed and we finally had an appointment with them this week! They are awesome. We picked her for church yesterday and she loved it. It will be an amazing day if we can baptize her entire family.

A challenge that we have been having recently is a difficult one. We have so many amazing people that want to be baptized so badly, and they have such strong testimonies, but they can't be baptized because they aren't legally married. Becoming legally married for many people just isn't possible because it requires $50 and birth certificates, which most people don't have. It's so sad to see these people have to postpone their baptisms. I have prayed and fasted that the Lord will open the windows of Heaven to bless these people with the means to get married. Your prayers would be much appreciated as well!

Well, let me get to answering your questions!

1.  Did you get to shake Elder Bednar's had last week?  
I did not get to shake his hand, but I did get to shake his wife's hand (along with the wives of Elder's Hallstrom and Curtis)! I was hoping I would be able to, but he was very busy during his visit! There were a few times that I was less than a few feet a away from him, which was awesome. 

2.  Thanks for the link last week about the story of Elder Loader.  The article kept mentioning the Accra mission.  Was he in the Accra mission before Cape Coast or did the article have it wrong?  Have you hard from him lately and how is he doing?
No, he served his entire mission in Cape Coast, the author of the article just wasn't accurate! I did receive an email from him today and he's doing really well. He's going to school at UVU right now and he sends me pictures every few weeks! I miss that guy. 

3.  Any baptisms set?  Are you still as busy as ever?

We will have a baptism on the 21st of November and we should have around 5-8 people for that date. We are excited because we are hoping for a few powerful future Melchizedek Priesthood Holders in this group! We would ask for special prayers for our investigator, James Dorbor this week though. He has the greatest desire to be baptized, but he currently can't because of an association he is in. Your prayers would be greatly appreciated as we try to strengthen this awesome investigator!

4.  Do you get to see the Hezseltine's much?  How about the Carlsons?  They were featured on the video so I got to see what they look like.

I probably see each of them once about every other week! Just whenever we have a conference or when we go into the mission office. I love both of them so much, and I'm not excited for when the Hezseltine's go home in January. 

5.  Did any of the envelopes I have sent through the mail arrive yet.  Your Christmas box is being mailed on Monday (Nov. 9th).  I so hope that it reaches you by Christmas.  (This is your last chance to let me know if there is anything else you want me to send to you)!!

I did receive a letter that you sent to me on September 22nd today! It's the first piece of mail I've received in Liberia. Thank you so much for sending me the sports clippings and my reassignment letter! I loved it. Also, please DO NOT put anything valuable into the package that you are sending because there's a good chance it won't get here. The mission seems to think that the post office is now less reliable post-Ebola.

6.  Have you met anyone there that knows Eric?   
I have been in contact with one of his converts actually! He called me a few weeks ago and begged me to give him his contact information. I have yet to meet him in person, but I'm sure I will soon! To be honest, almost all of the members of the Church that I've met (besides the leaders) are converts of less than 5 years. It's incredible to see how young the Church is here.

7.  I received some pictures from you on Thursday and Saturday.  Thank you!!  I love getting them.  I would like to know the story behind the Doctrine and Covenants you came across.  And the pictures with the monkey.  Did you get to hold the monkey?

One of my investigators used to be apart of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints and he had a copy of an old edition of their Doctrine and Covenants! I traded him for a new triple combination. It's a really cool book, and it's funny to see "revelations" from people like Israel A Smith and Joseph Smith III. You can easily tell the difference between real revelation and fake! Also, there's a compound in my area that has a pet monkey that we visit every so often! His name is Johnny! He's awesome, I will try to get more pictures with him.

Well, I think that's all for this week!  I love you so much. I hope you all have a great week!
Love,
Elder Degen

Monday, November 2, 2015

Paynesville




E-mail dated 11/2/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Thank you everyone for your emails and prayers of support this week, I can't think of a more spiritual day than the day that I had yesterday. Before I get to that though, I want to thank you all for the updates on home that I received! I'm glad that everyone had a safe and (lonely?) Halloween on Saturday and that the Utes were able to pull off another W. I'm also excited for the Jazz updates that are going to start coming in soon! It's been great this week to see how happy everyone is and what you're up to. I love you all!

Well, I don't want to beat around the bush. This entire email will be about the All-Liberia Conference that happened yesterday! I'm not going to understate this or try to downplay it: Yesterday was one of the greatest days of my life. For weeks our mission has been looking forward to the coming of Elder David A. Bednar to Liberia, and our waiting was finally over yesterday. The meeting started at 10 a.m. at a building in downtown Monrovia, but when I arrived at 7:30, there were already hundreds of people there from all around the country. By the time 9 o'clock rolled around, there were a few thousand people packed into this small building. The atmosphere was amazing. I've never seen people more excited in my life. At 10, Elder Bednar and his wife walked into the building, followed by Elder Donald Hallstrom (Presidency of the Seventy) and his wife, Elder Legrand Curtis Jr. (Area President, Member of the Seventy) and his wife, and then President and Sister Carlson. The spirit that entered the room was indescribable. 

The meeting began and everyone was so reverent. The Carlson's spoke first, then the Curtis', then the Hallstrom's, then Sister Bednar, and finally Elder Bednar. I just want to describe to you some of the things that were said by an Apostle of the Lord to the saints of Liberia! First, he spoke to the members of the Church. He stated, in effect, "The Lord allowed this suffering and this disease to happen for you to learn something: You are the missionaries!" He complimented these saints on their amazing resolve to preach the gospel, even when the full-time missionaries were pulled out of the country. Then he spoke directly to the non members who were in attendance, which was amazing because we had quite a few investigators there. He taught the Restoration of the Gospel, a message I have taught literally hundreds of times, more beautifully than I can even put into words. He explained it so simply and with so much spirit that only an Apostle could do. I was blessed enough that I was sitting close to the pulpit, probably no more than 20 yards away from him.

Then he spoke to the entire congregation. He counseled everyone about the power of the Atonement and about how turning away from the natural man (Mosiah 3:19) is the purpose of this life on Earth. He spoke of the temptations we face in this life and related this to the story of Satan tempting the Savior after he had fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Satan tempted Christ with three things: Turn the stones into bread, cast yourself off the pinnacle, and all of the Earth can be yours. Elder Bednar stated simply that there was not three different temptations, only one; Do it for YOURSELF. The natural man wants things right now, the natural man turns in. But the Savior turns out. All temptations the devil has to offer all come down to the same thing, do it for yourself. He counseled all the saints to no longer do things for themselves, but to serve other people. He was very animated as he talked and he even slammed the pulpit a few times and used large waving hand gestures. 

One the greatest spiritual experiences I've ever had happened when he invited the entire congregation to sing "How Firm a Foundation" with him. I've never heard a louder chorus of people. As I was singing the words, tears were streaming down my face. I know a lot of you know me, and I'm not a crier, but this was an overwhelming moment for me and for all the members of the Church in Liberia. As I looked around and saw these people singing the words:

"In ev'ry condition--in sickness, in health,
In poverty's vale or abounding in wealth,
At home or abroad, on the land or the sea--
As thy days may demand, as thy days may demand,
As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be."

I couldn't control my emotions anymore. These amazing members have suffered so much in their lives and to see them sing with such faith and strength was more than I could handle. The words couldn't even come out of my mouth. 

Elder Bednar concluded his talk by pronouncing a blessing upon the congregation. He said "I, as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, turn the key and pour down the blessings of Heaven upon this country and upon you, my fellow saints." As he did this he literally took his hand and made a turn-key motion above his head. It felt as if a wave went throughout everyone in attendance and I don't think I've ever felt the spirit more strongly. I left that meeting feeling so edified and uplifted! I wish there were words accurate enough to describe how I felt.

I have more to tell, but I'll try and do it in your questions that you've asked!

1.  Tell us about Elder Bednar and his visit!!  You said he was speaking to all the Church members there.  Where did you hold such a meeting?  

It was in the Executive Pavillion in Monrovia, but the meeting that happened soon after was at a nearby stake center! For the second meeting, which was just for the branch and district presidencies (and the missionaries), it was a very personal interaction with Elder Bednar. For two hours he instructed the Priesthood leaders about 4 things (I know Dad would have loved to been in attendance for this one):
1. Priesthood
2. Priesthood Authority
3. Priesthood Power
4. Priesthood Keys.
And for most of the meeting he did a Question and Answer session with everyone. In case I need to repeat myself, I was in a question and answer session with David A. Bednar. It was amazing. There were about 100 people in this sacrament hall, so it was a lot more personal. Elder Bednar is probably one of the funniest people I've ever met, and It was so great to actually see his real personality as compared to the mantle that all the General Authorities have to uphold at General Conference. He was so loose and free and vibrant. It was awesome. 

2.  I received a friend request on Facebook from Quita Kialain.  I assume you know who she is.  From her profile page I can tell she is a member of the Church, I assume in the Paynesville branch.  Is that correct?  What can you tell me about her?
She is one of my favorite members in Liberia!! She recently left for Minnesota last week, and it was actually me who added you from her Facebook! She would love to talk to you. She is a return missionary and we would visit her almost every other day. I know her very well! Talk to her on Facebook please :)

3.  Do you think that you will be able to Skype on Christmas?  (Please say yes!!)
I think I will be able to, but it depends on where I am! If all else fails, I'm going to try and beg the Hezseltine's to allow me to come to their apartment on Christmas! I will keep you updated!

4.  Do you get a chance to speak in Church often?  Did your branch have a Primary Sacrament Program?  
I haven't had to speak in Church yet thankfully, because we have so many powerful members here in Paynesville! I did not get to see a Primary Program here, but I think that's because they might have done it earlier this year!

5.  It seems like transfers should be coming soon.  When are they?  
The next transfer will be December 8, so I still have quite some time! I hope that we will be able to baptize quite a few more people before I have to leave Paynesville. I'm excited for the near future!
Thank you all again for your love and support. I hope that each of you can have a great week and that you will all be safe and protected. I love each and every one of you! 

Love,
Elder Degen

P.S. Here's a story about Elder Loader. Near the end is a picture of me and him and our convert, Abigail Amoah, who recently sent me pictures of her at the temple!! Her conversion story is one of the greatest stories of my mission. Enjoy the article!

http://www.missiongeek.net/2015/10/near-death-experience-changes-missionarys-life/

Monday, October 26, 2015

E-mail dated 10/26/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Thank you everyone for your emails and support this past week, I needed them! Elder Carlson and I were extremely busy as we were preparing for our baptism last Saturday, and because of all of your prayers, it was successful. 

The Lord blessed us with 11 baptisms this past week! I wish I could go through each one of their stories and tell you have they became converted, but I don't have enough time in the world! Here are their names:
Esther Parker
Uriah Sayou
Prince Somah
Bindu Smart
Korah Smart
Patience Smart
Emmanuel Ngorah
Armah Kanneh
Princess Cooper
Josephus Toman
Stephen Robertson
It was an amazing service and I'll send the pictures as soon as I can! I'll answer your questions now...

1.  Do you know why Elder Bednar is coming to your mission next week?  Will he be meeting with the missionaries?  How long will he be there?
He is coming to strengthen the saints in Liberia! He is in Accra right now for the mission president's seminar, and then he will fly here on Saturday. Also, he is going to be mic'd up and followed by a camera crew for a documentary about the Church in Liberia. He will speak to all the members in the country on Sunday morning, and then Sunday afternoon he is meeting with the leaders of the branches/districts and the missionaries are invited to attend! So I pray that I will be able to shake his hand. He will leave Sunday evening back to Utah after a 10 day adventure for him and his wife. 

2.  About how many lessons do you and Elder Carlson teach each day?  
It's usually around 6 or so. We consistently get 30-40 lessons a week. And that's not me trying to brag about numbers, because I could seriously sit down in a chair on a corner of a road and have 10 lessons in one day without approaching a single person. People are just dying to hear the gospel here.

3.  Is there strong Priesthood leadership in your branch?  I would assume that with so many wanting to join the church that leadership issues might be a problem.
Thankfully we have such great leadership here in the Paynesville Branch! Our branch president and his counselors are all return missionaries and they know how to get things done. Obviously there are some things that are different from back home that the leaders lack, but I have been blown away at how self-sufficient the Church is here compared to Cape Coast. It's been a big blessing. 

4.  Is there a good mix of adults, youth and children in your Branch?  

Yes, it's pretty balanced! There are a lot of Melchizedek Priesthood holders in the branch, which is a good indicator that the branch will split soon. I am also surprised at how many sisters in the branch are return missionaries as well. The children are plentiful as always.

5.  About how many miles does your Branch encompass?  It is a hardship for them to get to church on Sunday?
Our branches boundaries are unknown. My guess is that some members travel from 4-5 miles to get to Church, which is a big sacrifice financially. It's most hard when we have people dying to come to the chapel, but they can barely afford to eat the following day let alone pay the $1 for transportation. It's hard to see. 

6.  Do you have any idea about how much money people there earn working full time?  I am just curious if it is comparable to US wages.  I'm sure it is not.  Do you know of anyone who has a lot of money (like the guy you lived close to Ghana that was from Utah).
I'm not %100 certain, but judging from what I've seen so far, if a family makes $2,000 a year then they are doing really well. It's pretty hard knowing that my subsistence I pulled today is more than a family of 5 will have for the month. I haven't met any rich miners yet, but a woman in my branch is going to America this week, and she is dying to contact you Mom! She also knows the Peterson's (Eric's mission couples) really well. She owns an orphanage and a school and she is going to the states to work with some people to adopt her orphans.

7.  What was your biggest challenge this week?  Your sweetest success?
My biggest challenge this week was having to tell multiple people they could not be baptized. We had been teaching them for weeks, they have been coming to church for months, but they couldn't be baptized because they aren't legally married. To get a traditional marriage legalized, it costs $50 and they have to bring their birth certificates (which a lot of people don't have), so it is extremely difficult for them. I have heard of couples saving up for a year to get their marriage legalized so that they could be baptized, and I hope that happens to my candidates as well! My sweetest success was by far watching these amazing 11 people be baptized on Saturday. I think hearing their testimonies was probably the time in the service when I felt the spirit the most. It was so rewarding to see these people so happy. 

I love you all, thank you for everything you do for me!

Love,
Elder Degen

Monday, October 19, 2015