Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Brother Essien with spices he requested

Elder Degen and the Evans Family in Dunkwa

Elder Degen with Rachel and Ezra Essien

E-mail dated 6/22/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaaba! Meda mo ase for the emails and the support this week. They were greatly appreciated. It sounds like a fun summer week back home complete with really high temperatures! I'm glad Kalli and Josh both had fun at their various adventures and that everyone was safe. I'm glad every one is being safe and enjoying their vacation! 

I have a lot to say this week, but I think most of it can be said in answering your questions so let me do that! But before I do, I wanted to update you a little bit about my investigators and the branch! So this week was really busy and sadly we weren't able to visit Frank with Brother Essien this week, but he was over at his house almost everyday so Elder Loader and I were happy about that! Frank came to church yesterday for about the 6th week in a row and we are excited for him. Seth and comfort are starting to look promising again and we are hoping that they both canfinally  be baptized in July! 

My lesson of the week was one that Elder Loader and I did with Evans and his family and we call it the "Atonement Pushups" lesson. We had one person volunteer at the beginning of the lesson who would be our push up man. We then went around the room (there was 9 people there!) and asked each person if they wanted a piece of candy. No matter what their response was, our volunteer had to do 3 pushups per person. By the end he was exhausted!! Everyone enjoyed their candy and then we related this experience to the atonement of Jesus Christ. We read from Alma 7 with them and helped them understand that Christ suffered for all of us and the reward that we can gain from the atonement is great, but we first have to take advantage of it. We then gave ideas of how we can better take advantage of the atonement in our lives! It was a great lesson and it's one of my favorites to do with families.

Okay, now to answer your questions!

1.  Just in case you haven't mentioned it yet, are you being transferred?   
So on Saturday night, I found out that I will be leaving Dunkwa!! I am being transferred to a small town in western region called Axim. It's the farthest area west in the mission! I was really surprised that I was leaving and it has been really hard to say goodbye to the people here in Dunkwa, especially my recent converts. I bore my testimony in sacrament meeting yesterday and I was pretty emotional. I love this area, I love this branch, I love these people! I am so sad that I have to leave.

Axim is somehow a tourist attraction as it is right along the beach and I've heard it has one of the best beaches in Ghana. My companion's name is Elder Gasolo and he has just finished his training. He is a french-speaking elder so I don't know how much English he knows! Also, in Axim, they don't speak Twi or Fante. They speak a different tribal dialect called Enzyma! I've never heard a word of it, so it will be interesting to learn a whole new language again. 

I leave Dunkwa tomorrow afternoon and then travel for 8 hours over the next two days on my way to Axim. The Church is in the beginning stages there as well and just about 6 months ago they finally released a missionary as the branch president. I'm excited to go and build a new branch and meet new people! I know that the Lord wants me there and I'm more than happy to go where He sends me. I need your prayers this week please! 

2.  Did the package make it to you this week?  Did everything arrive in one piece?

Yes, they package came to me!!! It was amazing, thank you so much. Brother Essien thanks you as well. I will send you a picture of him smiling with his spices! I loved everything inside the package and I've really enjoyed reading grandma and grandpa Smith's auto biographies. Thank you so much for everything mom! I love you.
Oh also, it was Elder Keetch who delivered the package to me and I said goodbye to him this week! I'm sure he would love to see you at his homecoming!

3.  There was an article in the Church News on Saturday about all the service the missionaries are doing in Accra because of all the rain.  Did you get a lot of rain this past week?
It rained SOO much on Saturday night. The roads were flooded and Elder Loader and I were stuck in an investigators house for hours before we decided to get soaking wet and walk through the rain. It was insane! 

4.  You said you got to teach Primary with Abigail, do you still have like 40 kids or so come to Primary each week?

Yes, it's usually around 25 to 40 kids every week and they are a handful! 

5.  Are you still sleeping well at night?  It seems to me you told me that you are so tired at night that you have no trouble sleeping.  

I sleep great at night and very rarely do I continue waking up in the night. I've been really blessed and I'm praying that it continues in Axim!

6.  Can you believe it has already been 10 months since you left home?  Has the time gone fast for you?  Do you still think of home often?  
These past 10 months have been the fastest of my life. The time has flown by! It does not seem like a year ago that I graduated high school and enjoying my summer. I have lost myself in the work and it's been the greatest blessing I could have ever asked for!
I think that's everything for this week! I hope that everyone has a safe week and that I get to hear from everyone again next week. I love all of you so much.

Elder Gavin Degen

Monday, June 15, 2015

E-mail dated 6/15/15

Abusuafo, Mo ho te sen? (Family, how are you?) Things are doing well here in Dunkwa! I'm glad I got to hear so much about home this week and about how everyone is! It sounds like summer is in full swing and that everyone is happy to be out of school. When I heard that the family went to Snowbird, I had to stop and think of the last time that I actually slept in the room there and I couldn't remember! Because of basketball camps, jobs and other things I don't think I've slept there in a long time! It's crazy to think that all 7 of us fit in there at one point. Some things have changed, but not too much! 

For me this week wasn't too eventful, although it was full of lessons and walking. I was able to attend some of a massive Ghanaian funeral on Saturday though, so that was awesome! Sunday was also fun because Abigail really needed help teaching the Primary so I somehow got put in charge of teaching the kids again! Thankfully it was a lot of fun though and the kids were somewhat well behaved. I had all of them draw me with crayons and I now have some priceless souvenirs that I will never forget! These kids are so cute.

I'm going to try and do this once a week, but I don't know if I will be able to do it every Monday! But I want to start telling about my favorite lesson that I taught during the previous week. So for this week it was with an investigator named Frank. He has come to Church for 5 weeks now and is really serious about the gospel and knows his Bible very well. The only problem is that he doesn't see the need to be baptized again from his church into ours. We explained to him that you need to be baptized by someone who holds the power of God (Hebrews 5:4) and that if it wasn't by this power then it won't be "bound in Heaven" (Matthew 16:19). He was certain that his pastor held this power because he had read the bible and God gave him the power, just as he can do with anyone that wants it. We had to explain to him that God hands his Authority down through the laying on of hands (Acts 6) and has always done it. The lesson went back and forth, but he still wasn't convinced. So this week we are planning to go to him with Brother Essien and get a powerful testimony from a return missionary! I'm excited to see what happens.

As for your questions!

1) It's definitely only the soccer type of football that we play here in Ghana! I will let you know if I have actually play real American Football, that would be crazy!

2) Yes, transfers are a week from this wednesday and transfer news is this Saturday! I have a feeling that I might be leaving, but I would like to stay. I guess I will find out this week!

3) Yes, Elder Keetch is still my zone leader and actually he will be coming here to Dunkwa on Wednesday (Hopefully with my package!!)

4) Hmmm... My biggest challenge was seeing how the branch struggled to function a little bit when our Branch President became sick this week! There is still a lot of work to do here in Dunkwa. My sweetest success was seeing the pictures from the YSA event in Winneba that Abigail, Sarfo, Matilda attended. They had a lot of fun and possible met their future temple-worthy spouses there! 

5) Hopefully I will get the package this week! Normally I have to pay about 30 cedis duty on the packages that I receive. I'm sure everything arrived safe and sound though!

6) Yes, I'm healthy and perfectly happy :)

Thank you again everyone for your love and support and I can't wait to hear from everyone next week!
Elder Gavin Degen

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


E-mail dated 6/8/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaaba! Thank you everyone for your emails and support this week. First off I need to apologize for last week and my horribly short email! Elder Loader and I weren't able to email last Monday because of an internet problem, and the rest of the week was super busy so we had very little time. I'm so sorry! It sounds like every one is excited that school is out though and that the weather in Utah was similar to Ghana! I don't remember too many massive rain storms back home, so it was surprising to me even though I'm really used to it now. Speaking of rain storms, yes, there was a tragedy in Accra this week and around 200(?) people died in a massive explosion. We have seen news excerpts and a few articles, but the harshest reality was seeing pictures on peoples phones that are on the internet of piles of dead bodies being carried away by trucks. I've seen some pictures I won't soon forget! Thankfully the missionaries were safe and that the President of Ghana is doing all he can to try and make sure it doesn't happen again. It been pretty crazy.

For me this past week has been pretty eventful! On Tuesday, all of Dunkwa went down to Praso for a zone conference with President Stevenson and it was a lot of fun. It was an all day event though, so we were exhausted by the time we got back! The rest of the week Elder Loader and I began to fill our schedule with new investigators because our teaching pool decreased a little bit after our baptism of 4 on May 30th! Thankfully, we've had great success and have some potential people to join the Church on June 20th. Along with new investigators this week, we had 14 Recent Convert lessons(!). I absolutely love my recent converts. Abigail is doing great, and she loves her calling in the primary. Evans and his family are so strong in the gospel and he makes great contributions in the gospel doctrine class as he answers investigators questions. Sarfo is still preparing to go on his mission, and Matilda is preparing to go to the temple next year and receive her endowments! It's been amazing to see what the Lord has been able to do with this area in the few short months that I have been able to serve here. I'm so blessed!

This week actually got pretty dang cold here in the mornings (24 degrees celcius!) and I had to sleep under my covers without a fan on me at night. It felt great! Hopefully it can continue, but I don't know if it will. Also, today was a really fun day as the Praso district came to Dunkwa for the first time ever and we had a P-Day activity! We played football for a few hours at a park near our apartment and then we pounded massive fufu! We had over 20 servings prepared and it was delicious. We have to email a little late today, but it's well worth it!

To answer your questions:
1) Zone Conference was awesome. I think President Stevenson may have uploaded some pictures on his blog! I don't know if I'm in any of them, but it will give you an idea of the building that we had the instructions in!

2) All of Evans family came to church on Sunday, but John was in Kumasi so he couldn't make it! Everything is great though and we are now using him to help us teach a man who lives in the same compound as him. Seeing the testimonies of recent converts is so powerful.

3) No, there's no amusement parks anywhere in West Africa besides Nigeria! Nigeria is by far the nicest and most developed country in this part of the world. 

4) The kids here actually recently went back to school! They were off for all of May and then they will vacate again in August for a month or two. The kids play football, help their parents and do whatever they want. There is a channel here called 4Kids and it plays a lot of Disney Channel shows and kids movies. The other night Elder Loader and I were able to watch part of Enchanted and it was awesome! (It was playing at Solomon's house and his kids were watching it)

5) The package is here in Ghana! Just not in Dunkwa... I got a text from the Office Elders telling me that it had arrived, but it may take a few weeks before it actually gets to me. I will let you know as soon as I get it!

Thank you all again for the emails and your support this week. I hope that everyone stays safe and enjoys their summer! I love all of you.

Elder Degen

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

E-mail dated 6/3/15

Family and Friends, 

I'm sorry for being a few days late, but I am running on very little time right now! On Monday the power was out and yesterday was a crazy day full of zone coference, travel and fufu. I apologize! I don't have much time today either as it is getting late here in Ghana. So forgive me for my email this week, it won't be very long.

The baptism was successful on Saturday as we were able to baptize 4 people! Charity, Venn and Mephanage Darko (The wife and children of my Recent Convert Evans!) and also John, a man I met the very first day that Elder Loader came to Dunkwa. It was amazing to see them make this step and I can't even tell you how happy I was!

To answer your questions: 

1.  The Branch President has been able to fill a lot of callings, but there are still some things left to do! There are still a few people who would like a calling but haven't received one yet, but we are being patient with the inexperienced presidency. They are still learning.

2.Yes, the branch has mutual every wednesday night! They are working on all of the Duty to God things as well as Personal Progress.

3. we spend one hour every day for our personal study and we have the freedom to study whatever topic we would like, as long as it is part of the missionary library. I also get an hour of companion study with Elder Loader in the morning that we prepare for our day and plan for our lessons!

4. There's Elder Loader (California), Elder Okwii (Uganda) and Elder Tyson (Ghana).

5. The greatest challenge was seeing Seth and Comfort once again not be baptized!

6. The rain feels good, but the humidity that follows it does not! I have no idea how much it actually rains haha.

I love you all! I'm sorry again for this week, I will try better next week!

Elder Degen