Monday, July 27, 2015

E-mail dated 7/27/15

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! Another week has passed here in Ghana, which somehow means another week has passed at home as well! I'm not sure though because the weeks seem to go by so much faster here in Africa, I think it should be Tuesday at home. But I'm so glad everyone had a great and safe past 7 days! I loved hearing about the different adventures and exciting news about the house (I would do anything for central air conditioning right now). Now all we have to do is redo the basement and I won't even recognize it! 

I'm also glad that Josh returned home safely from Trek, I wish I could have been there with him. I think you all remember, but I loved my Trek so much! I would do it again in a heart beat. I look back and laugh now, because I just realized that I walk more on my mission everyday than I did on Trek (4 years ago we walked around 6 miles a day, here on my mission it can sometimes be 7 to 8 miles). Although after reading in the July Liahona, I have a greater and deeper respect for the Pioneers. If you haven't read the article, I recommend you read it!

So, to skip ahead to my week: it was good. Nothing too special, certainly a challenging one at times. On Tuesday, after our district meeting, as Elder Gasolo and I were walking to our area we heard his hip make a loud pop. We both kinda freaked out a little bit, and it was hurting so badly we had to go back to the apartment. We sadly were confined to the apartment for quite a few hours every day this week. The medication that he is taking isn't working, so President Stevenson is trying to figure out a step that doesn't involve him going home. I'm praying things will work out!

Something exciting did happen on Friday though as I was able to go on splits with my zone leader, Elder Hodges. Of course, I was really excited to finally have a full day of proselyting! He goes home next week, so it was his last time being in Axim (His area is about 2 hours away in a place called Tarkwa). The zone leaders spent 2 nights in our apartment because they live so far away! It was really nice to spend time with other missionaries though, it makes everything a lot of fun.\

Today was a great P-Day as well because we went to the beach again! We played football, rugby, and frisbee for 4 hours and now we're at an internet cafe near there! I think the rest of what I have to say can be answered in your questions.

1.  When you can't be out proselyting because of Elder Gasolo's illness, what do you do to keep busy during the day?

I read. I recently began the Book of Mormon reference challenge, where you mark 3 things in different colors of a cheap copy; The titles of the Savior (including pronouns), His words, and His attributes. It's been amazing so far. I also read the teachings of the presidents of the Church, all the Liahona's from the past 2-3 years, and anything I can get my hands on. I have way too much time.

2.  Any new investigators this week?  

Sadly no... it was a rough week of injury.

3.  What district are you in now?  President Stevenson visited 6 districts this week.  How far from the mission home is your area by car? 

I'm in the Axim District! We're about 4 hours away from the mission home, the farthest place in the mission equal only to.... Dunkwa-On-Offin. I've gone from one outskirt of the mission to the other! President Stevenson is doing interviews for our zone tomorrow though, so look out this week! 

4.  Is your apartment fully equipped with all the "comforts of life?"  Are you lucky enough to have a washer, stove/oven, etc.?

We have a 4-burner stove, and everyone has a nice standing fan near their beds. What else can we ask for?? My washer hasn't come yet (I don't know if it ever will) and no apartment in the mission has an oven! There are 4 bathrooms for only 3 companionship's though, so that's really nice. And also, we have a balcony that overlooks the ocean, so that makes up for anything!

5.  Are you happy and healthy?  (hey, it has been a couple of weeks since I asked)

Yes, I'm happy and healthy! I can't say the same for my companion, but I am doing well. Nothing to complain about!

Thank you all again for the emails and the support this week, they mean a lot. I hope that everyone has a great coming week and that I can hear form you all next week! I love you all.

Elder Degen

Monday, July 20, 2015

E-mail dated 7/20/15

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! This email is coming to all of you from the worst internet cafe in the world, but somehow I hope it is able to send! If not, well then you'll never read this so I guess I don't have to apologize... Anyways, thank you all so much for the emails and the pictures that I got this week, I received quite few vacation pictures from different people's vacations! I loved seeing everyone and I'm glad that everyone returned home safely. 

Anyways, sorry for commenting so little this week on the news you all gave me, but I'm a little pressed for time today (what else is new?). So I don't want to delay, so I'm going to get right into how my week was! This week was great and the Lord really blessed Elder Gasolo and I. I'll tell you more specifically in my answers to your questions, but I wanted to mention something else! So the past few weeks we've been given an assignment to teach an old Fante woman in our area named Elizabeth. She has been a member for a few years, but she's now preparing to go to the temple and she needs to be taught all the lessons again before she can go! The first thing I can tell you about this woman is how insanely happy she is to be going to the temple. When she sees us coming she always stands up and starts to clap and she has the biggest smile on her face! I've never seen someone with so much enthusiasm to go to the House of the Lord, it's actually contagious. I have absolutely loved teaching her (with various members as translators) and I will definitely keep you updated on how she is preparing herself!

So to answer your questions...

1.  How is Elder Gasolo this week?  I can't believe he has gout.  I read a little bit about it this week and it sounds painful!  Tell him we are praying for him.
His hip improved a little bit this week! We were able to proselyte a little bit more than last week, but we are still patiently waiting for the drugs he is taking to start working. It's been a faith-forming experience for both him and me!

2.  How are Matilda, Victoria, Emmanuela, Josephine, Hannah and Michael progressing?  We are praying for them as well.
The are all doing great! Matilda met with us multiple times this week, but she was unable to come to church as she is still finding a way to stop attending her other one... But her granddaughters, Victoria and Emmanuela, were both at church yesterday and we are still planning to baptize Victoria on the 9th of August! Josephine has an amazing story this week. As we came to teach her on Wednesday, she told us she wants to be baptized(!). The only problem? On Thursday, she moved back to her home town near Takoradi. With heavy hearts, we gave her contact to the Elders there and we pray she will be baptized there!! As for Hannah, she is also progressing well and has come to church over three times (the prerequisite for baptism) and she has accepted a date for the 9th as well! Michael has been another story as we have found it hard to meet with him.... Thank you all so much for your prayers, but the work is not finished!

3.  Does Axim have more or less "comforts" (such as grocery stores, etc.) than your other areas?
Axim has.... nothing. Literally, it's a village with a random beach resort. There's not even an internet cafe here! We travel 20 minutes down the road to a small internet cafe in the next town. Thankfully, when we really need to see civilization every so often, President lets us all go to Takoradi! 

4.  Did you think of anything else you would like in your birthday package?  You have about another week or so to let me know.
Hmm... Besides the Asante Twi book, I'm not totally sure!  OH! I just remembered something I would like you to send in the package; a copy of my call letter please.

5.  Any rain this week?  
Very minimal. Like maybe for 5 minutes at the most. It's tooooo hotttt!

6.  How many kids/youth are there in your new Branch?
There's a pretty decent amount! I would say close to 20 to 25. I haven't found the courage to make my way into the primary to find out though... I was able to teach the gospel principles class this week, mainly because the teacher was gone, but I enjoyed the spur-of-the-moment calling that I received! 

Also, really random, but one of our members fed us an entire octopus this week. It. was. so. good. It tasted nothing like I thought it would! I would suggest anyone to try it and I'm being serious.

Thank you all again for your words of encouragement and your prayers of support! I know how blessed that I am. I love you all so much and I can't wait to hear from you again next week.
Elder Degen

Thursday, July 16, 2015

New Area (Axim)

E-mail dated 7/13/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! All week I have been planning on saying "Canada, Eh?" as the title of my email and when I looked in my inbox, it was full of "Eh?"'s!! You all think the same as I do... Anyways, thank you all so much for your emails this week. I loved hearing about your adventures in Canada and the crazy way that you guys got there! I'm sure everyone has enjoyed the gardens and butterfly pavilions (especially Josh). Here in Ghana I see so many plants and wildlife that I know exactly how you guys feel! I think I will finally be able to send pictures of Axim today, by the way.

I was also amused to know that you guys lost the car! It's a good thing that Brittany isn't with you guys or else she will never let you forget it (Remember how we ruthlessly made fun of her because she lost her car once?)! I'm glad my prayers were answered though and that you all made in there safely and that you're having a great time. Also, thank you for letting me know that you are on vacation! It doesn't make me sad or jealous at all, but missionaries like to know where their families are! So thank you again.

Anyways, I finally have a little bit of time today because I'm in Takoradi! I don't know if you remember, but Takoradi is one of the biggest cities in Ghana and it was about 15 minutes away from my first area. So even though the light is off today, I still get to email because in the big cities people actually have generators!! Woohoo! It's about an hour and a half away from Axim, but we had to come here to get some things for Elder Gasolo. More on that later.

So this week was a pretty great one here in Axim. Although we weren't able to proselyte full days, we were able to at least go out for a few hours everyday which is an improvement from the past transfer I've heard. In the hours we were able to go out though, we worked extremely hard and had great success! We found 3 more investigators this week, and have filled our schedules with people to teach. We even had 4 investigators attend church yesterday! Let me tell you a little bit about the people I'm most excited about.

So last week, we randomly had a teenage girl come to church who lives about 15 minutes away from Axim and she didn't come with anyone that she knew. We were all really confused of how she got there, but we couldn't ask her because she doesn't speak English or Fante, she speaks French (near C'ote D'ivore there are a lot of people that speak French). One of the missionaries being trained in my apartment is Ivorian though, so we called upon his services to translate for us. We found out that she has a family who's interested in the gospel and that she wants to be baptized, so Elder Gasolo and I were naturally really excited and went to visit her at her grandmother's home in our area! Her grandmother's name is Matilda and she is a sweet old lady who miraculously speaks perfect English. You can almost never find someone over 50 that speaks English. As we taught them throughout the week, we could feel the spirit testifying to us that they are going to be baptized and that we need to do all that we can to make that happen. The only problem is that Matilda wants to join the Church, but she is a chorister at her other church and she will have a hard time leaving. Prayers are much needed as Elder Gasolo and I look for a solution to helping her and her family enter the waters of baptism.

I wish I could tell you everything that I haven't been able to the past few weeks, but I wouldn't have enough time in the world! So let me answer your questions now and hopefully it will be good enough!

1.   What do you do when you go for consecutive days without water?  How do you cook, shower, flush the toilets, etc.?  Is it more consistent now?
We have big container's in the apartment in case the water isn't working, but those are usually finished after day 2 of no water. We usually do everything with water sachets when that happens, from showering to cooking. For anyone who doesn't know, water sachets are 500 ml of water in a little plastic bag that they sell on the streets. Flushing the toilets is another story.... Don't worry about that. Thankfully the light was a little more consistent this week and we were able to sleep with our fans on for a few nights! That's the thing that we care most about. 

2.  How is Elder Gasolo's hip.  Any improvement?  
It was still paining him everyday, but we did receive an interesting text from President Stevenson this week. He received the test results from last week and we found out that Elder Gasolo has Gout. What the heck?? I remember hearing commercials about that back home, but it's for old people! Anyways, we had to come to Takoradi today to get the medicine that he needs to take. President says that he should see tremendous improvement in 3 weeks, so that's what we're hoping for!

3.  How are your new investigators progressing?
They are great, and we are still finding more everyday! Your prayers are much appreciated for Matilda, Victoria, Emmanuela, Josephine, Hannah, and Michael.

4.  What was your biggest challenge this week?  Greatest success?
My biggest challenge this week has been my inability to go out and work. It's so hard for me to sit in the house when I know I should be out proselyting. I always feel antsy and I can't keep still, but I know I have to do it because of the pain that Elder Gasolo feels. Conversely, my greatest success was seeing our limited proselyting time pay off with 4 people coming to Church! We woke up early to go pick Josephine, and it was amazing to see the others arrive on their own.

5.  You said your rainy season hasn't been very rainy, did it rain this week? 
Nope. I don't know why. 

6.  Are there a lot of tourists in your area?  Do you see many Americans?
I have yet to see any white people in Axim, but that is probably because I proselyte in the extremely poor parts of the towns, and the beach resort is in another area. I did see some white girls surfing when we went to the beach for a zone activity a few weeks ago! Also, I saw a white family in the supermarket today but I doubt they were American. Most white people here are European!

Well, I hope that I have said all that I need to say! If not, I will hopefully be able to email again next week (let's pray). Thank you everyone again for your prayers and support this week and I hope that you all stay safe and enjoy your vacation! I love you all so much.
Elder Gavin Degen

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

E-mail dated 7/7/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! I'm sorry this email is reaching you late again for the second week in a row. The power here in Ghana is really bad right now for some reason! We haven't had light longer than an hour in almost 5 days. Thankfully Heavenly Father has permitted us to finally email in some small cafe about a half hour away from Axim! You might have to get used to me emailing later than Monday's from now on...

I don't have much time today, but I want to thank everyone for the support that I received this week! I loved hearing about the 4th of July and I'm glad that everyone had fun in the heat (right now we're in the middle of the driest rainy season in history. It hasn't rained in so long). I also enjoyed knowing that everyone is keeping busy and enjoying their vacations! Eat lots of food for me :)

My week was interesting to say the least. Wednesday and Thursday were spent in Cape Coast trying to figure out what is wrong with Elder Gasolo's hip, but it's not that easy in Ghana. The first hospital we tried, their machines were broken. The following two hospitals didn't have the equipment necessary for the tests we needed. So we spent the night in Cape and came back to Axim on Thursday! I did get to meet Elder Keetch's parents though, and his mom gave me a big hug from you Mom :) They are excited to see you at his homecoming! As for Elder Gasolo, his hip is still paining him and we might have to go to Accra to do some further tests. I will keep you posted!

My 4th of July was different than yours, but I was still able to feel the pride of being an American! You never know how lucky you are until you leave it all behind. We enjoy a lot of things in America that not many other countries enjoy and we should not take it for granted. I didn't realize that until I was fetching water from a well in Africa! 

I was sad to hear about the passing away of President Packer though. Something I noted though is that both Elder Packer's and Elder Perry's dying testimonies from last conference were about the sacredness of marriage and the family. Amid the big news of Gay Marriage back home, I found it interesting that the Lord knew ahead of time and prompted His servants to speak about the subject. It's amazing to see His hand in all things!

To answer your questions...
1.  How is your companion?  Were you able to go to Cape Coast to figure out what is wrong with his hip?
My companion is great! And yes, we were able to go!

2.  Does Ghana have an independence day?  
Yes, theirs is March 6th and they celebrate similarly with parades (mainly at football pitches) and a lot of partying!!
3.  Were you able to find anyone new to teach this week? 
Yes, we found 3 new investigators and 1 of them we met at church when one of the members brought her! For only being able to proselyte for half the week, Elder Gasolo and I worked as hard as we could and found great success. 
4.  How is the apartment?  Does it have a generator like your other one did?  
My first apartment is the only apartment in the mission with a generator! Not very many places in Ghana have generators because the light is on half the time (Yeah, it still doesn't make sense to me either). But, Axim has been without consistent light and water for about 5 days now!
5.  Are you considered the senior companion?  Do they still use the terms senior and junior companion?
President Stevenson tried to implement the Sr and Jr companions in the mission, but it didn't last very long. We all enjoy being unified and one in purpose, so he has allowed the culture to stay. But I definitely feel like I'm training a new missionary! Elder Gasolo wasn't able to proselyte much his first 2 transfers and so there's still a lot he doesn't know and it's my job to teach him. 
6.  Are you happy in your new area?  
My new area is sweet and I already love the branch. The members are great and easy to work with (and there's even a few that speak English!) The area is beautiful and our apartment is really nice. Definitely nothing to complain about!
Well, thank you all again for everything! I love you all. Until next week!
Elder Degen

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

E-mail dated 6/30/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaaba! I'm so happy I finally get the chance to email you today, the light was off yesterday in Takoradi so I couldn't get online! I'm glad I got to read all of your amazing emails this week though, I appreciated all of them. It sounds like it's pretty dang hot back home! I'm glad everyone had fun at their various camps and activities and that you are all safe and healthy. I'm sorry I never comment very much on the things you tell me from home, but I want to use most of my time to let you know what's going on in Africa at the moment!

So to begin, my week has been crazy. Last Tuesday I said my final goodbyes to everyone in Dunkwa and I got on a tro to Praso. I slept the night there and left for Cape Coast in the morning, where I met a lot of missionaries I haven't seen in a long time, including Elder Mocke! After waiting in the station awhile, I got in a tro and went to Takoradi, where I met with more Elders before finally departing for Axim! After over 8 hours of travel I finally arrived in my new area. And it is beautiful! I walked into my new apartment and the back balcony overlooks the ocean. The rest of the week was spent trying to get used to my new environment, but it didn't take too long! I have a lot more to tell you, but I think I can do it all in answering your questions.

1.  Tell us about your new area!  I spent some time looking up Axim on the internet.  The beaches look incredible.  
Axim is a big fishing town right along the shore in the western part of Ghana. Like I said, it is beautiful! I spend 9 hours proselyting on the beach everyday, so I couldn't ask for anything better. Even our chapel overlooks the ocean! The branch is great as well, but my area that I am coming into is very very slow. We don't have people to teach right now, but I'm sure in the next few weeks we will find plenty!

2.  Tell us about Elder Gasolo.  Where is he from?  Can you understand each other?
Elder Gasolo (pronounced Nasolo) is from Samoa! He's not french-speaking like people told me, but his English isn't good at all. We can communicate fine though! He's a big guy but he's easily one of the nicest people that I have ever met. His demeanor reminds me of Big Mike from The Blind Side! I wish I could send pictures, but the internet is really bad today. He does have a hip injury though and it has kept him in the apartment for almost an entire transfer, which is why our area is slow. We are going to Cape Coast this week to get some tests done, so hopefully we will find out what is wrong!

3.  How many attended the Branch meetings on Sunday?  
We had around 70-80 I think! The branch is sweet and I'm excited to get to know the members.

4.  How many missionaries are assigned to this area and how many do you live with?  Any missionaries you already know from your previous areas?
There are 6 missionaries in Axim and we all live in the same apartment! Elder Neilson is in my district as well (he was at the Salt Lake airport with me when I left) and another one of my MT's, Elder Makoti, is here! 

5.  You said you had to learn a new dialect called Enzyma.  Is it anything like Twi or Fante?  I can't imagine keeping it all straight.  
Oh Nzema is a stupid language. The sentence structure is very similar to Twi and Fante, but the vocabulary is completely different. Thankfully Twi is spoken almost everywhere in Ghana and I can still speak it with most people here! I love Twi.

6.  Do you think you will make it back to any of the areas you have previously served?  (Esheim, Nketsiakrom and Dunkwa)
It's unlikely that I get to serve around those areas again, but I would love to go back to any of them! I miss the people I've come to know and the places that I've been!

7.  Tell us anything else that might be of interest?
Hmmm... I've come to love cooking on my mission! I even made banana bread this week and it was delicious :) I've learned to make stews, baked goods and all variations of rice/ramen! 

Oh before I forget, something I would love in my next package is a Twi dictionary and a Twi guidebook! I'm sure you can buy some online. Make sure it is Asante Twi please, I would greatly appreciate it! thank you so much.

Well, I think my time is finished for this week, but I want to thank everyone again for your prayers and support. They are greatly appreciated! I love you all and I can't wait to hear from you next week :)
Elder Gavin Degen