Monday, November 2, 2015

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! 

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!

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