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!

Elder Degen

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


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!

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!
Elder Degen

Monday, December 7, 2015


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.
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!

Elder Degen