Monday, January 26, 2015

E-mail dated 1/26/15

Mom and Family,
Ma mo akye! Good morning! I hope everything is doing well in Utah this week. It sounds like it was eventful and you had some time to do some cool things! Send me some pictures of the family sometime, I would love to see all of you:) I know that's selfish of me because it's hard for me to send pictures to you, so please forgive me! I miss you all so much!
So this week was an interesting one here in Dunkwa! We held mutual/midweek for the first time on Wednesday and we taught all the members how to sing the hymns! It was a fun activity and much needed. I think I can sum up the rest of my week and answer your questions all at once, so I will try!
You asked a few questions though that weren't in the numbered ones, so I'll answer those first! First off, yes, that was our apartment President was in, but I think the camera deceived you! Our curtains are thankfully red! My district leader is Elder Riehle from Washington DC and he is only on the other side of town. Our district is like it's own mission because it takes so long to get to the next closest town. We have our own impress here, which means we don't need anyone to come and give us what we need. Us 8 are in our own world up here in Dunkwa! I love it.  Also, your letter has not come yet, but like I said, I have to be patient here in Dunkwa! So here are your actual questions:

1.  You said you would like to have some extra money.  Do you want me to send you some cash or just put some in your account here you an access on your debit card?
Definitely put it in my account please!! Don't ever send more than like $10 in actual mail or else it will get stolen. If they feel an envelope that's kind of heavy or has a lot of papers, they will open it. If you ever get the chance though, it would be awesome if you could send me like 5 one dollar bills to give to my companions, that is something that they all want to see is American money. But put them inside a letter though, something that can kind of conceal them! Thank you so much for everything!

2.  Did the 7 baptisms occur last Saturday?  It's crazy that there are so many people who want to talk to you that you have to avoid them.  I am sure that this is a problem that other missionaries would LOVE to have! 
Yes, my companion and I were able to baptize two of our investigators and our district as a whole had 6 people baptized! It was an amazing day that has a crazy story to it. We don't have a real font here in Dunkwa, but we have a large tarp and poles that we set up at one of our members houses, so that's where we had the service. It's not easy, but it was amazing! 

3.  If you haven't already, give us an update on the progress of the building.
We had our second Sacrament Meeting and we had a whopping 90 people attend church yesterday! That's better than some wards here in this mission. And we are a group! I did have to help teach Relief Society again though, which was sweet, but we now have assigned members for everything next week. Things are coming along!

4.  President Stevenson's blog said that the drive to Dunkwa was beautiful.  Have you been able to take many pictures?  Any scary creatures (like spiders)?
I do have some amazing pictures of the drive up here, but I am really having trouble sending pictures here in Dunkwa! Hopefully I can send one today.

5.  You said that Dunkwa has some rich people.  Have you seen many nice houses?  Are the houses in Dunkwa nicer (or better) than the ones in your other area?
It's way nicer than Nketsiakrom, but these homes are nothing like in America though. All the roads are dirt, but the houses are in compounds that seperate them apart from each other. 

6.  How is the Twi coming?  
My Twi is slowly progressing, but it's not easy to stay confident when your companion is fluent in it! Slowly it is getting better though :)

7.  Are you happy?  (And healthy?)
Yes, I am very happy and healthy, and excited to work another week here!
I'm sorry I don't have much time this week, our normal cafe wasn't working so we had to come here! Please forgive me. I love you all and am always praying for you.
Elder Degen

Monday, January 19, 2015

E-mail dated 1/19/15

Mom and Family,
Wow, this week has been absolutely crazy and I don't even know where to start! Thank you all for the emails, support and prayers. I'm lucky that I have an amazing family that I get to hear from every week (and amazing girlfriend...), I know I am so blessed. It sounds like it was an eventful week at home, and I agree it's hard to believe that January is almost over! Time has gone by so fast, and by the end of this transfer I will hit my six month mark. It's crazy!
To begin my adventures for the week, I think I need to go back to what I was doing at the beginning of my mission and tell you what happened day by day! After our preparation day last week, we had a service project on Tuesday morning instead of having district meeting. At the service project, we began to get our new building of worship ready for Sunday. The large home (Yes, it's somebody's house they are finishing, we rented the building for 3 years I think and the owner used the money to finish the house and get it ready for us) is still under construction, so we tried our hardest to move large beams, tiles and concrete and make it look presentable for Sunday. We were there for hours until we all realized it was 2 in the afternoon and we should probably get at least some proselyting in that day. Wednesday and Thursday were both semi-normal days, as we were able to visit with our baptismal candidates everyday and prepare them for the 24th! Friday, as Elder Bannerman and I were doing our studies, the area office called us and told us that we were receiving a large shipment of things for our chapel and that we had to go and unload them. We directed them to the building and unloaded 200 metal chairs, a pulpit, whiteboards, a desk, a sacrament table, hymn boards and manuals. Sadly, this time it was only my companion and I so it took quite a while and we were exhausted when we finished! The building was still covered with an inch of dirt and nothing was ready so we knew we would have to come back the next day. So, Saturday morning we met as a district again to mop (to no avail), put up the chairs, nail the hymn boards, put signs on classrooms (we wrote things likeRelief Society and Gospel Principles on cardboard and nailed them to the top of each room to direct people) and create temporary bathrooms because the building doesn't have water or lights yet. As we were doing all of this, a huge machine came to drill the bore hole for the building, right in front of the entrance. It was another exhausting day. We weren't able to proselyte a whole lot! Finally, the long awaited day had come on Sunday. President and Sister Stevenson came along with the assistants to witness how Dunkwa is. Well, it was a crazy day. After bringing all the sacrament trays, hymn books and fans from our apartment, we attempted to start our service. There was about 70 people or so in attendance (We have a lot of people investigating), but right at 9:00 the construction workers began to work again on the bore hole. Of course. We had to delay sacrament meeting for awhile until they stopped. We finally started and things went smoothly until halfway through President Stevenson's talk when they started the drill again. For the second and third hours, it was equally as interesting. I taught the youth class in the second hour and then relief society the third hour (Yes, I taught relief society). When church finally concluded at 1, President wanted us to do a district meeting while he interviewed all of us. So, we listened to instructions for a few hours from the assistants and Sister Stevenson before we all came back to our apartment and ate lunch. They fed us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with juice pouches and cookies!! It was absolutely amazing. President Stevenson posted pictures on his blog of the experience of the day, so check it out! I should be in there. Needless to say, it was an exhausting week!
Sorry that was so long, I should answer your questions now!
      1. Do you have a store close to your apartment to buy your food? 
 We have a market in our area and there are small provisional stores near our apartment, so we are usually pretty fortunate on food! By some miracle, there is a butcher here in Dunkwa and I was able to eat fresh beef for the first time in 5 months!
 2.I know you don’t meeting in a church building now, but did your buildings in Eishem and Nketsiakrom have pianos or keyboards in them?  Someone asked me today if you played the piano at all on your mission.  I told them “probably not”
 All the buildings have keyboards, but the power is rarely on so they aren't used very often. I have been to multiple meetings though where we have had great music played! Dunkwa has a battery powered one, so I hope we can start to use it next week. 
  1. Are you getting fed by any members in your new area?  About how many square miles would you say your area is? 
 We get multiple FM's every single day, it's hard to leave an appointment without being offered food in this area. I have zero idea how big our area is as I have never seen a map and it's the missionaries who divided the area. 
  1. Do you think one of the Elders will be called as a Branch President eventually or do you think there is a member there that could fulfill that responsibility?
 Right now, we have powerful members that we have recommended to President to become the branch president. That shouldn't be a problem. But, as of right now we don't have an endowed male member that is married, which means we can't have a bishop. A missionary will most likely not be called to lead here! Which is exactly what we want. 
  1. Our home teachers today gave a lesson on Patriarchal Blessings.  Did you take a copy with you?  If not, do you want me to send you one?
 I love patriarchal blessings. I really enjoyed the talk given this past general conference about living up to the promised blessings at all times. I asked you for a copy of mine in October, and I received it from you. Thank you again! I read it often. 
  1. How far is it to another area where missionaries are serving from where you live?  I am just wondering how far you would have to travel for say a Zone Conference or Zone Activity.  Do you have either coming up soon? 
Dunkwa is pretty much cut off from the rest of the mission. We are a near 3 hour ride from our zone leaders in Twifo Praso and if we take a car ten minutes north of our area we are in the Kumasi Mission. We have our own impress as a district and we don't go down for activities because we wouldn't be able to come back until the next day. Dunkwa is in it's own world!
  1. How many investigators are you working with?
 As many as we want. We have to find different routes and shortcuts just to avoid seeing people so we can get to our set appointments on time. Absolutely everyone here wants to be taught by us and it can be a hard task to keep up with everything! We do have a baptism of 7 as a district this Saturday, with two of our investigators being baptized. 
  1. Anything you need?  It’s probably about time to get a small package sent off isn’t it? 
Hmm... I don't think I need anything! To be honest, what would be helpful instead of packages is just a little bit of money every so often! I know how expensive packages are and the time and effort they take to get here. Even a small amount of money can go a long way here and it's always a great blessing to not worry about running out of sub. Anything at all is always greatly appreciated :)
Also, a random thing, there is a wealthy Utah man who lives next door who owns his own gold mining company and he comes to Ghana every few months or so to check on his company and acquire new land. His name is Eric Maglebee and he was a bishop at BYU and he currently lives in Alpine with his family. How crazy is that?? We were able to speak with him a few times this week and he is an interesting guy. I was wondering if anybody knows him?
Anyways, I should probably be going now, but i want to thank everyone for their emails this week. I love you all so very much and I hope that everyone is safe. 
Elder Degen

Monday, January 12, 2015

E-mail dated 1/12/15

Mom and Family,
Akwaabo! Ete sen? I hope everything is great at home and that the new year is treating everyone well. My email this week is going to have a lot of information in it, so I want to get right to the point because I do not have much time! So here it goes...
I have been transferred to an area called Dunkwa-on-Offin, and it is right on the border of Central and Ashanti Region. My trip from Nketsiakrom to here was long and tiring. We had to travel for hours on some of the dustiest and worst roads imaginable. Dunkwa is a mining town (gold is in abundance here) and the people can range from extremely wealthy to very poor. It's an extremely dusty area and very busy with a lot of large vehicles passing through. The Church has been here for a little over three months now, and I have been put on special assignment by President Stevenson to be a pioneer here (I'm serious, this is an assignment he have given to us). To explain, there is not a branch here, but we have a group. There are about 40 members on record here, but as we walk around random people will stop us and exclaim with happiness that they didn't know the Church had arrived here. We are finding members everyday and we are always looking for those familiar with the gospel. Because it is only a group, we have someone who has been designated as the group leader. No bishop or branch president, no quorums. They used to hold church in one of the members home, but then they rented a restaurant hall in town as there became more people coming to church. Sometime in the near future we are meeting in our new building, a house that the Area Presidency has found and rented for us while they find land for a chapel. The Church is in it's baby form here and I have quickly come to realize how lucky I am to have this opportunity to serve here. To get a grasp of how badly this area needs the gospel, the Elders who opened the area told me a story of how they were walking down the street on their second day and a woman came to them weeping, shouting "Elders of Zion, Elders of Zion!!" As they turned, they saw this woman in great happiness exclaim her gratitude that the Church had come to this part of Ghana. She is a member who was converted in Cape Coast and moved to Dunkwa years ago, but because of the circumstances she hasn't been to church in years. I have seen similar experiences in my short time here already and I'm so excited to further the work here.
My companion is Elder Bannerman, and he is from Accra. He opened this area along with Edlers Halterman, Moffit and Riehle. He can speak fluent Twi, so teaching these people is not a problem (probably the reason he's been called to open this area!). I am slowly learning Twi, but the language change from Fante to Twi is a little confusing! I have asked him to teach me Twi for a half an hour every day so I hope that I can pick it up quickly. I love him and I'm excited to serve with him!
To quickly answer your questions...

1.  How many wards and/or branches are you assigned to?  How many members?
Already answered.... To further explain, there are 8 missionaries assigned to this group, which foretells the vision that President Stevenson has for this area.

2.  What language is dominant in your new area?
All Twi.

3.  How is your new companion?  How many Elders do you live with?  Is the apartment comparable with the one you had previously?
I live with 3 other elders and this apartment is so extremely nice. Everything is tiled and very rarely do the lights go out. I am the only white elder living in this apartment, with two Ghanaian's and one Ugandan. 

4.  Did you get to take your washing machine with you?
The mission couple for this area, the Hanlon's, are bringing it up on Thursday! Hallelujah!!
I hope that all is well and that everyone is safe back home. I love you all and can't wait to here from you next week. God bless you!
Elder Degen

Monday, January 5, 2015


Gavin with Brother Mac-Arthy and Brother Buckman

E-mail dated 1/5/15

Mom and Family,

Hello everyone! Happy New Year from Ghana! It's been a fun week for me as I have been enjoying the ward parties and free meals! My companion and I are currently on a streak of being fed every single day for almost 2 1/2 weeks. I have eaten so much fufu and rice that I have begun to gain a little weight! It's okay though, as I have loved getting to know the members better and visit with their families. I love this ward so much and I'm lucky that I got to spend this holiday season as part of them! I have had so much fun, and I have really been graciously accepted by this area.

I was going to wait to answer this in your questions, but I figured I should probably do it in the body of my email so that I can tell you more about it! So here's the news... I'm being transferred!! I was not expecting it at all as I have only been here 4 1/2 months, but on Wednesday afternoon my companion got a call from the President saying that he is going to be training a brand new missionary and I am going to be leaving. I was devastated! I began saying my goodbyes immediately so that I could visit everyone. So, this week was a farewell tour for me, with many hard goodbyes and tears shed. I was able to bear my departing testimony yesterday and I managed to even say a few phrases in Fante! I found out on Saturday (the normal transfer news time) where I would be going and I found out I am going to Dunkwa! It's a small town on the border of Central and Ashanti region, and it's the furthest place north in my entire mission. It's a recently opened area, and a very desired one among the missionaries because I get to be a pioneer to that part of the world. I was so excited when I found out the news! My companion is Elder Banneman, and he is a Ghanaian. No longer with my teaching be impeded because of language! I can't wait to begin my service there, as I leave on Wednesday morning.

Anyways, enough with that! I think the rest of my email can be answered within your questions :)

1.  What did you do on New Years Eve?  Were you allowed to stay up late?
New Years Eve was fun, as the whole apartment killed a goat and ate it with pounded yam and light soup! It was actually really good. We all did not, however, stay up until midnight, as we were instructed by President Stevenson to go to be at our normal time. So I celebrated it in the morning at 7 when I knew everyone was celebrating in Utah! New Years Day was the funnest time though, as our ward had an amazing party at the church with tons of fufu and dancing. I got dragged up to the front of the crowd and danced my heart out! I'm definitely going to hide that video when I get home...
 2.  Are transfers this week? 
 3.  Tell me what happens on a typical Sunday?  Are they different from other days?
Well, for the past 4 months, we have had our church service at 10:30, so we would wake up at our normal time and then leave the house around 9 or so to go and pick up our various investigators! There are some days we walk from house to house with nobody willing to get ready to go. We go to the normal 3 hour block and participate in all the classes that normal Elders would attend. After church we talk with members for quite a while, setting up appointments with them for the rest of the week and then we head out for the rest of the day to proselyte. Normally we focus on seeing less actives on Sunday's asking them why they didn't come to church and what we can do to help. We have to return a little bit earlier than normal so that we can report our numbers for the week to our district leader and then we relax and get ready for P-day the following day! Sunday's are my favorite day of the week.
 4.  Any new investigators we could be praying for? 
The Badoe family. They are a sweet family that has been coming to church, but the struggle because the parents are always gone. I'm sure I will have a lot of names when I get to my new area!
5.  Anything you need?  Are you still healthy?  
I'm perfectly fine, thank you so much!! 
Well, I don't have much time this week, but I'm glad I get to email you all for the last time in Western Region! I love you all and I am praying for you every night. Thank you all for you prayers and support.
Elder Gavin Degen