Monday, February 23, 2015

E-mail dated 2/23/15

Ma wo aha! Good afternoon! Greetings from Dunka, Ghana. Thank you to everyone who emailed me this week, I loved hearing about things at home! I'm sorry about today but I won't be able to reply to very many people as I am very pressed for time right now. But, I will do the best that I can! Anyways, it sounds like everyone had a safe week, I can't believe that the school year is flying by with all these activities. Pretty soon it will be summer again! (Well it still feels like summer to me here in Ghana...) Time is flying by. 
This week was an interesting one as there was a lot of work done by Elder Bannerman and I! we taught over 30 lessons in the past 7 days and experienced some great success. We were able to see Sarfo and Augustina every day and they both passed their baptismal interviews on Friday! I love both of them so much and I can't wait to see them make their first step towards salvation on Saturday. Augustina is an amazing woman and is very intelligent. She loves listening to the gospel and it's so sweet to see the change in her from the first time we met her 4 weeks ago. This gospel is one of change, I can say that for sure! She is now so excited to make a covenant with God and begin her life anew. Sarfo as well is a powerful guy. He takes notes as we teach him and he has contributes a lot during classes at church. They both passed their interviews with flying colors. Sarfo's uncle, Brother Ayitey, will baptize both of them on Saturday. There was something crazy that happened this week though as a woman that we know begged us to baptize her on the 28th. She has come to church for some time, but is always busy with work which makes it difficult to teach her. As of Friday she had only been taught the Restoration. But she began begging us this week and so Elder Riehle called President Stevenson and asked him what he thought. President said if she meets the requirements in D&C 20:37, then baptize her. So... In the period of one week, we are going to teach her all the lessons, interview her and baptize her! Bringing our total to 3 baptismal candidates for Saturday. The Lord has truly prepared this area for Elder Bannerman and I.
The blessings continue to be poured out upon us here as we received news that President Stevenson will be coming to organize the Dunkwa branch this week on Saturday and Sunday!! So he will witness our baptism and then interview the priesthood holders to choose a branch president (with a lot of input from the missionaries...). We are all so excited to see this area take this step! In the few short months that I've been here, I've seen it go from worshiping in a restaurant to becoming a branch. The Lord is hastening His work! Keep a look out on President's blog this weekend.

As for your questions this week, they weren't able to copy for some reason but I will still answer them as best as I can!
1. Yes, the baptisms are still on schedule for Saturday! We can't wait!
2.  Yes, there is a large river on the northern side of town called the River Prah. Dunkwa-On-Offin is a small town in the middle of absolute bush! Every single direction you look is just jungle. I love it.
3. It rains small small but nothing too bad yet! I just realized that I said "small small".. That's a very common Ghanaian phrase that every one says! It stems from the Twi phrase "kakra kakra"
4. The Twi is picking up! Because my companion can speak it, I am learning a lot more than I would have on my own. Sadly, Twi isn't Elder Bannerman's language (His is Ga) so he can't explain some things to me. But I have definitely learned the principle of line upon line and precept upon precept when it comes to the gift of tongues!
5. No peanut butter, no mac & cheese, no burgers (no meat besides fish in general..). It's a good thing rice is delicious as this is what I have eaten everyday since I came to Dunkwa! The Africans in my apartment cook a different stew everyday and we all chop it for lunch. We get an FM for dinner every single day!
6. We find lizards on the walls, centipedes in our bedrooms, cockroaches in the kitchen... Nothing too crazy! Oh, I did eat a snail this week though! They are much better than they sound, I promise.
Well, I'm excited for this week and I hope that everyone back home has a great week as well! Please be safe and know that you are all in my prayers. If there is ever anything you want to know, feel free to ask! I'm happy to help in any way possible.
I love you all, I'll try and send pictures next week! Yebe shia (We will meet)!
Elder Degen

Monday, February 16, 2015

E-mail dated 2/16/15

Mom and Family!
Akwaabo! Greetings from Ghana! Thank you all for your wonderful emails this week. Your emails did find me safe and sound and very happy! I had a great week and it sounds like everyone else did as well. I can't believe that high school basketball season is already coming to an end! It's been two full years since I played for Murray, that is crazy. It certainly doesn't feel like that long at all. It also sounds like everyone had a nice Valentine's day as well! 
I know I don't comment enough on things in your email Mom, but I really do appreciate all the things you tell me every week. I love hearing about the ward back home and the news of other missionaries. One of my favorite things you do is sharing with me what you are teaching that week, it always reminds me how lucky I am to have a mother that is so strong in the gospel.
As for me this week, it has been sweet! Monday we had a powerful family home evening with one of the strongest members I have ever met. Sadly, Elder Okwii ended our night a little early as he accidentally sprayed some tear gas inside the room, which quickly evacuated everyone! Don't ask why our member has tear gas.... On Tuesday all 8 of the Dunkwa Elders loaded up in a trotro at 6 a.m. and made the 3 hour journey to Twifo Praso on the worst road imaginable.We had a combined district meeting with the rest of the zone and then we hopped back on a tro and came back to Dunkwa. Yeah, we didn't proselyte too much that day! But Wednesday through Friday was normal as we were able to teach around 5 lessons or so each day and we met some pretty amazing people. Saturday was our "date" with a recent convert and she fed all 8 of us an amazing rice and stew (the pizza fell through..) at her restaurant! Later that evening was transfer news and we all found out that we will be staying together for six more weeks! Sunday was sweet as well as we all celebrated the birthday of Stephanie, the girl that Elder Bannerman and I baptized last month! It was a fun week spent with members and other missionaries.

I don't think I've even mentioned, but we are having another baptism next week on the 28th of February! Elder Bannerman and I have been blessed to have two people who have prepared themselves for that date. One is Sarfo Ayitey and he is in his early 20's. His uncle is a powerful member and lives with him! Sarfo has come to church for months now and we have finally taught him all the lessons. He is a sweet guy and I can't wait to see his Uncle baptize him next week. Our other candidate is Augustina and she is an amazing woman. She hasn't gone to church in a year (which is surprising in Ghana) and she has a small girl around 1 year old named Gillian and she is adorable. We helped her pound fufu around a month ago and she wanted to hear our message! She responded really well and the next time that we came she said that she felt that a big change was about to happen in her life. We immediately extended her a baptismal date and she accepted. She has come to church and she is being interviewed on Friday!! I am so excited to see her become a member of the Lord's Church.
Anyways to answer your questions!

1.  How do you feel know that your mission is 1/4 of the way through?  You have got to be very proud of what you have in accomplished in just a few short months.
Wow. My mission is going by way too fast. I can't believe how fast it has come and that it is already a quarter of the way done. I am proud of the things the Lord has been able to do through me. For me, I haven't done a single thing, It's been Heavenly Father using me as His tool and that's the greatest calling I will ever receive.

2.  How many investigators are you teaching?  With there being few members in your area, do the members come with you to the lessons?
We get very few member present lessons in this area as we don't have too many members to work with. Thankfully a lot of the people we are teaching are part-member families though, so that is always a blessing!

3.  Very interesting what you said last week about you and your companion looking for land for a Stake Center.  Is this normal for missionaries to take on this responsibility?  I would think they would send someone from Accra or somewhere to do that.
This is not normal at all. But President Stevenson has given us great responsibilities here and given us all the authority for the area. It's pretty much like our district leader is the Group President for the members and the Mission President for us missionaries. It's crazy!   

4.  How is your "Group" organized?  Can your Group Leader issue callings and are people sustained?
We don't have callings because we don't have the authority yet, but we have given people "assignments" to keep them active. The keys to administer the sacrament have been given to us by the branch that is over us in Praso. Very soon we will have a branch though!

5.  Is there anything you need?  I am going to send you an Easter box (probably just a small one) here in a week or so. 
Wow, anything at all is much appreciated. Candy bars are always amazing. I will definitely let you know next week if I can think of anything.
Well, I think that is all for this week! My time is running out here but I was able to attach a picture! Let me know if you get it. I love you all and I hope you have a great week! Please be safe and God bless you.

Elder Degen

Monday, February 9, 2015

E-mail dated 2/9/15

Mom and family,
Waapume? (How is your health). Nyame na adom me ho ye! (By God's grace I am fine). I hope all is well back at home and that everyone is safe and sound! From the sounds of your emails, you may have gotten sunburned this week in Utah! To be honest, 70 degrees sounds kind of cold to me right now... Especially with no humidity!! Haha it sounds like everyone is doing great though and your enjoying the warm winter!
This week for me was actually a lot of fun! Elder Bannerman and I continue to talk with everyone in hopes of finding new members and during the week we found my former ward mission leader from Nketsiakrom (his name is Ebenezer) and his father! It was crazy! I love that guy. I was able to go on slits on Friday with my district leader, Elder Riehle! He's from Washington DC and we became really good friends during our day together. He speaks really good Twi! I learned a lot from him. 

Church this Sunday was hectic as always! We didn't have quite as many people there this week because the only road to get to the chapel by car was blocked by a large truck that tipped over because of the mud (and then somehow another car tipped over on top of that one... Don't ask me how. It's Ghana.) We didn't get discouraged though, we held sacrament meeting anyways! Our group leader was in Kumasi yesterday though, so the missionaries had to preside and give all the talks, teach the classes and administer the sacrament! It wasn't easy, but we managed. We did get a phone call from president this week that we need to start looking for land for a future stake center here!! Elder Bannerman and I have begun to start negotiating with land owners and chiefs to acquire some land. I will keep you updated on this! Also, for the past few Saturdays we have been helping a family in the group build their new house! It's been sweet to see the progress each week, I will attach a picture if it ever gets finished.

So to answer your questions for this week!

1.  Are the renovations on the rented house/church building all done?  That is so awesome that you had over 100 at Church last week?  How big is that house? 
The land owner has not done a single thing since that day that the mission president came. We still don't have lights or water at all. We have to clean it every Saturday because it's really dusty here in Dunkwa! It's a really large home for Ghana, enough to fit a small branch in. Soon, we will need to look for another rented temporary building to fit everyone!

2.  You have 8 in your apartment, right?  How big is it?  How many bathrooms?  

There is 4 of us in this apartment, 4 in another one on the other side of town! It's 3 Africans and one American in my apartment and 3 Americans and one African in the other apartment. It's interesting being the only white person in my apartment! It's a small apartment with only one bathroom, but everything is tiled and it's really nice.
3.  I know you have described a typical "P" day before, but in this new area, what do you do on "P" day?  
This is something that hasn't changed too much! We relax a little bit, do a deep cleaning of the apartment, go to the market, email, come home and go to FHE! We're always busy, even on Mondays!

4.  Did your washing machine get delivered?
Yes! When president came the assistants dropped it off. I have been using it no problem, as well as everyone in my apartment. It's a great blessing!

5.  Did the letter and newspaper clippings I sent in January ever catch up to you?  
Yes! Thank you so much! I loved reading the letter and hearing about the Utes and the Jazz back home. It reminded me how much I don't like Brad Rock from Deseret News as well. He's a BYU homer!

6.  Do they celebrate Valentine's Day there?
We are going to!! The rest of Ghana doesn't really, but one of our Recent Converts is taking all 8 of us on a "date" to a nice hotel and we're buying Pizza!!! I'm so excited.

Well, I hope everything is great back home and that everyone has a safe week!! I love you all. 

Elder Gavin Degen

Monday, February 2, 2015

Baptismal Font

Welcome to Ghana!

E-mail dated 2/2/15

Mom and Family,
Well, another week (and month) has passed here in Africa and I'm still alive and doing well! I can't believe that it's already February. My first transfer here in Dunkwa (Doonk-wow) has really flown by as I have been insanely busy here. It sounds like everyone is busy back home as well! I was glad to hear about the Jazz and the Super Bowl. I hope everyone had fun and ate a lot of good food for me! I was excited to hear that you were able to meet Elder Von G. Keetch this week, I'll tell you more about his son in a minute! 
This week was somehow the most normal week I've had here in Dunkwa, which has been nice. No fonts to put together, no drills being used during sacrament meeting, no crazy disputes we've had to settle. It's been good! This week at church we broke the 100 mark which was really exciting. The amazing growth that we have seen has been incredible. The Lord has prepared this area for us and we are thinking that before we leave here Dunkwa could become a district. We are anxiously looking forward to that day! President said that our papers to become a branch have been submitted and that it now needs to be approved in Salt Lake before it can be sent back. He said it could take up to 90 days, so we will have to see! 
As an apartment we were invited to a random man's pig farm, so we gladly went on Saturday morning! It was crazy as he showed us his hundreds of pigs that he keeps in pens. It's actually very well kept, which was surprising! We are trying to buy one to kill and eat, so I will keep you posted on that. I will try and send pictures when we eat it!
Now for your questions...

1.  Did you get to meet Elder Keetch a few weeks ago?  Is he your Zone Leader?
Yes, I rode to the Praso Zone with Elder Keetch and he is my Zone Leader! He came here to Dunkwa last week for mutual and stayed the night. I love him! He's really tall, and I have known him my whole mission. He was in the zone right next to me back in Nketsiakrom, so we would always see each other at combined zone activities. That;s crazy that you met his parents! On a similar note about homecomings, Elder Pearmain is coming home in a few weeks (my old ZL who went to Murray). I don't know how you could find out when his homecoming is, but I thought you might be interested as well!

2.  The Stevensons indicated on their blog in a post from yesterday (Saturday) that there has been a few down pours this week.  Has it rained a lot where you are?  I am assuming that even during the dry season you can get a few good down pours.
We had a little bit of rain here in Dunkwa, but not too much! It rained just enough to clear the inches of dust on the tin roofs, but not a whole lot. I wish! 

3.  Does everyone speak Twi or do most people also speak some English?  Does Twi have English mixed in with it so you can sometimes understand what is being said?  
Everyone speaks Twi, but some people can speak both English and Twi. You can easily mix in English words with the Twi, but it still doesn't make sense when the only English word is "different" or "small". It's coming along though!

4.  Does your companion also speak fluent English?
Yes, he's from Accra and he's very well educated. He's studying animation in college and wants to go to BYU (but every member in Ghana wants to go to BYU...)

5.  Are you sleeping well at night?  
YES! I'm so tired I don't have the energy to stay awake.

6.  You seem to be more limited on time to e-mail in Dunkwa.  Is that because the internet is slow or because you are so busy and don't have as much time to e-mail? 
Sadly, both. The internet isn't great and I have much less time than in Takoradi. But I am learning to manage my time better! Please forgive me if my emails are short.
I love all of you back home and I hope you are all safe and sound. Thank you for everything that you do for me. God bless you!
Elder Degen