Monday, April 27, 2015

Gavin at an orphanage

E-mail dated 4/27/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Good afternoon everyone! Thank you for your emails and words of encouragement this week. I was happy to hear that it's warming up in Utah and that everyone is slowly getting ready for summer! It sounds like everything is well and school is almost coming to an end. That's exciting! I'm looking forward to hearing about all the fun things that are about to happen. Keep me updated!

As for me, my week was a crazy one! It's going to take a minute to explain everything, but I'm going to try. So on Wednesday our district went to one of our recently discovered member's orphanage! He runs it by himself and he has about 4 orphans that he houses and takes as his own. We traveled for about 20 minutes north to get to his village and then we all helped weed his farm and plant coconut trees! It was a really cool service activity and I got some sweet pictures. I will try and attach one with the children! The rest of the weekdays were pretty normal, but on Sunday it was a different story. We had a district conference in Praso (about 2 1/2 hours away) and the branch hired one tro for the branch. Needless to say, there are plenty members and there wasn't enough room for the missionaries. We called President Stevenson to see what to do and he told us to find any tro we could and pay the guy as much as he wanted! So, all 8 of the missionaries hired our own car and made it to Praso for 300 cedis! They held the conference at a really nice school called the Forever Young School (apparently it's sponsored by Steve Young, but I don't know if that's true...). There were a lot of people there, and it was amazing to see the Priesthood advancement by some of the Dunkwa members, inculding my recent convert, Sarfo! He admitted to me that he is planning to go on a mission and I can't even describe to you how happy I was. Also, Abigail was in Kumasi (about 5 hours away from Praso) on Saturday evening, but she slept at the tro station, woke up, and caught a car straight to the conference. We were amazed at her commitment! The Lord really blessed Elder Loader and I this week, as we were able to put in 62(!) proselyting hours in the past 7 days. The average for the mission is 45. We are working well together and are really excited at the progress we are making!

I do have an amazing story to tell for this week though. I don't know if I have mentioned Brother Essien to you before, but he has become one of Elder Loader and I's favorite people in Ghana. He is the chef of the white guy who lives next to us and he has an incredible life story. He is a Ghanaian and was born close to Kojokrom (my first zone) and his mother lives in Eshiem. I knew her very well when I was there as she was the relief society president and easily the most powerful member in the village. When brother Essien got older, he went on his mission to the Ghana Accra Mission, which at that time (1993?) encompassed all of Ghana. He served for 3 years because of a shortage of missionaries and he went out un-endowed because there wasn't a temple in West Africa at the time! He had amazing success though as he baptized 211 people. I can't even imagine. He came home a powerful return missionary and began looking for a way to get money to go to school. He got cheated by a man who promised to help him and so he decided he would make his own way. He went down to Tema with a few other Ghanaians and stowed away on a ship going to Morocco. They traveled for over a week and when all of the stow-away's were getting out, they got caught and put in prison for 3 days by the Spanish government. They all were put back on a ship to Africa and they went back the way they came. As they sailed back home, the ship didn't stop in Ghana, but it went straight to Nigeria! All of the Ghanaians were stranded in a foreign country without a single penny to their names. Brother Essien split off from the others and went his own way, and as he was walking away from the port, he felt prompted to talk to a man  getting out of his car at a nearby parking lot. He told the man he was LDS and amazingly the man was a member. Brother Essien told the man his story and the man gave him some money to get to the Nigeria Port Harcourt Mission home. When he got there, the mission president didn't believe his story at all, but when he met the AP's one of them happened to be his convert from Ghana! So the mission president gave him money to stay with a member nearby and off he went. His first Sunday in his new branch, he met the two missionaries serving there and guess what? They were both his recent converts from his mission! They somehow directed him to a member who could find him a job. He wound up at the doors of the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria and he miraculously got a job as a security guard at the embassy. As he made friends with the diplomats there, one of the wives helped him fulfill his interest of cooking and sent him to cooking school as a part time job while he worked at the embassy. When he graduated, he was hired as a cook for one of the embassy workers and he soon found a wife and gave birth to 3 children. Sadly, the wife left him, and him and his children moved back to Ghana because he found a job in Dunkwa through the Embassy. When he got to Dunkwa, he got a hold of President Schulz' number and after a year or so, missionaries were finally sent up here last November. He remains one of the most powerful members I have ever met in my life and his family is amazing. His 15 year old daughter gave a talk in the district conference yesterday. He is planning to move to the U.S. in the coming years, and I would be thrilled if I met up with him later in life. I love the Essien's!

Sorry that story was really long... I'll now answer your questions!

1) I still talk with a few of my high school friends, but it's mainly Kyle! I receive his emails every week and I love seeing how he's doing in Paraguay. As for the others, I hear about them through other people or on their blogs!

2) Rainy season has started. It rains every day in the evening without fail. I thought the rainy season would be cooler, but I was wrong! It just makes it more humid!

3) District Conference was great. I think I already explained that one... But yes, the envelope did arrive with the debit card and IDL safely inside! Thank you so much. Sorry for the trouble that I caused. I'll give the license to the Hanlon's tomorrow and it will go to the mission home and never be used. 

4) One of our members is a police man and he is awesome. The police honestly don't do too much though... I'll tell everyone some crazy stories when I get home. To be brief, the police accept bribes of any amount, so they are pretty lax on some things.

5) I have not seen a single movie theater in Ghana. I don't think they have any... There are some American movies though that have been pirated from China that make their way to the streets! That's close to a movie theater, right?

6) I'm gathering a list of things that I need and I will try and send you what I have so far next week! Thank you so much.
Well, I thinks that's everything for this week. I hope that everyone stays safe and sound. Enjoy your week!

 I love you all.
Elder Degen

Monday, April 20, 2015

Elder Loader and Elder Degen

E-mail dated 4/20/15

Family and friends,
Akwaabo! Thank you everyone for your great news that you sent me this week and the emails that I received! I was happy to see everyone's smiling faces in the pictures I got this week and I laughed at how much snow Utah received! In Ghana it is now moving into our "cold" season where it rains everyday but doesn't seem to get any cooler.. it's weird how that works! It just seems to get more humid!! It's okay though, I will take this over the snow :) It was a really great week for me here in Dunkwa and it was all because of the work that Elder Loader and I were able to accomplish these last seven days.

So this past week Elder Loader and I have really been focusing on a girl named Abigail. She is around 24 and has a one year old daughter. She was married to an Italian guy and had her baby girl with him, and then he left her for some other girl in Ghana. She suddenly had no money and a child to care for. She's a very slim and tall girl, so she resorted to very bad things to make money. If I could tell you all the things she's done, you wouldn't think very highly of her. When I met her 6 weeks ago, she was desperate to change, but didn't know how. We invited her to come to church, and surprisingly she came that week. She had many questions at church and we told her we would come buy and discuss them with her. My goodness, this woman can talk!! Each of her lessons take around 2 hours because she can't keep quiet. We began seeing her more often and this week on Sunday marked her 6th straight week of coming to church. In the past 6 weeks, she has committed to living the word of wisdom, paying tithing and reading the Book of Mormon (Even though she can barely read). Slowly she has begun to change every aspect of her life and she is begging us to be baptized. She is scheduled to be baptized on May 9th and I have never been more excited for a baptism before. She has a long way to go, but I have faith she can make it by that date. There is absolutely no greater feeling than seeing the change in someone because of the gospel. I know I have said it before, but I can't say it enough. Missionary work is amazing!

On Saturday the branch combined with another branch in Praso (3 hours away) and had a combined YSA activity that somehow the missionaries got roped into helping with! The new branch really depends on the Elders though, so we were happy to go. There was actually a really good turnout, including Abigail, and it was a fun activity that lasted most of the day! Oh, and guess who is the YSA president and planned the whole event? My recent convert Matilda! Saturday continued to be amazing as brother Essien, the chef of the white man from Utah, fed Elder Loader and I fries, fried chicken, pizza, and banana bread! He is an amazing chef and his family is the most powerful family in the gospel. 

On Tuesday I had the opportunity to instruct my district and I spent a lot of time preparing for it as it was my first time instructing. I talking about Ministering and Administering and how we as missionaries need to both in order to be successful. To administer means to bring peace or order to something, or to present something officially. We can administer the gospel and especially the Priesthood to the many people that we serve. I used an example that Dad told me last week about how our Father in Heaven will not be disappointed that we overused the Priesthood, but that we underused it. Then, I focused on the meaning of the verb Minister, which means to attend to the needs of someone. Jesus came not to to be ministered unto, but to minister (Matt. 20) and we are called to do the same thing. I explained how we need to attend to the needs of our investigators in both service and the lessons that we teach. I closed the instruction by sharing Alma 22: 23-25. It explains that administering leads to peace, but ministering leads to conversion and I challenged everyone to attend to the needs of others this week. Elder Loader and I took the challenge and tried to do acts of service for our investigators and teach them the messages that they needed to hear, instead of teaching them in the set order of PMG. We saw amazing results.

To answer your questions!

1) Elder Moffitt is going home on May 15th or something like that and I will give you his contact information before he goes! I have a few other friends that go home in August that I will let you know more about when it gets closer.

2) The Julander's go home in June and they were my first mission couple in Western Region! I love them so much and I'm sad to see them go home. They live in Hooper Utah but I'm sure you could get their contact information from the mission site or something like that. I don't think I will see them again before they leave because Dunkwa is so far away from the rest of the mission.

3) We get an FM every single night without fail. We usually spend around 20 to 30 cedis on our groceries each week, which is only possible because we never eat dinner in the apartment. Only breakfast and lunch. We receive 280 cedis every 4th Monday (around $70). 

4) There are some areas in the mission that use bikes (I think like 2) and only the assistants and office elders use cars. Everyone walks every single day! The reason President Stevenson wanted everyone to get one is because he's sick of having the same office elders and assistants for long periods of time because no one else has an international driving permit. 

5) No sign of an envelope yet, but we are going down to Praso for a district conference this weekend so I should receive it there! I'm sure it's just waiting for me at the mission home.

6) Hmm... I think I told you we ate cat two weeks ago! I have snails often this time of the year in Palm nut soup, which is delicious. We are often fed disgusting meet, but they're not from crazy animals, just crazy parts of normal animals. Cow tongue and knee, pork fat, coat (the skin of any animal that they killed) and parts of grass cutters, which are just massive sized rats the size of small dogs. 

Thank you again to everyone who has emailed me this week and for your prayers and support. If anyone ever has questions, always feel free to ask! I love you all and I'm grateful I have the opportunity to be here in Africa serving the Lord. God bless everyone!

Elder Gavin Degen

Monday, April 13, 2015

Baptismal Candidates and Elder Louder

E-mail dated 4/13/15

Mom and Family,
Akwaabo! Medo mo (I love you all)! I'm so glad that everyone is doing well and that I was able to hear from a lot of you today. It was a pleasant surprise looking in my inbox! Thank you for your emails and your support, they mean a lot. I'm glad that the first week back from spring break was a success and that Josh is healing well. It sounds like things are well back home, and minus a few baths and sink washing, everything is coming along with the recovery. 

Thank you as well for telling me about the time that you were able to spend with Missy! I loved hearing that you talked with her for awhile and that she is doing well :) Also, I can't believe that people are beginning to get their mission calls! It was almost a year ago that I opened mine. It seems not that long ago to me! Please keep me updated on where people are going and when they leave. I would love to know.

As for me, I had a great week full of excitement and heartbreak as well. I will explain as I answer your questions!

1) The baptism on Saturday was amazing as we were able to baptize Theophilus, Amina and Evans. All of them are great and it was a huge blessing to have the privilege of preparing them for baptism. Theophilus was a referral from our relief society president and he is a very intelligent 14 year old boy. I love the kid so much and it was sweet to see him baptized. Amina, 16, is also a referral from the same woman, but Amina's situation was a little bit different. Her father is a Muslim and her mother is Christian. She had great desires to join the Church and her father was actually okay with it. He even attended the baptism of his daughter on Saturday! And finally Evans was a powerful baptism. When I first met him 3 months ago, he was so drunk he could barely speak. We taught him a short lesson while he was drunk and we didn't think too much of him. As we began to visit him more and more, his attitude changed and so too did his behavior. His wife began to yell and tell his he has reduced his drinking and that she is so happy we began to teach him. He began begging us to be baptized and, after he committed to stop the drinking completely, he was interviewed. His baptism on Saturday was one of the sweetest of my mission. The gospel is a gospel of change, I can promise you that. 

There was some disappointment though this week. Seth and Comfort were not able to be baptized for a few various reasons. The main one being that their marriage is deteriorating and we can do nothing about it. Seth is being very stubborn and today Comfort called us to tell us that he is leaving her. It has been such a hard thing to see them come so close to salvation and then lose it right when they needed it most. I have faith that if Seth would have followed the gospel he would have been able to repair his marriage and his family. I was beyond disappointed when he wouldn't trust in God. I have been through some very hard times on my mission and felt a lot of pains, but the greatest pain that you can experience on a mission is seeing people fail to keep commitments and begin to doubt what they once knew was true. Seth and Comfort need prayers at this time to help heal some broken hearts and and I am going to do all that I can to help them through it. 

2) Nope, the envelope has not arrived yet! The Hanlon's came up yesterday, but I don't think they had been to Cape Coast yet, so they didn't have any mail. I will be going to Praso on the 26th and President Stevenson is coming to Dunkwa on the 30th, so I'm sure it will arrive soon! 

3) Thankfully, I still have the washing machine. I should probably explain what it actually is though! It looks nothing like washing machines back home, but it works well nonetheless. It's maybe the size of a nightstand and it's just a large bucket of water with something at the bottom that spins the water around. There is also a spinner that spins the clothes for 5 minutes and gets them from soaking wet, to damp. I have been blessed so immensely by having one! Everyone in my apartment uses it and it saves all of us a lot of time. We are all able to give our full attention to proselyting during the week. God bless Elder Mocke!

4) We consistently have around 100 to 120 at our sacrament meetings, and just recently they finally completely all the painting at the chapel!! It is now an amazing building acceptable to worship Heavenly Father and administer the sacrament.

5) This was a good question. In all of our teachings with people, we are encouraged to extend a baptismal date the first time that we meet with someone. This gives them something to work toward. I have honestly never had a single person say no to an invitation to be baptized, it's just that many people don't fully understand what they are committing to until we explain it to them.  There are 5 missionary lessons in Preach My Gospel to teach people before they are baptized, but as missionaries we have the ability to teach what we feel will most help the investigator. I think the fastest I've seen someone be baptized was Matilda, and we taught her as many lessons as we could in a week. Really, if someone meets the requirements of D&C 20:37, they can be baptized! 

6) I have not seen any swimming pools in Dunkwa yet, but I hear that they are building one at a very nice hotel near our apartment. The people here play football, listen to music, go to bars (called "spots"), and go to church for recreation. Every single person is part of a church mainly because it is a place that they can meet with their friends and sing and dance to the music.

7) Elder Loader and I have a lot in common. Sometimes crazy coincidences. He has a family of 7; an older brother, older sister, younger brother and younger sister. He dated a girl named Missy for a year and a half. We like similar music and have very similar styles of dress. There are very few things that we can't relate to! It's been so fun getting to know him and I'm glad we are companions.

8) I actually do have a list of a few things that I would like sent, but I think I'll wait a few more weeks so that I can gather what I can buy here and what I can't. I am still healthy and very happy!

I can't believe that I am coming up on 8 months since I left, it certainly doesn't feel that long. I am excited for Mother's Day coming up and I have everything set up to Skype again! 
Thank you again for your emails and prayers this week! I hope that you all stay safe and remember the Savior in all things. I love you.

Elder Gavin Degen

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

E-mail dated 4/7/15

Mom and Family,
Akwaabo! I am sorry that this email is reaching you on Tuesday instead of Monday, but the lights went off about a half hour into emailing yesterday! So you'll have to forgive me. Thankfully the internet is good today and I have a little bit of time! It sounds like it was an eventful week at home. I am very relieved and glad that Josh's surgery went well and that the surgeons were able to accomplish it successfully. When I read how they did the surgery I cringed at what I read! I definitely have a new wave of appreciation for the healthcare that we have back home, because I know that surgery wouldn't be available for a child in Africa. Our family is very lucky. I'm glad that Heavenly Father answered not only my prayers, but I'm sure yours as well!

Sadly, I was not able to listen to general conference at all, and the only thing I heard about it was from your emails. It sounds like it was an inspiring conference though and that the spirit was felt strongly. I am very jealous! I will have to wait about a month or so until it is translated to Twi (very roughly, I might add..) and put on a DVD to be shipped to Ghana. A copy of the Ensign when it comes out would be greatly appreciated, as that is what I studied last October's conference in and I have been amazed at how great the talks are. Who knew that general conference was actually interesting when you listen closely? ;)

My week was very eventful as well, as you probably know! On Tuesday I said goodbye to Elder Bannerman and dropped him off at the Tro station, after which I went to be with Elder Moffitt (who dropped off his companion as well) for the evening. On Wednesday morning, while we waited for the two incoming elders, we all went to work on our chapel. We helped paint, weld, clean and build. Our building is coming along very well and it looks so beautiful now. In a few short weeks everything will be complete from a computer, to multiple toilets. We are very lucky the Church has provided us so much help in getting the Church started here! When we finished helping, we all met at the station to meet our new district members, Elder Loader and Elder Jones. I took Loader back to my apartment and Elder Moffitt took Jones back to his. We had the whole rest of the day just getting to know each other and to show Elder Loader the area. He is a great guy from Redding, California and we have a ton in common. A scary and coincidental amount actually. We have been able the last few days to be around each other and I'm really excited to serve with him. We always have something to talk about!
I'll tell you more about it in my answer to your questions, but for right now I want to tell you how grateful I am for this time of the year. On Saturday was the beginning of general conference, a time that every one in the world gets to be instructed by a living prophet of God. On Sunday we celebrated not only the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but also His atonement. Yesterday was the 6th of April, which is the birth of the Savior as well as the anniversary of organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (not to mention the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, in which thousands of people have enjoyed the blessings of exaltation including members of our family). This time of the year is very sacred and should not pass us by unnoticed! Something I love that President Uchtdorf has taught is that we can celebrate Easter every Sunday by partaking of the sacrament. We can remember the Savior's sacrifice and the blessings of the atonement every time we partake of the bread and water. I hope that we can all keep this spirit that we have felt this week with us for the rest of the year.

Now, to answer your questions! I was once again able to copy and paste them so I will try and answer them as best as I can so that everyone can understand what was asked. Here we go!
1) My week with my new companion was great! Elder Loader and I get along very well and we are both excited to be here in Dunkwa together. I have heard a few things about him before he came and I was excited to finally meet him. Elder Bannerman was transferred to Abura Dunkwa (kind of a funny pun actually... it's close to Cape Coast!). I'm glad we had the opportunity to be companions and I am very appreciative of all that I have learned from him. He is a great missionary and I will miss him!

2) Hmmm.. we didn't do anything too crazy for Easter, but it was so great to hear the testimonies of the branch members in Fast and Testimony meeting! We were fed an Easter meal (rice and stew!) by one of our recent converts and it was delicious. Mostly we celebrated Easter in our thoughts, which made it much more meaningful for me.

3) Yes, all of our baptisms are still on for this Saturday! We are planning for 5 candidates and they are all being interviewed tomorrow by Elder Riehle. I am so excited for Evans, Seth and Comfort, Theophilus, and Amina! They all were able to make it to church yesterday thankfully. It was Elder Bannerman and I who found all of them and I have a very strong connection with them. Prayers are greatly appreciated as they prepare to make this big step in their lives!

4) The recent converts are AMAZING! They are so strong in the Church. Matilda is now the adult Sunday school teacher (a convert of a month!!) and she is giving a talk this week! Sarfo has been proselyting with us and contributes to each lesson very powerfully. He has been given the Aaronic priesthood and he is patiently waiting to be ordained an Elder and receive the Melchizedek priesthood! I am so proud of their efforts and I am hoping that I will be able to hear of them receiving their endowments before I go home!

5) Sadly the envelope did not come yet.. I am hoping that it arrived safely and that it is at the mission home waiting to come to Dunkwa! I will email you as soon as I get it. Thank you so much for doing that for me.
6) Ah, my biggest challenge this week was change. For me, I am not a big fan of change and sometimes I dread getting out of a routine. Thankfully Heavenly Father answered many of my prayers this week and I was able to adjust quickly and develop a new routine. My sweetest success on the other hand was seeing the progress of not only my recent converts, but also my baptismal candidates. It was a great joy to see all of them at church on Sunday partaking of the sacrament. There's nothing quite like the joy of seeing people truly repent and find the truth. There is no greater success!
Thank you all for you emails this week and for your prayers. I greatly appreciate your love and I pray for you all everyday. I hope that everyone can have an enjoyable week and that everyone will be safe. Remember the Easter holiday and keep that spirit with you!
Elder Gavin Degen