Monday, August 31, 2015

Elder Degen, Elder Adu-Gyamfi, Elder Mocke

Elder Degen at a Slave Castle

E-mail dated 8/31/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Hello everyone, thank you all so much for your emails! I received some great birthday messages and I want to thank everyone for remembering me :) This is a weird email to send, because It will be my second to last from Ghana. That's sad to think about! But before I talk about that, I was happy to see that at home everything has been great and that everyone is enjoying their new routines. I hope that those who went back to school are enjoying it (there's some sarcasm hidden somewhere in this sentence) and that everyone stays safe. Thank you so much for all of your updates on home, by the way, I know I only comment very briefly on them but they really do mean a lot to me and I look forward to them every Monday!

My week was pretty eventful, as I'm sure you might have guessed from President Stevenson's blog! Wednesday was spent almost entirely in Agona Nkwanta (about 45 minutes away) for our Zone Conference. It was an awesome instruction from President Stevenson about working with members and we all left the meeting feeling a lot more confident in our proselyting! Then, two days later on my birthday, Elder Adu-Gyamfi and I traveled 4 hours to Cape Coast for a follow-up trainers meeting with all the new missionaries and their trainers! Before the meeting started though, my companion and I went on a tour of the Cape Coast slave castle and it was so cool! I have some amazing pictures that I wish I could send. I don't know if you have looked at pictures on the internet before, but it has quite an amazing story behind it. I was also able to buy quite a few souvenirs, which I have been slowly doing since I heard the news. So overall, my birthday was great! When I got back to the apartment in the evening, all the Elders dumped buckets of water on me by surprise (a Ghana tradition on someone's birthday) and then we all drank a few liters of Coke! It was awesome.

On Saturday, it was a bittersweet day. We had our candidates interviewed for baptism and Josephine's went so well and she easily passed. Hannah, was a different story. When we showed up at her house on Saturday she explained that her husband has been very unsupportive of her recently and she came out the previous night and explained it was because of her fellow shipping with the Church. It came as a surprise to Elder Adu-Gyamfi and me, so we immediately called President to ask him what to do. We all decided it would be best to postpone her baptism. I know she will be baptized eventually, but I'm sad I won't be here in Axim to witness it. On the bright side though, Josephine was baptized yesterday and I was able to be the one to baptize her! It was an amazing service and I was privileged to have one last baptism here in Ghana.

To answer your questions for this week!

1.  Any more word on your new assignment.  When will you be leaving, etc.
When I saw President Stevenson on Friday, he told me that I can take 2 bags and a carry on to Liberia and that my target date will be September 10th! That's about the only news that I received this week. In fact, if you were to look on the internet, I bet you could find out more information about my transfer than I could. That's kind of sad....

2.  Did you do anything to celebrate your birthday?

Yes, I hope that I explained it well enough in my recap of my week! It was a fun day!

3.  I was able to connect with a lady on Facebook who has a son that served in Liberia and was reassigned to your mission when he had to evacuate due to Ebola.  His name is Elder Price and I think he is from Utah County. Do you know him or have you met him?  His Mom posted an excerpt from his letter last Monday on Facebook where he talked about Liberia being reopened to missionaries and that he was sad that he was not returning (he goes home in a month).
Elder Price came to replace Elder Keetch in Praso, but I only met him in passing because I was leaving to Axim at that time! There are a few other Liberian missionaries left, but all of them go home in 3 weeks. 

4.  Did Hannah get baptized?  
Sadly, no :(

5.  Do you know if you need anything sent to you for your new assignment?  Don't be afraid to ask!!
Man, I don't even know, President Stevenson said the conditions are almost the same, with the exception that I will have to buy a pair of rain boots when I get there. I will let you know if I need anything else! Thank you so much.

6.  How does your companion feel about you leaving him part-way through his training?  
He doesn't know how to feel. Haha neither of us were expecting to be separated after only 5 weeks of being with each other, but I think he's accepting it more and more every day. He has adjusted extremely fast to the mission field and he's easy to love! I had some leftover birthday money and I sent some other Elders with money today to buy him a camera. He loves pictures, but he doesn't have a way to show his family that he's doing well! Thank you so much again to everyone who contributed to my birthday fund, it's done more than just bless me.

Well, I don't know what else to say! Thank you again to everyone who has supported me and remembered me in their prayers this week. I love you all so much and I hope that you all have a great and safe week!
Elder Degen

Monday, August 24, 2015

E-mail dated 8/24/15

Akwaabo! Mepa wo kyew mo ho ye? (Please, how are all of you?). I hope all of you are doing fine, sadly I didn't get to hear too much about yourselves because all of you only wanted to talk about me for some reason! I really hope that everything is going well back home and that everyone is safe and happy! Thank you everyone so much for the emails that I received this week. I was somehow hoping that it would remain a surprise, but I guess everyone already knows, so I'll jump right into my week!

After I finished emailing last Monday, Elder Adu-Gyamfi and I left Tarkwa and rode two hours back to Axim so that we could take Hannah to her baptismal interview the following day in Takoradi. Sadly, when we went to her house in the morning to pick her, we were told she was at the hospital. We went to the hospital, and someone told us she was at the hair salon. We went to the hair salon and no one had seen her. Thus began a massive Axim-wide search for our investigator! After walking around for 4 hours, we finally found her but it was too late to go to the interview, so the baptism will have to be postponed until this coming Sunday. I was sad, but I'm glad she'll still get the chance to be baptized soon! The following few days were pretty normal, and then Friday was my 1 Year Mark! All of those who came last August met up in Takoradi to renew our non-citizen cards and it was so fun to see all of my MT's! I have missed those guys so much. Elder Mocke was there helping us as well because he is the new Assistant, so it was a big reunion for everyone! On Saturday, Elder Mocke and one of the office elders came to Axim and slept the night, so we all threw a small party. As I was finishing my food talking to everyone, I heard my phone ring in my room so I ran to go pick it up. I was surprised to see President Stevenson calling at 8:15 in the evening, but I answered it simply thinking he wanted me to relay a message to Elder Mocke or something. It wasn't for Elder Mocke, it was for me. What happened next changed my life.

"Good evening Elder Degen, This is President Stevenson. I have some interesting and exciting news for you. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is modifying your mission call and you are being reassigned to finish your mission in the Liberia Monrovia mission." This was followed by a few moments of silence and then a lot of excitement from me! "You will leave sometime between September 1 and 15. The Quorum gave me criteria for missionaries to open the country, and you meet all of them. Congratulations!"

I was speechless. I really didn't know what to say or do. The only thing I can say now, is that I am extremely excited!! The news quickly spread throughout the mission. President Stevenson told me many more things, but I think I can answer them as part of your questions, so let me try and do that!

1.  Tell us about how you came to find out about missionaries returning to Liberia.  How many from your mission are going?  Do you know many that are? etc., etc., etc., etc.
I know I've explained a little bit, but let me explain more! President Stevenson told me that I will leave soon, but he doesn't know when. Someone new will come to finish Elder Adu-Gyamfi's training with him. He explained that all the Liberians serving in West Africa right now are returning to their home country (I think around 5 Elders, 2 from this mission) and that there will be a total of 14 Elders called to re-open the country being transferred from other missions. I was one of 3 from this mission to be called (out of 200 in the mission). He said that the 14 reassigned missionaries ( 5 Liberians + 9 others, including me) will make up the core leadership. There are 11 missionaries coming to the MTC soon, which brings the final total to the newly opened mission of 25 Elders. An extremely small mission, but a lot of room for growth! He also told me that Liberia in the past year has baptized more people than our mission. And they didn't even have missionaries! To calm some fears that you might have Mom, President said that there are still a few cases of Ebola there, but the Church will take great care of it's missionaries. They wouldn't send us there if it wasn't safe! I don't know quite what else to say. I wish I could remember more of what he said, but I was so shocked and excited that I can't remember everything. I soon started receiving tons of calls from other missionaries asking me to confirm if it's true that I was leaving! I'll be honest, I'll be so sad to leave Ghana, especially the people, but I'm so excited to go to Liberia. I know it's where the Lord needs me. 

2.  How was the baptism on Sunday?
Sadly it didn't happen!! This Sunday, though. 

3.  Did you receive the birthday package? 
Yes, Elder Mocke brought it to me on Friday!! After we heard the news on Saturday, I ripped that thing open and we all ate the candy together! I want to thank everyone so much for contributing. I know how much thought and time and money went into it. Thank the ward members as well, I loved all the cards and messages that I received! You guys spoiled me too much. I love you all!

4.  Were you able to buy a camera?  I am guessing by the decrease of money in your bank account that you able to find one or spent the money on something else (which would be totally fine as well).
Yes, I did! Thank you everyone so much for chipping in that money as well. I now have a nice new camera to take my last pictures in Ghana! I will be sure to take plenty.

5.  I haven't asked this for awhile.  What was your biggest challenge this week and your greatest success? 
Training a new missionary can always be a challenge, but most of the time Elder Adu-Gyamfi makes it very easy on me. He's very humble and willing to learn. My greatest success this week would be how hard him and I worked and the improvement that we have been able to see in our area in the past 3 weeks. We had 5 investigators attend church yesterday and 9 with a baptismal date! I was so happy to see this success after a few transfers of this area being very slow. That is my greatest success this week!

Well, I'm not sure what else there is to say! Thank you again to everyone for the prayers and support. The Lord has blessed me beyond anything I could imagine and I'm so grateful for the wonderful family and friends that I have back home. I love you all so much and pray for you everyday!
Elder Gavin Stewart Degen

Monday, August 17, 2015

Elder Adu-Gyamfi and Elder Degen

E-mail dated 8/17/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Thank you everyone for all of the emails that I got this week, it was fun to hear about the various camping trips, adventures and diseases that everyone has been having. I'm sorry that there has been so much sickness in the family recently!! I will definitely be increasing my prayers this week. I'm glad that overall everyone is still alive and breathing :) It's hard to believe that school is almost ready to start again as well. I remember school starting the day after I left last year and it seems like summer just began a week ago!

Anyways, I don't have too much to say this week! Elder Adu-Gyamfi and I worked extremely hard and saw a lot of success in our proselyting. We extended 5 baptismal dates in the past 2 weeks and all were accepted! We are so excited for what the future holds here in Axim. Training has been easy for me, as Elder Adu-Gyamfi is a superstar. He speaks the language, knows the culture, and most importantly knows the lessons. He said he would go with his return missionary brother (he served in Sierra Leone from 2011-2013) proselyting every day when he was home and he was also the branch mission leader. He came to his mission extremely prepared and I'm grateful that the Lord has paired us together! He's the one teaching me most of the time.

Today was an exciting P-Day though, as we had a zone activity in Tarkwa! It was awesome as we all got together and played.... wait for it... Basketball!! It was the first time since the MTC that I've played and it was so fun. The rest of the zone is sleeping here in Tarkwa, but my companion and I are going back to Axim tonight because Hannah, our baptismal candidate, is going to be interviewed by President Stevenson tomorrow in Takoradi and we have to go and pick her up! She's so excited to be baptized.

To answer your questions...

1.  Did you participate in the All Africa Day of Service?  I saw a few pictures on President Stevenson's blog?

Hahah about that... the Axim branch forgot to plan one! Our branch president never got the memo, so we weren't able to do it! The missionaries are planning our own though in the next few weeks, I'll let you know about it.

2.  Are you going to do anything to celebrate your "hump day" this week?  Like I told you before, it seems like forever ago that we were watching you go through security at the airport (remember they thought you had explosives on your hands) but I also can't believe that it has already been a year.  What are your feelings as you now have been gone a year?

This Friday, all of my MT's (slang for all the people that came in my group) are meeting in Takoradi to renew our non-citizenship cards! I'm so excited to see all of them, it's been a year since I've seen quite a few Elders. Also, Elder Mocke will be there and he will be sleeping in my apartment on Saturday night! I'm so excited. I can't believe that it was a year ago that I met him at the trotro station, confused and scared out of my mind. It's been an extremely fast year, but I've learned so much in the short amount of time that I've been out. It's a sad thing that it's half over!

3.  How do you study when you have personal study and companion study?  Do you study by topic, book, etc.  

Right now, I am studying chronologically in the Book of Mormon and using a study journal to record my thoughts and impressions as I read! As I've doing this, I've really been able to see how revelation comes to my mind. It's hard work! I also have committed myself to studying from Preach My Gospel every day of my mission, so that takes a portion of my personal study.

4.  Is the baptism still on for the 23rd for Hannah and Josephine?  Have you actually got to perform some of the baptisms of your converts?  

YES! Hannah is being interviewed tomorrow, and she is for sure for this Sunday. Josephine we have postponed for a good reason; her cousin wants to be baptized with her and we need to teach her the lessons so they can be baptized together! 

5.  Do you have any way of staying in contact with some of your new converts in your previous areas?  

Yes, I receive calls from my recent coverts occasionally! 

6.  Do you get as many free meals in Axim as you did in Dunkwa?  Do you get a chance to cook much?

Not at all. When I first came to Axim, there was a family that fed us often but after a strong wind blew over their kitchen, we didn't have any for a long time. But it's slowly getting better! I mainly eat rice and stew from the streets because it's super cheap and of course my companion loves Ghanaian food!

7.  It has been two weeks now since I mailed your package.  Any word that it has arrived?   

Yes, the office Elders (Elder Gasolo) texted me this week and told me it was here! I think I will get it on my year mark from Elder Mocke on Friday :) Thank you again so much.

I love you all and I thank you for everything that you do for me! I will be praying so much for safety and health at home. Have a great week!
Elder Degen

Monday, August 10, 2015

Attempting to play the keyboard

E-mail dated 8/10/15

Family and Friends.
Akwaabo! I hope that everyone has enjoyed their week! It sounds like it was busy back home with a lot of traveling, but I'm glad everyone is still alive and safe. I hope that everyone had fun, and I thank all of you for sending me your prayers and emails of support! I read every single one of them, and I wish I could comment on everything that you tell me. I love all of you so much and appreciate everything that you do!

This week was a crazy one for me, and it was full of surprises. Thankfully, they were all good surprises! To review the week though, on Tuesday it was a farewell tour with Elder Gasolo in Axim as he was saying goodbye to the branch members he has served around for the past 3 transfers. I could tell he was sad to leave, but he knew that being in the office would be a much better place for him to work through his injury. On Wednesday him and I went to the Takoradi station and said goodbye! Then I waited 4 hours for my new companion to arrive. When the tro tro got to the station, a ton of Elders got out and began looking for their new companions. I was expecting a fresh, new white American to come and introduce himself as my son, but I was pleasantly surprised when Elder Adu-Gyamfi came and gave me a hug!!! I'll take the rest of my email from your questions...

1.  Tell us all about your companion.  Where is he from, etc.?
Elder Adu-Gyamfi is a Ghanaian from Eastern Region! He is 23 and he joined the Church 10 years ago. He speaks fluent Twi and English and he knows missionary work very well. He doesn't need my help in too many things, in fact, he's been helping me in my desire to learn Twi! I'm so excited to be with him, and in the past few days we have worked hard and see doors open that were previously closed with some investigators because of the language barrier. It really is a great blessing to serve with a native in his own country, there's no we can't teach! I can't wait to see the growth that will happen here in Axim soon.

2.  I was a little surprised to see you sitting at the keyboard.  Have you have the opportunity to play much?  Grandpa would be so proud!!!!
Hahaha President Stevenson may have captured the only moment I have tried to play the keyboard my entire mission! I sat down to mess around and see if I could still play the right hand of some hymns, when President walked in! He snuck a picture of me and I didn't even know it. Thankfully other missionaries know how to play the piano much better than I do, so I haven't had to need to play yet!

3.  How as the baptism on Saturday?  How many were baptized and were any of them your investigators?  
4 people were baptized and it was a great service! None of them were our investigators, but Elder Adu-Gyamfi and I are planning on baptizing Hannah Bafful, and Josephine on August 23rd. 

4.  Are the other Elders in your apartment feeling better?  Do you have new Elders living with you now because of transfers?
The apartment is finally disease free!! We received two new Elders in our apartment, my companion and Elder Kalu from Nigeria! This now brings our apartment to: 2 Americans, 1 Nigerian, 1 Ivorian and 1 Ghanaian. Quite a diverse group of missionaries!

5.  I saw a picture of Elder Loader on the blog with Elder Hill (the medical adviser) just before Elder Loader went home.  President Stevenson indicated he was very sick last November.  What was wrong with him?  I don't recall where he is from.  I don't think he is from Utah.  If he is, I would love to meet him.
I love Elder Loader. That guy is one of my best friends! I called him before he went home last week and I would love to see him when I get home. He is from Redding, California! You may recall hearing of someone in November of last year who was in a coma for 3 days with cerebral malaria. Yep, that was Elder Loader! He almost died on his mission, and immediately when he woke up, he was asked if he wanted to go home. I probably would have said yes, but he said no, he wanted to finish his mission. I'm glad he did, because he's been one of my favorite companions!

6.  I forgot the name of the new language they speak in Axim.  What is it called and is it getting easier?  
They speak Nzema here in Axim and to be honest, it's a horrible language! I haven't even tried to learn it because most people can understand Twi anyways. They only speak Nzema in this small part of Ghana and I even had to teach my companion how to greet people! It's stupid.

Anyways, thank you everyone so much for you emails this week and the support that you have given me. I thank anyone who contributed for my birthday as well!! It means so much to me. I hope you all have a great week and that I can hear from you again next Monday!

Elder Gavin Degen

E-mail dated 8/3/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Thank you to everyone this week for the emails I received, they were amazing! I appreciate all of the unspoken prayers and support as I well, I can promise you they are being answered everyday. It sounds like things are exciting at home.  I was also glad that everyone in the family was safe and had a great week. It sounds like Josh was kept busy and that the Lord is blessing our family for the temple worship that you are doing back home. You're right, we are extremely lucky in Utah to have the opportunity to go to the temple so often! It's been nearly a year since I last went (and first went) and I would do anything to go back. I can positively say that the temple is the most beautiful, peaceful and clean place on this earth. I wish I could spend this whole email baring my testimony about the temple, but I have a lot of news this week!

This was an eventful week to say the least! On Tuesday the Axim district went to Agona (45 minutes away) and had our interviews with President Stevenson! It was a fun time, I'm glad you were able to see the picture on his blog! We returned home and made it home in the late afternoon, but in the evening I was surprised to see an incoming call from President Stevenson! He was calling to inform me that I have been called to be a trainer! I was so excited. I remember how lost and confused I was when I first came to Ghana, but Elder Mocke helped me so much. I can't wait to have that kind of influence on a new missionary's mission! The next few days of the week were eventful as well, because even though my companion's hip is doing a little bit better, half of the apartment fell sick this week! Wednesday and Thursday was kind of like "Who feels well enough to proselyte? Okay, come with me today!" I spent those two days on split with anyone who felt okay! On Friday I traveled a total of 8 hours(!) on a trotro to Cape Coast and back for a meeting with all of the other Elders and Sisters who were called to train. There are 21 incoming missionaries this week and 28 going home! It's a massive transfer. On Saturday we all listened to transfer news and found out the changes in the apartment and the mission. Elder Gasolo has been transferred to the office to better help with his hip! The other noteworthy news is that Elder Mocke is the new Assistant to the President! Both were exciting news. It was fun week!

I have more to say, but I think I can do all of it in my answer to your questions, so let me try! 

1.  How is Elder Gasolo this past week?  
He has been doing better! Like I said, he got sick in the middle of the week, but he really picked it up the past few days as he has been saying goodbye to people in Axim. I will be sad to see him go, it was a short six weeks!

2.  I see on President Stevenson's blog that you had interviews this week and a zone conference.  I saw a picture of the Axim district.  I wish you could see it so you could identify who is who.  I also saw you in a picture with all the new trainers.  Does this mean you are getting a brand new elder?
Yes, I am getting a brand new missionary on Wednesday! I can't wait. 

3.  Are transfers this week?  Has it already been six weeks since you arrived in Axim?
Yes, it has already miraculously been six weeks since I arrived in Axim! I can't believe how fast the time has gone this past transfer. Even though a lot of it was spent in the apartment, I enjoyed getting to know Elder Gasolo, meeting the members and proselyting on the beach!

4.  What is the progress of your investigators?
We have two investigators that consistently come to church that we are preparing to baptize! The 9th doesn't look too realistic with it being a transfer week, but we are almost for certain for the 23rd! Their names are Hannah and Josephine. Hannah is a woman in her early 30's and when her friend, Marian, invited her to the Church, she loved it immediately. She has now come to church over 5 times and she's so excited to be baptized soon! Josephine is a 16 year old girl, who is related to Victoria (another investigator) and Matilda (She's apparently the grandmother of almost the whole village in my area!). The only hard thing is that neither of them speak good English and we rely heavily on members to come and teach with us! 
5.  Has it rained this past week?  
Yes! It's raining right now for the first time in forever!! 

6.  Does the branch have strong members?  About how long have most of the members there been members of the Church?  I am assuming you don't see many who are middle age who have been members their whole life.  
The branch is growing, that's the best way to accurately describe it. Growing in size, yes, but mainly growing in their knowledge of the Church. The leaders are inexperienced, but the branch is functional, which is saying more than a year ago! The branch relies heavily on the missionaries, from blessing the sacrament, to cleaning the chapel, to teaching the classes. I think President Stevenson likes sending me to these types of areas! It's a lot of work, but it's all worth it to see the branch learn and grow together. We do have some long-time members (The branch has been here for around 20 years), but only 5 or 6 endowed members! You are correct, there is no one over the age of 10 who is a child of record. 

7.  Tell me anything else you think I might find interesting.  I always think about questions for you during the week and then when I sit down to type, I can't remember any of them.
Hmmm... Because of the sickness in the apartment, President Stevenson ordered all of us to deep clean our apartment today! We did, and it took forever. All six of us were cleaning for 4 hours straight and the apartment still looks almost the same. It's so hard to clean things in Africa!
I hope that I answered all of your questions! I want to thank you so much for sending me the package this week. I know that a lot of thought goes into every one and I can't tell you how appreciative I am of it! I have the greatest family. Thank you as well for the prayers offered (and fasts) on my behalf and I want everyone to know that I pray for you as well. I love you all so much! I will email you next week and tell who my son is (father-son is the slang in this mission for trainer-trainee). Be safe everyone!
Elder Gavin Degen
Fufu makes me poopoo (This is my new signature. Just kidding.)