Wednesday, September 30, 2015

E-mail dated 9/29/15

Family and Friends,
Helloo everyone! I'm sorry I don't have much time today so I'm skipping straight to your questions so that I can hopefully summarize my week! Please forgive me anyone whom I can't reply to today. I love you all.

1.  Does Elder Ibe speak English?  What is his native language?  
Yes, he speaks perfect English, but his native language is Ebo (I think that's how you spell that).

2.  What do you do in the evenings since you have to be in by 7:00 pm? It is against mission rules to have investigators come to your place to be taught?
Yes, it is strictly against mission rules to have anyone who is not a missionary in the apartments. Normally we have time to study and just hang out as an apartment! 
3.  Did the baptism take place on Saturday?  
Yes, Elder Ibe and I baptized 7 people and we baptized 15 as a branch on Saturday! It was amazing! Here are the names of the 7 that I taught and baptized:
Alice Quemie
Morris Goanue
Cecelia Goanue
Mama Gbayee
Rose Belleh
Yarkpazuo Moore
Mama Moore
I have grown close to all of them and I was so happy to see them progress in the gospel. We have another baptism planned for the 10th of October and then another one on the 17th! I will keep you posted on who we get prepared.

4.  With all the people who want/need to hear the lessons, can you do a lesson with more than one investigator?
Yes, we can! We are turning our focus to teaching families now that we have narrowed down some of those that have been waiting to be baptized who have been coming to church for months. Thankfully the branch missionaries proselyte with us everyday and help us with everything!

5.  Do you meet in a church-owned building or is it rented?  Is it bigger than the ones you met in in Ghana?
We meet in a rented building and it is much nicer than the buildings I had in Dunkwa and Axim, but not as nice as the one in Nketsiakrom because that was a standard chapel that the Church had built! Very soon this branch will have it's own building with the way that it's been growing. My mission president also suspects that within the next 6 months the first stake in Liberia will open in Monrovia. I'm praying that will come to pass!

6.  About how much rain did you get this week?  Does it rain every day all day or just part of the day?  Do you get to see the sun much?
It rains every single day and we proselyte with rainboots and umbrellas most days. The sun comes out for a few hours each day though!

7.  Any mission/district/zone activities coming up?  I would assume that this would be more challenging as there are not very many of you in the mission.
I think there might be a football match coming up with a few other Elders and the branch missionaries in my branch!! I will let you know if it ends up happening.

8.  Do you know what the plans are for growing the number of missionaries?  Will this be a gradual process or will all of a sudden you get a huge influx of missionaries?  
It will be a gradual process. I will probably never see the mission exceed over 100 missionaries, but I know that in the next few transfers President Carlson is planning to open a few more zones to accommodate the arrival of those that are doing their training in Cape Coast and Accra right now and the new missionaries. I think by the end of 2015 we should have around 50 missionaries or so. 

9.  Are you healthy? :)
Yes I am perfectly healthy! Before I forget though, about the address to the mission home. Anyone who wants to send me anything needs to follow the following guidelines if you want the package to make it safely to me!
-Write a very very general description of the items inside the package.
-Do NOT declare the items to be over $50 total. Lie if you have to.
-Put pictures of Jesus on the package.
-Write "Missionary Supplies" on the side.

This is what the Hezseltine's instructed us to do!
I hope that you all have a great week and I'm sorry for the short email!
Elder Degen

Monday, September 21, 2015

Before leaving Ghana

Elder Degen and his new companion, Elder Ibe

E-mail dated 9/21/15

Family and Friends,
Huhlooo! (That is how they greet here in Liberia) Well, this week I received quite a few emails and a lot of questions from people just like I was expecting! I want to thank everyone so much for your support and your emails. I read through all of them and I love hearing from each of you. It sounds like it was a fun week at home and I'm glad that everyone is safe and sound! I'm also glad that I received some pictures for the first time in a while from some of you! I loved looking at all of them and I hope that you receive the ones that I am sending today. 

I wish that I could comment on everything that you told me, but I don't think that's possible! I'm glad I was able to hear about all of it though. My week was pretty busy as well! Okay, that's an understatement. I don't even know how to explain what has happened this past week. Let me try and take it one by one! So Wednesday I received my new companion in the afternoon (I will tell you more about him in answering your questions!). The rest of the week was spent proselyting with our branch missionaries! We had so many people to teach and so many referrals that we didn't even know where to begin. We have now narrowed our teaching pool to about 7 or 8 people who are going to be baptized on Saturday! I wish I could name them all one by one, but I will try and do that next week. Yesterday was a crazy day. When we got to church, we had 18 investigators there, almost 8 of them who we have never even met before! The branch missionaries have been teaching them andall of them want to be baptized. We can't even keep up with everything! On top of that, our branch president handed us the list of 16 people who were baptized in the previous year during Ebola and who need to be taught the lessons again. I have a lot of work to do!

Sorry that was so scattered and unorganized... I'm a little pressed for time right now, but I'll do my best to answer your questions!

1.  Tell us about your new companion, where he is from, etc.
My new son is Elder Ibe from Nigeria! He is a sweet guy and I'm so excited to work with him for the next few months.

2.  Were you able to get your apartment cleaned and the things purchased for it that were needed?  How many Elders are in the apartment?
There are 4 elders in this apartment and we are doing our best to get everything together! Our apartment is still missing things like mirrors and hangers, but we're managing without them. Nothing is a necessity here in Africa!

3.  Have you noticed a big difference in the food from Ghana to Liberia?  Is your stomach adjusting?
The food is different, but not too much. Just a lot of rice. I miss Ghanaian food so much! I've been looking for a chop bar that sells Fufu but I have had no luck yet. But, the potato greens on rice here in Liberia is so good!

4.  How did the teaching go this past week and how was Church today?
It was amazing! We taught a lot of lessons and I already explained how crazy Church was yesterday. 

5.  I read on someone's blog (I don't remember whose) that there was a lot more "American" items available in Liberia such as candy, deodorant, etc.  Have you found this to be true?
That is true! I have found a lot of things, but everything here in Liberia is so expensive. Everything in Ghana was so much cheaper, from food to imported goods!

6.  I also read somewhere that all missionaries have to be in each night by 7:00 pm.  Is this true?  Eric said that he had the same rule when he was there.  I would assume that from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm is some prime teaching time.  What do you do in the evenings in your apartment since you can't be out teaching?  What time does it get dark there?
It gets dark around 7 here and when I say dark, I mean dark! The power is very bad here in Liberia and there are no streetlights. I'm still trying to figure out what to do with all the time that I have when I get back in the evenings! 

7.  Were you give some rain wear (rain boots and coat)?  I heard from Sister Peterson (Eric's friend who served a mission with him Sierra Leone) that there was major flooding in Sierra Leone this past week and several people were killed.  I've seen pictures of missionaries in Liberia wearing rain boots that come up to almost their knees.
Yes, the first day that we arrived at the mission office they gave us a pair of rainboots and an umbrella! We definitely didn't have those in Ghana. It rains so much here compared to there!

8.  Are the people hard to understand?  Do they most/all speak English?
I spent a year of my life trying to slow down my English/speak Twi so that people could understand me in Ghana. Now, I need to learn how to speak faster and the worst grammar possible. Nobody can understand my Ghanaian accent here! And I'm hard-pressed to understand them as well. I've concluded that they've turned all words into sound effects. I wanted oil and apparently it's "Ahh". I want to order rice and apparently is "Rie". It's like they don't say the last half of their words!!  

9.  I was able to find online an address of what I think may be the mission home where we can send stuff to you.  This is what I have and please confirm if you know if this is correct:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
PO Box 1905
1000 Monrovia, 10 Liberia
West Africa
Thank you all again so much for your emails and your support this week! I love you. I hope that I can hear from you again next week! I will try to send plenty pictures of the baptism on Saturday!
Elder Degen

Monday, September 14, 2015

E-mail dated 9/14/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! This may be the last week that I begin my email like that, because I am no longer in the beautiful country of Ghana. I made it safely to Liberia everyone!! I want to thank you all for your wonderful emails and your prayers this week, they were much needed. As you can guess, I received lots of questions and I don't have time to personally reply to all of you so I'm going to try and be as detailed as possible in this email! I hope that you can all forgive me for the next few weeks if I don't reply to your emails, just know that I am trying :) 

Well, I don't even know where to begin. I think I can take it day by day so that I can be able to explain everything. So, on Tuesday, it was an insanely busy day. We had an MLC report in Agona (45 minutes away from Axim) in the morning where I said goodbye to all of the missionaries that I have served around the past 2 transfers. After it was finished, Elder Adu-Gyamfi and I continued onward to Takoradi to go to the Stake Patriarch for an interview for my companion. While I was in Takoradi, I got a few last minute souvenirs and then we traveled the hour and a half back to Axim! We got home around 7:30 and then I began packing, writing in people's journals, taking pictures and so on. I was up much later than I should have been!

On Wednesday morning, I took my bags to the station and said goodbye to Elder Adu-Gyamfi. It was a hard goodbye! Even though we had only spent 6 weeks together, it's hard to describe the relationship a new missionary has with his trainer. You know how I feel about Elder Mocke! After 3 and a half hours and 2 trotros later, I arrived in Cape Coast. The office elders came and picked up my bags from the station and then Elder Wight and I explored Cape for a few hours! We got some awesome things at the castle and we met back at the mission home at 5. After waiting for our other outgoing Liberia missionary (Elder Treadway), we had our last fufu!! Oh my gosh it was so good. President Stevenson then gave us a small orientation/farewell and we had a departing testimony meeting. It was emotional for all of us! After talking and having fun in the mission home for awhile, we went to the Assistant's (Elder Mocke and Larsen) and slept the night.

We all woke up the following morning at 4 and began our journey to the airport in Accra! We arrived around 8 with some time to spare, so Elder Mocke showed us what civilization looks like. He showed us the mall, and the KFC there! I haven't seen things so developed in a long time. The bathrooms even had those hand-dryer things. After arriving at the airport, we took all of our bags inside and met up with a few of the other reassigned missionaries from Ghana! After a few long lines and filling out forms, we were to the terminal and I had to say goodbye to Elder Mocke. Another hard goodbye! At 12:45 p.m. our plane took off with 8 missionaries inside. Our flight first went to Freetown (we were in Sierra Leone for about an hour) and then we flew into Monrovia. We arrived around 3 and we were met immediately by our new mission president, President Carlson! I also met the Hezseltine's at the airport! We all loaded our luggage into the cars and drove an hour and a half to the mission office. After an amazing meal (deli subs), we all were so tired. We quickly showered and got ready before they shut the generator off!

Friday morning, we got our new assignments! We were all pulled into President Carlson's office one by one and were told our news. I am assigned to the Paynesville first branch, and I will be training a new missionary! I didn't really know what to expect because I am brand new to the mission/country, so I was eager to get out and work. The new missionaries will arrive on Wednesday, so I was assigned Elder Sirleaf, a native Liberian, as a temporary companion. We were taken to our apartments around 4 and we realized we had a lot of work to do. These apartments haven't been occupied in a year, so we had to do some cleaning! We were also in charge of buying a lot of the things for the apartment. I never knew how much work it was to run a mission until this week. The rest of the day was spent trying to get things settled down in our new home.

On Saturday, after a morning of confusion and more cleaning, we headed out to proselyte for the first time. As we were walking down the street, one of our branch missionaries spotted us and introduced himself! It was a miracle, because we were just wandering around looking for the chapel. We honestly did not receive any information about the area, the Church here, or anything like that. We were completely in the dark. The branch missionary then began to show us to some of the members, and all of them greeted us with so much excitement! They had heard that missionaries would be coming back, but they didn't know when. We proselyted until 7 and then we came back in exhausted and still really confused! 

Sunday was a day that I will never forget. When we arrived at church at 9, we were able to see just how amazingly strong this branch is. They were many people at sacrament meeting, even though it was pouring rain. During the second hour, our branch president pulled us into his office and handed us a list of 15 names and numbers, all of whom have been coming to church for weeks and desiring to be baptized. To our even greater surprise, he handed us 15 filled out baptismal records. Our shock didn't end there though, because after church, we had a missionary meeting with the 13(!!!) branch missionaries that have been proselyting for the past year. All of them are mission age and most of them have their calls. After setting appointments and days to proselyte with each of them, we had a few of them continue to show us the areas! When we returned home in the evening and we were counting our key indicators, we realized that we had received 32 referrals in one day, all of which want to be baptized. I have a lot of work to do!!

There's so much more to my story, but I don't have nearly enough time to tell all of it! I am so excited to work here in Liberia and I know that I have a lot of challenges, excitement and joy ahead of me. I know the Lord will lift me up as I labor to do His great work.

I want to thank all of you again for your prayers this week, they were all answered. I am very happy here in my new assignment and I'm so glad I have been called to do this! I love you all so much and you are all in my prayers. I will try to answer more people individually next week.

Elder Degen

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

E-mail dated 9/7/15

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! This is going to be a real bittersweet email because this will be the last one that I will send from Ghana. I don't want to go into too many details now, but I'll talk about it in a sec! First things first, thank you all so much for your emails this week and for your prayers that I've been able to see answered. It means a lot to me whenever I see your names pop up in my inbox! It makes me so happy. I'm glad that a lot of you are on vacation right now and I really hope that everyone has a great time and that you all return home safely!

I won't waste too much time this week, so I'll jump straight into your questions! 

1.  Any travel plans yet for your move to Liberia?

President Stevenson called me this morning and (finally) alerted me of my plans! I will be leaving on Thursday afternoon and will need to be at the mission home in Cape Coast on Wednesday for my farewell fufu! So Wednesday morning I will go to Cape, probably visit the Castle one more time and then sleep the night at the mission home. Then Elder Mocke will drive us to Accra the following morning, and off I go. It's been a hard week for me because I've had to say goodbye to all of the amazing people in Axim. I can't believe how many memories I have made here in Ghana in the past year and it's been difficult for me to come to terms that I am actually leaving. I don't think that it has really hit me yet. 

2. I am assuming that you will have to travel to Accra to leave.  Will you have a chance to go to the temple?

I sure hope so! I would love that more than anything. I will let you know next week!

3.  How far do you have to travel to get to your Branch?  Can you walk to it?

Our chapel is a beautiful chapel that overlooks the ocean and it's only about a 10 minute walk from our apartment! Sadly, there are many places in my area though that it takes 30 to 45 minutes to walk to the chapel, which makes coming to church a really hard thing for investigators!

4.  Any new investigators this week?  

We had a few referrals from members after we followed President Stevenson's challenge to focus on referrals! The people that we got referred to were all Part-Member family members with great support around them. I'm excited to hear what happens with them!

5.  What are your feelings about leaving your companion/mission?  Do you think you will get to see President Stevenson on your way home?
I don't even know what to feel anymore. When I first got the call to go to Liberia I was so excited to try something new and serve new people. I still have that same excitement, but in the past few weeks, I've come to see how much I really do love Ghana. It's been really hard for me to think that this is one of the last times I will be here with these people. I really love them so much, and as my departure date reaches closer and closer, the harder it is for me. I know I'm doing what the Lord wants and I know I will love the people in Liberia, but it's not easy leaving behind what I've labored so hard for the past year. 

6.  What was the yummiest thing you ate this week?  The grossest?  

We don't get very many free meals here in Axim, so I get to choose what I eat! It's actually a great blessing! I get sick less often... But funny story! This week we almost got dashed a dolphin to take home. I'm not kidding. A DOLPHIN! One of our members called us down to the seashore to give it to us, but his wife convinced him to give us massive fish instead. We were so close to eating a dolphin!!

Well, I don't have too much time left today, but I want to thank everyone again for the support that they have given to me as I've been preparing to make this transition in my mission! I will ask you to please remember me in your prayers this week as I am traveling. I love all of you so much and I can't wait to hear from you again next week!

Elder Degen