Monday, October 26, 2015

E-mail dated 10/26/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Thank you everyone for your emails and support this past week, I needed them! Elder Carlson and I were extremely busy as we were preparing for our baptism last Saturday, and because of all of your prayers, it was successful. 

The Lord blessed us with 11 baptisms this past week! I wish I could go through each one of their stories and tell you have they became converted, but I don't have enough time in the world! Here are their names:
Esther Parker
Uriah Sayou
Prince Somah
Bindu Smart
Korah Smart
Patience Smart
Emmanuel Ngorah
Armah Kanneh
Princess Cooper
Josephus Toman
Stephen Robertson
It was an amazing service and I'll send the pictures as soon as I can! I'll answer your questions now...

1.  Do you know why Elder Bednar is coming to your mission next week?  Will he be meeting with the missionaries?  How long will he be there?
He is coming to strengthen the saints in Liberia! He is in Accra right now for the mission president's seminar, and then he will fly here on Saturday. Also, he is going to be mic'd up and followed by a camera crew for a documentary about the Church in Liberia. He will speak to all the members in the country on Sunday morning, and then Sunday afternoon he is meeting with the leaders of the branches/districts and the missionaries are invited to attend! So I pray that I will be able to shake his hand. He will leave Sunday evening back to Utah after a 10 day adventure for him and his wife. 

2.  About how many lessons do you and Elder Carlson teach each day?  
It's usually around 6 or so. We consistently get 30-40 lessons a week. And that's not me trying to brag about numbers, because I could seriously sit down in a chair on a corner of a road and have 10 lessons in one day without approaching a single person. People are just dying to hear the gospel here.

3.  Is there strong Priesthood leadership in your branch?  I would assume that with so many wanting to join the church that leadership issues might be a problem.
Thankfully we have such great leadership here in the Paynesville Branch! Our branch president and his counselors are all return missionaries and they know how to get things done. Obviously there are some things that are different from back home that the leaders lack, but I have been blown away at how self-sufficient the Church is here compared to Cape Coast. It's been a big blessing. 

4.  Is there a good mix of adults, youth and children in your Branch?  

Yes, it's pretty balanced! There are a lot of Melchizedek Priesthood holders in the branch, which is a good indicator that the branch will split soon. I am also surprised at how many sisters in the branch are return missionaries as well. The children are plentiful as always.

5.  About how many miles does your Branch encompass?  It is a hardship for them to get to church on Sunday?
Our branches boundaries are unknown. My guess is that some members travel from 4-5 miles to get to Church, which is a big sacrifice financially. It's most hard when we have people dying to come to the chapel, but they can barely afford to eat the following day let alone pay the $1 for transportation. It's hard to see. 

6.  Do you have any idea about how much money people there earn working full time?  I am just curious if it is comparable to US wages.  I'm sure it is not.  Do you know of anyone who has a lot of money (like the guy you lived close to Ghana that was from Utah).
I'm not %100 certain, but judging from what I've seen so far, if a family makes $2,000 a year then they are doing really well. It's pretty hard knowing that my subsistence I pulled today is more than a family of 5 will have for the month. I haven't met any rich miners yet, but a woman in my branch is going to America this week, and she is dying to contact you Mom! She also knows the Peterson's (Eric's mission couples) really well. She owns an orphanage and a school and she is going to the states to work with some people to adopt her orphans.

7.  What was your biggest challenge this week?  Your sweetest success?
My biggest challenge this week was having to tell multiple people they could not be baptized. We had been teaching them for weeks, they have been coming to church for months, but they couldn't be baptized because they aren't legally married. To get a traditional marriage legalized, it costs $50 and they have to bring their birth certificates (which a lot of people don't have), so it is extremely difficult for them. I have heard of couples saving up for a year to get their marriage legalized so that they could be baptized, and I hope that happens to my candidates as well! My sweetest success was by far watching these amazing 11 people be baptized on Saturday. I think hearing their testimonies was probably the time in the service when I felt the spirit the most. It was so rewarding to see these people so happy. 

I love you all, thank you for everything you do for me!

Elder Degen

Monday, October 19, 2015

Pictures from Paynesville

Elder Degen, Elder Verdoni, Elder Carlson


E-mail dated 10/19/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! I know this might get old, but GO UTES! As long as they keep winning, I will begin my email by mentioning them! I was so excited to hear about the game from everyone. I forget about football during the week, but for 2 hours on Mondays I get to celebrate! Even better than that though, was hearing about how everyone is doing. I was glad to know that everyone is safe and sound and that things went well with UEA weekend. It was fun to hear about.

My week was indescribable. I wish I could put adequately into words the feelings that are with me right now, but I can't. I just want to let everyone know the love that the Lord has for His children here in Liberia. I have seen firsthand the miracles that have been happening in this country and the blessings of God. Let me explain.

Liberia was hit with Ebola last year, and it shook the entire country. Thousands of people died because of it, but tens of thousands more died because of the civil unrest that followed. Those with simple diseases like colds and fevers died because there was no medical care brave enough to treat them. Members of the Church were left without missionaries, and without much contact from their leaders. I've heard people describe their struggles during the Ebola crisis and I feel the deepest kind of sorrow in me. These people suffered for a long time without the necessities in life. Many of those who were not actively religious started to depend upon God again for their needs. 

 The branches and districts in Liberia did their best to continue to kingdom of God, and they succeeded mightily because they were continually depending upon the Lord. There were hundreds baptized in a span of 13 months following the missionary evacuation. But that was just the beginning. I firmly believe that God has heard these great people's cries and is answering them right this very moment. Because of these people's faith, this has been the result:

At nearly every branch in Liberia, there are not enough seats to fit the people that are attending Church. People are standing outside in lines to partake of the sacrament. The Church has been here in these areas longer than 10 years and there are 40-100 investigators at sacrament meeting in some areas every week. Every single Sunday, Elder Carlson and I get around 10 people that come up to us devastated because they couldn't be baptized in the previous week. We have had over 200 referrals in the past month, all begging to join the Church because they have found what they are looking for. They cannot build chapels and create units fast enough. The Church is growing so fast here that I sometimes feel like it's a scriptural account in the Book of Mormon. I have been overwhelmed with emotions as I have begun to realize the significance of these things. These are answers to prayers and I am so grateful to my Heavenly Father that I get to be the means to answer someone's cries for help. It's the greatest responsibility that I can ever undertake.

Sorry to go off on a tangent for a minute, but I just had to share the Spirit that I have felt this past week. My eyes have been opened. Let me answer some questions now!

1.  I have sent a couple of regular sized envelopes through the mail.  Have you received either of them?
No, not yet! I've heard of quite a few things that have been sent to me since I've come to Liberia, but I haven't received anything yet! I do have a zone conference on Thursday, so I hope that they will arrive safely by then.

2.  What kind of camera were you able to find and did you have plenty of money?  
Sadly I lost about 500 pictures when I lost my camera, but I was able to find a decent Samsung camera for an okay price! It has wifi, so hopefully I will be able to send pictures easier!

3.  Do the people in Monrovia have access to television and internet in their homes?  If I remember right, it was uncommon when Eric was there.  Are American television shown there?
Television in homes isn't unheard of, it's just uncommon. Computers in homes are rare. But, most everyone has a cell phone with internet capabilities here! I have seen quite a few America DVD's here for really cheap, but many of the Africans don't like them.

4.  Is the food in Monrovia similar to what you ate in Cape Coast?  Do you generally have electricity and running water in your apartment?  
The food is completely different!! In Ghana I would have Fufu, ampesi, banku, rice, caconte, jollof, etc. But here its all RICE. Which is good because rice is delicious, but I just wish they would mix it up once in awhile! And the mission does a great job of giving it's missionaries the necessities like water and power. Every apartment has a generator and a big tank for water. 

5.  According to Sister Hezseltine, the rainy season was supposed to end on October 17th.  Did it finally stop raining?  
It has certainly rained less this week than in the past! I'm still wearing rain boots though on some days. I hope that it's almost over. Of course, I say that now, but in four weeks from now I probably will want the rainy season back!

6.  Is it getting easier to understand the people?  Do they speak with an accent like in Ghana?
I can now mostly understand the people, but there are still some times when they speak deep pigeon that it's impossible for anyone to understand them without a Urim and Thummim. They speak much differently here! In Ghana you had to speak slowly and clearly. Here, you have to speak fast and drop off the last half of the word. They also speak in a higher tone. It's interesting! 

Thank you all so much for your emails and support this week, they mean a lot to me! I'm doing so well and I'm happy. The work is greater than anything I've experienced before and I think it's only beginning. I love you all and hope that you have a great and safe week!
Elder Degen

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

E-mail dated 10/13/15

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! Thank you everyone for the amazing emails this week! I had a really busy week with not much time to think about anything else, so it was nice to relax and read how things are at home. First of all... GO UTES!! I'm so excited right now! The Utes haven't been good for years and now they decide to be amazing? Well, I guess that's the Degen missionary curse/blessing... Now the Jazz just have the win the Finals and my suspicions would be confirmed.

My week was an exciting one, but also a tiring one because of Elder Carlson and I's schedule. We have been preparing all week for our baptism on Saturday, so we have been doing all that we can so that we could get our candidates ready! We saw each of them as often as we could and on Thursday I went on splits with Elder Bayoh and he interviewed them! We were so excited when seven of them were passed.
On Saturday morning, we went to the chapel at 8:30 and found that the font had no water. We were so disappointed. The water truck that was supposed to come on Friday to fill the font hit a car on its way to the chapel and couldn't come in time. We didn't know what to do! Thankfully, the other Elders at the area nearby ours was having a baptism and so they said we could just come and join them. So we all got on motorcycles and our big caravan of bikes arrived at the other chapel around 9! It was a baptism of 20 for the 3 companionship's ​and it was amazing. I will send the pictures with this email!

I will try to explain the rest of my week by answering your questions!

1.  How are you and Elder Carlson getting along?  Is he related at all to President Carlson?
We get along great! I feel like we would have been friends back home. But, he is in no way related to my mission president!

2.  Now that you and Elder Carlson are over all of Paynesville, how many branches does that include?  Do they all meet in the same building? 
Okay, I need to be more clear! Elder Carlson and I are now over Paynesville branch 1 all by ourselves! It is a massive area though, and it's impossible to cover with just us two. There are 3 total branches in Paynesville, and the other branches are who we had the baptism with!

3.  When you have so many referrals, how to "weed" them out, so to speak?   How can you possibly teach all of those that want to hear the Gospel.  I assume that the branch missionaries are helping with that?
We have started only teaching those who are attending Church on Sundays! Although that's still not an easy task because we have weeks where 23 investigators come to church. After people are baptized, we also need to teach them the 5 lessons again, which takes up a lot of our time as well. We are busy people! When we come home in the evening, we spent a lot of time just planning for the next day and praying that God will help us reach all of these people. It can be overwhelming at times!

4.  Did the rain subside at all this week?  How come it rains so much more in Liberia than in Ghana?  Aren't they pretty much right next to each other? 
IT RAINS SO MUCH HERE. I don't know why! They are only separated by Ivory Coast, so I don't understand it.

5.  Were you able to get some of your things replaced?
Yes, everything is fine now! Thank you so much for everything. If I ever need anything I promise that I will let you know :)

6.  You know that I/we are still sending a package soon.  PLEASE, if there is anything you need/want from home, let me know in the next few weeks or so.  I have heard that it takes longer for packages to arrive in Liberia than in Ghana.  The last package I sent to Ghana I think only took 2 weeks for you to get it (1 week in transit and 1 week to make it to you). 
To be honest, I can buy so much more in Liberia than I ever could in Ghana. I can find deodorant, american food, and other things. Although, you sent me something in my last package that was too good to not ask for again. Can you please send me that cookies and cream Jif spread?? It was amazing. If I need anything else, I promise I will let you know. Thank you!

7.  Did the baptism take place last Saturday?
Yes! Their names are:
Mamie Coleman
Yawson Paige
Moses Stewart
Lydia Gonquoi (her father is one of the eight missionaries who escaped during the war)
Maiwu Zay Zay
Wilfred Mantor
Charleston Zaingbay
The Lord has blessed me so much in the past month and I am so excited to see what he Has in store for me in the next 10 months. Thank you all again for your support. I know I am an absolutely horrible writer and I may not be able to get back to everyone who emails me, but I hope that everyone knows I appreciate it so much when I see your name in my inbox.
I hope that everyone has a great week and that I can hear from you all again next week! I love you all.
Elder Gavin Degen

Monday, October 5, 2015

E-mail dated 10/5/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! What a wonderful weekend it has been! I was so glad to receive so many emails and updates about General Conference and the spiritual strength it brought to everyone. My inbox was flooded with the news! I was also so happy to see more pictures of my new nephew and to hear that everyone is safe and sound. Also, GO UTES!

This week has been interesting for me as well here in Paynesville! We had great success proselyting during the week, teaching many lesson sand getting more referrals than we can ever possibly teach. We've received over 200 referrals the past few weeks and we are overwhelmed with people. Our schedules are so busy that we have to willingly deny people who want to be baptized because we physically don't have the time to teach them all. It's frustrating, but I can't complain because I know this might be the only place in the world that has this "problem"!

On Thursday, President Carlson decided to expand the mission because of the demand in some other places and so he gave us some interesting news. Elder Ibe and Elder Sirleaf (Another elder in my apartment) are being transferred to Bush Rod Island to open a new area, and I will be with Elder Carlson to finish his training with him! It's been an interesting change, but I have faith that Heavenly Father knows what he is doing. I know this is what the Lord wants! So now Elder Carlson and I are over ALL of Paynesville! We have a baptism of around 5-10 planned for this Saturday, I will let you know more about the details next week!

Now to answer your questions...

1.  Why were you not able to e-mail last week until Tuesday instead of Monday?
We were insanely busy last week because of some things we had to coordinate with our branch missionaries! Normally we will email on Monday's, but here in Liberia we don't really get a P-Day because we're so busy right now!  

2.  How often do you get to see President Carlson or the Hezseltine's?
I was with both of them a lot this week because of the emergency transfer! It was fun to be with them for a little bit in the office this week. I even got to watch conference in the office! Which was amazing, by the way. It was the first time I've watched conference in English on my mission. I found myself praying for President Monson during his entire address on Sunday Morning. It was hard to watch his health deteriorate in front of my eyes. But, on the bright side, I also got to witness the calling of the three new apostles!

3.  Describe a typical P-day in a new country?
Wake up, do wash, go to the market, go email, meet the branch missionaries and teach a lesson if you have time, and then go home by 7. All in that order! 

4.  Is there a market close to your apartment that you can shop at?  Do you typically use American money or do you exchange it for foreign money?
Yes, there is a massive market called Red Light right near my apartment! There is also the Liberian National Coca-Cola factory right near my apartment. It's awesome.

5.  Do you communicate with anyone in Cape Coast?  How are is Elder Adu-Gyamfi doing?
I email him every week and he is doing great! He emailed me today and said that 3 of the investigators we found together were baptized this past week! I also am still in contact with President Stevenson.

6.  The Hezelstine's posted a short blog this week where it indicated that it has been raining not "cats and dogs" but "dinosaurs".  It also indicated that the rainy season is supposed to end October 17th.  It's kind of strange that they actually give a date for the end of the rainy season.  Have you witnessed any flooding where you are?
It has rained so much this week!! So so so much. We were teaching on Friday and trees were falling down around us because of the wind. The streets were flooded! 

7.  What was your greatest success this week and your greatest challenge?
My greatest success has been seeing the excitement of missionary work in the members. Every single member wants so badly to be able to bring someone into the gospel, that I can't help but feel successful as a missionary. Although extremely demanding, the work is aided immensely by our many branch missionaries and leaders. My greatest challenge this week has probably been saying goodbye to Elder Ibe. Him and I got a long really well and I am really going to miss him. We did a lot of hard work together and I wish him the best! I am excited for my time with Elder Carlson though.

Thank you all so very much for your prayers this week. I may have felt your prayers more this week than I ever have before. I know that the Lord uplifts and blesses His missionaries! I pray every night that all of you can receive the blessings of my service, cause I certainly know that I am receiving too many.

I love you all so much! 
Elder Degen