Monday, November 23, 2015


E-mail dated 11/23/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Happy early Thanksgiving everyone! It sounds like the holiday season is upon you back home, and everyone is excited. I hope that everyone can enjoy their week off and that everyone stays safe for Thursday! I've forgotten what the holiday season is like back home, but I can admit that I might like the holiday season here in Africa a little bit more because I get to be around some of the most thankful people in the world for the little that they have. Don't take anything for granted this week, and really think about how much the Lord has blessed you in your lives!

Thank you for everyone who emailed me this week and gave me all the updates about back home. It was nice to see how everyone is doing. I am doing great this week as well, and I have a lot to say this week, but I think that I could do all of that while answering your questions, so let's just dive right into them!

1.  Tell us about the baptism.
Elder Carlson and I spent the whole week focusing on our baptismal candidates and the Lord blessed us enough to teach them all the lessons and have them interviewed on Friday. Rachel was even interviewed by President Carlson, which was a cool experience for her! All of them passed and their service on Saturday was amazing. There weren't too many people there, but I felt the spirit so strongly, especially as they all bore their testimonies after. The three people are: Adolphus Cornormia, Oscar Gono, and Rachel Roberts. Your prayers are much appreciated as they are now recent converts and new to the Church! I was glad to hear that you received the picture of the baptism.

2.  Do they celebrate Thanksgiving in Liberia?
They do, but it was in the first week of November! It wasn't very memorable because I can't even recall what I did that day and I forgot to mention it to you a few weeks ago... But to celebrate American Thanksgiving, today my district and a few other elders went to a supermarket and got a few pizzas! They were so good. Not quite like turkey and mashed potatoes, but it was more than anything I could have asked for!

3.  I heard this past week that a couple of new cases of ebola were found in Paynesville this past week.  Do you know anything about it and have you been told to take any precautions?
Yes, there were a few cases in Paynesville this week, but they were far from my proselyting area. The government has quickly contained them, and it's not a big deal, seeing as this happened in July and September as well! The area presidency is taking precautions though, as they moved the other Paynesville Elders out and moved them into our apartment because it's a little bit farther away from the outbreak. So now we have 2 new Elders living with Elder Carlson and I! We are also no longer allowed to shake hands, get free meals, or eat food off the street. Everything is perfectly fine, but the Church is just making sure that everyone is safe. My guess is that this was an isolated incidence and that it will blow over in a few weeks time! There's no need to worry about me :)

4.  Do they have large shopping centers close by, like a mall?  Where do the people there buy clothes and gifts?  
Hahaha no, there are no malls in Liberia. There were a few in Accra, but I only went inside one when I was leaving to come to Liberia in September. We do have supermarkets though, which were not available anywhere in Cape Coast! It's a blessing to have the option to eat nice American food occasionally. Most everyone buys their clothes from the markets, and almost all the clothes are second hand from America that they sell for cheap. As for gifts, I'll update you more on that when it gets closer to Christmas!

5.  The pictures of you and the little children are adorable.  Are these kids members of the Church (well, I guess are their parents members since not many of them look old enough to be baptized).  They look like they absolutely adore you. 
I think three of those kids are my recent converts (Mama, Cecelia and Morris) and the rest are just little children that live around their house! They are so funny though, and I love taking pictures every time I go there. My WiFi camera was the best investment that I have made in a long time, I'm so glad that I can send pictures home more consistently now!

6.  How are your clothes holding up?  
Well, my first pair of Ecco's fell apart last week! I was walking and the heel just kind of exploded. They lasted me a long time, and I'm proud of those shoes for lasting over a year. My shirts are noticeably more yellow now, but I didn't even notice it until I compared them to Elder Carlson's shirts. I have 6 left though, so I'm still fine! I'm down to 2 pairs of pants, but they are still serving me well. They are a little bit faded from the sun, but it's all part of the fun of missionary work! 

7.  I could tell from some of the posts on the Liberia Mission FB Page that Sister Carlson came home for a time.  Do you know why she came home?  Sister Verdoni was lucky enough to send Elder Verdoni's Christmas box with her when she went back.
She came home for a few weeks for her son's wedding! We all missed her while she was gone, so it was nice to have her back. We had interviews with President Carlson this past week, and we also got to do an interview with her and she is awesome! Her and President have lived in so many different countries and they have the greatest stories.

8.  Are you still healthy and happy?  
Yes, I'm doing great! I'm perfectly happy and healthy and everything is going well here in Paynesville. We are planning on another baptism of around 4 on the 5th of December and your prayers would be much appreciated for Anthony, Mercy, Terry, Oretha and Benita! Thank you all so much.

Well, I wish I could continue talking for awhile but my time is almost up for this week! I hope that everyone enjoys their thanksgiving and that I can get a lot of pictures next Monday! I love you all.
Elder Degen

Monday, November 16, 2015

E-mail dated 11/16/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Lots of news to digest this week! Thank you (as always) to every one for your emails this week, I love reading all of them. I was sad to hear about the Utes, Paris and the public outrage about the Church's new policy. But, I was happy to know that every one is safe and happy! That's all that really matters. 

So it was cold in Utah this week? I've said this before, but I've forgotten what cold feels like. Some of you may think that's a blessing, but I actually miss feeling cold and sleeping under a nice thick blanket! If I did that now, I would probably burst into flames.

My week was exciting in a lot of ways, but not in a way that I can accurately put into words! The reason why is because we have began proselyting with our recent converts, and they have blown us away. We tried proselyting with quite a few of them this week and they improved our lessons so much. There's nothing quite like hearing a new convert bear their testimony about the Church to another person! I've often described new converts' testimonies as a fire, and it's amazing to see the light they give off to other people. I've been blessed, all of my converts in Liberia so far are active and none have fallen through the cracks. I pray that the Lord will bless them to keep their fire burning for a long time. 
I wish I had more to say, but I'll try and answer your questions now!

1.  I would like to know what blessings you have received because of your service.
Wow, that is probably the hardest question you have ever asked me. The greatest blessing 'I've received has been seeing the blessings that others have received. I know that's kind of a cop-out answer, but it's probably the most true! I don't think I really believed my call letter when it said "more happiness than you have ever experienced awaits you as you serve the Lord faithfully" but it has been so true on my mission. I thought it was absurd before I left that anything could make me as happy as basketball, or Missy, or my family, but I have seen how the Lord has blessed me in my life with a happiness and a joy that's hard to describe. It's not the adrenaline joy that I feel when I play sports. It's not the social joy of being with my friends. It's not even the deep joy I had when I was with my family! It's an eternal joy. Knowing that I have been an instrument in the Lord's hands to bring happiness to other people has been my greatest source of happiness and my greatest blessing.

2.  Have you been able to view Conference with your Branch yet?
Yes, we were able to watch some of it yesterday! I had already watched most of it when I was at the mission office last month, but it was so great to see it again. I think it had a greater effect on our investigators though. James Dorbor, one of our favorite investigators, called us soon after the meeting and said one of the talks had a profound influence on him. We've been teaching him all week about the Atonement and after the conference, he said he now understands it in a way he never did before. He said all of him questions were answered. Elder Carslon and I were so happy!! I know it was with a lot of help from all of those at home who prayed with us for him. He is still working on getting out of his current situation, but this has helped him so much.

3.  I have been thinking about what you told us last week about the people there not being able to get baptized because they are not legally married.  It seems like such a small thing, the $50.  Are the missionaries allowed to give them the money?  I was wondering if I periodically put in $50 in your account if you could help them out.  
I wish that could happen, but as missionaries we are strictly not allowed to give money to anyone. If we gave money to one person, then everyone's entire perception of us would change. Everyone thinks that because we are white, we have a lot of money so we get a lot of beggars everyday. It's hard to say no a lot of times, especially cause I'm living in a house with running water and they only eat one meal a day. The hardest is saying no to members and investigators. I've also been periodically given children to take back to America (that's always entertaining) and I've been given girls to marry. Don't worry, I've said no to (most of) those offers. 

4.  How is Elder Carlson and his training coming along?  Will he immediately become a trainer after his training is complete in December and will you get another brand new missionary?  I enjoy reading Elder Carlson's blog each week as well.
I'll be honest, I have no idea what is going to happen after this transfer! Elder Carlson and I could stay together for another six weeks, he could train, or I could be transferred! He's doing really well though, he's a powerful missionary. Him and I get along really well, although sometimes we get lonely because we're in a two man apartment. We're on week 10 of training, so I'm sure he's getting excited to finish!

5.  We are praying for your investigators.  How are they progressing?  Still planning on the baptism on Saturday?  
They are progressing great! We had quite a few investigators attend the conference yesterday, but nothing can beat the experience James Dorbor had. We are still planning to baptize 3 people on Saturday though! We have Adolphus, Oscar, and Rachel. We are really excited for this baptism, because these are converts who could one day be leaders here in Liberia. They have strong testimonies, and Adolphus is of mission age! I will let you know more about them next week.

6.  Did the rain finally slow down?  I check my weather app often on my phone and it always says in that Monrovia it is raining and 84 degrees.
Yes, it doesn't rain too much here anymore! Only sometimes at night does it pour. It's been a welcome change, but of course it's gotten hotter. I'm excited for the beginning of January, that's the coldest time of the year here (it can get in the 70's in the mornings!).

7.  What was your greatest challenge of the week and your sweetest success?
My greatest challenge was a humbling one. It happened yesterday, when one of our favorite recent converts, Esther Parker and her family, fed us dinner. She had admitted to us earlier this week that she no longer had money to run her shop, but she never asked us for any money. Then, on Sunday, she was so so excited to give us and our branch missionary a bowl of dry rice. I watched her take half of a pot of plain white rice, and give it away to us, as her and her 2 children ate the other half. That was a challenging moment for me as I considered that this was what her family was having for dinner (possibly their only meal of the day). It was hard.

My greatest success though, came from my recent converts, including Sister Esther! Proselyting with them and hearing them all gush about conference was amazing. I love them all so much.
Well, thank you all again for your emails and prayers this week! Please continue to pray for my investigators. I love you all and I hope that I can hear from everyone again next week!
Elder Degen

Monday, November 9, 2015

Elder Bednar

If you would like to view the video clip the Church has produced about Elder Bednar's visit to Liberia this month the link can be found at  Gavin is not in the video but it gives a glimpse as to what he experienced.

E-mail dated 11/9/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Thank you to everyone for the great emails that I received this week! It was nice to know that everyone at home is doing well and that you're all enjoying the cold (there's some sarcasm hidden somewhere in that sentence...) I'm also glad that many of you got to see the video and the link about Elder Bednar's visit to Liberia last week! I know it's not possible to feel the same spirit that I felt, but I hope that you all have a much greater idea now of much the gospel means to these people in Liberia :) I'm proud to be a missionary serving here.

This week was a great one, but I can't think of anything too eventful that happened! Elder Carlson and I worked hard and didn't have any conferences or events or meetings that obstructed our proselyting this week. So that was a blessing! We were able to meet with quite a few new investigators this week, including a girl named Benita and her family. Benita is 15 and she walked up to us last week and asked us to teach her and her family. Elder Carlson and I obviously agreed and we finally had an appointment with them this week! They are awesome. We picked her for church yesterday and she loved it. It will be an amazing day if we can baptize her entire family.

A challenge that we have been having recently is a difficult one. We have so many amazing people that want to be baptized so badly, and they have such strong testimonies, but they can't be baptized because they aren't legally married. Becoming legally married for many people just isn't possible because it requires $50 and birth certificates, which most people don't have. It's so sad to see these people have to postpone their baptisms. I have prayed and fasted that the Lord will open the windows of Heaven to bless these people with the means to get married. Your prayers would be much appreciated as well!

Well, let me get to answering your questions!

1.  Did you get to shake Elder Bednar's had last week?  
I did not get to shake his hand, but I did get to shake his wife's hand (along with the wives of Elder's Hallstrom and Curtis)! I was hoping I would be able to, but he was very busy during his visit! There were a few times that I was less than a few feet a away from him, which was awesome. 

2.  Thanks for the link last week about the story of Elder Loader.  The article kept mentioning the Accra mission.  Was he in the Accra mission before Cape Coast or did the article have it wrong?  Have you hard from him lately and how is he doing?
No, he served his entire mission in Cape Coast, the author of the article just wasn't accurate! I did receive an email from him today and he's doing really well. He's going to school at UVU right now and he sends me pictures every few weeks! I miss that guy. 

3.  Any baptisms set?  Are you still as busy as ever?

We will have a baptism on the 21st of November and we should have around 5-8 people for that date. We are excited because we are hoping for a few powerful future Melchizedek Priesthood Holders in this group! We would ask for special prayers for our investigator, James Dorbor this week though. He has the greatest desire to be baptized, but he currently can't because of an association he is in. Your prayers would be greatly appreciated as we try to strengthen this awesome investigator!

4.  Do you get to see the Hezseltine's much?  How about the Carlsons?  They were featured on the video so I got to see what they look like.

I probably see each of them once about every other week! Just whenever we have a conference or when we go into the mission office. I love both of them so much, and I'm not excited for when the Hezseltine's go home in January. 

5.  Did any of the envelopes I have sent through the mail arrive yet.  Your Christmas box is being mailed on Monday (Nov. 9th).  I so hope that it reaches you by Christmas.  (This is your last chance to let me know if there is anything else you want me to send to you)!!

I did receive a letter that you sent to me on September 22nd today! It's the first piece of mail I've received in Liberia. Thank you so much for sending me the sports clippings and my reassignment letter! I loved it. Also, please DO NOT put anything valuable into the package that you are sending because there's a good chance it won't get here. The mission seems to think that the post office is now less reliable post-Ebola.

6.  Have you met anyone there that knows Eric?   
I have been in contact with one of his converts actually! He called me a few weeks ago and begged me to give him his contact information. I have yet to meet him in person, but I'm sure I will soon! To be honest, almost all of the members of the Church that I've met (besides the leaders) are converts of less than 5 years. It's incredible to see how young the Church is here.

7.  I received some pictures from you on Thursday and Saturday.  Thank you!!  I love getting them.  I would like to know the story behind the Doctrine and Covenants you came across.  And the pictures with the monkey.  Did you get to hold the monkey?

One of my investigators used to be apart of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints and he had a copy of an old edition of their Doctrine and Covenants! I traded him for a new triple combination. It's a really cool book, and it's funny to see "revelations" from people like Israel A Smith and Joseph Smith III. You can easily tell the difference between real revelation and fake! Also, there's a compound in my area that has a pet monkey that we visit every so often! His name is Johnny! He's awesome, I will try to get more pictures with him.

Well, I think that's all for this week!  I love you so much. I hope you all have a great week!
Elder Degen

Monday, November 2, 2015


E-mail dated 11/2/15

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Thank you everyone for your emails and prayers of support this week, I can't think of a more spiritual day than the day that I had yesterday. Before I get to that though, I want to thank you all for the updates on home that I received! I'm glad that everyone had a safe and (lonely?) Halloween on Saturday and that the Utes were able to pull off another W. I'm also excited for the Jazz updates that are going to start coming in soon! It's been great this week to see how happy everyone is and what you're up to. I love you all!

Well, I don't want to beat around the bush. This entire email will be about the All-Liberia Conference that happened yesterday! I'm not going to understate this or try to downplay it: Yesterday was one of the greatest days of my life. For weeks our mission has been looking forward to the coming of Elder David A. Bednar to Liberia, and our waiting was finally over yesterday. The meeting started at 10 a.m. at a building in downtown Monrovia, but when I arrived at 7:30, there were already hundreds of people there from all around the country. By the time 9 o'clock rolled around, there were a few thousand people packed into this small building. The atmosphere was amazing. I've never seen people more excited in my life. At 10, Elder Bednar and his wife walked into the building, followed by Elder Donald Hallstrom (Presidency of the Seventy) and his wife, Elder Legrand Curtis Jr. (Area President, Member of the Seventy) and his wife, and then President and Sister Carlson. The spirit that entered the room was indescribable. 

The meeting began and everyone was so reverent. The Carlson's spoke first, then the Curtis', then the Hallstrom's, then Sister Bednar, and finally Elder Bednar. I just want to describe to you some of the things that were said by an Apostle of the Lord to the saints of Liberia! First, he spoke to the members of the Church. He stated, in effect, "The Lord allowed this suffering and this disease to happen for you to learn something: You are the missionaries!" He complimented these saints on their amazing resolve to preach the gospel, even when the full-time missionaries were pulled out of the country. Then he spoke directly to the non members who were in attendance, which was amazing because we had quite a few investigators there. He taught the Restoration of the Gospel, a message I have taught literally hundreds of times, more beautifully than I can even put into words. He explained it so simply and with so much spirit that only an Apostle could do. I was blessed enough that I was sitting close to the pulpit, probably no more than 20 yards away from him.

Then he spoke to the entire congregation. He counseled everyone about the power of the Atonement and about how turning away from the natural man (Mosiah 3:19) is the purpose of this life on Earth. He spoke of the temptations we face in this life and related this to the story of Satan tempting the Savior after he had fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. Satan tempted Christ with three things: Turn the stones into bread, cast yourself off the pinnacle, and all of the Earth can be yours. Elder Bednar stated simply that there was not three different temptations, only one; Do it for YOURSELF. The natural man wants things right now, the natural man turns in. But the Savior turns out. All temptations the devil has to offer all come down to the same thing, do it for yourself. He counseled all the saints to no longer do things for themselves, but to serve other people. He was very animated as he talked and he even slammed the pulpit a few times and used large waving hand gestures. 

One the greatest spiritual experiences I've ever had happened when he invited the entire congregation to sing "How Firm a Foundation" with him. I've never heard a louder chorus of people. As I was singing the words, tears were streaming down my face. I know a lot of you know me, and I'm not a crier, but this was an overwhelming moment for me and for all the members of the Church in Liberia. As I looked around and saw these people singing the words:

"In ev'ry condition--in sickness, in health,
In poverty's vale or abounding in wealth,
At home or abroad, on the land or the sea--
As thy days may demand, as thy days may demand,
As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be."

I couldn't control my emotions anymore. These amazing members have suffered so much in their lives and to see them sing with such faith and strength was more than I could handle. The words couldn't even come out of my mouth. 

Elder Bednar concluded his talk by pronouncing a blessing upon the congregation. He said "I, as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, turn the key and pour down the blessings of Heaven upon this country and upon you, my fellow saints." As he did this he literally took his hand and made a turn-key motion above his head. It felt as if a wave went throughout everyone in attendance and I don't think I've ever felt the spirit more strongly. I left that meeting feeling so edified and uplifted! I wish there were words accurate enough to describe how I felt.

I have more to tell, but I'll try and do it in your questions that you've asked!

1.  Tell us about Elder Bednar and his visit!!  You said he was speaking to all the Church members there.  Where did you hold such a meeting?  

It was in the Executive Pavillion in Monrovia, but the meeting that happened soon after was at a nearby stake center! For the second meeting, which was just for the branch and district presidencies (and the missionaries), it was a very personal interaction with Elder Bednar. For two hours he instructed the Priesthood leaders about 4 things (I know Dad would have loved to been in attendance for this one):
1. Priesthood
2. Priesthood Authority
3. Priesthood Power
4. Priesthood Keys.
And for most of the meeting he did a Question and Answer session with everyone. In case I need to repeat myself, I was in a question and answer session with David A. Bednar. It was amazing. There were about 100 people in this sacrament hall, so it was a lot more personal. Elder Bednar is probably one of the funniest people I've ever met, and It was so great to actually see his real personality as compared to the mantle that all the General Authorities have to uphold at General Conference. He was so loose and free and vibrant. It was awesome. 

2.  I received a friend request on Facebook from Quita Kialain.  I assume you know who she is.  From her profile page I can tell she is a member of the Church, I assume in the Paynesville branch.  Is that correct?  What can you tell me about her?
She is one of my favorite members in Liberia!! She recently left for Minnesota last week, and it was actually me who added you from her Facebook! She would love to talk to you. She is a return missionary and we would visit her almost every other day. I know her very well! Talk to her on Facebook please :)

3.  Do you think that you will be able to Skype on Christmas?  (Please say yes!!)
I think I will be able to, but it depends on where I am! If all else fails, I'm going to try and beg the Hezseltine's to allow me to come to their apartment on Christmas! I will keep you updated!

4.  Do you get a chance to speak in Church often?  Did your branch have a Primary Sacrament Program?  
I haven't had to speak in Church yet thankfully, because we have so many powerful members here in Paynesville! I did not get to see a Primary Program here, but I think that's because they might have done it earlier this year!

5.  It seems like transfers should be coming soon.  When are they?  
The next transfer will be December 8, so I still have quite some time! I hope that we will be able to baptize quite a few more people before I have to leave Paynesville. I'm excited for the near future!
Thank you all again for your love and support. I hope that each of you can have a great week and that you will all be safe and protected. I love each and every one of you! 

Elder Degen

P.S. Here's a story about Elder Loader. Near the end is a picture of me and him and our convert, Abigail Amoah, who recently sent me pictures of her at the temple!! Her conversion story is one of the greatest stories of my mission. Enjoy the article!