Monday, August 8, 2016

Last E-mail!

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Well, it's hard to believe every one, but this is my last mass email of my mission! Next week I will be spending Monday in town with the other Elder who is leaving with me and I don't think I will be able to get online, so I'll try to make this email as sappy and cliche as possible. You know, the typical "I'm coming home" email. I only get one of these in a life time, so I'll try to make it count...

It's incredible to me that my two years are over. I can still remember so vividly the day that I left; waking up in the morning, driving to the airport, hugging goodbye, (getting checked for explosives) and watching my house fly by as my plane left the Salt Lake Valley. In many ways that feels like last week, but in other ways it feels like a different lifetime. As I started my mission in Ghana, the Lord blessed me with the strength to do hard things, especially at the beginning of my two years. As with most other missionaries, I really struggled at first to adjust to the culture, the language and the physical and spiritual demands that come from being a new missionary. But Heavenly Father was there with me every step of the way. In many regards, I've never felt more divine guidance than what was given to me in my first few months of my mission. 

As my mission in Ghana progressed, I was given companions, areas and experiences that have helped me grow so much. In Nketsiakrom and Eshiem, I learned how to work hard no matter what my circumstances. In Dunkwa I learned the importance of maintaining the Spirit at all times. In Axim, I learned the virtue of patience. But I never would have thought that all of those things were just preparing me for greater things. When President Stevenson called me last year in August, the day after my One Year mark, and told me that I was being transferred to Liberia, I felt as if my unsaid feelings for the previous few months were finally confirmed. I had always desired to serve among the Liberian people, and the Lord was giving me the chance.

When I first arrived in Liberia, I felt extremely confident as a missionary having a year of experience under my belt, and I was immediately one of the oldest missionaries in the mission. Oh how quickly the Lord humbled me haha. When I first opened up the Paynesville area, large challenges arose. I quickly realized that it's not easy to open up a mission from scratch with no knowledge of the culture, the areas or even the branch members and nobody available to teach me these crucial things. But I sure learned a lot those few months with Elder Carlson. Even more than the blessings that I received though, it was more incredible to see the blessings that Heavenly Father was giving to the country of Liberia after the Ebola epidemic. The immediate humility of the Liberia people was something that I will never forget. Baptisms and lessons were in abundance and the Lord's hand was so apparent in my life. This is was the Lord had prepared me for.

As my mission slowly started to close in New Georgia and Caldwell, those feelings of gratitude only increased. While the missionary work wasn't as productive as Paynesville, I overcame challenges that came and I became a stronger missionary because of these things. As usual, the Lord was with me through all these experiences. As I began to focus more upon the Liberia people instead of myself in these areas, I developed a love for these people that is hard to describe. Liberians are certainly not perfect, but they sure are resilient when it comes to the challenges that come in their own lives. I've tried my best to take this quality into my life.

And now, as I'm about to go home to my family and friends and my life of luxury (what I've been looking forward to since the day I received my mission call), it's a lot harder than I thought to leave all these things I've come to love here in Africa. It's funny how our Father in Heaven does that; leaves us in a hard situation just long enough to learn what we need to before he removes us from that situation and places us in another position for us to grow and improve. I think that's certainly the wisdom of an all knowing Father, but dang, it's not easy!! I'm going to miss West Africa so much.

I often think of my mission as a parallel of the Plan of Salvation. My pre-mission life seems like eons ago, and I can see how immature and weak I was. But that's why I came on my mission, to leave the comfort of home and learn for myself things that my parents already have learned through their own experiences. In many ways, this is exactly why our Heavenly Parents sent us down to this Earth. My mission wasn't easy, but neither is this Earth life! But I think that's just the point. It allows us to grow and progress. But in life, every one eventually reaches their time to return home to their Divine Parents, just like a mission. Next week I'll see all of you at the airport and I can imagine I'm going to feel that same happiness as those who pass on to the next life and greet their families with open arms and thankful hearts. I can't wait. 

I love you all so very much and I want to thank every one of you for your constant emails, prayers, and fasts. I've felt your love every day of my mission. I'm going to be pretty weird when I come home, and I probably won't be able to express myself very well (I'll probably smell too), but if there's anything I want to get across when I get home is that I really do love my family more than anything. I'll see all of you soon! 

Elder Gavin Stewart Degen

Monday, August 1, 2016

E-mail dated 8/1/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! It was a great relief to see everybody is still alive and well at home this week after some scares last week! I'm so glad that the Lord answered my prayers. Once again, I'm sorry for the sicknesses/surgeries that everybody has been going through, but I'm grateful things are getting better!

I am also doing much better this week, thankfully! The sinus infection is completely gone and now I'm healthy enough again to hear and proselyte. Elder Tayie and I were able to to have a great week with very little casualties! We have been teaching a larger group of people now, and we are really focusing upon Less Actives and Recent Converts because there are so many of them in our branch. We worked long and hard this week seeking out those who have left the Church for some time. The Lord certainly listened to our prayers though as over 10 Less Actives came to service yesterday!! Elder Tayie and I were so happy. It doesn't matter who it is, whether investigator or recent convert or full-time member, it just feels good to see people doing what they know to be right. It was so rewarding for me.

Elder Tayie and I are also working hard to prepare a great family for baptism next Saturday before I go! They are the Gballeh family, and they are awesome. The mother, Hawa, is a little Less Active but she has been improving recently and she gave us her husband and her children to teach. So we are hoping and praying that Norris (her husband), Laurena, Kevin Beauty, Cynthia and Alice will all be baptized on the 13th of August! We are struggling to meet with them though because of the husband's work schedule, so your prayers would be much appreciated. Thank you!
Now to answer your questions...

1.  So you said your generator broke and you ran out of water and food.  I understand that generator breaking -- not really much you can do about that, but how did you run out of food and water?  How far and where did you have to go get water?  How long were you without?

Our landlord's pump burned out this past week, so we weren't able to pump the water from the well to the water tank, that's how we were out of water! It lasted for about 4 days, but thankfully there are a few wells close to our compound that we fetched from, or we caught the rain water. The food part was definitely our fault though... We've repented though.

2.  How is Elder Tayie doing this week?  I was glad to hear that he was finally diagnosed and that the meds are helping.  How are you feeling?

He is doing great and so am I! Finally.

3.  Are there some RM's from your mission in Ghana or Liberia that live close by home that you will be able to see and hang out with when you get home?  I hope there are some that can come to your homecoming!  

Yes! I have a few that we all met at the Salt Lake airport 2 years ago, like Elder Nielson and Elder Stulce and Elder Hanneman. I also have a TON of my mission friends going to BYU or UVU, so I'll be able to see most of them at least once or twice.

Well, thank you all again for the emails and the support! It's been great the past two years to open up my inbox and see all of the love that my Father in Heaven has given to me through others. I can't believe it's all coming to a close soon. I think I will only send one more long email next week, and then on the 15th I'll just send something small, maybe a paragraph. I love you all so much, and I can't thank you enough for all that you have done for me! 

Elder Degen

Monday, July 25, 2016

E-mail dated 7/25/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! Thank you to every one for the emails this week. It sounds like it was a successful and (hot) 24th! Of course, I know that the parade is going on right now, so the festivities aren't quite over yet. It's a shame I'm not able to be there.... NOT! Haha I'm just kidding, I would honestly love to be at the parade right now. I would just follow behind that one float with all the gospel singers in it. I love those people. 

Well, after a little bit of thought, I've decided to be honest about my week! Since everybody at home is either sick, not feeling well, or went through life-altering surgery, I will come out and say that I was sick too this week. I had a sinus infection and it was pretty rough, but not just because of the sickness. Let me tell you what else happened that just added to my misery... Our generator broke. We were out of water for 4 days. And we completely ran out of food. I think the Lord was just trying to humble me this week! Thankfully all is well now, but it was quite the experience.

God did bless us though this week, because last Tuesday we were able to find out what was wrong with Elder Tayie! He has something called GERD (nope, I have no idea what that is either. But the Egyptian doctor we went to sounded pretty convincing), which apparently has been causing the pain in his lower back. Thankfully he been given a lot of medications to take (much to his displeasure), but they have been working! I can't help but marvel at the modern medicine that has blessed so many people in the last seven days. It's incredible to see the knowledge that the Lord is giving his children in the last days.

Anyways, since I wasn't able to do a whole lot of proselyting this week, I don't have any good stories or pictures! I apologize for that. But I might as well answer your questions now...

1.  I have heard you have had a problem with mice in your apartment.  One of the pictures you sent home last week confirmed that.  How is the war with the mice this week?  Are they winning or are the humans?

Well... We were winning until we ran out of traps.. Now we just try to chase them around with stick and hammers and things and it's just not quite as effective!

2.  Besides the people, what are some of the things you are going to miss most about living in Western Africa?

Wow, I will actually miss a lot of things! The food (somewhat), the beautiful scenery, the beaches, the culture in general. I certainly would love to come back and visit soon.

3.  Besides the people, what are you most looking forward to when you get home?

Now that's a really hard question... Probably food and just being independent! It's going to be strange doing things by myself, but I'm looking forward to it (I think).

Sorry my email was pretty boring this week, but I'm not quite sure what else to say! It's pretty crazy that I only have three weeks left of my mission.... It still hasn't hit me yet! I know that it will soon though. I will see all of you soon, but in the meantime I will keep praying for all those who are sick and recovering. I love you all so much! Thank you again.

Elder Degen

Monday, July 18, 2016

E-mail dated 7/18/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! It been a nice (and dry) week here in Liberia! I was glad to see that many of you also enjoyed your summer. I'll be honest, my desire to sit in this hot and humid cafe is slowly depleting every week, but it is always nice to hear from the family. Thank you, as always, you guys are the best.

My week was great, and also not so great in some ways! I'll start with the bad news... My companion has not been feeling well and it's really been hindering him with the work. He has had really bad lower back problems this week, and nothing seems to be working. Elder Tayie doesn't have too much faith in Western medicine, so he resorted to some herbal African medicine that he... well, when I get home I'll explain how he uses it! But anyways, we only missed a few hours of proselyting, which in and of itself is a great miracle. Hopefully we are going to the REAL doctor this week to get things checked out. Yay!

But the great part of our week happened with our baptism on Saturday! David Solo and Mohammed Donzo were both baptized and confirmed this past weekend, and it was a great success. I was even able to be the baptist for the first time since Ghana! I usually like letting branch members do the actual ordinance, but I felt as if I should do it for one of the last times. I will try to send pictures! We have another baptism scheduled for the 30th of July, and my last baptism will most likely happen on August 13th. We aren't too confident in the 30th, but we're hoping for 6 or 7 on the 13th!

Now to answer your questions...

1.  Did your baptism take place last Saturday?  Are you teaching any others that are close to committing to baptism? 

Yes, it did! We are planning on baptizing Otis Nelson on July 30th and Lauren, Kevin, Beauty, Alice, Cynthia, Abraham and Ofelia on August 13th! Please pray for them.

2.  Do you know if you will be traveling home with any other Elder(s)?

Elder Randall and I will be traveling to Amsterdam together and then that is where we will split! I'm so happy that we'll be together for awhile. Elder Randall is one of my best friends in the mission.

3.  With only 1 months left of your mission, what are your thoughts and feelings about completing your time in Africa?  Would you say that the 23 months have gone quickly?

Well that's hard to say... When I look back on it, I feel like it was the fastest 23 months of my life, but that day I said goodbye to all of you sounds like a lifetime ago. It's hard to explain, but my pre-mission life feels like forever ago, but my first day with Elder Mocke seems like a few weeks ago. It's like somebody put me in a time machine and I'm just waking up!

4.  Will you have the opportunity to speak in Sacrament Meeting in your Branch branch before you leave?

Yes! I will speak in 4 Sundays I believe. It won't be a full blown talk, but probably just a short testimony!

5.  What was your greatest success and biggest challenge of this past week?

Well, I think that I outlined my successes and challenges in the beginning part of my email, but maybe I can elaborate on them a little. My biggest challenge was easily seeing Elder Tayie sick. He's an amazing athlete and he's in great physical shape, so he's very frustrated that he's sick and deterring the work. For me, it's really hard to see him like that! When I train people, I really do take them to be my best friends and It's hard when they suffer. Of course, conversely, my biggest success was the baptism. I think I've told you all before, but my favorite part of baptismal services is the testimonies that the converts give! There's a spirit that's hard to describe at these services.

Well, thank you again for all of your emails! I love you all so much. Please send your prayers to Elder Tayie this week, I don't need anymore blessing than what the Lord has already given me. He needs them much more than I do. Have a great week!

Elder Degen

Monday, July 11, 2016

E-mail dated 7/11/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! I didn't realize that today is 7/11 until I opened my email today and saw the date in the corner. I hope that every one is enjoying free Slurpees for me at home! Thank you to every one for your emails this week and your prayers. I'm glad that every one at home also had a safe week with camping, and that there was no rain! Maybe the curse it lifted!

As for my own week, it was great! There's not too much to report from the past seven days, other than a few great lessons and a zone meeting! Other than that it wasn't too eventful. Our zone meeting was great though as we were able to hear about the counsel that Elder Vinson left for the mission when he came a few weeks ago. We are now striving harder to become a more obedient mission, which will greatly benefit our incredibly young mission! My group and I (the five reassigned missionaries) are now the oldest people in the mission, and the only ones over a year. It's insane how young the missionaries will be when we leave next month. 

Elder Tayie and did have some memorable lessons this week, though! When I first arrived here in Caldwell, we were referred to three children of a less-active member to teach and baptize. Of course, baptizing children in that kind of situation is a horrible idea, so we initially decided just to back off. But this week we decided that it was time to try and reactivate the mother, Hawa, after a year or so of inactivity. We sat down with all her children around and we had a beautiful lesson about the temple. She had been hearing a lot of things about the Church from friends, and she had become really confused what was true. But when we explained to her the simplicity of the temple, and that she could be sealed with her children one day, the spirit filled her heart. We committed her to coming to Church and she promised us she would be there. Surely enough, she was there 10 minutes before sacrament meeting started, seated with all of her children around her! It was amazing.

Also, we will be having a baptism this Saturday! Mohammed Donzo and David Solo have been meeting with us for a little over a month now, and both of them passed their baptismal interviews this past week. Mohammed is a Muslim from Guinea who has converted to Christianity and is currently living with the Mryes family in my branch (brother Myers is one of the "Freetown" missionaries whom the movie is based on). David Solo is an 18 year old guy who has been visiting the Church on and off for a few years now, but something just touched him last month and he has come to church every week since then. Both are so excited and ready for Saturday!

Anyways, to answer your questions...

1.  Did the rain subside this past week?  

Eh, it rained everyday I think, but it wasn't nearly as bad as last Monday. I don't think I'll ever see that much rain again in my life. Thankfully it mainly rains in the mornings and evenings when we're studying or sleeping! 

2.  Are there any investigators that we can include in our prayers this week?

Please include David and Mohammed in your prayers! Also, James Dezon has been facing persecution from his friends since joining the Church, and I would also greatly appreciate it if you could add him to your prayers. Thank you!

3.  Do you know for sure if you will be coming home a week earlier than planned?  I have not seen a revised flight plan from the Church.  It would be awesome if you could be home before school starts instead of during the middle of the first week.  

Well, I said that last week because we thought there was a possibility, but when President Carlson called the travel department they said it would be $500 to change a single ticket... So I will still be coming home on the 24th!
Sorry for the scare.

Anyways, I love you all so much! I always love opening my inbox and seeing all your wonderful emails every week. I always feel so much love and support, even though I'm not always able to email every one back. Thank you again, I love you all!

Elder Degen

Monday, July 4, 2016

E-mail dated 7/4/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! Well, the connection is absolutely horrible today, so I'm just going to send something small. I won't even attempt to copy and paste the questions this week. Sorry every one, but I won't be able to reply individually today! Please enjoy my horrible email.

My week was, of course (it doesn't change), fantastic! Elder Tayie and I finally had a week that wasn't disturbed by mission tours or zone conferences, so that meant that we had a lot of work to do! Thankfully the Lord lifted us up and strengthened us, because we were one of the only companionships in the mission that wasn't sick this past week. Elder Tayie greatly improved with his English this week, and he's really starting to get into the groove of missionary work. He is getting much better at expressing his thoughts and he's now able to teach large portions of the lessons! Both of us spent our time in the field mainly preparing James and Lawrence for baptism.

Saturday was the big day for both of them, and it was one of the best baptismal services that I've been too. The branch organized it well, and after hauling in water to the font with trash cans, everything was good to go! Even though it's extremely hard to get large amounts of water here in Africa, every time I've had a baptism, water somehow makes its way to the font. That alone is a testimony that our Heavenly Father cares about missionary work and that, like it says in Jacob, "the Lord of the vineyard labor[s] also with them." I'm certainly not doing this work alone!

Well, have a great week everyone! Happy Fourth of July! Enjoy the parade and the fireworks for me. Be sure to eat lots of delicious meat. I love you all!

Elder Degen

Rain Pictures!


Very early in my mission, when I was in Cape Coast, I heard a story from President Stevenson that has greatly affected me. He was speaking to us as a group of new missionaries and I will never forget it. I know I can't do it justice, but I want to paraphrase his story so that I can share the great lesson that I learned that day.

"There were two missionaries who, like most missionaries in the world, spent much of their time knocking on doors and looking daily for people to teach. One day as they were tracting, they met a man at the foot of his porch who rejected them, and as they were leaving he mentioned that they weren't the first missionaries to try and 'fool him.' Although the missionaries were discouraged at first, they felt a strong prompting to keep trying to pass by that particular man. For weeks they came to him, but no matter what their approach they just could not seem to get inside his door.

One day, as they were close to his house, it began to rain heavily. Not wanting to walk in the rain, they sought shelter quickly and found themselves on the porch of that stubborn man. 'Perfect!' They thought. 'Now he has to let us in.' As the man answered his door, they begged him to allow them protection from the rain. He reluctantly let them into his home seeing no other option. Once inside, the missionaries thanked him greatly as they finally sat in his elusive front room. After some small conversational talk, he begrudgingly allowed them to share their prolonged message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As the Elders taught, the man kept silent the duration of the lesson. He did not say a word, although he was intently focused upon them, only nodding occasionally when asked a simple question. The sole sound was that of the Elders' muffled voices over the roar of the rain. These missionaries boldly told him of Joseph Smith and powerfully testified that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored back to the Earth after centuries of being lost. When they finally finished, he sat deep in thought for a long time. 

Finally, he looked at both of them squarely and said, 'Elders, I don't think the both of you actually believe that message you just shared with me.' 

Taken aback at his response, the Elders again testified that they knew it was true. He refuted and said, 'Then perhaps you don't understand it. You would have never knocked on my door today. If this message is true, then no amount of rain would ever stop you.' "

When I heard this story I began to realize that I, as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, carry a message that deserves to be proclaimed in any condition. Rain or shine, snow or drought, it needs to be shared. We are the only ones in the world who have this truth. I now can say I understand what Paul said when he testified "for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16).

Here in Africa, the proselyting conditions are not always ideal. For six months out of the year, it rains daily. And not just a light sprinkle, but storms can happen in the morning and last all through the day. It can be a big temptation not to go out and teach when the skies aren't bright and sunny! But since the time I heard that story, I have walked in the rain without hesitation. The downpours no longer are a deterrence to me, but a blessing, as if with every raindrop God makes me stronger.

-Elder Degen

Monday, June 27, 2016


E-mail dated 6/27/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! Thank you everyone for your emails this week. It feels weird to actually be emailing on a Monday for a change... I'm sorry for all the Tuesday emails since I came to Caldwell! The cafe here isn't too reliable. Thankfully it's alright today!

My week was eventful, of course, because I finally received my new companion! His name is Elder Tayie (pronounced tie+yee) and he's from Abidjan, Ivory Coast! He arrived Tuesday evening after spending six weeks in the Ghana MTC learning English. He is amazing! All the Ivorians I've ever met have been so humble, and he is no different. His English is still very broken, but he's so willing to learn and ready to work. I had a lot of fun this week getting to know him! He's a convert of about three years, and he's the only member in his family. He played professional football(!) in Ivory Coast for a living and he does NOT like rice. We'll see if that changes in the next two years in Liberia...

I spent much of my week showing Elder Tayie around the area and introducing him to our investigators. Although he struggled to communicate the thoughts of his heart to them, he did really well this week. We have two investigators that will be baptized this Saturday, James Dezon and Lawrence Massaquoi, and Elder Tayie will be the one to baptize them! I think I'm more excited than he is though haha, James and Lawrence have been so awesome as they have changed their lives to prepare for their baptism. 

My week was also eventful because we had a mission tour this week with the Vinson's! Elder Vinson is a member of the Seventy and is soon to become the Area President when President Curtis gets released in August. He's from Australia, and he is a very straightforward man! He taught the mission about the importance of maintaining our mantle as a missionary even when we're in our apartments, which helped a lot of people (including myself) change some things we do in the evenings after proselyting. He also warned us that because we're so successful here he's afraid that some of us are relying more upon our own knowledge to teach, instead of relying upon the direction of the Spirit. That reminded me exactly of what Elder Bednar taught to all the missionaries in the Wordwide Missionary Broadcast, which was to present the gospel unto the hearts of our investigators by the power of the Holy Ghost, instead of into the hearts of our investigators by our own knowledge (which is impossible). It was a really memorable instruction from Elder Vinson!

Anyways, now to answer your questions... I just realized this email is really long...

1.  If you haven't already, tell us about the all-mission Zone Conference.  Where was it held, what did you do, etc.

It was held last Thursday at the Sinkor Chapel in downtown Monrovia! We just had one 4 hour meeting with the whole mission gathered together and we were first instructed by our Assistants, then Sister and President Carlson, and then Sister and Elder Vinson. It was amazing!

2.  Tell us about your new companion.

Well... I can't think of too much else to say about him! I told you he played professional football, right? Well he gave that up completely to go on his mission. Before he put in his papers, his coach said it's either his mission or his football career, and he chose his mission! Like I said, he is so incredibly humble, I love him.

3.  The pictures I have seen of your apartment look nice and I know you have shared a few things about it, but does it have A/C, power all the time, a washer and dryer?

HAHAHAHA. No A/C. 2 amps of power in the evening time. The only American amenity that we do have is a washer! I gave my washer to Elder Eguko before I left New Georgia, but I was able to somehow inherit one from an Elder who had to go home for personal reasons. So yes, we do have a small washer! But no dryer.

4.  About how many YM and YW do you have attending your Branch?  Do they hold weekly activities during the week?  If so, what type of activities do they do?  

Hmmm... That's a good question. I actually have no idea how many YM/YW are in my branch! From what I've seen though, I would say around 10 YM and 10 YW! I don't think they do weekly activities though. The biggest Church auxiliary in Liberia is the YSA from what I've seen.

5.  Is it hard to stay focused and engaged in the work the last few months of your mission? 

Sometimes, but for the most part, no! I mean, Elder Verdoni and I always joke about how little time we have left, but it just doesn't feel real to us yet. It just kind of feels like we'll be missionaries forever! We still work just as hard as we have all throughout our missions, but I'm certainly more prone lately to just imagine what it will be like at home.

Anyways, thank you all again for your support and love that you have shown unto me this week in your emails and in your prayers! I can hear them loud and clear. I pray that everyone will have an enjoyable week and that I can hear from everyone next week! I love you all.

Elder Gavin Degen

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

E-mail dated 6/21/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! Thank you everyone for the great emails I received this week, they were awesome. It's hard to believe I left home 22 months ago yesterday! For 22 straight months I have had emails in my inbox that make me smile every Monday. I really appreciate it. I love all of you!

Anyways, this week was one of the craziest weeks of my entire mission... Mainly because I didn't have a companion! Elder Smith left Caldwell early Tuesday morning and has not been replaced up until now. I was still able to go out and proselyte though because the Lord blessed me with some amazing branch missionaries to  be with me every single day from Tuesday to Sunday! Every morning at 10 a.m. there would be 2 or 3 members of the branch ready to go with me. It was one of the greatest examples of member-missionary work I have ever seen. We accomplished a lot together this week!

Of course, that doesn't mean my days were easy... On the contrary because none of the brach missionaries knew any of the lessons nor knew how to answer many of my investigators questions! Needless to say, I talked a lot this week. At first I thought it would be fun to run things by myself, but by Tuesday night I already wanted a companion! I now know why the Savior sent out his disciples two by two to preach the gospel, perhaps now more than ever before.

Sunday was an eventful and memorable day, because a few of my recent converts received the Melchezidek Priesthood at the Paynesville District conference. Jones Shekpeh, Armah Kanneh, and Prince Dorbor all were sustained to be Elders! I wasn't able to be there in person, but Elder Carlson told me all about it. It's amazing to see the fruits of some of my baptisms that happened months ago. I got just as giddy and excited yesterday as I did when they were baptized! I can't even imagine how I'll feel when one of my converts gets sealed in the temple. That's my ultimate goal.

Anyways to answer your questions...

1.  If you haven't already, tell us about your new companion.

I wish I could tell you about him, but I can't! I've never met him yet. He should be arriving in Liberia today though, so I'll tell you all about him next Monday.

2.  Someone asked me if missionaries are only released from their missions on transfer weeks.  I didn't think so because Eric came home very close to the same day he left and you are too.  But this person said that if they didn't  then it would be a real mess for the mission president because he would have missionaries going home all the time.  How does that work?

Yes, missionaries are (almost) always released on transfer weeks. If not, it would be a huge problems for mission presidents. Technically they can release missionaries within 30 days of their two year mark without even having to call Salt Lake, but it's only in rare circumstances that mission presidents would allow missionaries to leave in the middle of a transfer.

3.  Do Liberians celebrate Father's Day?

Not that I saw... I didn't know it was Father's Day on Sunday until I read your email!

4.  How often to you shop for groceries and what do you spend on average per week for food?  

We do our grocery shopping on Mondays, and it can vary how much I spend. We are given $35 to spend every week, and about $20 of that usually goes to food. When we budget correctly and eat rice, even the $20 is way too much. 

Well thank you again everyone for everything you do for me! I love all of you so much. Your prayers help me every day as I go out and preach this glorious gospel. I hope all of you have a great week!

Elder Degen

Monday, June 13, 2016

E-mail dated 6/13/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! Thank you everyone for bearing patience with me the past few weeks as I have been horrible at writing people back. I finally have good time today, so I'm trying to make amends. I glad that every one had a good week though and that I was able to hear from all of you! God bless every one for your continuous emails.

My week, as always, was great! Elder Smith and I really have started to settle down in our new area and build up our teaching pool. Whitewashing isn't easy, but it can be nice because you get to sift the wheat from the tares in terms of investigators! One such example is man named Lawrence. We met him our second day in the area last week, and he has progressed greatly. He has come to Church two weeks in a row now and he has accepted a baptismal date for the second of July! This week he told us that the day met him, he was praying we would stop and talk with him. He now thanks God everyday for "blessing him with the true church." I'm really excited for Lawrence!

My week also was a bit eventful. On Friday we received and interesting call from President Carlson. He told us that Elder Smith will be emergency transferred to Lagoon (an area in my same zone, about 15 minutes away) and that I will be training a new French-speaking missionary from Ivory Coast! I was a bit surprised, but I'm really excited to finish my mission training. This will be my fifth and final trainee! He arrives in Liberia next week, so for this week I will be going out with branch missionaries.

Anyways, now to answer your questions!

1.  Elder Verdoni's Mom also posted pictures of your apartment.  It looks like a pink castle!  Is that how you would describe it?  It looks pretty nice (and big)!

It's awesome! Yes, I would describe it as a big pink castle. You have to remember that it was a sisters apartment up until a few weeks ago! It's a very nice place though. 

2.  It sounds like you received a lot of referrals from your friend, Nancy.  Were you able to meet and teach any of them?

Yes, we were! She even carried 4 of them to Church yesterday. She's awesome.

3.  What event took place this past week that increased your testimony of the Savior?

Hmmm... I think these past two weeks have been testimonies in and of their own. As I have gone to a brand new area, I was reminded that the Lord doesn't like us being too comfortable in one place, because we have to rely on Him less. That's one of the reasons transfers can be a great blessing, especially whitewashing. Whenever I leave my house in the morning I completely rely on the guidance of the Spirit that the Savior provides, because without it we wouldn't accomplish anything in that day. It's been an incredible testimony builder as I strive to do as instructed in Alma 37:37, which is to "counsel the Lord in all thy doings." 

Thank you all again for your wonderful emails and for your support! Even though its been a few weeks since I've replied to some of you, I still greatly appreciate all that you do for me. I love you all and can't wait to hear from you next week!

Elder Degen

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

E-mail dated 6/7/16

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! I'm sorry for the late email today, I'm sure every one is used to it by now though. Yesterday was a busy day for Elder Smith and I as we went in town and got caught up at the mission office. But I'm here today now! Of course though, I don't have much time... So I won't be able to email very many people back this week, please forgive me!

My first week in Caldwell with Elder Smith was awesome. We are white-washing the area, which means neither of us have been in the area previously, so it was an interesting experience. Thankfully the Lord provided us some amazing opportunities and even more amazing people to help us. The first day we arrived in the area a 23 year old recent convert named Nancy called us and showed us to her house. She is one of the strongest converts I have seen in my entire life! She showed us around our area for three days out of the week, taught with us and in her free time she would proselyte on her own, finding referrals for us. We received 18 from her by the end of the week! Needless to say, Nancy was a heaven-send for us this week.

The other members in the branch also helped us tremendously this week. We had members with us every single day of the week! The branch seems very strong, and we were impressed with the leadership as well. Caldwell also has one of the nicest chapels in Liberia, it was just finished late last year. It's the size of a district/stake center! Standard chapels (and not rented buildings) are such great tools for missionary work. They're the nicest buildings around for miles, and every person that passes wants to look inside!
Anyways, let me answer your questions...

1.  How was your first week in Caldwell?  How big is the branch?
It was awesome! Everything about it was great. The branch has about 400 people in it, but only about 150-200 at sacrament meeting. It's bigger than New Georgia, but about the same size as Paynesville 1!

2.  You told us last week that Elder Verdoni is in your apartment.  I assume he was released as an assistant?  Who are the new assistants?
Yes, Elder Verdoni was released as the assistant because he had been in the office for 9 months and he asked to go out and train for his last 2 transfers. Thankfully the Lord's revelation (and some slight begging) brought him into the same apartment with me! He was replaced by none other than my son, Elder Carlson, as the new assistant! I was proud of him when I heard he was called, he will do great there.

3.  I was surprised to see that you had been released as a Zone Leader.  I just assumed that you would finish your mission in that leadership role.  Is that usually the case that you are only called to a leadership position for part of your mission?  I obviously don't know much about leadership logistics of a mission.
It depends on the mission, but leadership positions are mainly only held temporarily, just like most callings in the Church! I always hoped I would be released before the end of my mission, and thankfully it happened! Although I will miss the constant interaction with the Carlson's and the other missionaries, I'm excited to just completely focus on my area for the last 3 months.

4.  Did you have a lot of rain this past week?  I spoke with someone whose daughter just came back from a humanitarian mission in Africa and she said that it rained so much!
It's rained every day here this week, but nothing too serious! I hear that in late June and July it will rain for seven straight days without stopping. I'm excited for that!

5.  Is there anyone or anything that we could be praying for?
Hmm... Just please be praying for the saints in general here in Liberia! They need all the blessings they can get. Everyday they're tested spiritually and temporally and your prayers can be a great blessing to them!

Well, sorry again for the short time that I have, I decided instead of using my small time to send out short emails to everyone, I just decided to send out one longer one. So please forgive me again! I love you all and I hope that you have a great week.
Elder Degen

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


E-mail dated 5/30/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! Thank you to everyone for the great emails that I received this week (and last). I'm sorry I wasn't able to email too much last week, it's was a hectic Monday! Sadly today isn't much better either... So once again I am sorry, but I don't have too long today!

My week was awesome. Elder Adams and I had a lot of success in Bassa Town as we were able to see a lot of investigators and recent converts. We have been teaching a woman named Leah and she has been progressing so well! She used to attend the Church in Paynesville for 4 years(!) until she moved to the interior parts of Liberia, and she was never baptized. She tells us about how many missionaries have come to teach her before, and I'm so glad that now is the time she's finally ready. She came to Church yesterday, and she fits in well with the branch. We're excited for her baptism next month!

Also, I think I've told you all before, but I absolutely love the people that are in my apartment, and this week we had so much fun together. We ate another cat (we roasted it this time), made S'mores, played Uno, and drank way too much Coke. I don't think I've ever had more fun in an apartment before.

Sadly, it all came to an end today though because I got transferred today! That's right, after 6 months in New Georgia I have been transferred to Caldwell, an area about 20 minutes away in Bushrod Island. My new companion is Elder Smith from New Mexico! He's just out of training and he's a great missionary. Thankfully I have been released from being a zone leader!!! The Caldwell apartment is so nice, because up until this transfer, it's been a sister's apartment. We're the first Elders there! It will be me, Elder Smith, Elder Verdoni, and Elder Verdoni's yet-to-be-announced trainee that will come on Wednesday. I'm so excited for the next 3 months!

To answer your questions...

1.  Give us the details if/when you were/are being transferred.

Caldwell! I hope you already gathered that from my previous paragraphs...

2.  How is the Branch President doing that became quite ill a couple of months back?  Has he made a full recovery?

He was doing great up until this past week. He fell off again and is currently in the hospital. Thankfully his son gets home from his mission today though, so he will be able to see him daily now. Please pray for him!

3.  I know I asked you about this last year when you were in Ghana, but what are the cemeteries like in Liberia?  Do the people there celebrate anything like Memorial Day?  
All the cemeteries that I've seen are just a lot of big concrete boxes placed in an extremely small plot of land. They usually tile the boxes to make them look decent, but it doesn't look anything like the cemeteries at home! They do have something like memorial day, but I think it happened in March or April.

4.  What spiritual event happened this week that increased your testimony of the Savior?  

I always joke with my branch presidency in New Georgia that the branch's favorite hymn is #193, "I Stand All Amazed" because we sing it every single week without fail. But over the past 24 weeks of hearing it before I partake of the sacrament, the words have become so meaningful to me, and yesterday it became emotional for me as I was singing it. My favorite line is

I marvel that He would descend from His throne divine
to rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine

As I sang it yesterday, I contemplated how merciful the Lord is how much he truly does love us. Why else would He suffer pains and afflictions of every kind, just to save such "rebellious and proud" children. It truly does amaze me. 

5.  You said that President Carlson is only called for 2 years.  Is this because of Ebola that his time is only 2 years or is there another reason?  Forgive me if you have already told me this before.  Eric and I were talking about it earlier in the week and he didn't know either.  

Both Sierra Leone and Liberia have mission president's that are called for two years, and the only reason I've heard is because it's harder here. Not very many people from the U.S. would be willing to come for 3 straight years, so the Church changed it to 2 for these countries. 

Well I ended up having more time than I thought! Thank you again to every one who emailed me and offered prayers of support for me this week. I will need them as I adjust to my new area and companion! I love you all and I can't wait to hear from you next week.

Elder Degen

Monday, May 23, 2016

E-mail dated 5/23/16

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! How-da-body every one? It's been another great week here in Liberia, sadly a little too great! I don't have nearly anytime for my long email this week.. I apologize, but I'll try and say something small!

Our baptism fell through this past week, but we have rescheduled it for the 4th of June, so it won't be too far! Speaking of that though, there's a good chance that I will be transferred at the end of this week! I will find out on Friday though.

Other than that it was a great week! 

1.  On the FB page, on of the Mom's asked if anyone knew how many missionaries there were in the mission now.  She got a wide variety of answers:  68, 79 and 98.  Do you know the number?  I know you said you were getting more missionaries the end of the month.
Hmmm... I think it's in the 70's right now, but soon it will reach in the 80's or 90's.

2.  Are President and Sister Carlson assigned to a Branch or do they travel around the mission attending different branches each Sunday?
They travel around, although many times I think they go to the Sinkor Branch because it's the closest!

3.  Did you hear that the Church has revised the clothing requirements for sister missionaries that are serving in countries where disease is passed from mosquitos?  Sisters serving in these countries are now permitted to wear dress pants to proselyte in.  This affects almost half of the missions of the Church.  Do you have any native full-time sister missionaries serving in your mission?
Yes, we have 6 Sisters in our mission! They're awesome.

4.  How much rain would you say you have received this week?  It has rained quite a bit here the last few days.  (I'm sure it is minimal compared to what you received).
Liberia has more rain the the month of June than the city of Seattle does for the whole year. It rains a lot here, but I'm, not sure how many inches these past few weeks! Sister Carlson told me that the average for the year is 180 inches/year.

5.  Besides family, friends, etc., what is the one thing (or things) that you have missed the most after being gone for 21 months?  
Besides my relationships, It's definitely been food. I miss good food so much!

Sorry for the horrible email this week, I promise I'll do better next week! I love you all.
Elder Degen