Monday, February 29, 2016


E-mail dated 2/29/16

Family and friends,
Akwaabo! For some reason today doesn't feel like a Monday, so it's really strange that it's already time to email again... My week went by so fast! I'm thankful that every one else's did as well. I'm glad that the week at home was full of basketball, school and homecomings. I'm always happy to know that every one is safe and happy, so thank you for that!

Like I said, my week went by fast but I'm not sure why it went by so fast! There wasn't anything crazy, it was just a fun week. Elder Cichoski and I had very few items of zone business to do (only 2 days of interviews) and so I was thankfully able to teach quite a bit! Of course, the highlight of my week though was the baptism of Jones and Caulena on Saturday! Ahh it was awesome. I sent pictures today so I hope that you have received them.

This week will not be so kind to me though... The first day I will get to proselyte in my area will be Saturday. Blah, I'm not too excited! The good thing though is that Elder Eguko is doing fantastic in his training and he is really progressing in missionary work. He can take the lead in almost every thing now and he is rarely homesick anymore. He's made me proud! 

I'll try and give you a few more details in my answers to your questions...

1. So, have you ever seen the prison that Sister Hezseltine spoke of?  She said it is right on the beach.  
No, I have not. But I'm great friends with the Assistants, who proselyte in Sinkor, and I hear the awesome stories! Apparently the man is still progressing really well and he should be baptized in the next few months. 

2.  Any sign of the package I sent several weeks ago?
YES!!! It arrived on Tuesday and I was so happy. Thank you so much to all who contributed and helped. It meant a lot to me. All of the food items inside are already gone though.... I was too lazy to buy food this week :)

3.  If I remember from President Stevenson's blog, he would have all the missionaries that were just beginning the last 6 months of their mission come to the mission home and give them the "finish strong" speech.  Does President Carlson do that?  
No, he does not. President Stevenson started doing that because missionaries would start to slow down with their work when their time was coming to an end and he wanted to change that. If President Carlson sees there to be a similar problem in the mission, I'm sure he'll do it too!

4.  Did everything fall into place for the baptism last Saturday?  I hope Jones and his sister were able to be baptized.
Yes, everything worked out really well! Jones had work in the morning, so we moved the baptism to the evening and it was a great service. He was so so happy! If you don't remember, he walked up to us about 6 weeks ago and asked us to baptize him, and he hasn't missed a week of church since. We are continuing to teach his other sister Rita, and Jones is planning on baptizing her himself after he receives the Aaronic Priesthood! I love that guy.

5.  Have you seen any crazy animals and/or bugs or insects lately?  Any pet monkeys running around?
I saw a massive spider the other day in my bathroom... Mom, I sent the pictures today, so try and post it with this email because I want every one to know how big this thing was. It was HUGE! As for pet monkeys, I haven't seen any recently. But one of our branch missionaries said he can go to the interior (the inner parts of Liberia, away from Monrovia) and buy a live monkey for 300 Liberian Dollars. That's about $3.25. I'm highly considering buying one... 

6.  Any district, zone or mission-wide activities coming up?
Well we have MLC on Wednesday this week and a Zone Meeting on Thursday as well, so Cichoski and I will be busy with those! As far as activities though... we're hoping to do one soon, but we're waiting until after transfers next week before we plan one. 

7.  What event this week helped to strengthen your testimony?
There has been an ongoing event in my branch for the past 2 weeks that has been happening that has been really humbling. Two Saturdays ago, right after our baptism of Browne, our branch president suffered a stroke. The effects have continually been getting worse and now his memory is almost completely gone. We as missionaries have been visiting him, and its a saddening experience every time we go. Yesterday, our entire branch visited him after church and said a prayer with him and his family. The worst part is that President Weegi's son is a missionary in my mission, and he can't be at home to be with his family. I've heard that he's doing fine though and that he has great faith that a mission is where he's supposed to be. He said he trusts the Lord completely. When I heard Elder Weegi's attitude, I was truly humbled. I wish I can have that kind of faith one day.

Sorry for sharing that sad experience at the end of my email, but this week I would just like a lot of prayers to be said for the Weegi family please. I would really appreciate it. Thank you to all of you for already praying for me and writing me every week. It helps me so much as I focus on my work. I love all of you so much and I can't wait to hear from you next week!
Elder Degen

Monday, February 22, 2016

E-mail dated 2/22/16

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Thank you to every one for another awesome Monday of emails for me to read. I love them so much, and I'm grateful for all of you. It sounds like a fun week at home, there wasn't too much complaining about the weather so I assume that's a good thing. It's still hot in Africa, just in case anybody was wondering! I'm also glad that every one was safe and that work, school and basketball all are well.

My week was busy as usual, but nothing too crazy! I had a great start to my week though as I was able to have my personal interview with President Carlson on Tuesday! I love that man so much. He is honestly one of the greatest and most humble people I have ever met. When Elder Bednar came, he said if his sons were serving missions right now, he wouldn't want any one other than the Carlson's to be their mission president, and I affirm to that! I have been so blessed on my mission as I have had two fantastic leaders, both him and President Stevenson. 

Speaking quickly about Cape Coast, Elder Mocke went home this past week! It's hard to believe that my trainer is home now, but he emailed me today and he sounds like he's doing really well! I miss that guy.

As for the rest of my week, it was spent proselyting with Elder Eguko and doing interviews with Elder Cichoski. We visited Jones quite a lot this week and he feeds us every time we go there. We went on splits with the Assistants this last Friday and Jones fed us an amazing Nigerian dish called Eba. Elder Eguko was so happy haha. Jones is also progressing well for his baptism on Saturday, along with his sister Caulena. We're excited!

Anyways, now to answer your questions...

1.  Do the people you teach have a hard time accepting the Joseph Smith story?
For the most part, no. These people are firm believers in dreams and visions, and so they usually don't have a hard time accepting his story. The only time we run into doubts is when we find people who think that no man has seen God or that God is a spirit and nobody can see a spirit. But even then, a few quick scriptures in the Bible and the Book of Mormon are usually enough to persuade people. Our biggest problem in teaching is that people just don't understand the Priesthood. They think that all the Churches can have the power of God and that it can come upon anybody (without the laying on of hands). That's the frustrating part!

2.  What is the biggest challenge of being a Zone Leader?
Oh, there are so many. I would say my biggest challenge is time. I have a trainee to worry about, an area to worry about, and 32 people in my zone to worry about. Sometimes I just feel like I don't have enough time to help every one that I need to.

3.  Do you have a senior couple that live close to you?
We just received a new senior couple this week (the Kimball's), bringing our mission total to 3 senior couples (the Allen's and the Wollenzien's are the others). None of them live too close to me though, in fact I think they all live in the same apartment compound in downtown Monrovia and I'm about 20 minutes away from the city. 

4.  How is Elder Eguko doing with his training?  If I'm not mistaken, he is about a month into his training. 

Elder Eguko is doing great! He has really picked up teaching skills quickly and he is an awesome missionary. Of course he still misses home occasionally, but so does every new missionary. He is about to finish his first transfer in the mission field next week! It's been a crazy fast transfer with him. 

5.  Do have time to do any sightseeing?  
Well I travel often to visit the members of the zone, so I feel like I've seen some pretty amazing things here in Liberia! I've been to amazing beaches, seen a lot of football fields, and of course I love going to the swamps. I wish I had more time to explore Liberia, but I'm satisfied with what I've got so far.

Well thank you again to every one for your amazing emails and your prayers that you offer for me. They are working. I am loving my mission in Africa and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world right now. I love you all!

Elder Degen

Monday, February 15, 2016


E-mail dated 2/15/16

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Another week has passed (once again rather quickly), and it's already Monday again! Thank you to everyone for the many emails in my inbox today, I appreciate it so much. It sounds like it was a fun week back home with only a few minor(?) injuries. I'm praying for you Brit! But other than that, I'm glad that everything is going well. I miss you all!

My week thankfully wasn't quite as hectic as last week. It was still busy, but nothing like last! I went on exchanges a few times with both Elder Treadway (from Cape Coast) and Elder Cichoski to go and do interviews, but other than that, I spent the rest of my time in my area! We were able to have a successful week, with the highlight being the baptism of brother Browne! He was our only candidate this week, but we were so happy that his baptism and confirmation was successful. I hope that you received the pictures that I sent earlier today.

Our next baptism is planned for the 27th of February and we are preparing some amazing people. The most notable one is Jones. He was a man who walked up to us a few weeks ago and said that he had heard about the Church before and that he would love to be a member. We took his name and number and visited him the next day and the rest is history. He has come to church for 4 straight weeks now, and he brings members of his family every time, including his 2 sisters Rita and Caulena. My favorite quote from him after his first Sunday (they talked about Eternal Marriage that day) is this: "My children will be in Latter-Day Saints, my wife will be in Latter-Day Saints, my grandchildren will in Latter-Day Saints, I'll be sealed in Latter-Day Saints, and I don't care if my wife wants to or not, she'll be sealed too!" Hahaha Elder Eguko and I couldn't help but laugh at how excited he is. I'll keep you updated on him!

To answer your questions now...

1.  Did Browne get baptized last Saturday?
Yes he did! It was awesome. The service was pretty well attended and we actually had water this time! It wasn't much, but we were able to do a kneeling baptism, so that's all we needed.

2.  Do many of the members there ever make the trip to Ghana to go to the temple?  I would guess that would be hard for many of them. 
The Church usually has anywhere from 50 to 100 people every year make the trip to the temple in Ghana! President Carlson is hoping that the number with start to rise though, especially now that we are beginning to make it a much bigger focus of our teachings. It's around $300-$350 for a family of 4 to go to the temple, which could mean years of saving for people to get that opportunity. But when their day finally comes, it's the greatest day of their lives.

3.  Did you notice if anyone celebrated Valentine's Day?  I'm guessing it's an American thing.
Well surprisingly, every person with a wheelbarrow began selling plastic roses and teddy bears yesterday... I was shocked! So the answer is: kind of. They recognize it as a holiday, but really it's just another day for the people!

4.  What was your sweetest success this week?
Both Browne's baptism and the interviews that I did this week. I was able to interview almost 10 people this week, and all of them were so uplifting. I always find it funny that these candidates who have been learning with missionaries for weeks even months seem to confess things in their interview that they just never discussed with the missionaries. I don't envy anybody who is a Bishop, Stake or Mission President because you have to rely so much upon the spirit when someone tells you something in confidence. It terrifies me because I never know what to say or how to react. But I've been striving to have the spirit with me in every interview and I'm slowly seeing the spirit work through me. 

Thank you again to every one who emailed me this past week and prayed for me! It means a lot! I love you all so much and I miss you. I hope you have a great week and I can't wait to hear from every one next week!

Elder Degen

Monday, February 8, 2016

E-mail dated 2/8/16

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Thank you as always to every one who emailed me this week! It's always nice to hear from family and friends, no matter how fast my week went. It sounds like all is well at home (just a little cold, as always) and that every body is still enjoying the high school basketball season as well as the Super Bowl! Speaking of the game, I was thinking about it just now, and I think the only people I know for either teams are the quarterbacks... In fact, I completely forgot that yesterday was the game. My week flew by!

Let me explain why. I was so insanely busy this past week!! The past seven days have been easily one of the funnest weeks of my mission though. Let me just try and tell you what happened. So on Monday night Elder Cichoski and I conducted splits with an Elder who was going home, and we threw an awesome party for him while we slept over. On Tuesday, we left to go to the mission office to sleep over with the Assistants and other Zone Leaders because we wouldn't have had time to catch a car the following morning to the office.

On Wednesday, we had Missionary Leadership Council! It was just 8 missionaries and the Carlson's and it was so helpful. We are finally changing some things in the mission like our apartment funds and also the way we prepare people for the temple. After the MLC, Cichoski and I did baptismal interviews for the Elders who are in an area close to town. In the evening we came back to our apartment in New Georgia and prepared our instructions for the following day.

On Thursday morning we had Zone Training at a chapel about 40 minutes away from New Georgia and Elder Cichoski and I presented all the information we received at the MLC and then we all got to watch the Worldwide Missionary Broadcast!! Maybe some of you heard of it back home, but for all who didn't it was a training broadcast for all missionaries around the world. It happened on January 20th, but because this is Africa, we watched it a few weeks late! It was awesome though as the leaders of the Church taught us how to better teach and prepare our candidates for baptism. After the training, we went to do interviews for a nearby companionship which lasted until the evening time.

I know some of you may have been wondering what my new companion, Elder Eguko, was doing all this week while I was with Elder Cichoski.... Well he was with another brand new missionary from Nigeria, Elder Ndubuisi! They were both kind of overwhelmed with the work we gave them to do, but I think they both learned a lot while on their own. Friday was my only normal day of proselyting this week!

On Saturday, Elder Cichoski and I met with the Bushrod Island District presidency to discuss the state of missionary work in the 9 branches that we have missionaries in. It was a surprisingly effective meeting and I was glad that we went. We were able to switch back with our assigned companions in the late afternoon, so we at least got a little bit of proselyting done! Fast Sunday was great as usual as well.

Sorry for just detailing my week like that, but I just had to tell you how crazy it was. Right now I'm about to go to Paynesville to go and play football with my old branch and see all my recent converts! I'm so excited. Let me answer your questions right now....

1.  Are you still planning on having the baptisms of Browne and Emmanuel this Saturday?
For sure Browne, but Emmanuel we want to prepare him a little bit more and make sure he is completely ready. Prayers would be much appreciated for both of them though!

2.  I told you about our gas prices here, what are gas prices like there?
I honestly haven't really been paying attention, but I think they've dropped here as well... I think it's still over $2 though!

3.  I know you are in the dry season right now, but does that mean that you can go days without rain, or does it mean that you just don't get as much rain?  Which season do you prefer?
Dry season means that we can go weeks or months without a single drop of rain. I actually can't remember the last time that it rained, even lightly... But for me, I prefer the dry season because it's just so much easier to get around to our various appointments and we are able to teach more lessons.

4.  It is Valentine's Day here at home next Sunday. Any idea if they celebrate Valentine's Day in Liberia?
Haha I don't think they do! If so, then I'm excited to see what they will do to celebrate. I'll let you know next week!

5.  What was the strangest thing you experienced this week?  
Strangest thing.... Hmmm.. Okay! Our relief society president offered to give us her dog to eat! That was pretty strange. Don't worry though, we didn't say yes... yet.

6.  Are you still healthy?
Yes, I'm perfectly healthy! I honestly haven't felt sick in a really long time. Thank you for asking though!

Thank you to everyone again for your emails and prayers this week. They mean a lot. I hope that you all have a great week and that I can hear from everyone again next week! I love you!

Elder Degen

P.S. I know quite a few of the actual Elders that the Freetown movie is based on. I think I told you, but I baptized on of their daughters (Elder Gonqui)Another man from the movie, Elder Nyanforh, is the Bushrod Island District president, so I met him on Saturday! Small world.

Monday, February 1, 2016


E-mail dated 2/1/16

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! We tell God thank you! (a common response to a greeting here in Liberia). This week was definitely one for me to thank God for, and it seems like it was one for every one back home as well. I'm gad every one traveled safely to their different places this week, and I'm glad that I was able to hear from a lot of you today. Thank you!

My week was great because it was full of proselyting. In fact, I can't think of a single thing on any of the days that cut our teaching short, which is unusual. It was awesome getting to explore some of the parts of my area that I haven't been to before! We met a lot of new people and Elder Eguko is really getting the hang of teaching. We're still teaching Browne (I think I told you about him a few weeks ago) and his baptism will be on the 13th of this month, along with a guy named Emmanuel! Elder Eguko and I are really excited. I will keep you updated in the next few weeks.

This coming week though is going to be absolutely insane. Elder Cichoski and I will be going to so many stupid meetings and interviews that I won't even be in my area until Saturday... So my email next week definitely won't be the same! I'm still excited though, as we get to see a lot of people in our zone this week. I love being with other missionaries.

To answer your questions for this week...

1.  Have you met again with Seafus?  Thanks for sharing the experience of meeting him.
No, because he is now in Elder Cichoski's proselyting area! We split at the last transfer and so we split the areas as well. Cichoski does tell me though that he explained his life story to them on Saturday. It took 3 hours. He has a crazy history, and I pray that the gospel can help him.

2.  How is Elder Eguko doing this week?  
He is doing well! After being homesick last week, he has really settled in now. He is comfortable in the apartment and it becoming better and better at teaching! He's such a fun guy to be with.

3.  Did you get to see the Hezseltine's before they left?  Were they replaced with another couple?  How many senior couples are now serving in your mission?  I did see a picture of the pink apartments they live in on the Hezseltine's blog.
Hmm.. I think the last time that I saw them was a few weeks ago! But I did talk to them on the phone a few days before they left and I gave sister Helzseltine your phone number (which I later realized was wrong....) Sorry! They would love to talk with you though. They are being replaced by a couple in March, called the Kimball's! They have served here before and they wanted to come again for 6 months. Maybe Eric knows them? They will bring our mission total to 3 senior couples: the Allen's, the Wollenzien's, and the Kimball's. 

4.  Describe a typical Sunday for you?  Do you have other meetings besides the three-hour block?
We get up at the usual 6:30 and start getting ready for the day. If we have somebody that we are going to pick for church, we usually leave the house around 7:45 to go and get them to be on time for service at 9. We then go to sacrament meeting, gospel principles class, and then to Elder's Quorum. After church, we usually go home for about a half hour and cook lunch and we proselyte for the rest of the day until 7! About every other week though we get a member to feed us on Sundays! And then when we get home, Elder Cichoski and I spend the next 2-3 hours doing numbers for our zone. I honestly love Sunday's though, and I look forward to them every week! 

5.  What was the funniest thing that happened this past week?  The most spiritual?
Hmmm... Well I think this is a good time to explain the subject of my email. "This is Africa" is a common phrase not only by missionaries, but by Africans in general and people usually say it when something absurd happens. For example, this week my companion and I saw an old man just bathing in a river completely naked and I turned to our recent covert we were with and she just said "Eh, this is Africa." I love it so much. 

The most spiritual thing that happened this week was another T.I.A. moment when my companion and I were able to wash someone's clothes for about a half hour and he thanked us so immensely for it. That sounds like a weird spiritual experience, but I've found that while doing acts of service I feel such a strong spirit. 

6.  Do you see or hear much from the Elders that transferred with you from Ghana?  Can you believe you have already been in Liberia for about 5 months now?

Yes, I hear from them all the time! Me and Elder Treadway are always talking to each other, and he is my district leader right now! Elder Wight is our Assistant right now, so I talk to him a lot as well. Actually, the three of us just had lunch in town at an American restaurant and we had so much fun. I love those guys!

Well, thank you all again for your emails and support this week! It means so much to me. I hope that you have a great week and that I can hear from you again next week. I love you all!

Elder Degen