Monday, March 28, 2016


E-mail dated 3/28/16

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Happy Easter! Thank you to everyone for your emails this past week, especially those who sent me inspiring quotes from the Easter season. It sounds like every one's holiday was great, but that there wasn't too much else that happened, and that's okay! I'm glad that the spring break for Josh and Kalli is being spent with the family. 

As for my Easter, it was an awesome day yesterday! Elder Eguko and I celebrated it well by teaching all of our investigators and members about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It touched many of our members, and most especially our investigators who were hearing about this glorious message for the first time in their lives. Sometimes in my teaching I get too caught up in making sure my investigators understand about Joseph Smith, or about the Priesthood, but this past week I was reminded that the most important message that we have to share with others is the message of Christ's Atonement.

Although the branch in New Georgia didn't celebrate the holiday in a big fashion, I enjoyed and took special notice of the sacrament yesterday. I can remember President Uchtdorf saying in the mission president's seminar a few years ago that the rest of the world celebates Easter once a year, but for Latter-Day Saints we get the opportunity to celebrate every week by partaking worthily of the sacrament. I encourage every one at home to carry with them this spirit of Easter into their weekly worship! I can promise you that as you pay closer attention to the sacrament, the Lord's promised spirit will be with you.

As for the rest of my week, it was pretty successful! Elder Eguko and I were able to see many people, and we are so happy with their progression. Leroy is still doing great, and yesterday his father came outside and shook our hands, looked straight into our eyes and said "Thank you for helping my son." We had previously found out that Leroy had a heavy drinking problem before he began meeting us, but at the beginning of the year he decided to put away his sins and start to follow Christ. When he first saw us, he recognized us as his chance to start over again, and his family is taking notice of his changes. I'm so excited for his baptism next month!

Anyways, to answer your questions...

1.  What did you do for Easter?  I hope you had a nice Easter dinner somewhere and that you got to eat some Reese's eggs!
I certainly got plenty FM's yesterday, but no Reese's eggs! Haha those will have to wait until I get home. I had so much free food yesterday that it hurt. The members in Bassa Town are great, I love them so much.
2.  How do the people where you are celebrate Easter?  I know you said they really don't do the whole Easter bunny thing, so what do they do?
They honestly didn't do very much! Most of the people in Liberia weren't even aware of the reason we celebrate Easter. So, as a missionary, it was my job the entire week to teach them what it means! 
3.    What is your favorite thing about being a zone leader?
The relationships that I'm able to build with other missionaries. I get to talk with all the members of my zone at least once a week, and I see the other leaders along with the senior couples and the Carlson's at least once a month. My close second favorite would be doing baptismal interviews! I think I've mentioned before how much I enjoy doing those. Other than that, being a leader isn't that fun or desirable.
4.  Do you hear much from your high school friends?  Is it crazy to think that it has already been two years since you guys started receiving your calls?
I receive many of their weekly emails, and I occasionally email a few of them! It is crazy to think that I received my call almost 2 years ago.. It seems not that long ago that we were all looking up pictures of Ghana in anticipation!
Well, I hope that every one has an enjoyable week and that I can hear from all of you next week! I appreciate your prayers and the support that I receive every single week. It means a lot to me. I love you all!
Elder Degen

Monday, March 21, 2016

E-mail dated 3/21/16

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Good morning this beautiful spring day! Today was the first time I have felt rain in months, and it was only a tiny drizzle this morning. But nevertheless, it was much needed! It also sounds like a beautiful time at home as well with the weather warming up. I was glad to hear from everybody today and know that every one had successful weeks. I also received quite a few pictures today, so thank you all for that! 

As for my week, it was a great one as usual! I think I've told you all before, but at the beginning of this transfer 2 weeks ago, my area was split for the 3rd time in New Georgia and it keeps getting smaller and smaller. I now solely proselyte in a place called Bassa Town! It's an awesome part of our area, and we have many amazing members of the branch that live there. But, it's about a 20 minute walk from one end of the area to the other, so that means that we see many of our investigators every day!

This past week we began seriously teaching a man named Leroy. He was a referral from some former investigators, and at first we didn't think he was that serious. He's a 22 year old guy who is a student at the University of Liberia and he seems to be busy on most days, which kind of added to our reluctance to see him. But, Elder Eguko said that he felt prompted to see him earlier this week, so we went and taught him about the Book of Mormon and committed him to praying. We left the lesson feeling good, but we honestly weren't expecting too much.

We visited him again on Saturday, and he completely changed our perspective. We asked him if he had prayed and he said yes. He had stayed up late into the night reading from the Book of Mormon, and at the quietest time of the morning, he asked God if it was true. He explained that as he did, he got that strong "goose bump" feeling, followed by an overwhelming feeling of warmth, and he recognized that it was the Holy Ghost telling him that it was true. Elder Eguko literally could not stop smiling the rest of the lesson, and he very readily accepted a baptismal date for next month. He came to church yesterday, and we are so excited to continue visiting him. I will keep you updated in the next few weeks!

Let me answer your questions now!

1.  How long did it take for you to get the corn rows put in and how long did you leave them in?
It took Rita about 10 minutes to do it, and honestly I was downright impressed! I did it at my last appointment last Sunday, and I took them out later that night. All the other Elders loved it.

2.  If you have any down time, what is your favorite thing to do?  
This sounds strange, especially for those who lived with me back home, but I love studying. I love reading from the scriptures, general conference talks, Liahona's, and the institute manuals. If I have any free time, I usually spend it studying (until the other Elders come and tempt me to play a card game or something...)

3.  About how many investigators have been coming to Church meetings lately?
In the New Georgia branch, we struggle a little bit with getting investigators to church. Overall we usually have 12 to 15 for the whole branch, but that's nothing compared to the other branches. We're working hard to find a solution for it!

4.  How is your Branch President doing?  I was happy to hear that he was improving.
He is doing great! He can now walk and talk and his own, but I don't know if he's ever going to regain the same strength that he had before. I pray that he can resume his Branch President office, because he is a great leader that Liberia needs.

5.  How often do you get to meet with President Carlson?  
We have personal interviews with him every other transfer, but I see him about once a month when I go in for MLC! 

Sorry, I'm running out of time for today, but I want to thank you all again for the emails and support that you gave to me this week. I hope that you all stay safe and that I can hear from every one again soon! I love you all.

Elder Degen

Monday, March 14, 2016


E-mail dated 3/14/16

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! It's Monday again, and it's already time to email! It's been a fast week as always, so it feels really weird to be back in this internet cafe already. It sounds like things are great back home though and that every one enjoyed their week! I'm happy to hear that the Utes received a 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, even though I couldn't name more than 2 players on their roster! Cheer loud for them for me this week.

As for myself, it was an awesome week. The beginning of it was spent showing the new Elders around their new areas, but the last half of it was spent in my own. It was such a blessing to be able to see all my investigators consistently! The only day I had to go on exchanges was on Saturday, and that was to go to Paynesville to meet with the district presidency! (Which was also awesome because I got to see my people there)! 

To update you about some of my investigators, Elder Eguko and I have recently begun focusing on families and we have really seen the benefits of it. We are teaching an 18 year old girl named Olivia whose mother is a less active, and Olivia is awesome! She's been coming to church and she's slowly opening up to the idea of being baptized in April. We are praying for her, as well as for her mother to be reactivated. We also have been teaching a few couples in our area that are referrals from the members, but we are struggling to meet with the husbands because they are always busy with work! Your prayers would be much appreciated as we try to focus on these families.

To answer your questions...

1.  What is the best thing that happened to you this past week?
The best thing that happened to me... That's a hard question! I would say the best thing that happened to me was yesterday when I was able to see my investigators at church. It's always a great anticipation game as we sit by the door every Sunday just waiting for our investigators to walk in, and when they finally do it's such a great feeling! 

2.  How are the schools in your area?  Do most of the kids attend school for 12 years?
The schools are very under funded, yet somehow school fees are very expensive. The owners of the schools usually chop the money before any of the teachers see it, which makes the teachers very unmotivated to go to class. There have been many times where I'll ask my investigators what they learned at school that day and they'll tell me that their teacher didn't show up. Also, some of the class sizes at the cheaper government schools are so large that students are sitting on the floors and window sills just to get their education for that day. Education in Liberia is not an easy thing! Only some make it through all 12 years, although the rate is slowly increasing.

3.  Did you learn anything profound in your personal or companion study lately?
I have been studying from the New Testament recently and instead of doing a harmonic study of the Gospels, I've been reading them chronologically to get a better understanding of the unique aspects of each author. I've really enjoyed the profound influence that the book of Matthew has had upon me as I have read and studied of the Savior's Earthly ministry and Atonement. Honestly, as I study the scriptures on my mission, I can't wait to go to institute back home. I feel stupid for rarely going to seminary when I was in High School! 

4.  Where is Elder Adams from and how long has he been on his mission?  I assume since he is your Zone Leader companion that he lives in the same apartment as you?
Elder Adams is from Takoradi, Ghana! That might sound familiar to some of you, because that was very close to my first area on my mission, Nketsiakrom! I never met him in Ghana, but he's a great leader even though he's only been on his mission 6 months. He replaced Elder Cichoski in the apartment.

Well thank you again for all the support and emails that I received this week, both verbally and in spirit! I miss you all so very much and I love you all. I hope that you have a great and safe week!

Elder Gavin Degen

Monday, March 7, 2016

E-mail dated 3/7/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! Thank you, as always to every one who emailed me this week and for the support that I receive every Monday! It's always fun to open up my inbox every P-day. It sounds like it's a little bit chilly at home, and for the first time in a long time I'm actually pretty jealous! It's been so dang hot here as the dry season is slowly coming to a close.

Anyways, It sounds like life at home is good though with all the basketball and school plays that are going on! Speaking of basketball... Go Utes! Cheer loud for them these next few weeks. It also sounds like every one is still healthy and that every one is safe, so we thank God for that.

My week went by extremely fast as usual, and it was another one of the craziest weeks of my mission. Tuesday and Sunday were the only days that I was able to proselyte in my area! Wednesday was MLC and interviews, Thursday was Zone Meeting and interviews, Friday was interviews, and Saturday was a coordination meeting with the Bushrod Island district presidency. It was a crazy week! Elder Cichoki and I were together for most of it, which is nice, but I missed Elder Eguko. Thankfully he did great though without me in our area and he is really doing well adjusting to missionary work.

To add to the madness, transfer news was this past week as well and it really changed the entire mission. Thankfully Elder Eguko and I are still together, but my zone is being split and Elder Cichoski is being transferred to Congo Town! Elder Adams is coming to be my new zone leader companion and we are also getting another set of missionaries for the New Georgia branch. My new zone now consists of 20 missionaries and 18 of them are less than 6 months on their missions. I feel so old... But I'm excited to get to meet all the new members of the zone!

To answer a few questions this week...

1.  Has the rainy season started yet?
Nope, not a single drop of rain! I'm patiently waiting for it to get a little cooler here....

2.  How are your recent converts doing?  Is your branch good about fellowshipping them?
My recent converts are doing great! Jones and Caulena are so strong and Browne, Precious and the others are still coming to Church every week. They've made some good friendships in the branch, so I think they will have fellow shippers even after their missionaries have left.

3.  Do they offer early morning seminary to the youth there?  (Random, I know).  
Nope, they just have seminary and institute classes at the chapel on weekday evenings! I think around 5 to 10 youth are there, so it's a decently successful program.

4.  What did you and your companion (or Elder Cichoski) do this week that made you laugh?  
Oh... That's a hard question! Everyone in my apartment was playing Farkle one night this past week and Cichoski was losing by a lot of points until he got a roll of all 6's!! Just like that he got 3,000 points and he ended up winning. We were all screaming when we saw it haha it reminded me of playing it on Sunday nights back home with the family!

5.  How is your Branch President doing?
He is miraculously doing a lot better. He is back at his house and he can move much better and his memory is slowly coming back. I think many members of the branch fasted and prayed for him yesterday and the Lord has provided us with a miracle. Normally after strokes, if they don't recover within 24 hours then what's left of them is what will remain. But President Weegi is trying to prove that wrong! Your prayers have been much appreciated for him and his family. 

6.  Have you found any food over there that doesn't agree with you?  Is there something that you have eaten that you know that you will never eat again?
Hmmm... To be honest, it's been a really long time since somebody has fed me something downright disgusting. So far, I can't think of anything that I wouldn't be willing to eat again!

Well, thank you again to every one who emailed me and prayed for me during the week, it is much appreciated. I love and miss all of you so much and I pray daily for many of you. Have a great week!

Elder Degen