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