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

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