Monday, January 25, 2016


E-mail dated 1/25/16

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! 'Ow-da-body? (Colloquial for How are you?) I hope that everybody is doing well back home. From the sounds of it though, you all sound pretty cold at the moment! I don't envy you... But I am glad that everyone is safe and sound and that I was able to hear from a lot of you today. Thank you for that.

To update everyone a little bit about what happened this past week for me, I received my new companion! His name is Elder Eguko and he is from Nigeria. He actually reminds me a lot of Elder Ibe in terms of mannerisms and accent! He's an amazing missionary though and he's so excited to do the work. I don't even feel like I'm training a West African. His favorite food is french fries, he's never washed by hand, and he hates all the Liberian dishes! He's also very knowledgeable in the gospel. His father is the mission president of the Nigeria Calabar mission, which makes for some fun stories from him. I can't wait for the next few months with him!

I don't have very much other news than that this week, but I do feel prompted to share something with everyone today. In our emails to each other every week, Missy and I share with each other a spiritual story that happened with us during the previous week and I would like to share mine today. So on Wednesday morning Elder Cichsoki and I were teaching a few lessons, but we were about to go back to the apartment to meet our new companions. As we were heading home, a man begged us to come and talk with him for a minute. To be honest, we didn't pay too much attention to him at first because we hear crazy people tell us that every day, but something told us to listen to this guy. As we walked over to him, he invited us over to his house and sat us down on his porch. 

He thanked us immensely for stopping, and then he began to pour out his heart to us. He explained how he has been addicted to drugs for over 10 years, how his parents are ready to disown him and about how badly he wants to change. He began shedding tears as he was explaining this horrible mess that his life is right now. I was really taken aback because nothing like this has ever happened to me before, but I somehow felt really calm as I was sitting there listening to him. Elder Cichoski and I began to teach him about the healing power of the Atonement and about how Christ is the source to whom he can look for the change that he desperately needs. We opened Alma 7:11-13 with him and explained that the Savior has experienced everything, including what he is feeling right now. At the end of the lesson, this man (his name is Seafus) was so hopeful of the future and he promised us he would pray for the first time in years. It was such an amazing lesson, and I'm so glad that the Lord guided my companion in I in knowing what to say.

To answer your questions now...

1.  Tell us about your companion.  Where is he from, etc.
Elder Eguko!! I think I told you everything I could about him already...

2.  Are any of your investigators right now children or teens?  I am curious as to how old Anita and Precious are.  I would think that if you can teach the younger ones, sometimes their parents will follow.
Anita is 14, and Precious is 16! Anita's guardian was baptized in November and now she has followed. Precious lives in the swamp right next to the Paynesville district president, and we are currently trying to convert her mother! The problem is that her English is very poor and she feels that Latter Day Saints is only for educated people who can read, which is not true. That's actually a very common problem here. People would love to join, but they feel ashamed that they are illiterate. We are teaching a few other teenagers, but we generally only do if they are a part-member family! 

3.  I don't think I have asked this before, if I have, then forgive me.  Tell me about the apartment in which you now live.  How many rooms, bathrooms, etc.  Does it have a washing machine or are you washing your clothes by hand?
It has 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and some large open spaces. It's supposed to be a 6-man apartment but because of the lack of missionaries it's now only a 4-man! Elder Cichoski and I have definitely made our mark on it though. We made a hammock out of empty rice bags and a few weeks ago we bought a washing machine! It was actually the exact same model that I had in Ghana. So to explain again, it's not a real washing machine, it is just a large plastic box that has a motor at the bottom that spins the clothes. It's works well enough for me, I love it! 

4.  Any new investigators we could be praying for?
Jones and his family. He randomly walked up to us while we were teaching one of our less active members and wanted to know more about the Church. Even though he spoke to us on Saturday evening, he made it to church the following morning! We are going to teach him for the first time on Wednesday this week. Your prayers are much appreciated.

5.  How was the Kickball activity?  What else did you do?  Are you and your companion in charge of planning your activities?
It was awesome! I hope that you were able to see some of the pictures that I sent you today. After the activity a lot of the Elders went in town and we all ate at Monroe Chicken (an amazing American restaurant)! Thankfully Elder Cichoski and I weren't in charge of this activity though because it was a combined district activity. We are in charge of zone activities!  

6.  How is President Carlson doing?  Is he back to 100% yet?  Have the Hezseltine's left to come home yet?  I would love to meet them when they do.  
President Carlson is doing great now! He's still in the bush right now, but he should be coming back sometime this week! The Hezseltine's will also come home this week on Thursday. I do not know when their homecoming is though, but I know that they would love to meet you there!

Well, thank you again to every one who wrote me today and for your prayers. They are being heard every day. I love you all, I hope that you have a great week! 

Elder Gavin Degen

Monday, January 18, 2016

E-mail dated 1/18/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! Another crazy week has passed and I can't believe that it's already Monday again. Thank you, as always, to those who emailed me this week! It sounds like everyone is enjoying the winter back home, although I know some people are looking forward to the spring time more than others (Mom)... This week was hot in Liberia again, just in case anybody was wondering! Back to the usual temperatures of 90 to 95 degrees.

Anyways, I know I usually say that I had eventful weeks, but this week was probably one of the craziest ones in a long time. On Tuesday we had our mission tour with Elder Vern P. Stanfill and it was amazing. What was really cool though was that I got to be apart of the Missionary Leadership Council and he was directing it. To explain, it was just 8 missionaries, the Carlsons and the Stanfills counseling together on how to improve the mission. I learned so much from Elder Stanfill both during his instruction to the mission and in the leadership meeting. He was put into the area presidency last fall and I'm excited to hopefully see him again soon! 

We finished preparing Anita and Precious for baptism during the weekdays and they had a successful baptism on Saturday morning! It was awesome. When we got to the chapel in the morning though, the font was no where close to being filled and so we just turned on the tap and we all watched the Restoration for an hour or so. It was completely unplanned, but it actually brought a great spirit to the baptism so Elder Cichoski and I have decided to show it before every service from now on! I will try to send pictures either this week or next, by the way. 

The craziest part of my week though was that we received our transfer news! I was expecting to stay together with Elder Cichoski at least another few transfers, but on Friday I was called to train a new missionary!! Because our mission is still young and growing, President Carlson wanted his Zone Leaders to train missionaries while still doing our other duties. I'm honestly really excited at this opportunity, just because I love training new missionaries so much. I will keep you updated next week and I will tell you my new companions name! He will come on Wednesday.
To answer your questions...

1.  Are transfers next week?  Any indications on what you will be doing?
To clarify, I will still be staying in New Georgia and so will Elder Cichoski! We will just split up and take different areas because the other two missionaries in our apartment were transferred out.

2.  What is the greatest miracle you witnessed this past week?  I think you will agree that miracles occur every day in our lives?
I do agree completely that miracles happen every day. I think I've mentioned this before, but I have seen so many "tender mercies" since I've come to Liberia. These mercies are never anything big or life changing, but little by little they build up. For example, random people picking us up because they feel prompted to. Or when we're really hungry and want to go back to the apartment, somehow a member feeds us. These are the miracles I experience every day!

3.  Any fun P-day activities coming up?
Yes! We're planning on playing 9 vs. 9 kickball next Monday between my district and another district! I'm so excited. I'll try to send pictures next week!

4.  Any Liberian holidays coming up?  Monday is Martin Luther King Day here at home.
Hmm... Even if there are, I have absolutely no idea. Normally holidays just kind of sneak up on us here and before we know it our proselyting day is ruined! 

Thank you again to every one who wrote me this week and prayed for me. I'm excited for this coming week and I can't wait to tell you who my new companion is! I love you all so much. Have a great week!

Elder Gavin Degen

Monday, January 11, 2016


E-mail dated 1/11/16

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Another week has passed here in Liberia, but this one seemed to go by extremely fast. Thank you to every one who prayed for me and gave me some words of encouragement this week, it means a lot! I know everyone is busy with school and work and other things, but it's always nice knowing that my family is safe and happy.

My week was an eventful one as usual! But do you want to know the greatest part? It was freezing cold on Wednesday and Thursday!! Seriously, I was cuddled up in my blanket all night and I was still cold. I heard that the low was almost 70 degrees! All of the Americans were so happy those two days, while every African was so upset haha. It was also the most modest day in the history of Liberia, which made missionary work a bit easier! 

The rest of the week was spent preparing a few of our investigators for baptism and doing interviews for some of the district leaders in our zone! It was an interesting experience though as I went on exchanges on Saturday and Sunday with a missionary that has been really struggling with his companion recently. I can remember times when I was new to the mission field and I felt really inadequate and I could relate a lot to this Elder. I learned a lot from him the two days that we were together!

I have a few more things I probably wanted to say, but I'll try and say them in the answers to your questions!

1.  About how many people do you have at Church on Sundays?  How many are members and how many are investigators?  
We usually have around 10 investigators at sacrament meeting! It's not quite as crazy as Paynesville was, but I realize how blessed we are. As for as total attendance, my guess would be around 100 people in our small rented building every week! There are 4 Elders in New Georgia though, Elder Cichoski and me, and Elder Hawkins and Elder Mehnpaine. 

2.  Did you get to return to Paynesville for the District Conference?  If so, how is everyone doing?  Did President Carlson make it back?
I didn't go back to Paynesville, but we all met in town for our district conference! It was so awesome because I got to see all of my recent converts!!! Everyone is doing so well, and I even got to see some of my investigators that I left there that got baptized after I left. President and Sister Carlson were there, as well as Elder and Sister Stanfill of the Seventy. We will actually be having MLC with both of them tomorrow, so I'm excited about that!

3.  Josh and I were talking the other day about what will be the first thing you will want to eat when you come home.  I know this is a long ways off, but we kind of have our guesses.  If you had to chose today, what would you choose to eat?  

I have actually thought about it, and as of right now I'm planning on a Cafe Rio burrito!! Ahhh I want one so badly. I might have to hold off on the cheese though...

4.  This is a weird question, but when was the last time you laughed with your companion and why?  What makes you laugh in your area and how do you keep light-hearted?

I laugh with Elder Cichoski all the time! Normally it's because we'll be walking and just talking and telling stories to each other all day, but there's also a lot of times that we can just sit and laugh about the cultural things of Africa. For example, we cannot figure out why in the world it's acceptable to call someone fat in a casual conversation! Some people can just walk up to you and say "You're looking very fat today!" and that always gets a laugh out of me and my companion!

5.  What do most people do for work in your area?
Most people have small provision shops, or they sell things at the market. Most of them are very poor in the main part of my area, but there are some places in the estates that are owned by police officers and business people. Overall though, it's a very poor area!

6.  Are you feeling better?  What is most common sickness you see in the people there and other missionaries?  
Oh yeah, I'm doing much better! After doing a deep cleaning of our apartment, everyone seemed to magically get better. We may or may not have neglected our cleaning duties for a few weeks....

7.  Are there any investigators or other missionaries that we could be praying for?
Please pray for the Dahn family. We are really focusing of them now, and they have come across some obstacles in their path to marriage and baptism. It turns out that the wife es planning on going to the US soon and wants to postpone the marriage until after she gets back, which could be in a few years. We have been trying to convince here that the gospel is what will make her happy, not America, but she doesn't seem to believe that. Your prayers would be much appreciated for her!

Anyways, thank you all very much for all that you have done for me. It very comforting knowing that I have so many people back home that love and care about me. I can hear your prayers being answering everyday. I love you all!
Elder Degen

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

E-mail dated 1/5/16

Family and Friends,
Akwaabo! Another week (and year) has gone by, and once again I received a lot of comfort and support when I opened my inbox today. Thank you to everyone! I'm sorry that I'm emailing on Tuesday this week, but Elder Cichoski and I went in town yesterday and weren't able to get back in time. I hope I didn't worry anyone too much.
But this past week has been awesome! It was busy, like usual, but it was a lot of fun as well. We had parties, interviews to do, and best of all--a baptism! Our investigator Hawa Smith was baptized on Saturday and it was so amazing to see. I think I've told you before, but her husband is a member of the Church and she has been deciding for over a year now is she herself wanted to join. After some diligent following up by a few missionaries, she finally agreed to be baptized! Her husband is ecstatic as well, because now both of them are preparing to be sealed in the temple in one year's time. I'm so excited!
Other than those events, the rest of the week was pretty normal. We're continuing to teach quite a few people, and one of my favorite places to proselyte is the swamp. I know I sent pictures a few weeks ago, just to give you an idea of what it looks like. These people have just built these tin houses out in the swamp because of how cheap the land is, and they are some of the humblest people. Many of them have to wear rain boots in their own living rooms during the rainy season. We have a few investigators out there and I would love to find more.
I'll answer your questions now!
1.  What did you end up doing on New Years Eve?  Were you allowed to stay up until midnight?
We received some under-the-table permission to stay up until midnight, so we took the opportunity! We all stayed up playing games again and just talking. We also baked a cake and ate a lot of food! It was a great New Years!

2.  Did President Carlson make it back to Liberia and how is he doing?
He is supposed to be coming back this week! He assured us that he is doing well, so I really hope that is true. But next week is the mission tour with Elder Stanfill (counselor in the Area Presidency and a member of the Seventy) and he needs to be here for that! It's also the Paynesville District conference this Sunday, which means I will get to see President for the first time in almost a month, and I get to see all of my recent converts in Paynesville!

3.  Did your baptism take place last Saturday?  Any progress with the Dahn family?
Yes, the baptism was great! The Dahn family is also progressing well, they are still just waiting on a little bit more income so that they can get their marriage legalized. They all continue to come to church every week though, and they are all so interested in the message. I love teaching them!

4.  Do you have any new goals for the new year?
Yeah, I've made a lot of goals of things I've learned on my mission that I want to carry home with me. I've recommitted myself to strengthening good habits on my mission, so that when I go home I will still have those same habits (like daily scripture study).

5.  What was your biggest challenge and sweetest success this week?
My greatest challenge was battling through a small sickness this past week (don't worry Mom, I'm fine now!) and my greatest success was definitely the baptism. The Lord has rewarded me during some of the least healthy times of my mission, and it's been cool to see.

Well, I hope that you all had a great new years, and that you will all stay safe this week. Thank you again for your emails and prayers! I'm sorry If I wasn't able to reply to you personally this week. I love you all so much!
Elder Degen