Monday, July 25, 2016

E-mail dated 7/25/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! Thank you to every one for the emails this week. It sounds like it was a successful and (hot) 24th! Of course, I know that the parade is going on right now, so the festivities aren't quite over yet. It's a shame I'm not able to be there.... NOT! Haha I'm just kidding, I would honestly love to be at the parade right now. I would just follow behind that one float with all the gospel singers in it. I love those people. 

Well, after a little bit of thought, I've decided to be honest about my week! Since everybody at home is either sick, not feeling well, or went through life-altering surgery, I will come out and say that I was sick too this week. I had a sinus infection and it was pretty rough, but not just because of the sickness. Let me tell you what else happened that just added to my misery... Our generator broke. We were out of water for 4 days. And we completely ran out of food. I think the Lord was just trying to humble me this week! Thankfully all is well now, but it was quite the experience.

God did bless us though this week, because last Tuesday we were able to find out what was wrong with Elder Tayie! He has something called GERD (nope, I have no idea what that is either. But the Egyptian doctor we went to sounded pretty convincing), which apparently has been causing the pain in his lower back. Thankfully he been given a lot of medications to take (much to his displeasure), but they have been working! I can't help but marvel at the modern medicine that has blessed so many people in the last seven days. It's incredible to see the knowledge that the Lord is giving his children in the last days.

Anyways, since I wasn't able to do a whole lot of proselyting this week, I don't have any good stories or pictures! I apologize for that. But I might as well answer your questions now...

1.  I have heard you have had a problem with mice in your apartment.  One of the pictures you sent home last week confirmed that.  How is the war with the mice this week?  Are they winning or are the humans?

Well... We were winning until we ran out of traps.. Now we just try to chase them around with stick and hammers and things and it's just not quite as effective!

2.  Besides the people, what are some of the things you are going to miss most about living in Western Africa?

Wow, I will actually miss a lot of things! The food (somewhat), the beautiful scenery, the beaches, the culture in general. I certainly would love to come back and visit soon.

3.  Besides the people, what are you most looking forward to when you get home?

Now that's a really hard question... Probably food and just being independent! It's going to be strange doing things by myself, but I'm looking forward to it (I think).

Sorry my email was pretty boring this week, but I'm not quite sure what else to say! It's pretty crazy that I only have three weeks left of my mission.... It still hasn't hit me yet! I know that it will soon though. I will see all of you soon, but in the meantime I will keep praying for all those who are sick and recovering. I love you all so much! Thank you again.

Elder Degen

Monday, July 18, 2016

E-mail dated 7/18/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! It been a nice (and dry) week here in Liberia! I was glad to see that many of you also enjoyed your summer. I'll be honest, my desire to sit in this hot and humid cafe is slowly depleting every week, but it is always nice to hear from the family. Thank you, as always, you guys are the best.

My week was great, and also not so great in some ways! I'll start with the bad news... My companion has not been feeling well and it's really been hindering him with the work. He has had really bad lower back problems this week, and nothing seems to be working. Elder Tayie doesn't have too much faith in Western medicine, so he resorted to some herbal African medicine that he... well, when I get home I'll explain how he uses it! But anyways, we only missed a few hours of proselyting, which in and of itself is a great miracle. Hopefully we are going to the REAL doctor this week to get things checked out. Yay!

But the great part of our week happened with our baptism on Saturday! David Solo and Mohammed Donzo were both baptized and confirmed this past weekend, and it was a great success. I was even able to be the baptist for the first time since Ghana! I usually like letting branch members do the actual ordinance, but I felt as if I should do it for one of the last times. I will try to send pictures! We have another baptism scheduled for the 30th of July, and my last baptism will most likely happen on August 13th. We aren't too confident in the 30th, but we're hoping for 6 or 7 on the 13th!

Now to answer your questions...

1.  Did your baptism take place last Saturday?  Are you teaching any others that are close to committing to baptism? 

Yes, it did! We are planning on baptizing Otis Nelson on July 30th and Lauren, Kevin, Beauty, Alice, Cynthia, Abraham and Ofelia on August 13th! Please pray for them.

2.  Do you know if you will be traveling home with any other Elder(s)?

Elder Randall and I will be traveling to Amsterdam together and then that is where we will split! I'm so happy that we'll be together for awhile. Elder Randall is one of my best friends in the mission.

3.  With only 1 months left of your mission, what are your thoughts and feelings about completing your time in Africa?  Would you say that the 23 months have gone quickly?

Well that's hard to say... When I look back on it, I feel like it was the fastest 23 months of my life, but that day I said goodbye to all of you sounds like a lifetime ago. It's hard to explain, but my pre-mission life feels like forever ago, but my first day with Elder Mocke seems like a few weeks ago. It's like somebody put me in a time machine and I'm just waking up!

4.  Will you have the opportunity to speak in Sacrament Meeting in your Branch branch before you leave?

Yes! I will speak in 4 Sundays I believe. It won't be a full blown talk, but probably just a short testimony!

5.  What was your greatest success and biggest challenge of this past week?

Well, I think that I outlined my successes and challenges in the beginning part of my email, but maybe I can elaborate on them a little. My biggest challenge was easily seeing Elder Tayie sick. He's an amazing athlete and he's in great physical shape, so he's very frustrated that he's sick and deterring the work. For me, it's really hard to see him like that! When I train people, I really do take them to be my best friends and It's hard when they suffer. Of course, conversely, my biggest success was the baptism. I think I've told you all before, but my favorite part of baptismal services is the testimonies that the converts give! There's a spirit that's hard to describe at these services.

Well, thank you again for all of your emails! I love you all so much. Please send your prayers to Elder Tayie this week, I don't need anymore blessing than what the Lord has already given me. He needs them much more than I do. Have a great week!

Elder Degen

Monday, July 11, 2016

E-mail dated 7/11/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! I didn't realize that today is 7/11 until I opened my email today and saw the date in the corner. I hope that every one is enjoying free Slurpees for me at home! Thank you to every one for your emails this week and your prayers. I'm glad that every one at home also had a safe week with camping, and that there was no rain! Maybe the curse it lifted!

As for my own week, it was great! There's not too much to report from the past seven days, other than a few great lessons and a zone meeting! Other than that it wasn't too eventful. Our zone meeting was great though as we were able to hear about the counsel that Elder Vinson left for the mission when he came a few weeks ago. We are now striving harder to become a more obedient mission, which will greatly benefit our incredibly young mission! My group and I (the five reassigned missionaries) are now the oldest people in the mission, and the only ones over a year. It's insane how young the missionaries will be when we leave next month. 

Elder Tayie and did have some memorable lessons this week, though! When I first arrived here in Caldwell, we were referred to three children of a less-active member to teach and baptize. Of course, baptizing children in that kind of situation is a horrible idea, so we initially decided just to back off. But this week we decided that it was time to try and reactivate the mother, Hawa, after a year or so of inactivity. We sat down with all her children around and we had a beautiful lesson about the temple. She had been hearing a lot of things about the Church from friends, and she had become really confused what was true. But when we explained to her the simplicity of the temple, and that she could be sealed with her children one day, the spirit filled her heart. We committed her to coming to Church and she promised us she would be there. Surely enough, she was there 10 minutes before sacrament meeting started, seated with all of her children around her! It was amazing.

Also, we will be having a baptism this Saturday! Mohammed Donzo and David Solo have been meeting with us for a little over a month now, and both of them passed their baptismal interviews this past week. Mohammed is a Muslim from Guinea who has converted to Christianity and is currently living with the Mryes family in my branch (brother Myers is one of the "Freetown" missionaries whom the movie is based on). David Solo is an 18 year old guy who has been visiting the Church on and off for a few years now, but something just touched him last month and he has come to church every week since then. Both are so excited and ready for Saturday!

Anyways, to answer your questions...

1.  Did the rain subside this past week?  

Eh, it rained everyday I think, but it wasn't nearly as bad as last Monday. I don't think I'll ever see that much rain again in my life. Thankfully it mainly rains in the mornings and evenings when we're studying or sleeping! 

2.  Are there any investigators that we can include in our prayers this week?

Please include David and Mohammed in your prayers! Also, James Dezon has been facing persecution from his friends since joining the Church, and I would also greatly appreciate it if you could add him to your prayers. Thank you!

3.  Do you know for sure if you will be coming home a week earlier than planned?  I have not seen a revised flight plan from the Church.  It would be awesome if you could be home before school starts instead of during the middle of the first week.  

Well, I said that last week because we thought there was a possibility, but when President Carlson called the travel department they said it would be $500 to change a single ticket... So I will still be coming home on the 24th!
Sorry for the scare.

Anyways, I love you all so much! I always love opening my inbox and seeing all your wonderful emails every week. I always feel so much love and support, even though I'm not always able to email every one back. Thank you again, I love you all!

Elder Degen

Monday, July 4, 2016

E-mail dated 7/4/16

Family and Friends,

Akwaabo! Well, the connection is absolutely horrible today, so I'm just going to send something small. I won't even attempt to copy and paste the questions this week. Sorry every one, but I won't be able to reply individually today! Please enjoy my horrible email.

My week was, of course (it doesn't change), fantastic! Elder Tayie and I finally had a week that wasn't disturbed by mission tours or zone conferences, so that meant that we had a lot of work to do! Thankfully the Lord lifted us up and strengthened us, because we were one of the only companionships in the mission that wasn't sick this past week. Elder Tayie greatly improved with his English this week, and he's really starting to get into the groove of missionary work. He is getting much better at expressing his thoughts and he's now able to teach large portions of the lessons! Both of us spent our time in the field mainly preparing James and Lawrence for baptism.

Saturday was the big day for both of them, and it was one of the best baptismal services that I've been too. The branch organized it well, and after hauling in water to the font with trash cans, everything was good to go! Even though it's extremely hard to get large amounts of water here in Africa, every time I've had a baptism, water somehow makes its way to the font. That alone is a testimony that our Heavenly Father cares about missionary work and that, like it says in Jacob, "the Lord of the vineyard labor[s] also with them." I'm certainly not doing this work alone!

Well, have a great week everyone! Happy Fourth of July! Enjoy the parade and the fireworks for me. Be sure to eat lots of delicious meat. I love you all!

Elder Degen

Rain Pictures!


Very early in my mission, when I was in Cape Coast, I heard a story from President Stevenson that has greatly affected me. He was speaking to us as a group of new missionaries and I will never forget it. I know I can't do it justice, but I want to paraphrase his story so that I can share the great lesson that I learned that day.

"There were two missionaries who, like most missionaries in the world, spent much of their time knocking on doors and looking daily for people to teach. One day as they were tracting, they met a man at the foot of his porch who rejected them, and as they were leaving he mentioned that they weren't the first missionaries to try and 'fool him.' Although the missionaries were discouraged at first, they felt a strong prompting to keep trying to pass by that particular man. For weeks they came to him, but no matter what their approach they just could not seem to get inside his door.

One day, as they were close to his house, it began to rain heavily. Not wanting to walk in the rain, they sought shelter quickly and found themselves on the porch of that stubborn man. 'Perfect!' They thought. 'Now he has to let us in.' As the man answered his door, they begged him to allow them protection from the rain. He reluctantly let them into his home seeing no other option. Once inside, the missionaries thanked him greatly as they finally sat in his elusive front room. After some small conversational talk, he begrudgingly allowed them to share their prolonged message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As the Elders taught, the man kept silent the duration of the lesson. He did not say a word, although he was intently focused upon them, only nodding occasionally when asked a simple question. The sole sound was that of the Elders' muffled voices over the roar of the rain. These missionaries boldly told him of Joseph Smith and powerfully testified that the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored back to the Earth after centuries of being lost. When they finally finished, he sat deep in thought for a long time. 

Finally, he looked at both of them squarely and said, 'Elders, I don't think the both of you actually believe that message you just shared with me.' 

Taken aback at his response, the Elders again testified that they knew it was true. He refuted and said, 'Then perhaps you don't understand it. You would have never knocked on my door today. If this message is true, then no amount of rain would ever stop you.' "

When I heard this story I began to realize that I, as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, carry a message that deserves to be proclaimed in any condition. Rain or shine, snow or drought, it needs to be shared. We are the only ones in the world who have this truth. I now can say I understand what Paul said when he testified "for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!" (1 Cor. 9:16).

Here in Africa, the proselyting conditions are not always ideal. For six months out of the year, it rains daily. And not just a light sprinkle, but storms can happen in the morning and last all through the day. It can be a big temptation not to go out and teach when the skies aren't bright and sunny! But since the time I heard that story, I have walked in the rain without hesitation. The downpours no longer are a deterrence to me, but a blessing, as if with every raindrop God makes me stronger.

-Elder Degen