Monday, September 18, 2017

Friendly Food War

I have not had a chance to breathe this whole week. Which is a huge blessing for me, being called as a full time missionary means to be a servant at all times.

So, where to begin? This week started out with a fun soccer activity with President Goury.  And after Monday we hit the pavement, or really the dusty streets. I worked for so long one day I got sun burnt, which is weird because of the tan I built up from a year in the sun. But just the amount of time I spent in that heat burnt my face, it was crazy.

Now that I’m finally working hard for the first time in a long time on my mission I’m having loads of spiritual experiences, having the chance to really testify as a missionary, and finding people who just in a week and a half start believing in our message.

For example last week I just decided to give a brochure to a mom, she was nice and we stopped by the next day, we sat on the dusty floor of her food stand as she sat on a trash bag. I felt impressed to talk about eternal families, she then started crying as she explained her worries for one of her daughters who was making wrong choices and refused to come home. We told her about free agency but also about prayer and scripture study. The next time we saw her she expressed her gratitude for teaching her about prayer and praying for her because a day after we left her daughter called and said she was coming home; just amazing stuff.

This Wednesday Elder Nash from the 70 came to bless this mission with some revelation from God, it was the most spiritual conference I had on the mission probably because I’m now doing things in the Lord’s way. The conference was all day long and talked a lot about obedience, and I was totally edified, even though many of the missionaries here rejected what he said. Me and my companion took it to heart and are even more firm in our commitment to work.

Often times it is hard to go out into the sector when there is no one to see, or to stay out after a bunch of appointments fall through. However there are blessings that come from continually trying to preach the gospel and approaching people. Little did we know as we were exploring the sector and walking down many streets in the blazing sun we passed by tons of members. Sometimes they were in taxis and they passed us or were in their homes and saw us pass. I don’t know many members houses so I didn’t know to stop and knock and say hi. However when we arrived at church on Sunday everyone was happy to see us, giving us contacts, and asking for a day to come work with us in the sector. So it is true following the rules gains member confidence.

Now for a funny story, I was walking down the street and saw a mama selling scones, so I stopped to buy a few then I saw that where the mama put the burnt crumbs left over from the scones on the ground there was a little girl picking up the pieces and eating the nasty, sandy, burnt scone bits. She was dirty and her clothes were torn. I heard Boyd K. Packer in my head with his talk “And a Little Child Shall Lead Them” and I gave the little girl a scone that she grabbed up quickly and took off running more animal like than child. There are lots of kids like that here I don’t know if they have homes and families or not. Now you might be thinking that’s not funny that’s sad. Well what happened as we continued walking a signal must have been sent out among the children street rats, and about three or four more boys dressed in dirty, ripped clothes started following us, wanting scones too. I couldn’t give them all one, there were too many kids, and I didn’t want more to appear and follow us home so I told them the scones were all gone, and to go home. Then the leader boy hissed at me and at his signal all the boys started attacking me. They weren’t very old but there were a few of them. I bet it was quite a funny sight to see, a white guy in shirt and tie getting beat up by a bunch of 5 or 6 year old kids. They were so dirty my white shirt had tons of brown marks all over and my son (Kouadio) thought this was the funniest thing ever and couldn’t help get the kids off of me because he was laughing to hard. They were punching me with all their force but they were too little so it didn’t hurt. People in the street started gathering around and helped pull the kids off of me and chase them away, and my son wipes the tears from his eyes from laughing so hard, saying he is going to see everything in his mission.

For the friendly food war me and my son took turns cooking amazing meals for each other. He cooked native Ivorian dishes and I cooked US dishes, with other mixes of good food in-between. We ate super well, below are pictures of some of just the few things we ate this week. Food was my biggest problem before, it’s still not perfect because it’s not like home, but it’s so much better.

Zone activity last Monday

The conference with Elder Nash

At the conference with Colby

At the conference with Kouadio

Oil burns

Friendly Food War:
Atiéké- Ivorian dish made by Kouadio
I made mashed potatoes...
...and french toast.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Coincidence? I think not

I am so very blessed to be writing this email today. If any of you follow the political situation in Togo you will know that there are some weird things going on here. I don’t want to say too much or I might get targeted as anti gov or something and be killed. There have been some major protests and the gov did not let you send text messages, it was super hard to call and the internet was cut for the whole week, but it just came back last night for us to do emails today, so that is a huge blessing because I had a great week and would love to share with you all that happened. But this peaceful little country has a dark side for sure.

To start of the week I went to Kodjoviakope which is the sector with the big market, and is on the beach right next to the Ghana border, so I’ve now seen Ghana with my own two eyes and have been in spitting distance of it.

I stayed with Mahaffey and Ncoy, who are two great missionaries, they told me that I would be there for a day or two. I ended up staying there for four days and three nights. I didn’t get back to my sector till Thursday night. It was good, their apartment was right on the beach and I slept on the couch. The mosquitos ate me alive till I found a mosquito net to set up. I only had one shirt and it got pretty dirty those days because we worked hard in their sector that was basically dead.

On Wednesday they told me they would bring my son, however Wednesday came and went with nothing. I wondered what happened, but because of the political situation they couldn’t warn us not to go out side because you couldn’t call anyone, and so my son didn’t come and we had no communication.

Turns out while coming across the border with a group of missionaries they were driving two cars, a mission truck with all sorts of stuff in the back and a bus with all the missionaries. As they were going along the bus’s brakes just stopped working and the bus rammed into the other mission car in front of it destroying the two cars and probably giving concussion to everyone in the cars. My son was in that crash and his eyes have been hurting him ever since. He is going the hospital tomorrow. One of the sister missionaries in the crash is in a neck brace; so this mission has problems.

However, my son did arrive. His name is Elder Kouadio he is from the Ivory Coast and is super cool, he has an amazing testimony of the gospel and a lot of faith. His parents are divorced, his sister was a member but has since left the church and he is the only active member in his family. He lived alone with his dad until coming on a mission, and is the first ever missionary from his ward, so he is a super pioneer. The beginning is never easy for any missionary but I think this will be a great couple months.

We were only in the sector for three days, but I have never worked so hard in my mission. I remember before my mission I wished my call would be to French speaking Africa, I have long thought that was a horrible wish but now I’m starting to remember why I wished that. The people here are so open to the gospel, in just three days I found 7 investigators who could progress, I fixed a baptism date had two people come to church and got a bunch of contacts from members, and I filled up the whole next week with more lessons then I have time for. A problem I’ve never had my whole mission but is something you can easily have if you work hard.

I have been working so hard I have had barely a moment to think, we have had an activity with president, interviews with president, and we have a huge conference this Wednesday with a general authority 70 which will be exciting.

Me and my son like food which is great, he loves cooking I like trying new things, so we went shopping and bought a ton of stuff and have been eating great ever since.

We also bought some bug spray and tried to kill all the cockroaches in the apartment. We have killed hundreds and we think there are still more, we also killed many ants and some lizards we found.

The last thing is about coincidence, you can tell you’re a successful missionary when the Lord guides your actions. On Saturday we planned to visit a member, of course here there are no addresses so he gave us his typical “go to this sign, walk for this many paces, turn left, then right, then it’s that house”. Well, we tried to do that and got super lost, so we decided to just go visit someone else but we kept getting in dead ends and stuff but we eventually made it back, after taking a few breaks because it was a ton of walking. Then we tried to see an investigator who wasn’t home, then we started walking back to the apartment and we see a guy come out of a photo copy place, as were passing and he calls us over. We talk to him and he says his sister is married in the temple and lives in a different ward, he says he likes the missionaries but has never talked with them because when they came to the house it was to talk with his sister. We took his number and fixed a time to come visit him, then we went home, but he was a super cool guy so we were just remarking how crazy it was that all those people we didn’t see helped us to be at the right place to bump into the guy we were really supposed to find. If we were just a few mins early or late we would have missed him at the photo copy place. But hold up another cool story, so we were at church and one of the ward members brings a little kid over to us. His grandma, who takes care of him, is a convert of Kadimas, but the kid was not baptized with the grandma, so because he is nine we have to teach him. So yes, this is an easy baptism and the kid is really cool. So after church we wanted to see where he lived, and we walk with him and when we walk in the door we find that his grandma is the mom of that very same guy we saw at the photo copy place the day before, if the heavens were not pointing to us teaching that guy. So I’ll let you know how that goes.

Many other spiritual experiences happened for sure, and I’m so glad to see the Lord working with me and me really become and instrument in His hand.

On the beach with Mahaffey

How I slept in Mahaffey's apartment

On the beach with Ncoy and Mahaffey

My son, Kouadio

A fridge stocked up

Killing cockroaches

Monday, September 4, 2017

An old man dies, a baby is born

This week was packed to the brim with stuff. It will be hard to remember all the stories.

Let’s start with transfers. Kadima is off to go home and I’m going to train a new Ivorian so that’s exciting. I’m optimistic yet hesitant we will see how it goes.

This week we had my thirteenth baptism of a young girl named Ak__. She is 18 and has a cool story. As a younger teen she wasn’t the best. She left home a lot without asking and lied about where she was and obviously was not doing the best things in her life. Her parents did not know what to do but luckily there was a young woman’s leader who lives right next door and asked the parents if she could take Ak__ to church with her to see if the teachings our church taught could help her. The parents accepted and our teachings did help her she really changed. She stopped the bad things and her parents saw the change and let her get baptized and here we are.

Okay let’s go from nice fairy tale story to weird “only in this mission” story. I wake up on Sunday and start to get ready, I hear the doorbell ring. I go check and one of our neighbors who sells us bread was there with her son she tells us “take him to your church today and bring him back when you’re done”. Before I have a chance to think about what was happening she was running away to go to her church. So now we have this eleven year old kid we get to take to church with us, since we couldn’t leave him alone at the apartment. We took him to church and took him back home like she asked. The kid is funny but it was just a super weird experience for sure, picture below.

I had spam bacon in a can this week, sent in a package from my grandma. I don’t know if it’s just because it’s been so long or if it’s really that good but it was some of the best tasting bacon stuff ever.

This transfer has not been easy for me at all, however just at the end me and my companion sat down and just talked he thanked me for everything I had done for him. He said I helped him do a lot to push him to be better till the end. It was a super cool moment and I have yet to find a comp that I have not gotten along great with.

Fun facts about Africa. It is summer vacation here, even though every day is summer. The kids have fun games to play with tires, sticks, playing in trash, and many other games. I have no idea how to play but they seem fun. There are guys that walk around with little carts that sell ice-cream in bags. Like water in bags that I drink, but really interesting ice cream, the trucks have horns that they honk and every time they see white people they honk extra fast. Beer flavored drinks that don’t have alcohol are very popular here but real alcohol is even more popular. I see so many drunk people it’s kind of sad.

Kadima said good bye to all his converts and the members which made our last few days super busy. Also the world is big but when we find connections we say the world is small. I found a cool connection this week with a couple in the stake that came to visit our branch. They lived in the US for many years and in many states before returning to Togo and guess where they found the church? No other than Sioux City, Iowa while living there for 8 years. When they found out I was from there they were so surprised because I’m the first or second missionary to serve in this mission from Iowa. They were super great people.

That’s all I can remember, life goes on.

Ak__ Baptism

The little neighbor kid we took to church

My amazing breakfast. Spam bacon (thanks grandma) good bread, eggs and a bag of water.

The ant hills in the apartment. I sweep about daily and they just come back.

Kadima wrote his name in 14 places in the apartment before he left.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Half way there, living on a prayer

That is right everyone, this week marks one year on the mission. I have seen and done a lot of things. I’ve lived for days without power, weeks without water. I have had food poisoning and worms. I have been made fun of for my race every day, and get ripped off at every store for the same reason. I also have baptized 12 people including two families. I’ve had 6 companions who all think I’m a great guy. I have been in three sectors where I have made many great memories. I sang in General Conference, I have shaken the hand of an apostle of Jesus Christ. I have grown my testimony a ton and I’m only half way.

If you were to ask me the hardest thing so far, easy it’s the food. I really wish I was not so attached to food. I always seem to get hungry again and am forced to eat tomato sauce and rice every day. And that is not to say the food in these two countries is bad, it’s really good. I love many of the native dishes, it’s just missionaries never have time or don’t know how to make them. So we resort to eating only to survive and not to enjoy.

If you were to ask the best thing so far it would be hard because there have been so many good things. It’s either seeing the Lord work through me and really feel like an instrument in his hands for good, or seeing people I’ve helped convert progress in the church. Both things bring so much joy to me.

To celebrate my one year on my mission I had some cheerios sent by my Grandma Scott for breakfast and I went out and bought ingyam peele which is one of my favorite foods of all time and from what I know does not exist anywhere in America. It’s hard to explain but there are pictures below. It’s like a spongy white glob of stuff you dip in sauce. This sauce came with chunks of roast beef which is the first time I’ve eaten cow since the MTC almost a year ago, so that was a real treat.

This Friday and Saturday we got a message that a group of people against the government called for a black Friday meaning no one was supposed to do anything. Like no one was supposed to open their shops or drive taxis or go to work. Everyone was supposed to stay at home and protesters would go out in the streets, wear all back, and destroy any shops that tried to open to protest the current government. All because the same family has been in power since the country became independent or something. I wasn’t sure the reason, any way so that was exciting.

I took this chance to get enough energy to clean my sheets. It’s been a while and they needed to be clean, but if any one washes things by hand they know the two hardest things to wash are jeans and sheets, it’s quite tiring. Anyway, because I had time on Friday and there were nice blue skies, I knew it wouldn’t rain. I did it and hung my sheets on the line on the roof. My stomach started hurting me again so I went to take a nap then all the sudden in my nap the power got cut, which is normal. The power cuts every day for about 15 or so minutes about twice a day. But then I heard a big thunder clap, I think that’s what that is called, and I got up as fast as I could thinking about my sheets. The rain came out of nowhere and it was so much. I ran to the roof and in two seconds I was soaked to the bone by the amount of rain and wind that was coming. I got up just in time to see my sheets about to be blown away. They were barely hanging on. I got them of the line and brought them down, very sad that I would have to re wash them. Freak rainstorms man.

Then on Sunday I had a whole different kind of storm, a storm of children. Right after the first hour I was asked if I could teach primary. I, of course, could never refuse service like that I happily accepted but I accepted a real charge. Here in this branch there is no junior or senior primary or nursery because there are not enough leaders but there are plenty enough kids. They gave me a group of about 19 or so kids ages ranging from 2 all the way to almost 12. This would have been great for me because I like kids, yet I had to keep these kids entertained for 2 hours in the same class with one big problem I had no way to communicate with them. A few of the older kids could speak French and there were two little girls from Ghana so they understood a little English, but not much, so for the rest of the kids all they spoke was their native language of Evee. Every one in the room understood Evee, except me. So it’s like some tall weird Yovo is in the front of the room speaking in baby gibberish to you. Are you going to sit still and be good? No. You’re not, you’re going to throw a party. I couldn’t do anything to stop them because they couldn’t understand. It was madness. Little kids would come up to me with big eyes asking for something. Did they need their mom? Did they have to go to the bathroom? Did they need a drink? I didn’t know so I just had them sing songs. I kinda got a few to play follow the leader. If someone was good I would give them my badge so they could be a missionary too. It was hard, my lesson was on why hitting was bad because the older kids kept trying to discipline the younger kids who were being disobedient. But I kept trying to get them to not hit, but the older kids said that is the only way they listen. There were a couple girls who just grabbed on to my legs the whole time and wouldn’t let go and when it came time to go home they wouldn’t go to their moms, so that was funny. They all seemed to like my class.

Also that same day a great spiritual experience happened to me with the investigator given to us by the American elders We went to teach him and he had marked up the plan of salvation brochure with tons of notes and questions he said he had a big problem understanding the fall. He had asked his pastor and read the Book of Mormon but was still not satisfied. Kadima did a good job of explaining the fall and as it was my turn to elaborate I just explained how I understood the fall. Although not said in the best French I felt my words being guided and his face lit up as the spirit taught him exactly the missing peace in his comprehension of the subject. In preach my gospel it says you can tell you’re a successful missionary if the spirit testifies through you. I felt being an instrument in Gods hands for one of the first times on my mission which makes me super happy.

Some fun apartment facts we have the worst ant infestation ever. Every corner there is an ant hill. Every day I sweep it. The next day it is back and cockroaches are everywhere. Our freezer works way to well and you open it up its just a solid ice block, the whole thing, there is no room to fit anything in, it’s all ice.

Here’s to the next year.

The top is my new handkerchief. The bottom is the one I used from month 6 to one year. And yes, I did wash it every week.

One year celebration meal. Ingyam Peele.
Eating ingyam peele with Kadima

My wet sheets after the rain

Me with some of the primary kids
Some of the primary kids at church

(from a few weeks ago) Picture when Elder Renlund visited

Monday, August 21, 2017

Spiritually fed, physically dead

Sorry everyone for last week. I am so thankful I was able to write an email every week for almost a year in a third world country without major problems. But yes the connection here is not good and last week I wasn’t able to get online, so this week you’ll get a recap of two weeks.

So last week we were blessed to have an apostle of Jesus Christ come and visit our mission. This is the first time since the missions opening ten years ago. Elder Renlund was able to teach us about the importance of good work ethic and good attitude and how a combination of the two can bring miracles. It was a very inspiring lesson and it really motivated me to want to keep striving to become a better and better missionary each day.

I also had the blessing of getting a contact from, surprisingly, the United States of America. So some missionary who is doing an online French mission or something found some guy who was searching for a book that complemented and explained the bible. He likes the bible and knows it’s true but it’s written in a lot of parables and he knows it’s not complete. So this is completely missionary gold because the Book of Mormon is our thing. So we talked to this guy on Sunday and had an amazing first lesson. He has many other issues with churches and is really searching for something bigger. We didn’t have a book of Mormon for him at the time so we gave him our little brochure and he said it was way too small for him, because he really enjoys feasting on readings. We told him the big stuff was coming but I’m already so happy because no one ever reads the little brochures anyway but this guy is ready.

We got a lot of work done the week before this one. We are getting this young girl ready for baptism she is only 13 years old, Her family is non member but wants her to get into the church because this girl has been a little troubled in the past and to get her on a better road a member talked to the family about the program the church has to help young woman. The parents liked it so she has been coming to church to try to change the rest of her life which is super cool

And this week I’ve been dying. I had this weird feeling in my stomach which in a week turned into a pain and I lost my appetite. I could not eat anything the sight the thought the smell of food made me super sick. I never threw up but I was always on the toilet, you know. And after a week I finally got the name for the medicine against worms. I went to a pharmacy and drank that milky liquid and I’m feeling a ton better now. I killed those stupid aliens living inside of me but it did make me think back to the amazing days in the US where you can drink tap water no problem. But here it’s a big problem, but no aliens busted out of my stomach this week like it felt like was gunna happen. But I’m feeling a lot better now.

With Kadima

We brought Kadima's barber to the conference

The conference with Elder Renlund was at the national congress building

A family from church at the conference

The medicine that saved me

Good bread in Togo that I can eat again

I want people to guess how I took this piano photo. Contact my mom with your guesses.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Week 50 and the first no Monday contact

Kaelyn here (Riley's mom). I was warned that there might be a Monday Riley would be unable to write. It happened for the first time today. It could be due to connection problems, power outage, or any number of things. It was still a really hard day for me not hearing anything. Luckily there is a mission Facebook group and another mother posted a picture today that included Riley! So at least I got to see a picture. I don't know where or when it was taken, but I'll include it here. I hope we hear from him soon.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Foot Fetish Mosquitos

[Note from Kaelyn - I think Riley would rather be teaching, but that hasn't worked out very well lately. Instead you get some stories about the area.]

Well I didn’t really do any thing this week so I just thought I would try to let you all in on the weird things that are everyday life to me in Benin and Togo. If I said some of these things already it’s because they are still true. Let’s see, thoughts about Africa. Now when we talk about Africa it is a very diverse place and I have only lived in two countries on the west side. However, two countries that aren’t very diverse from each other are Togo and Benin. You can see how this is the same people just long ago some white people drew some imaginary lines and a people got separated and little differences popped up in there. Different languages and they both always brag about how they are better than the other even though they are really the same. Well what kind of things do we see, for example this week I saw a young guy who is twenty years old and the equivalent of a junior in high school. For a summer job he works at a restaurant where they cook only spaghetti and gets paid the equivalent of one dollar a day for about 12 to 15 hours of work. Is that work? no that is slavery, with money to get to and from work.

I still eat tomato sauce and rice every day, every day for both meals with cookies or bread in the morning, the food here is one of the biggest trials ever.

The mosquitos here are horrible not only do they carry malaria and I have to take daily malaria medication the mosquitos here have a weird foot fetish or something and they only bite my feet and ankles, and it drives me crazy. I get bitten at least twice a day on the feet it looks like my feet have leprosy from all the mosquito bite scars.

I’ll let you in on a little secret of this mission there is something here called tithing where the old missionaries collect money from all the younger missionaries they knew on the mission their last transfer to buy stuff. I have been subject for this many times it’s a tradition I hate but what can I do they paid it when they were young missionaries so now it’s their turn to collect. But because I’m such a nice guy I became friends with like everyone in the mission and 14 missionaries or so are going home this transfer including three of my old companions. My dad and many other friends so I don’t know what I’m going to do because the requests for tithing keep coming in and I’m only one guy. But I can handle it just fine.

Anyway an interesting thing about the church here is testimony meetings. Often times whole families will go up and bare their testimonies together. Like they all stand at the podium at the same time the wife goes and the husband will testify what his wife said was true then add some stuff, it’s different and kinda funny sometimes with bigger families or families with little kids.

This place is very unsanitary and many things that happen here would make my mom die along with all other germaphobes, especially where we buy our meat. Talk about "the jungle" but in Africa which sounds kinda of funny but no one wears gloves. The guy who cuts it always seems to have gone to the bathroom right before touching our meat with his bare hands, grabbing a machete off the ground, sloppily cutting our meat as it flies across the room and picking it up off the floor puts it into an already used bag and we take it home. But hey it’s normal here.

Every time a kid touches my white shirt it immediately gets stained.

Lots of people in Africa hate the French, some people ask me all angry about why the French can’t leave these countries’ alone then they find out I’m American and they like me a lot more.

Also being white helps you get all the ladies, not that you even try, but I get marriage proposals on a daily basis. Everyone thinks marring a white man means going to America to live in peace and die without problems for the rest of their lives. Interesting fact, if a lady gets pregnant here abortions are a thing, but if a black lady gets pregnant by a white guy they will never ever have an abortion. When I heard that I found that super weird but hey it’s just what happens.

White people means money apparently, so everything I try to buy is way more expensive. Anything anyone tries to buy around me becomes more expensive. And I get asked for money by everyone. Almost every conversation I have ends or starts with “yovo, you brought what for me?” or “give me 100 franks.”

I still wash my clothes by hand and I have gotten down to wearing the smallest amounts of clothes possible. Like two shirts a week, the same pair of pants the whole week, two or three pair of socks and just changing my underwear every day. It sounds gross but cleaning by hand is so time consuming and boring. I do it twice a week for an hour and half that is with doing my clothes conservation technique so I can’t imagine if I changed clothes every day.

I see some of the funniest things every day I see motorcycles carrying tons of stuff like other motos, cars, and caskets for dead people.

You speak the real language of any person here they light up and that works for all nationalities so I try to learn a little bit of every language.

There are so many more things that I live and see and if you have any questions about what life is like here please ask my mom and she can send the questions to me because I see a thousand and one crazy things a day that I don’t recognize as crazy.

A little piece of my heart will always live in Togo and Benin although it’s weird and I suffer a lot I have found another family here and I’m so glad I got the chance to come and serve them and show them the light of the gospel.
Mosquito bite on the pinky toe

I jerry rigged a toilet lid

Togo church building

With glasses I found in the apartment