Monday, October 23, 2017

Politically and Spiritually Divided

Okay!

I am alive and things are hopefully getting back to normal.

This week was transfer week which means we get very little done. A neighboring missionary had his companion transferred so he came to stay with me and Kouadio for a week. His name is Elder Hemon and he is a French man who comes from the same stake as Elder Raveneau, my old companion. Hemon is super cool and it was awesome to stay with him for a couple days. There are a lot of missionaries that eat a ton of food, my son (Kouadio) is one of them. However, in my whole mission I’ve never seen someone eat more than Hemon. That guy pounds food like no one I’ve seen.

Last week as we tried to fix appointments for this week. Everyone said that Wednesday and Thursday were impossible because no one will be able to go out because of the protests. There have been protests before and we have been fine so I was wondering why everyone was so scared.

We get up Wednesday morning do a few studies and then at 10 we start hearing some noise. We get up on our roof and just one street over where we couldn’t see we heard a bunch of voices screaming and yelling like a huge crowd was spilling on to the main road. Within a few mins they were burning tires making huge black smoke and the military came shooting plastic bullets and gas into the crowd. Me, wanting to work, decided to go out but as we worked our way away from the big road the protests were on small side roads too doing the same things. So everyone forced us to turn back. So I went back and slept, and my son tore his pants on the way back, I love my son.

On Friday we were able to go get the rest of our district members. We picked them up and spent the other two days showing them their sector. They are cool one is Bien-aime he is from Haiti. He was supposed to have come with me on the mission but because of visas he waited six months at home before coming. The other is a brand new American, Bradshaw, who is from California and is super cool. I see a lot of the difficulties he is having because of what I went through in training so I’m trying to help him as much as I can to make his training a better experience then mine.

I also taught a girl on Tuesday and on Wednesday she had already prayed and had an answer about the truthfulness of our message, so that was awesome.

We also had a conference this Sunday where the stake in Togo got split. Now there are two stakes in Togo, and I got to be there at this monumental occasion. But it wasn’t too exciting it wasn’t like Moses splitting the red sea, it was more like someone got up and just said where the new borders of the stakes were, but still a big moment.


Elder Hemon
Hemon likes food (we all do)
I love my son
Kouadio rips his pants
New district: Larson, Kouadio, Bradshaw, Bien-aime
My district
With Bradshaw

Monday, October 16, 2017

How to buy a wife

I’m trying to get my thoughts organized so what I say is not just a brain dump but a cohesive story.

Let’s start with two more weird ideas people have about the United States.
- That everyone is burned after they are dead and there are no burials
- That the United States is a country in Europe.

Okay so the week started of pretty normal, I believe. We worked hard. There is this one family we teach where we were there almost every day this week because every morning they would call us to make sure we would come over.

Then in the middle of the week I got out of Adidogome and went into the middle of Lome in the sector of Elder Wride for the day. He is a super cool guy and we had some great lessons and talked a lot about our different experiences in this half dream half nightmare we call the Benin, Cotonou Mission. However, we are both a lot happier then we were in the beginning. Their apartment was super weird, every room was crawling with cockroaches, like little baby ones. Sorry for the image mom, but it was bad, like you can’t take a step without killing a few. Luckily I didn’t eat any by accident.

Then the highlight of the week happened the last few days. On Saturday I got to witness with my own two eyes how the Togolese do "la dote" in English that is the dowry. Basically it’s a big ceremony where a husband buys his wife from her parents. It’s all over Africa and it’s embedded in tradition. For purposes of religion its pretty screwed up actually, because what it is if a guy wants to marry a girl before he can do that he has to pay for her. But with a butt crap ton of money and so many people can’t pay so they end up living together without getting married and then bunches of kids are born and parents leave. It’s sad stuff. It brings lots of pain and suffering. However, you can’t change the culture so I went to go see one of the members of our branch buy another member of our branch for the price of about 1000 US dollars. When I did the conversion it doesn’t look like that much but this is Togo, one of the poorest countries in the world. Also one of the cheapest dowry’s in Africa and trust me that is a ton of money here.

Any way the ceremony was super interesting. The wife’s family is on one side and the husbands on the other. The couple is nowhere to be seen for most of it. It was done in the mother language of the couple, so of course I understood absolutely nothing. There is a lot of discussing, lots of whispering, then the husband’s family brings in the offerings. Expensive alcoholic drinks, food, pine, other gifts and a sum of money. Then the family of the wife goes and checks it out to see if it is worthy. If they say “no” the dowry is over, but they accepted. Then there was some more stuff that happened I don’t know but people were laughing a lot. Then a big lady came around to the husband’s side to get money to pay for "the transportation" of the wife. Then someone walks into a room with someone covered in a sheet they bring it, uncover her, and it’s not the bride. They repeat the same process many times trying to get more and more transportation money. I see money is everything here. They finally bring in the girl. Then they talk and then she goes and changes into clothes that match the guy and then the guy won the game he got the girl. Now they can go pay a butt load of money to the state at the town hall to get really married. I’m super angry I took so many pics of the ceremony but the camera battery died and we didn’t get pic with the couple.

On Saturday we also got calls for transfers. Thank everything that is good in the world I’m staying with my son for the next six weeks. They are adding two new missionaries into our apartment so I’m now a district leader to an elder from Haiti who is training a brand new American. I’m super excited to work with these guys were going to be a force to be reckoned with.

When me and Elder Kouadio started together we had two sectors to work in. We had only two investigators. Everything we have now is thanks to the work we have done and the help from the Lord. We worked really hard and brought these two sectors, that were both dead, back to life. However, when we got the call that two new missionaries were coming into the sector me and my son had a really hard time thinking that we would have to leave half of our investigators that we love so much. We prayed about it and came to a good decision about which sector we will take, but it was still hard. And I know for a fact people will take it hard that me and my son won’t get to teach them anymore. We are a good team and people really seem to like us.

On the way home from church a lady invited us into her home to teach her the gospel before we started the lesson she asked if we were thirsty. We actually were so she went to go get something to drink she comes back with a beer. I say oh actually, no thanks on the beer we thought you were going to bring water we don’t drink beer. You would think that would be the end of the conversation. I have never been pushed so hard to drink in my life, she is like what are you scared? It’s only got a little alcohol, you drink the whole bottle you won’t even get drunk. It’s nothing, just at least taste a little. Every line that gets people to drink she used. She was very pushy, me and my son just kept saying no and that it was against our principles and she finally let it go and we had a great lesson, it was just really weird.

This next week the rumors of the biggest protests and riots are coming so I’m actually kind of scared. I hope it all works out.

Splits with Elder Wride

Kouadio falls asleep while exercising

Eating Fishy Crackers - taste from home

La Dote Ceremony

Monday, October 9, 2017

Everything is so Hot

I think the rainy season is over. Because it is really heating up in the country, and for some reason the power goes out very often now at night, which means I wake up with all the fans cut and everything is soaked because of sweat. It is quite miserable but I’m still super happy, because just about everything else is going my way, so an hour every night of super heated sleep is nothing.

Another thing that is hot is the politics. Things are heating up with the many protesters trying to get rid of the current president. We knew that protests were supposed to be happening this week, but they have said that this whole month and we never have seen any, so we weren’t about to let that stop our work. However, weirdly this Wednesday when we started walking there was no one outside, it was super weird. No cars on the road, no one was selling anything, just like a ghost town. We did finally see a mama selling food and asked her what happened. Turns out we just missed a huge protest and the police came and blocked all the roads and sent everyone back home so that’s why no one was outside. Well we didn’t see anything, so we just did our work. However, Thursday was really bad. We saw the results of those protests, a bunch of people dressed in all red would stand on the road and throw big rocks at passing cars of people going to work to try to get them angry at the government. Also because according to them if someone is going to work on a day there are protests that means they are for the government. So we saw the smashed car parts in the road and the marks where the boulders were thrown in the streets. We were already well into our day in our last lesson when the pres called us telling us not to go out that day. But it was too late we already did. My son was scared out of his mind that day because he happened to choose a red tie and that is the color of the opposition.

The third thing that was super hot this week was the food. I don’t know if I mentioned it before but Togo, Benin and Ivory Coast all love lots of hot pepper in their food, so that it is super spicy. I have learned to like a little spice in my food, however this week I had a sauce that toped them all. Kouadio and I went to a place to have ingame pele with peanut sauce, but the sauce was so spicy it made me cry and my nose start to run. People make fun of me normally because of my race, but that day everyone in the restaurant was laughing that the “yovo” was suffering at the heat of the food, so yeah I had tears running down my face but I ate all the sauce but I’m sure I was drinking the devils sauce.

We worked really hard this week, which was kind of tiring but I didn’t know how tired my son (Kouadio) was until one day we took a short sitting break and my son fell asleep on the wall. (picture below)

We got to baptize our 11 year old buddy Em___ he is cool. He talks a lot tho. It was cool to have another baptism. When Elder Wride came to do his baptism interview he said he responded better to the questions then most adults he has done interviews with, He is very smart.

I will finish my email with some of the ideas people have about the US. Not everyone believes the same thing but I will list real things that at least one or more people actually believe about the United States of America.

There are no black people.
Trash doesn’t exist.
You don’t have to work because everyone is already rich.
There is no suffering.
Everyone gets an iPhone for free.
No one is ever hungry because food is free.
Trees talk.

These are some of the beliefs and I’ve heard even crazier, I’m sure. They are not all coming to my head right now but in later weeks I’ll tell you more. Even when I try to explain that US is not heaven on earth they say I’m lying. But it’s all good, I still love them all.

Kouadio falls asleep in the sector

Authentic Togo food

Em__ Baptism

Me with the many articles of clothing I have in pine

Monday, October 2, 2017

Assimilation

I’m trying my best to become one with the work and one with this country. I’m learning a little bit of their language and every lunch instead of eating at the apartment we eat from someone selling on the street. It’s a little dangerous but we find the nice mamas that we know don’t cook with typhoid and we eat with the people, it feels great.

My name is Elder Larson and pronounced in French it sounds like Lawson a little bit. Which is the name of white people who came to the north of Togo and gave that name to a tribe, so many people here that come from that part of Togo have the last name Lawson. Every time someone presents themself they say they come from a certain village here, so I just say I come form that same Togo village. It makes them laugh a lot, you know because I’m white and white people are weird.

This week we didn’t have many appointments fall through. We have found a lot of people to teach and the days flew by. We found some people with some big problems however we are there to tell everyone that through the gospel you can find happiness, and its great because it’s true and we have an amazing message. The guy that wanted to kill himself is now begging us to let him get baptized but he needs to get married first with his wife, so that is a little problem but its okay.

Fun fact here: telling people they are fat or got fat is a complement. It won’t be forever (only while I am here) that I get to tell someone they are fat and they smile and are like thanks. My son (Kouadio) has gotten fat, this is how I learned this. He showed me a pic before his mission and he has gained so much weight mostly in the MTC, and I’m like woah you got fat, and he is like, I know thanks. That’s how if found this out. And you can say that to anyone, even woman, and it’s a good thing. And if they got skinny and you say that they think it’s an insult, kind of interesting.

Yeah I’m working hard, lots of small miracles, sadly it was general conference and I didn’t get to watch. I love general conference but because of that instead of inviting people to church we had to tell everyone not to come and many were sad that they couldn’t come to church because we weren’t having normal church. It was sad because just a few weeks ago we had no one at church now we have to turn people away. They broadcasted conference at the stake center, but there was not enough space for me to watch so I missed it all but I’m sure it was great.

Okay that’s all for the moment.

With Kouadio

I got a new rule book

video


Monday, September 25, 2017

When Yes Means No

I have heard a million ways people say they are not interested here on my mission and most of them sound like they are interested. The most common is, "Wow this sounds great, after I read this brochure you gave me I’ll call you and we will talk about it." I have heard that phrase over 100 times on my mission. You know how many times someone has called back? 2 times and neither of them have been in this sector. This people can’t say no, especially to Jesus, so they just lie and say yes. We can find a person, they give us an appointment hour and time, they give us their number, we call and confirm the appointment the night before or the morning of, we get to the home, they are not there and their number no longer works meaning they turned off their phone. This happened to me and Kouadio this week about 20 times which is fantastic. Usually when this happens I give people the benefit of the doubt and try again but after three times we have to leave them because they waste our time like nothing because they say they are there up until it matters.

Yes, things are discouraging, sometimes it’s hard to tell the serious yeses from the not serious yesses, but they all kinda sound the same. I have only had a few people outright reject our message. Like maybe five my whole mission, this mission is not like others.

I had many amazing experiences this week, hard to name them all, but I have one I still don’t quite totally understand. We had three appointments fall through in a row, I didn’t know what to do so I said a prayer in my heart to know what to do. I had the feeling to go visit the president of the branch, we saw him and had a good talk. He mentioned a less active brother in our branch, I haven’t seen him in a while but I knew his house, so we made our way over there. We knocked on the door, and the man’s son came to the door saying his dad was visiting with some men. We told him we could come back later but the boy went to ask his dad if we could come in and we got invited in. We saw the man who lived at the house with two other men and they were all in a state of shock. We said hi and before we got to talking they said that we were sent from God to save a life. Turns out man number one brought man number two to the person’s house (that goes to our church) because man number two just went through some unknown crisis and lost everything and wants to kill himself. Man number one says he can find peace through Jesus Christ, the suicidal man number two didn’t believe. Prophetic man number one says that God will prove to you he needs you alive, and right as he said that two missionaries (us) knock on the door. What weird timing what weird experiences. I hope that all made sense, but it turns out we had to go to the president’s house to get the tip to come to the man from church’s house, get lost a little on the way to arrive at the perfect moment to be a sign to another not to kill himself. We told the man God loved him and then he came to church this Sunday even though it rained, and he is very interested now. I would be too if that happened to me. I’m just weirded out by that prophetic man one who said we were coming, I don’t know how that worked but I aint complaining.

And to finish, a funny thing. Me and my son (Kouadio) are not the best at walking all the time, my son doesn’t really know all the sector and even when he does he gets confused a lot and I will sometimes not warn him when we are turning and we will both want to turn opposite ways and we bump into each other. This happened a lot this week weirdly, which I bet makes us look even weirder two dudes one white, one black, dressed the same, bumping into each other all day long. However we are working on walking, it’s getting better.

The food fight continues with Fried Ingyam - so good

Me and Kouadio with our 9 year old friend (and soon to be convert)

At the Stake Center

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