Monday, January 15, 2018

Number One and Eleven

I spent the first half of the week in Porto-Novo with all my stuff packed up. We had a crazy experience on Wednesday. The tenth of January is the biggest Voodoo holiday and the country that practices the most Voodoo in the world is Benin and the place where they have their festivals is in Porto-Novo, the capital. So, we got all ready to go see the Voodoo festival where people stab themselves with knives and don’t get hurt and do a lot of dances very similar to the chicken dance. Anyway, we got to the place to wait with a family that had a brother with a car who would take us. We got there at 7 and waited forever. When he finally showed up at 10:30 we were mad. And then he didn’t have enough places in his car for us four because he already picked up two other people. And because we can’t take motorcycles here he decided to go to the festival drop the two off and come right back. As he left the family said after all these inconveniences God probably doesn’t want us to go, something bad would come to us. Beninese are a very superstitious people so I believed them and we went home. So, I don’t know what bad thing would have happened, but I did not see the biggest Voodoo festival in the world because of God's protection, I guess.

I finally got to come to Finagnon on Thursday and meet my new apartment and new elders inside. There is Elder Tolman, a missionary form Utah, who has been out about a month and a half on his mission. He is still in training and his trainer is Elder Kahombe, another Congolese who wants to learn English. So, I speak English to the guy who speaks French and I speak French to Tolman, the American who speaks English. A little backwards maybe, but it works.

The apartment is fantastic here. Nice size, nice location, biggest bathroom I’ve had on my mission, everything I need. A bread lady stopes by every morning with french bread but speaks no French. We told her to wait we would grab money come back and buy. When we went into the apartment to grab money, she had already left. She must have thought we said go away.

Because neither of us know anything we are kinda finding our own way through the sector because there are no addresses. The elders before us left a list of where the people live on a piece of paper and showed Elder Tolman the places and Elder Tolman showed us, it was funny.

Then the biggest blessing, my first companion came back and became my eleventh companion. Segal and I being back together in this big apartment with a nice sector and no worries makes me wonder what happened to the Benin Cotonou mission. This mission is supposed to be hard all the time but no, this is great. Segal and I get along great. We have had different mission experiences, but we have done good work. He has done all his time in Togo. I’ve done most in Benin and I’m showing him around. Just the fact I’ve spent over a year of my life in Benin I’ve picked up some of their languages and stuff, it’s really cool to see. Things seem to be going up. The zone we have seems good I’m really happy after much suffering. I think some blessings have come, the church is true.

With Segal

Monday, January 8, 2018

Good bye Elder......Johnson?

I have a testimony God works in mysterious ways. I have been transported backwards 16 months and will work with one of my MTC companions, Elder Segal. We are going to be zone leaders in Finagnon, a sector in Benin. Which means after only five weeks in Porto-Novo I will have to leave. This is super weird, the branch members here are actually pretty friendly, for the most part, which is a little rare for this mission. But when they wanted to be all sad because I was leaving they were not sure my name. I got called Ellison, Ellie, and most commonly Johnson. I got lots of people saying goodbye to Johnson so Elder Johnson will be greatly missed here in Porto-Novo even though he doesn’t exist.

This last week we kept visiting our crazy investigators who don’t progress. Uaua had two baptisms, which was cool to see. We did some good work but five weeks is not a long time at all. My reflections on Porto-Novo are it’s not that different from Cotonou. I really like the apartment and its placing with everything I need nearby. The branch has some work to do but I’ve heard where I’m going there is even more work to do.

Some really good news I heard for those of you who remember the story of Ge__, the man who was going to kill himself when me and my son found him. Well, he was baptized last week by my son it was such great news to hear. A man at the lowest depths of life has risen and now has joined the true church.

I know Thomas S. Monson was God’s chosen prophet on the earth, and I love how I know can already fully trust His new prophet. This Church is true, and I’m excited to have seven more months of telling this people that very message.

With kids in the sector

Porto-Novo district

With Uaua

Frozen eggs from the fridge that doesn't always work

Bowling in the apartment

"Perfect Brown Baby" From Bad Lip Reading (2:35)

Uaua with a pig

Monday, January 1, 2018

I, Missionary

It is really interesting having a Tahitian in my apartment because he has seen all the same movies I’ve seen, watched the same TV shows and stuff. However, he watched it all in French. As we have been discussing moves and TV shows I have found sometimes in the French translation of English movies they change words and names. The ones I thought were funniest are Hogwarts is Poudlard, Squidward from Spongebob is named Carlos, Gollum from Lord of the Rings is Toby. All these things made me laugh, a lot.

So, last Monday was Christmas but on Tuesday we had our Christmas party. The food was super good but the presentation of the nativity and stuff was pretty sad. Our zone was in charge of a skit about the nativity but our practices were weird and ineffective so when it got to time to do our sketch no one knew what to do so we all looked like losers fumbling around. We sang an impromptu off pitch version of Oh Come all ye Faithful and called it good.

The rest of the week was not too eventful. My comp was pretty sick and slept a ton so I went back to my killing old missionary techniques to not go crazy.

We had a branch activity on Saturday and it was insane to see how we had about 100 individuals present 80 of them were under 12 which is the most people I’ve ever seen at the church building. Sadly, when it came time for church the next day there were about 10 people on time for church.

New Year’s is a super big deal here for some reason. The idea of the year changing is super crazy and people love blowing lots of money they don’t have to party and shoot of fireworks all night long. It was kinda cool to get on the roof and see the whole capital a light with little African firecrackers and this morning the city was so clam, everyone in their beds hungover, so great.

“Does believing you're the last sane man on the planet make you crazy?” is a quote from I, Robot. This quote often passes through my head as I see the different personalities of people here; missionaries, members and investigators alike. I don’t know what it is but I’m sure everyone here is insane. We teach this mama who is just crazy. We call and ask her if we can come over she says yes. We get there knock on the door, no one answers. Then we see her next time she gets mad we didn’t come. Then she remembers that right after she hung up the phone with us she went to sleep. And she randomly laughs really loud at nothing. All of her past experiences, she has to act out. I love teaching her because you never know what’s coming next. I asked her if she believed in Jesus Christ and she went on this rant about how she is a prophetess and got a vison about how the Catholic church is a church run by evil men. It was a very crazy piece of theater we watched. I watched a Muslim chastise a bunch of other Muslims for celebrating Christmas. I also can teach people the same thing in a million different ways and they will never remember. I love my investigators and this people is really open I just wonder if it’s just me that’s crazy or it’s just everyone else.

I was also blessed with a few people that came to church on their own so we might have some people who progress. I haven’t had an investigator come to church since I got here to Porto-Novo, so a little progression was great to see.

I get to come home this year I’m so happy. I did all of 2017 here in Africa and on my mission. It has been a million dollar experience that I’ll cherish, but I wouldn’t pay a cent to do again.

Pictures from the Missionary Christmas Party

At the Christmas party we got a bunch of cards from random members of the church. I got a drawing from a primary kid with the same name as me, it was just a coincidence, but it was crazy. So thanks, Riley.

Thanks to the Ellingford family I got some pizza ingredients for Christmas. So on this New Year's Day I embarked on a quest to make an African Pizza
No can opener - a knife works just fine
Re-hydrating the freeze dried cheese
All put together - time to cook
Creative cooking when you don't have an oven

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Last African Christmas

This week was kind of sad, because we had some disappointments. We met this super cool lady who really loved our message we have been teaching her. She is a widow and would read our brochures every night before going to bed. She came to church after our first lesson. It was two hours after church ended, but she still came. However, she just found out she has some friends or something in Senegal and will move there for 8 months, so we had to say good bye, which was rough.

We had some tough times in the sector not finding anyone who will progress however we were blessed with one Nigerian man who found us and really wanted to learn more about the Book of Mormon. We taught him and he was so happy so we’re going to try to find one in English for him because all he wants is to read that book.

So, that was some of the ups and downs this Christmas season My comp Elder Kappel got really sick the last few days and couldn’t get out of bed. Luckily he is feeling better now which is a Christmas miracle!

This Christmas is a lot more festive than last years because I was blessed with the master cooking of Elder Uaua, a Tahitian who really likes to celebrate. We got tons of sodas and he made breaded chicken with sweet and sour sauce with some great rice and crepes for dessert and breakfast. Some of the best food I’ve eaten.

It’s really funny to see how Christmas is celebrated here. Not many things change other then there are random parades of people that walk down the streets blowing horns and playing drums. There were a few fireworks too but because this is highly Muslim populated area not much changed, kinda funny.

Nothing huge happened this week sadly, and we are going to have our Christmas party tomorrow so we will see if that is fun.

{Kaelyn here...Riley sent the letter as normal early Monday morning. Then a little later he CALLED HOME! It was so great to talk to him. We even got video chat to work for the first time.}

Call home for Christmas! (Kaelyn added this picture)

Our fridge stocked for Christmas

The water after washing my clothes

The Christmas Parades

Monday, December 18, 2017

Bringing the joy of Christmas to Islam

This week was the week before Christmas, but seriously this place does not change for Christmas. Luckily Elder Uaua had the Christmas spirit and put up some Christmas lights (pictured below) so we kinda were feeling the Christmas spirit.

We had a normal week in the sector just trying to find people. We found a few, and lots reject us. I have found this sector is highly Muslim populated, so that makes things interesting. I always said I wanted to teach a Muslim so I could help someone gain a testimony of Christ, which I had never done, and now about half of my investigators are nice Muslims that will let us talk to them. So, that is awesome. Maybe my wish will come true.

As the Christmas season comes around I’m thinking about doing more service. You would think I would find many service opportunities every day because everyone here does everything by hand. Well, that is true, however, no one wants to let us help because we are white and are dressed nice. Like people get mad at us for trying to help them. Even if they are struggling to carry something they would rather let the thing fall or they would rather die before letting us help them. Every time they DO let me help they are always surprised that a white person could know how to sweep or carry something. It’s really funny. They all applaud like it’s the first time I held a broom. I have found that people are used to just treating people that teach the gospel as “gods on earth” because that’s how the pastors like it. But we are not pastors. It’s weird when people treat us as if we are. They are surprised to find that we wash our own clothes and cook our own food. They say it is unjust for a man of god to do house work. It’s a weird culture thing. I work hard to get that out of peoples’ heads because just because you teach the gospel does not make you perfect, ever. I have a big testimony of this principal after coming here.

We had a dinner with a family this week to celebrate the holidays and I wore a traditional West African clothing made for me. It was super cool. We drank some of their flower fruit drink and it turned my poop blue, so that was crazy but I didn’t take a picture because that is gross.

Okay sorry if that was too personal or something just some of the adventures I’m having, nothing too spiritual yet because I’m working hard to find people but its coming along.

Christmas lights in the apartment

With Daniel

Me with kids in the sector

Boomba, traditional West African clothing

Me with Kappel in our boombas

Uaua, Kappel, Larson

Saying goodbye to Araphath, who is leaving for his mission to Nigeria

Monday, December 11, 2017

Two White Boys

Two white boys in Porto-Novo. One white boy is bad enough, but when you got two it’s a big deal. We got mobbed by kids this week coming out of school. They all needed to touch our skin, literally swarms of hundreds of kids around us all screaming “Yovo, Yovo!” It was kind of terrifying, but also kinda cool. I felt like a superhero even though we did nothing but give them handshakes and fist bumps.

Also, when you’re two white people, people become very interested in what you have to say, only because you are white, which is dumb. Because usually it’s for other reason than the gospel they talk to us. One girl just wanted a selfie with two white people to put on her profile picture. Another wanted us to take him to the US. There was one guy that called us over and said "you two are Americans, aren’t you?" and I said yes, and he said that he can tell anyone’s nationality by the way they walk, so that was weird. However, everyone wants to talk to us so that is a big bonus.

This week I got the common cold, which was kinda dumb because I was sniffing and coughing all week. Also, it is combined with the weird end of the world like dust fog called harmattan which is back to make everything dusty and I’m constantly sneezing.

The bane of my existence was the bathroom in this place. It had no toilet seat which was really difficult, for obvious reasons. However, I found a toilet seat today and put it on so it’s better now. I thought that was going to be a lasting problem, but it’s fixed already.

One of my favorite things about this apartment is Elder Daniel. He is a Nigerian. I think I mentioned him last week but he is just a really funny guy. He has some funny mannerisms that just crack me up and we get along great. He always will just walk in to the room and tell me something he wants to do. Like he walked in and said he wanted to get a haircut. I asked him if he needed me to go with him or something, but he didn’t, he just wanted to tell me. He is like that, he will just announce random things. He also had me go and buy some glasses for him because he has difficulty speaking French, but he wanted glasses. Not sunglasses but kinda grandma like clear glasses with no prescription. I got them for him and he uses them like reading glasses, like every time he needs to read he puts them on but in the day he doesn’t use them. It is weird because they have no prescription, but it is super funny. And finally, how he is with food. He always wants to try new things but when it gets down to eating it he never can. He will just go out on the street and see someone, buy something and is like “I want to try that.” He brings it over to me after buying it and says "I bought something I don’t know" and every time I tell him not to do that because he always puts it on a plate, gets ready to eat, then loses his appetite and eats bread, mayo and chocolate every night. Such a funny guy. I’ll try to get a pic with him for next week.

We found some pretty cool people in the sector this week. Actually, we found a widow that is super ready for the gospel and I love visiting widows because that is like a duty of the priesthood that is specifically mentioned in many scriptures, so that makes me feel good. We also met a Congolese Muslim who is interested too, so bunches of new experiences to be had in the dusty red-sand capital of Benin.

The toilet without a seat

Our cool curtains - planet design

Christmas decorations in Porto-Novo

Branch President's kid wearing my name-tag

Harmattan (Dry and Dusty)

Monday, December 4, 2017

Resurrection = time to hit people with sticks

This week I was lost in the shuffle, I got transferred to Benin and they brought visas for everyone going to Benin but poor little Elder Larson. So I had all my stuff packed and ready but I watched the bus I was supposed to be on pull away. I then stayed the rest of the week with the office elders in Togo, Elder Blum and Elder Terri.

It was fun to stay with them. They are very busy doing all sorts of little jobs, we got to see the senior couples apartment in Togo, and they made us banana bread, it was so good. I also helped Elder Blum clean his apartment because it was so nasty, so nasty. I worked for three days to clean it with Blum and we didn’t even finish.

Finally, on Saturday I got to head to Benin. I got picked up by the president of temporal affairs in Togo. His name is President Blaze. He is a good guy, but does not like to talk. So we did that long ride to the border in complete silence. After quite a few hours and one stop, because I had to pee really bad, I got to Porto-Novo, the capital of Benin. It’s a cool place, I always wanted to work here.

The apartment is a bunch of new things for me. I’m working with my first American, Elder Kappel from Arizona, who just finished his training. I’m living with a Nigerian named Elder Daniel. He is really funny. He does not speak French so I joke with him a ton because I only speak French with him, and he loves it. And there is also a Tahitian named Elder Uaua who is super chill and is pretty funny he speaks English just like a young American. It’s a chill apartment. Uaua is a great cook, he is just tired, so I’m gunna eat some more tomato sauce and rice but you know it’s not the Benin Cotonou mission without it.

I think the branch here is hilarious, it’s not super organized and the president is kinda crazy but it’s pretty fun. He wanted every single member of the branch to testify in sacrament meeting, even the kids. All the kids gave a very similar but funny testimony that went like this “I’m thankful to God for all He has done for me in the month of November. I know more blessings will come and I will give my testimony again for the month of December.” This testimony of multiple kids made me guess this is a pretty normal thing they do. Also the president of the relief society like went inactive right before I came so the president just came in and called whoever was sitting there to be the new one, kinda funny.

Anyway, also December is close to a voodoo holiday too I think. There are these guys that walk around Porto-Novo in bright costumes that cover their whole body and people say they are people risen from the dead and they have parades where people just surround the guy and grab sticks and just hit everyone they see with the sticks. So yeah what an amazing religious custom. We saw two of these parades in the two days I’ve been here.

Okay, haven’t yet worked in the sector because I just got here but I’m excited. There is a lot of work to be done.
Me and my new comp Elder Kappel

"A lizard in Togo"
This was in the apartment I stayed for a few days with Blum and Terri. Wait until the end. The lizard runs into the door. He did that like a thousand times.