Monday, November 28, 2016

When your father is Congolese....

Well this has been a week, that's for sure. This week included Thanksgiving. And I do have a lot to be thankful for. I am thankful for the times I had power this week. I am more thankful for the times I had water this week. I am thankful for my companion Elder Mukendi. I am thankful I have been heathy this far in my mission. I am thankful I get food for almost 3 meals every day. I am thankful for the two nice ladies who work at this one store that wont rip me off just because I am white. I am thankful for my wonderful family and freinds that support me at home.

It is good for me to write the things I am thankful for, I often ask myself could it be worse then this? Then I see Elder Warr who just got an operation done here in Benin on his foot for an ingrown toenail without anesthesia. And I see, yeah it can be worse. When we were on our 24th hour without power on Thanksgiving AND I was burning hot because I couldn't use my fan, I thougt how could it get worse? And then they cut our water. How could it get worse than this? And Mukendi said, just wait, he has been 1 whole week without water and power in Togo. He says it is standard to have at least one of those in this mission. I am a firm believer it could always be worse. So it keeps me thankful for what I do have. I am thankful for the little things too, I think I am so sick of being coverd head to toe in ants all day every day, and I think at least it's just ants. This week was a little rough but for some reason it didn't phase me as much as it would have a few weeks ago. Just with my talks with Mukendi I am becoming more and more determined to finish my mission strong. Elder Olela told me lots of Americans don't make it too the end. They get sick or just quit, this mission is not for the weak. I told him I am not weak, he said out of the 16 Americans who arived with me he thinks only 8 or 9 will make it to the end. If that is true I will be one of those nine. There are so many little stories that happen in the week I know but I am really drawing a blank.

I really want to write good long emails for the blog. I really try hard to make it intresting, but then again I think its just the reality of the things here that make the best stories. And I will never think of Africa as all the same place ever again. I live with two Congolese. Well really there are four Congolese in my apartment, two by blood and two by conversion The missionaries from each country bring there own flavor to the mix. And I am now an American Congolese, that's for sure. I almost feel patriotic at times, it's weird. However the Congolese are open people, if they don't like somthing they tell you. They don't get offended and sulk or talk behind peoples back, they fight back, they talk it out, or most of the time yell it out. Insults fly on a regular basis, it's really something to be apart of. They have a maner of speaking where almost all their conversations sound like they are mad at you. And this was hard to get used to at the beginning for me. When I tried my best to cook fries for the apartment, some got a little bit crispy and Olela gave it too me hard, told me my food was crap, I don't know how to cook, I added to much salt. Then I went in my room to be alone because I was quite sad and he followed me because he wasn't done. That was a bad day. However, now I have converted to the Congolese way. I let Olela have it back, and it's not like Olela was trying to be mean, he told me after, hey if I hadn't of made such a big deal, and just said "oh Larson your food is great thank you" you would never change. And it is so true. I can cook the one sauce I eat now pretty well, and I am becoming less and less timid each day. When someone does somthing I don't like I tell them and we talk it out, I have never done that my entire life but that's what Mukendi does and I follow the example of my Dad. I am so greatful for Mukendi, he is one of my best freinds. We joke all day long, and I respect him so much. He is very wise, He is like 6 years older than me and has gone through so much more in his life. Congo is crazy, a completly different type of crazy then Benin. One time in a lesson he was bearing his super strong testimony and he told a story of a time he watched his freind get shot and killed right before his eyes, and he had to run away. He encourages me constantly and gives me advice. And one piece of advice he gave me to help me go full Congolese is the way and manner to chastize people. And boy do the Congolese chastise. Mukendi knows how things are supposed to go. The chuch is well established in Congo and here it is just like the early days of the church the members who lead the chuch are all recent converts. It's not quite blind leading the blind, but kind of like that. It's to no fault of them, it's like a newborn child it needs to be nutured and shown the right path. And Mukendi has taken on himself the role of Parent for the baby church in Benin. And he parents by chastisement. He will see the bishop do somthing wrong and he will pull him aside and say hey bishop what you did there is not right that is not how a bishiop is supposed to act, here is what you do next time. He especially is tough on ward mission leaders. Because we work with them all the time. One time we went to another ward for a baptism for the sister missionaris and the mission leader came to the baptism without a tie and dress pants, just a white shirt with a collar. He chastised him hard after the baptism, He says your a return missionary what are you doing, you know better then this, you need to help your ward man. I love it. It is just so different the first few times we chastised the leaders of the church I thought it was bad, like it's not our place, but Mukendi uses the stories of Peter in the bible, when Peter was walking with Jesus and said that Jesus shouldn't die at the hand of the jews in Matt 16 Jesus calls Peter satan! And Mukendi says that's the kind of thing he does he rubukes just so the person can change for the better.

I don't know if this all sounds super messed up and I hope I haven't lost my manners when I get home but I have been rebuked by Olela many times and have changed every time. So I am converted to the Congolay way. I'm not sure I want that to be permanent but that's just how it is for the moment and I think it really gets resuts here.

And just one cool thing I wanted to leave you with. Is an update on my converts, Jo__ and his wife Ed___ and their son are becoming super strong members of the ward. They have come every week as a family, so cute. They have their hymnbooks and are learning hymns, saying prayers, cleaning the church and just being all around great people. It is such a joy to have baptized a family together, this gosple does bless families. Ed___ used to look so tired all the time, now I never see her without a smile. Jo__ bought a white shirt and I gave him one of my very few ties, I had to tie it for him but it was all good, they are my converts and I am here to support them. It was just super nice to see.

An African Thanksgiving:

I provided and cooked all the food for Thanksgiving. I used the canned turkey, freeze dried mashed potatoes, and gravy powder that my mom sent. Then I bought pineapples, bread, cakes, and sodas. BTW pineapples here are the best in the world, I didn't like pineapples before but now I love them they are soo good here. Like better than any American one I have had.

Mukendi was super happy to have a random huge meal for what to him seemed like no reson, he was scared to eat the mashed potatoes and peanut butter because he hadn't had either before, but he said, he really liked this weird American holiday.

Me and my chair. I spend so much time in that chair, I study there, I sit and think there, when I have nothing to do I am always in that chair. One time I feel asleep in the chair and Mukendi didnt wake me up so I slept throught all of companionship study.

I love this pic of me and Mukendi. We are just waiting for people to show up (that never do)
Picture by the house of one of the people we are teaching.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Taking it day by day

Wow, what a week. Everyday this week was an adventure. I think all this stuff happend this week, now that I think about it I don't really know when the week started. However this I do know. When a missionary puts in his or her papers they all have somwhere they want to go. Often times people will ask, if you could choose to go anywhere, where would you choose? And after hearing those talks in conference about how cool Africa was and wanting to go foreign and french speaking I decided I wanted to go to Africa, french speaking. And look at that, be careful what you ask for. I had little to no idea what I was asking for, and I still have only been in Africa for about 2 months. I don't know all of the gifts I will receive However I trust that I am here for a reason I have no clue what I specifically am here to do, but I keep trusting.

I have talked to a lot of american missionaries this week for one reason or another and they all have different views of the mission. Some love it, some are counting the days. I don't know quite how I feel. From what I have heard from what this mission could be I have been greatly blessed. And it is thanks mostly to my companion Elder Mukendi. I will never forget this Elder my whole life. He was meant to be my trainer. President Morin was very inspired. Some peoples' companions are rough, so hard, but with Mukendi I have realized how easy the mission really is. Me and him are like brothers. I didn't know this at first but we have a very similar sense of humor and now that I can communicate with him better we are having a lot more fun together. We make jokes in the sector, just talking and laughing just bringing two smiling young men to these people in Benin, it is so fun to just hang out with him. For example, at the end of all our texts on our companionship phone there is our names and most missionaries put a inspirational scripture reference or missionary power scripture but me and Mukendi put Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 which says:

"Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me.

And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool? yet shall he have rule over all my labour wherein I have laboured, and wherein I have shewed myself wise under the sun. This is also vanity."

We don't really hate the labor, however the sun is super hot and it is always a worry that when you leave your sector you might leave it to a bad missionary which would really stink, so the scripture works, it's just the clever humor I like to do.

The mission is hard though, Elder Olela and Elder Warr had to go to the hospital this week Elder Olela has a hernia and Elder Warr has an infected toe, they both can't go out into the sector, it's kind of funny. Olela will get an operation here in 2 weeks and it will be a three week recovery and I don't know what will happen to Elder Warr, I hope it will heal. But it has been weird this past week. I didn't go out into the sector very much because there was some craziness with people going home early and people missing flights and one elder dosent have a companion, it's just crazy. I hope things will settle down soon, because staying at the apartment is like prison, going out into the sector is like heaven after you have been stuck inside for a few days.

I guess there is just one other "only in Benin" story I had. On Sunday there was a face to face meeting with all the youth of Benin and some leaders and their parents. It was to talk with the three zone leaders of Benin, the mission president, return Beniois misionaries and the stake presidency to try to help coordinate an effort for getting more people from Benin to go on missions it was a weird format and I was only there because my companion is the zone leader. But one question somone asked was so funny. He stood up and asked "if I don't know my birthday, can I still go on a mission?" I thought that was so great, that face to face meeting was super weird and it lasted 4 and a half hours. I was at the church from 8:45 to 6:45 yesterday, which means it turned into like a fast Sunday but that's what happens sometimes. I am learning how to not let things bother me too much, this mission can really beat you down if you let things get to you too much.

And I know lots of people are praying for me which is so kind, and I love it so much. If you want to know something specific you can pray for, pray for my next companion, I dont know who it is, but I really, really need a good one, thank you so much.

Breakfast is the best meal here. Scones (with a side of Malaria medication)

The meal I eat for every lunch and dinner. Sometimes with egg, sometimes chicken (always rice and red sauce). I make the red sauce: tomatoes, peppers, onions, chicken powder, little bit of tomato paste, water and oil

Mukendi pretending to be dad (He was wearing this boys' dads' glasses)

Monday, November 14, 2016

The investigator formerly known as Prince

These weekly updates I write are very biased, I have realized. I write these emails when I am feeling the best about the mission. It is Monday, p-day, the best day. Everything is nice on p-days so I see the mission through rose colerd glasses. Because right now I feel good about everything, like I don't care that I woke up and found a few cockroaches in my bed, no big deal. But honestly this week has been rough, incredibly hard. I had to deal with a lot of things I never thought would ever happen on a mission, I am not gunna lie. But through all the horrible things that happend there were a few gems that made me feel a little bit better and those gems are what I will share because thats what I want to remember.

The first great thing is another "only in Benin thing". I really like our stake president he is a super spiritual guy and he is really young. He takes a taxi (moto) to the stake center every time he comes and on the way he teaches the driver the gosple and by the time they arrive the stake president finds the missisonaries and we get a new contact from every taxi man he uses. He really wants to run a  great stake and he is doing well. That is just so you know the kind of guy he is. So we are at the stake center waiting for the font to fill up for a baptism for Elder Warr and we see the stake president in a t-shirt helping people out cleaning the church and I read his shirt because it is in english it says "It's only binge drinking if you stop" with a beer logo. I know for a fact he has no idea what it means or he wouldn't wear it, but it was just so funny. The Benin is the Deseret Industries/Goodwill of the world. I swear if you ever have just donated your old clothes to one of those stores that takes them or anything like that, it ends up here and it is sold on the side of the street. The other day I bought a towel and I swear it could have been an old one I used to have when I was little that we gave away and I just bought it back. So I am sure that is what happened with the stake presidents shirt a hand-me-down from somone in Iowa.

Another thing was great was brother Prince. what a guy. He is a pretty young guy, maybe my age, I don't know but he was one day contacted in the street by Mukendi and his old companion a really, really long time ago and in the only lesson they had with him he said to Mukendi "you guys need to help me, I love your message and I need your help don't forget about me". But he would never accept another phone call after that and when they saw him in the street he said he had no time and they kind of stoped trying with him. However, Mukendi didn't forget about him and one day he said, "hey I got a feeling about this old ami (investigator), I will never forget about him". So we went and saw him and he is one of the nicest people I ever met, so humble, so kind, wow. We have started having lessons with him and it is like teaching a seminary teacher he like knows everything already and he has never been taught. It is really great. I extended the invatation for baptism in our third lesson and he enthusiastically accepted before I could even finish my memorized invitation. And Prince is why I am still alive this week because knowing that I am here to help that guy get to the waters of baptism and open the gates to so much more is what gets me through all the hard stuff.

Other than that not much else great to talk about. I pray every day that the power and water can stay on for at least most of the day. But the day to day living is not that bad, you adapt, you really do and you find uses for everything like an old missionary journal is what I have been using for toilet paper for a while. I am becoming very innovative with different things. For instance I use the clips I use to dry my clothes as a chip clip for this bag of crackers I bought. It is fun when you break out of functional fixedness. I guess that's all for this week.

Me and "E". He is one of my best buddies. I am really good friends with a lot of the little kids here. Sometimes they will see me out in the sector and run and give me hugs, it is just the best.
This is what the stands look like where I buy all my food.
I am so thankful for washing machines. Hand washing takes hours and hours.
My language study in 4 languages

Monday, November 7, 2016

Going Full African

I am not quite sure what to write this week. I do so many things during the week I cannot begin to describe all the stories. I really want to describe all my feelings but it is impossible to do that.
However I did have some great experiences this week and I want to share one with you.

We were walking the long walk to church the other day and we see a guy all dressed up in church clothes and he is white so he sticks out. He sees us and gets really excited, he runs across the street and says he doesn't speak french but he was so glad he ran into us because he is a latter day saint, he lives in Utah but is in Benin for 8 weeks to teach an english class. He fasted and prayed that on Sunday God would lead him to an LDS church and he went out of his apartment and just chose a random direction and started walking and he ran into us! Even though that was the opposite way to the stake center and because I spoke English he could explain his situation and we got to be the
answer to his prayer. That doesn't happen just by chance.

I also look African right now my hair is so short because Mukendi and Olela thought my hair was weird they made me go to the african barber and they have no idea how to cut American hair so I look super super different. It is all good, it will grow back and it helps with the transition to full African. Which includes eating the same exact thing for every meal every day (rice with tomato sauce) and super short hair, but hey I love it.

I also went to the serpent temple in Oudia today. It is a pretty short tour you mostly just go to take some pics with the snakes. It was really funny to see the people really freak out, some of the elders
were so scared it was so funny. I thought I would be scared but it was not dangerous at all, so I just really enjoyed it. However, that took all the morning so the apartment and clothes will stay dirty for
another week. You learn here just to roll with the punches. Like every time I grab a plate to eat I have to scrape a ton of living ants off it, I always have to have shoes on because our apartment floor is
coverd with a layer of sand that no doubt has been peed on. There are all sorts of little bugs and things in our apartment Mukendi already killed a mouse that was living in one of our pots. But this is not complaining in the slightest. I promise I am begining to really like it here. I know I am losing my mind, but I am okay with that.

One example of how I am losing my mind is that I am forgetting english. I had to teach a lesson to two Nigerians who don't speak French so Mukendi couldn't help and I struggled hardcore. I have learned how to teach and what scriptures to use and practiced all that in french, so I probably sounded like I do when I speak french. However, I have confidence the Holy ghost makes up the diffrence no matter the language. The french is really coming though, le don de lange is real and because I live with the Congolese I am starting to speak a little bit of Lingala because when the 2 speak to eachother it is always in Lingala and that language is super fun and simple and useful to talk to a lot of missionaries here and make good freinds. I am also trying my best to learn Fon because each time I say anything in Fon the people here love it because I am white. I learned how to say thank you very much this week, and you may think one phrase a week is slow progression but trust me it is not. Fon is so hard it is tonal like Chinese and is not written so it is hard to get help. Hey but I am learning I hope by the time I return home I will be able to speak 4 or 5 languages. I am well on my way. If you do it right a mission can be some of the best schooling ever. I am learning so many skills how to cook, how to wash cloths by hand (wich I am very good at by the way) how to barter, how to talk to people and I can learn a lot about the gosple too. So that is my goal, I've been here for a month already and I am so much better from the first week. It is still super hard, no doubt, but though the Lord and your prayers I can do all things, thank you.

Serpent Temple
Real snakes, and I'm not scared
Reading the Book of Mormon with my little buddy
My horrible haircut