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.

Monday, November 27, 2017

From Ghana to Nigeria

The mission often likes kicking me out of my home, so I’m now going to leave Adidogome and Togo behind and go back to Benin. I’m going all the way to the political capital, Porto-Novo. I’m sad that I’m leaving behind my son and all my Togo friends to go to an unknown place but actually I’m happy because I’m going to work with an American for the first time my whole mission, so that will be a new experience.

Adidogome is basically Ghana because it is touching Ghana on like all sides. Like I’ve probably walked onto Ghana ground on accident, and now I’m going to Porto-Novo which is basically Nigeria. Often people will live in Nigeria and come to work in Porto-Novo, so I feel like I’m going from Ghana to Nigeria.

This week, to help my son be prepared to take over the sector, I had him plan every day and take the lead in all teaching scenarios and helped him see his weaknesses and strengths. He grew a lot from that experience and I see he is now ready to take on the mission. It was the fastest and most fun three months I’ve done on the mission.

This week was Thanksgiving number two so we went to a restaurant to eat pizza and shawarma to celebrate the American face stuffing holiday.

This week it rained quite a few times. I asked my son and he says there is a short rainy season in December which brings some pain because the rain has no place to drain, I miss rhyming poetry.

I got my hair cut by the barber by our house. I didn’t want to but he begged me to come so I did. It wasn’t a bad haircut but it wasn’t a good one either, but unlike tails on foxes, hair grows back.

We got a directive from the president of the mission to give out at least 6 books of Mormons each month, so we started taking those things around every day. It was super cool to see how many times it was useful to give those to people and really make that amazing book the proof that were not lying.

That one investigator that was ready to kill himself, but we found him and we started teaching him. Well, it’s been about two months and he has come to church every time. We had a lesson about home teaching and supporting those who were weak, so he went out and brought a bunch of people to church this last Sunday to do missionary work. Even though he is not yet baptized he is a super big fan of the church and is super passionate about what we do. He has no training on teaching so he kinda goes crazy when we try to teach people but it’s cool. He loves the church so much, and he has stopped drinking alcohol and you can see in his face how much he has changed.

It was sad to say goodbye to Adidogome. Many people were sad to see me leave, they often say a mark of a good missionary is someone who leaves the sector better then they found it. In the four and a half months I’ve been here the first Sunday there was 0 investigators and barely any members and this last Sunday some people had to stand because there was not enough room and we had about 11 investigators at church and some brought kids so it was more. I was so happy, the president thanked me for revving Adidogome after such a long sleep, I like my mission.

Sitting on a Kouadio Sandwich

Getting my hair cut

Making a native Togo dish

District Thanksgiving

Bradshaw and I pulling a prank on Kouadio while he slept

Good Bye, Kouadio

Brother Paul of Adidogome

Monday, November 20, 2017

Instrument in the hands of God

This week I would love to let you into the lives of a few of the investigators me and my son have found. One day back in the second week my son was here, that is like two months ago, we were walking and I saw a young woman selling some rice and cookies on the side of the road. So I felt impressed to give her a brochure. We give out tons of those things every day. It wasn’t special, we gave it to her and she said she sold there every day so we could stop by whenever, so we left. When we were planning, we decided to pass by where she was selling just to see if she was really interested because as I explained before most aren’t. We stopped by and she said she had read the brochure but was kinda sad that she didn’t have a Book of Mormon to really understand everything. So we gave her one, next time we came back she was asking all sorts of questions about Nephi’s story. We started passing by more often and we found she lives with her boyfriend and they aren’t married. However the boyfriend was super open to our message too, and before we knew it she started coming to church she has been coming for a month now and the boyfriend just came this last Sunday. We taught them the importance about the law of chastity and the boyfriend now works form morning till night every day to save money to marry the girl so they can get baptized in our church. And it all just started with a simple act of sharing a message.

I often focus on the crazy events that happen in this place, and I have many stories I will continue to share because I know it’s interesting, but I just absolutely love the perspective I get about the gospel of Jesus Christ while teaching it to people here. Everyday I spend hours in the sun walking incredible distances for what? because I have been called to be an instrument in the hands of God and what good is a rake if it has a mind of its own and does whatever it wants. I work to substitute my will, my thoughts for the will and thoughts of God. And it’s an amazing thing. I’m not perfect but I love this work. This week we were able to give the Book of Mormon to a guy who had been searching for it for over a year asking everyone and we happened to find his number and call him and we walked for an hour and a half to finally find him and bless his life with the truth. I know what I’m doing is right, and I love what this gospel can do in the lives of people. I’m feeling all spiritual this week because we had zone conference.

Some weird things this week, I saw on a bumper of a car “Bernie 2016” which is weird I don’t know why a Togoley would have cared about the US election. And also we pass buy a bum every day when we go out to the sector, he sits under a tree and smokes cigarettes all day. Where he gets the money I don’t know, but the other day he was laying down and his pants had a huge hole in the crotch area, like so big you could barely call what he was wearing pants, and he had no underwear on, so sadly I saw things I never ever ever ever ever wanted to see.

Apparently in the US after a year on your mission people burn a white shirt. I didn’t do that and when Bradshaw found out he quickly found an old shirt of Kadima and burned it in honor of my one year mark, so nice of him.

The zone activity today

Bradshaw burns a shirt in honor of my one year mark (a little late)

Kouadio protects himself from the oil burns

I have Kouadio's comb and glasses

Eating dinner when the power went out

Monday, November 13, 2017

The mouse murderers

Sadly for you but happy for me the events of this week were a lot calmer than the events of last week.

If you remember a few weeks ago there were huge riots that kept us inside, but no one told us not to go out from the mission side it was just the roamers in the streets that kept us from being killed. (Killed is a form of speech don’t worry about me, I am in no danger.)

Anyway, because there were planned protests again this week the church called in advance telling everyone to stay in for three whole days, however the protests were all peaceful in Lomé so we were stuck in the apartment for nothing. The most exciting thing that happened in those days is there was a mouse in our apartment. It was supper weird, we were all sitting in the living room then we see the mouse enter and everyone went into savage mode. We chased that thing into Bradshaw’s room and Bien-aime and Kouadio took two brooms and destroyed his room looking for the mouse while Bradshaw blocked the only exit and I took pictures. They ended up killing that little thing, then we paid our respects by doing a mini funeral for him and burying him under the tree of remembrance in our courtyard.

As I have said many times, the little kids call me "yovo yovo" in the streets every day well this started making Kouadio annoyed. Not because they called me yovo, and that’s all we hear every day, but because they don’t say hi to him as well. So he now walks around with candy in his bag teaching kids to say black in their language too when they see us which is something like "ameyibo". And if they say hi to him they get a treat, and it’s starting to work, really funny.

I’m super thankful for the chance I get to be a missionary. I talk to people I would have never met otherwise. The other day we were teaching the old man that has the bible memorized and he just told us his life story and cried as he explained he has had such a blessed life. But he does not feel like he has adequately served God for all his blessings, because he was so blessed, but he sinned so much in his life, it was very touching trying to explain to him there is still hope out there.

We had a super fun activity at the branch this last Saturday. There was dancing and food and games. I had a good time and a ton of my investigators came. I found out that the branch of Adidogome is famous for the best activities in Togo because it seemed more like a multi stake activity because of all the members from both stakes that were there.

I have now gained the confidence of the members of the branch. Sadly I think I only have two more weeks here, but I really like what my mission has become here. Sadly I stayed at the apartment a lot this week because of the protests so not a ton of excitement, sorry.

Broken glasses

Trying to exercise

Kouadio at a branch activity
Me at the branch activity

Bien-aime and Kouadio killed a mouse

Me and my son being good shepherds

Monday, November 6, 2017

I was forced to liquidate my assets

Yo, whats up everyone.

This week was fantastic, it started and ended with a bang... Tuesday this week was Halloween. Not that that made a difference, that holiday does not exist here. I forgot it was even Halloween, it was Bradshaw that reminded me. We got a few pieces of African candy he knocked on my bedroom door and I gave it to him, so that weird American tradition made it to Adidogome this year.

I started that day off by eating a very questionable smelling hot dog, for breakfast with some eggs and fries. I shouldn’t have done it but I didn’t smell the hotdog till it was already mixed with my eggs and fries so I wasn’t about to throw that stuff away, right? so I ate that nasty smelling sucker and went out to work. That hotdog grew arms and legs in my stomach and started punching me form the inside trying to get out. Sadly, my sector is really far away from the apartment. I thought I could keep that hotdog at bay and I tried to teach a lesson, however this hotdog was not a member of our Church and started doing voodoo and all sorts of secret combinations in my stomach. It chased away the spirt so we quickly closed the lesson, and speed walked to the apartment. As I went through what we call in French "la lutte supreme" or the supreme struggle, I wrested with the devil, however I prayed for strength and God helped me in my trials and was able to make it to the porcelain heaven and send that evil hot dog to his watery grave.

Sadly, Satan did not leave me alone and on Saturday he sent the spirt of the Hot dog back and this time nature did not just call, nature screamed and yelled. I started that same strait and narrow path to the apartment struggling with this sudden emergency evacuation order. Sadly, that day I was not so lucky, and not one but two pairs of underwear were forcefully baptized by fire. It was a sad day my friends. A sad, sad day.

Hey but I’m all better now.

Things are going great with my son. He is one off the funniest dudes. He will do anything to get the laugh, and he loves laughing himself. He pretends to be obsessed with white people, like he constantly says he will marry any white person of any age or gender. As long as they are white, he will marry them. And he has a bunch of weird habits that are funny. I’ll tell you a few of them:

He loves lotion and likes to put lotion on his whole body for some reason. However, he shares a room with me, and never closes or locks the door. Let’s just say I’ve had many un-needed surprises walking into my room.

He eats a ton of food a ton, and often times if we’re not looking or we’re saying the prayer for the food he will take food off others plates and put it on his. He also does not like waste. We are forced to eat chicken with bones here, while a normal person will eat the chicken and leave the bones he says we paid for the chicken with the bones so if we throw them away were throwing away money, so he eats all the bones of the chicken after every meal.

He once started a fire in our kitchen because he wasn’t sure if the fire alarm worked instead of pressing the test button.

What a guy.

You can always tell when rain is coming because there will be a huge gust of cold wind and in five mins the rains come and they come hard. Sadly, the gust of wind only gives you that five minute window and when we felt the wind on Sunday we knew we had an at least 25 min speed walk to the apartment. So we knew we were gunna drown that day, and boy did we get soaked, pictures below.

As for the spiritual side this week we taught a bunch of people we found two guys this week after talking to them for a few moments they really liked what we had to say so they took us around to all their friends saying we were missionaries of their church and that all they needed in their life was our message and they helped us give out a bunch of brochures. It was super funny seeing as they hadn’t heard our message yet and are not actually members but they were self proclaimed members after knowing us for 45mins. After that we did teach them and everything we say they take it as scripture its awesome.

We also worked with the ward mission leader all day on Thursday. He is a super cool guy and is a return missionary from the Ivory Coast. He gave us lots of tips on how to teach the Togoley people and he showed us how he teaches the law of chastity, and its hardcore. He says if you have broken the law of chastity and don’t cry after he teaches the law of chastity there is something wrong with the person, and he put it in action. It’s hard to explain exactly how he teaches it but he uses great examples that work with this people. He is very direct and it was awesome to see him work some magic with our investigators that needed to change in that area.

Of course, tons of other things happened this week but I couldn’t tell them all, but the biggest adventures of the week are there. What an interesting blessing I have to be here.

Rain! Soaked to the bone.

Walking with a box of chicken on my head. The pics are a little blurry because Kouadio took them while we were walking and while he was laughing. 

dirty shirt

with Kouadio