Saturday, February 22, 2014

Interview with Prepare to Serve

This is a short clip from an interview I did recently with a small organisation called Prepare to Serve. Their goal is to help youth to prepare to serve full-time missions. The link below the video goes directly to the playlist with the rest of the videos. Most of my interview focused on the cultural and physical elements of the mission, as they have only had a handful of African missionaries so far. I may not have gotten every detail right (I'm sure some Elders would correct me on my Fon pronunciation), but I hope that it will be helpful to future Elders in the mission!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Post-mission life

Well, I've been home for a little over 6 weeks now. The first post-mission transfer is over. I figure that I should probably give some sort of closure post (since so few people were able to attend my homecoming). I think I'll work to keep a blog going, but I haven't decided if that will be here or if I will create a new one.

First things first: coming home

Coming home was about as much of an adventure as I anticipated. Which means that I was very tired for almost the entire trip. My flight left Cotonou at 1:15 AM, and obviously I did not sleep before the flight. On all my flights I didn't sleep much. Something about economy class...

The five of us coming home split up in Brussels, and me and Elder Gundersen continued to New York. One of the only eventful moments of that flight was looking out the window and seeing Greenland. 

Seeing North America for the first time since 2012 was a moving sight. Cheers sprung from our lips. We were out of the plane as fast as possible. From there it was a mad dash to customs. Customs and immigration wasn't hard, mostly just waiting through lines. At this point I said goodbye to Elder Gundersen and stepped outside. Next thing I new, I was in a taxi on my way into the city. As the above photo illustrates, Elder Christensen paid a visit to Elder Christensen. The whole side trip was incredible, down to the "pork" dumplings he bought me. Two and and half hours later (of which 20 we were looking for a taxi), and I was on my way back into the airport. Elder Gundersen was suitably impressed that I made it back in time. A nice member family bought us pizza, and we were on the plane to come home!

not pictured: my body odor from three days in that suit

One of the most common questions I've been asked is how am I adjusting? That question is actually pretty tricky to answer. Coming home was not a terribly surreal experience. When I left for Africa, I was pretty scared because I had no context of what it would be like. Coming home though, I knew what things would be like. I knew what my room would look like, I knew what kinds of food I would eat, I knew what order everyone would wake up in. The things that created the most dissonance were the small changes in my behavior that had become habitual. Brushing my teeth with regular tap water instead of filtered water in my bottle. Not constantly wearing flip-flops in the house. Paying for things in US dollars. You can't really predict what will set off that dissonant chord and what won't until it happens. 

Obviously, things get easier over time. Those little moments pass, and you longer until you run into another one - I haven't had corn on the cob yet, I'm hoping that will be the last one. You make return milestones. Leaving the house alone for the first time. Going to the movie theater. Getting on Facebook. I love the phrase about getting back in the swing of things. The first step is to get on the swing. Next you have to start moving your legs in a rhythm until you pick up momentum. Currently I feel that I'm in that mid-level range where I'm moving back and forth, but I haven't completely maxed my momentum. Every now and then little stumbling blocks come up. I can't come up with quite the right word. I catch a whiff of a girl's lotion. I have the occasional vivid flashback. I don't get the pop-culture reference. Overall, things are improving. I still haven't had a real haircut since I've been back though (if you remember, I went bald at the end of November. It had to grow back a lot). 

One of the tricky things about adjusting to the post-mission life is, well, that your life isn't the same anymore. You aren't the same person, and you have different responsibilities and expectations. One example of this is going on dates. I've been on a few dates since I came home (intriguingly, this was not as challenging as I assumed it would be), and there is a slightly different flavor to how a date rolls out. I'm not really trying to get myself married anytime soon, but you could say there's a sense of empowerment knowing that it's an option now. Either that, or cinnamon. Generally, there's a larger sense of responsibility than there was before the mission. While I don't report key indicators anymore, I still feel like people are counting on me to do my job right. But I'm not anxious about it. How could I be? I have a microwave and hot water. I can wash my clothes in a washing machine. Heavenly Father is at my side and has my back. I got through Africa, I can get through whatever will come my way this week. 

One of the other common questions people ask me is "how have you changed?" There are so many possible answers to that question. Some days I feel like a completely different person, and other days I wonder if I did actually change. I will not lie, not all of my changes were for the better. There is one change that I think stands out beyond the others. I have suffered from mild indecisiveness for most of my life. I've always been worried about making sure I make the "best choice." Serving a mission helped me on the path to learning that, honestly, most decisions don't make much of a difference. Restaurant menus? You might not even remember what you ordered the next time you come in. Don't stress the little decisions, but recognize the truly important decisions in life and focus on them. Don't get me wrong, I'm still far from perfect on this. It's doubtful I'll completely master this skill during my lifetime. But where a plethora of choices used to halter my progression, I'm starting to see it as a sign of liberty. The act of choosing is often just as important as the choice made.  

I hope I was able to convey some of my feelings about coming home. If you have any comments to share or questions to ask, feel free to do so (digitally or in person). I'm considering making a goal to write a blog post every Sunday. If I know that people will read it, I'll make that a higher priority. 



Monday, December 23, 2013

December 23, 2013

Dear family,
Well, this is the last Africa email. It's pretty crazy. I definitely
haven't wrapped my mind around it. Denial turns out to be a pretty
effective way of making time go by.
I was wondering when I would be released. Sounds good. Wait, I just
reread that. He's going to release me over the phone? That can't be
I got the emails about Jfk and I wrote down the numbers. I think this
should be doable. NYC here I come!
As far as having food in the airport, I'm not sure I'll have a huge
appetit. Maybe just really thick hot cocoa. And Bacon or krispie
cremes. I've been craving breakfast foods lately, maybe we'll stop by
Ihop on the way home? Nah, we are all going to be exhausted. In terms
of meals for the first few days, good meat dishes. Since it's
christmas time, that's more or less a given anyways.
So I heard a rumor that Elder Burkhart's luggage didn't make it back
to Georgia with him. Ouch. For the moment I have a carry on and one
checked bag. I'm thinking about checking the carryon at JFK to just
make going back through security even easier. I'll decide when I am
As far as friday goes, I really don't care what happens as long as a
trip to the temple is included somewhere.
Are you ready for an awesome story? On tuesday we were at a
lesson/become dinner appointment (sometimes people decide they want to
feed us rather than be taught. It happens occaisionally). Anyways, my
companion had a baby of a couple of months on his lap. When the  baby
got passed to me, we noticed that the baby had peed all over my
companion's lap. It looked really funny and the photo is currently
protected on my memory card. The best part? The baby's name is Power
Insondable (all his first name). We usually call him "baby power."
Oh yeah, my other interesting story is about how during a split I was
followed for 30 minutes by a crazy guy that wants me to give him 10
000 000 F CFA (about 20 000 US dollars) so he can fly to London and
play for the Arsenal soccer team. On Sunday he was waiting for us
outside the church, so I told him I've been frauded, lost everything,
and am going to be kicked out of the country this week. Hopefully he
disappears before the new american comes into my area. My current
companion will be spending 2 weeks with an Elder from Ghana, who will
be in turn training an american as my companion goes into the mission
office. Go figure.
Oh yeah, and then there was the next time I was walking on the beach
due to an accident of directions, and a halfnaked guy came out of the
trees and started shouting and walking toward us. We didn't run, but
we were walking as fast as we could in the sand. Given that there was
NO ONE within a kilometer, we figured letting him get close was not a
good idea. We were exhausted by the end, overall we walked about 4
kilometers on the beach. Oof. Then we found an "American University"
that is the reason why there are so many Nigerians in our area. That
was a very interesting day. Keeping it up to the end!
Oh, and then there was the time that someone was flipping through
radio stations and we heard someone say "book of mormon." they went
back to the station, and it turned out to be a "Mormon turned
Catholic" from Ogden calling into a Catholic Radio Station. Go figure,
you can find ANYTHING IN AFRICA!
I'm currently in Mosiah in my reading of the Book of Mormon. I won't
finish before I get home, but if I'm lucky I could finish it before
the end of the year. If I'm not constantly asleep.
It's super weird to be at the end. Everyone keeps saying that I've
finished the mission and I keep telling them "as long as I'm still
here in Africa, it's not over yet! It's just close." I've definitely
had some reflections about how I've changed, how the mission has
changed, and what I was able to accomplish. On my own, I didn't really
do much, but I did get to be an instrument to some pretty cool things.
Love you all, see you soon!
Elder Christensen

December 16, 2013

Dear Family,
Wow,  another week come and gone. I can't believe how fast it is going!

I asked President Weed and he OK'd me seeing Jacob. He even told me I could look up the best place and all that online. I think he's just thankful that I asked. 

This week had a number of firsts. I gave a talk at a baptism service for the first time. I was supposed to play piano, but the power was out so I gave a talk instead. I was all wet while doing it though because we had to fill up the font with well water. But we were using a terrible cord and now I have rope burn on my fingers. 

So I'm going to talk to all the youth? Great, I don't even know most of them any more. I'll do my best. If they really want me to talk about Africa, can they give me a little projector and I could show some of my photos? Maybe that could give some structure to the hour.

In Nigeria they don't speak French, they speak broken English. Really, sometimes it is barely even English, although some are quite good. It's funny how Colonial influences can change the language of people that live across the hill from each other. I still remember my area in Togo that was on the Ghana border. They spoke English over there, but still played the same music on their loudspeakers. 

Elder Burkhart missed his flight in Brussels? That is hilarious. I saw Elder Burkhart at the baptism on Saturday, just a couple of hours before he went home. He was pretty excited. It will be really weird when that day comes for me.....

I finished the New Testament on Saturday, that was really good. I decided I am going to read the Book of Mormon before the end of the year. I will probably finish 1 Nephi tonight. I figure I will be able to read all of Alma while I am on the planes. I'm already seeing a lot of new stuff that I recognise now having "done" a mission. I'm not done yet though!

There's a Tahitian in our area? There is a Tahitian serving in Benin, I'll have him write down a couple of phrases for me the day of the Mission Christmas Party. I'm also going to have my testimony translated into Malagasy.

I had a split with Elder Welch this week so that my companion (our district leader) could go and do a baptismal interview (for Elder Welch and Boto, the zone leaders). It was pretty fun. Elder Welch hasn't taught much in English, so it was funny to watch him throwing in French words. I remember when I was really bad at that too. I still do it a bit though. 

Sunday we had a mini rehearsal with another district to practice for the Christmas devotional. We have to sing Joy to the World. I'm also slated to play the opening and closing hymns for that. Luckily, I finally figured out how to play... ... ... Just forgot the name in English. It's the one with all the Glorias. 

Took my district out to a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch, it was tasty! But not very big portions....

By the way, you have planned that we are going to the temple that Friday right? Because that's what I'm planning. 

Elder Christensen

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

December 9, 2013

No, I cannot believe that it is already the 9th. Everyone always told
me that the last of the mission slows way down. That definitely hasn't
been true for me. It's just flying by. I really am going to miss
Africa. Do you remember how after our first year at pageant, on the
plane all we did was talk about all the things we didn't like? And
when you asked if we wanted to do it again, the answer was a
resounding yes? That's what Africa has kind of been for me. Yes, it
has been a grueling experience, but I've done so much here.
I'm not at all excited to hear the news about the weather. I'm going
to freeze! I'm pretty sure that first day of classes I won't be able
to go to school. Someone asked me the other day if I will want to go
skiing right when I get back. It would be cool,  but I am pretty sure
I would have to amputate a couple of toes afterwards.
I still haven't heard what they want me to talk to the young men
about. Having me talk about the "actual experience" of being a
missionary could be really good or really bad. It would be best to
avoid topics about disobediance.
As far as a dinner, It doesn't make a huge difference to me.
Lets say Sunday? I was actually thinking of maybe for that first
Monday, inviting the Gray family over for family home evening or
something. I'll be bringing home some of his souvenirs and memory
cards, and they might like the chance to chat.
Haha you finally saw my belt? Yeah, I've been wearing the same belt
ever since I left the MTC. I covered the front part with gorilla tape
a while back to make it look a little better, but even that is peeling
now. As far as sizing goes, I'm not sure what to do. As I recall, that
belt was the smallest one we ever found. I've added two holes to it.
I'm not sure, but I think that might mean I'm about a 28.5 waist right
now. So cloth belts or the ones that can run any size are probably
Yeah, I realized a long time ago that I'm not really a good leader.
I'm not really someone that inspires action in others. I am learning a
lot recently though about being charitable and loving people. Wish I
could have learned it at the beginning of the mission, probably
couldn't have though. The New Testament is really cool to study.
Should finish in a few days. I'm wondering if that will be the theme I
will find next time in the book of Mormon too.
By the way, it would be a good idea to contact the Southams about how
to protect souvenirs from the change in humidity and temperature. I
have a recollection that there is a silicon coating that can be put on
wood to keep it from cracking or something like that.
On Saturday we had a hilarious lesson. Everyone fell asleep. at the
beginning, I was kind of nodding off. Then my companion was doing it.
Then the convert (a man in his late 60s) just straight up fell asleep.
At that point, my companion joined him. I just sat there not knowing
what to do. . . . We never said a closing prayer for that lesson. Yay
afternoon siestas!
All the missionaries here are stressing about what they are going to
do for Christmas, which members houses, etc. It's really kind of
funny. I'm just watching and chuckling.
Elder Christensen

December 2, 2013

Hi Everyone,
Yesterday my companion told an investigator that I go home at the end of this month. It was super weird to hear him say that. I still haven't been able to wrap my mind around it. I assume that that is probably a good thing, keeps me from being too distracted.

I'm not too excited to hear about those temperatures back in Utah. It needs to be warm! As it is, I'm going to need a thermos of hot chocolate in the airport.

My head didn't get too sunburned. I found a bottle of sunscreen, and I have been putting it on before I leave the apartment. It seems to have worked pretty well. My hair is probably long enough now that I don't need it any more. It has already grown back a lot. Sister Semken took a picture this afternoon and said she would send it to you. Just know that that is after a full week's growth. I am told it will probably be about a half inch by the time I come home. Not long enough, but not bald either.

Hymn 122, assuming I wrote down the right number, is one of the hymns they play as prelude music to the pageant. That's where I know if from. One of the reasons why I like it so much is that it reminds me of pageant. No worries though, it was just an idle wish. When you know what they want me to do for the Young Men, let me know. If they ask me to teach at the last moment, half of it will come out in French. Praying and teaching in English is hard enough as it is.

This week I had to translate at church for some Nigerians, that is always a little stressful. At least in conferences they give you little breaks so that you can catch up. In lessons, they just keep going! We also sang our first Christmas hymn in sacrament meeting. In other news, I think I finally managed to learn how to play Angels We Have Heard on High. I get the feeling I am going to be ward pianist at some point. Or maybe for the primary. 

This week we had our daily schedule changed. Apparently someone from the church security department called in and said that there is some sort of thing that...... I really have no idea. But now we come in an hour earlier every day and are supposed to do our language study at night. Huh. It means we have to go back out right at the really hot time of day. That has been a little different. At first I honestly thought that the zone leaders were just pulling a prank. Honestly, I don't feel any less safe, it's just that they are taking every precaution.

We had an apartment inspection this week again. I never officially won that. Shame. At least I did my best to clean the apartment every week. Some missionaries only clean before the apartment check (hence the reason for the inspections).

This morning our zone went out to Ouidah again. That's where there is the python temple and the beach they launched the slave ships from. It was fun to go back one last time, I was able to finally negotiate a couple of souvenirs. I still am not all that great at barganing, but I am getting better. Unfortunately, that skill soon won't be able to help me any more. 
Elder Christensen and Elder Gray

Thanksgiving actually turned out pretty well around here. We had a service activity planned that morning. We didn't quite realize how far away it was, though, and ended up accidentally walking across a quarter of the city! Luckily it isn't all that big of a city. We cleaned out a small warehouse for a member who used to run a soda distribution company, it was full of old paperwork and old bottles. And old car pieces. And cockroaches. I think I killed more that 40 cockroaches that day. It was actually a lot of fun. Then as we were walking back we found a really good restaurant that sells good ice cream. So that was our thanksgiving celebration. Then we managed to catch a bus back to the apartment. Overall, it was a good day, but it was really dirty!

I just got a phone call from Sister Weed, looks like we will be singing at the Christmas program after all. That'll be interesting. Last year the results were... ... ... not bad generally. 

Lots of love,
Elder Christensen

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

November 25, 2013

Hello Family!

Well, this week was full of ups and downs. Yay life! Sometimes you feel that things are going good and you are finding people to talk to. And sometimes you cut your fingers twice in a week, or get shocked while trying to fix a cable (in hindsight, should have unplugged the extension cord instead of turning it off).
You know how the saying goes that if you get a bad haircut, you just have to wait two weeks? Yeah..... That's not actually true in all cases. You remember how dad had a little mistake with the clippers a few weeks ago? Yup, had the same thing happen to me this morning. Except it was dead center up top, and I didn't have any size on the clippers. I am officially bald right now. I'm just praying it grows back enough in the next month. Oh, and I'm praying that President Weed doesn't decide to stop by Finagnon for church this Sunday.
This week I got to go on exchange with the zone leaders. It was a lot of fun, even though I didn't ever sleep in a different apartment. It is always fun to spend a day with someone different. That was something I never got to have while I was in the office. 
I mentioned to Dad that staying for that third hour is fine with me. I'm not planning on having any BYU friends coming up since it is the break, and local friends I could just hang out with the next day if I want. I did think about a request for a song. Would there be a way to put Hymn 122 in there (Through Deepening trials)? Most of the extra verses have Restoration themes, and the music is beautiful. Doesn't have to be a special number, it could just be a regular hymn.
Doctors appointments... Yes, there is some sort of parasite/worm killer that they give us right before we go home. They also give us a months worth of malaria medicine. I think a general checkup might be in order at least. The dentist too, obviously. It'll be interesting to see if I have a cavity or not. We actually went to the dentist this week, my companion had a root canal years ago but never had it crowned, and now it is infected again. What I learned from the whole experience is that Fridays at 2 PM is a terrible time to find a taxi, since most taxi drivers are Muslim and are at the mosque. We're looking for a Christian taxi-man before the follow-up appointment. 
You found me an apartment for school? I have a vague idea of where that building is, I think it will be fine. If I'm right, it's about 2 blocks away from J-dawgs, so that'll be cool. 
You know what... I actually never asked president about calling on thanksgiving. In my mind, I just knew that I wouldn't be calling on Christmas, so I forgot about it entirely. For the moment I don't really have any plans for Thanksgiving, but I know a place that sells entire grilled chickens. Elder Gray and I have been joking about joint buying one, maybe we will actually do that. 
I heard that Elder Hawkins is going into the office, I'm sure he'll do a great job. If you didn't know, he comes from the same town as the Nelsons from Pageant (it's a suburb of Philly).
I'm going to make another souvenir-buying trip next Monday. I found out about a place that sells nativity sets, but I haven't seen them so I don't know if they are good or not. I'll check. I'll keep my eyes out for other cool stuff too. I'll probably be pulling more money out for that. Can't remember if I pulled out of debit or credit last time.
So Saturday morning we had an appointment that we had set to be at the church building. We arrive and it is a mess. I got to work and started cleaning, saying to myself that no one showed up to clean that morning. Our appointment never shows up, so I spend about an hour cleaning the sacrament room. When we got back to the apartment, I was told that Finagnon is the only branch in the city that cleans their building Saturday AFTERNOON. Ironically, our  3 PM appointment was also at the church and also fell through, so we got to help clean the rest of the building. In doing so, I accidentally got super dirty trying to sweep some leaves off of the generator room roof, so we had to go back so I could change. It was fun though, I like cleaning projects.
Our area is going a bit better. We have a couple that is progressing really well. The biggest problem is that the wife does not speak French, she actually speaks Goon. This is a Fon-family language from the Porto-Novo region rather than Cotonou, so there are only a handful of members that speak it. For the most part, her husband translates for her, but since he's learning it all for the first time, we actually have no idea if she is hearing it right or not. 
This week I started a goal to finish the new testament before I come home. I'm currently about halfway through Luke, it's going really well. Reading the gospels back to back like that is cool, it helps me see the differences and place the stories better. I should have started earlier so I could do the Book of Mormon one last time too.
Hope everything is going well back home, sounds like it for the most part.

Elder Christensen