Monday, April 23, 2012

April 23, 2012

Hi Everyone,
Once again, mail update. Every week I learn more about this. Regular
mail will make it through almost all of the time, and it's only a
little more than a dollar. The only time there is any question about
mail getting through is going out, apparently what I heard the first
week is wrong and that is possible. So I'm looking forward to you all
sending me letters! (I know most of you won't, but even a few would
make me happy).
All right, confession time, I have not really been taking that many
pictures yet. I really don't want to look like a tourist, so I've been
pretty discreet about it. Don't worry, I will do it eventually.
I have been in Africa for almost a month and not yet cut my hair. I
got used to the heat after the first few days, so it hasn't really
been a problem since then. Plus, no one here ever uses hair gel, so
they find my hair really interesting. I am going to get it cut in the
next week or two though. Head lice would not be good.
French is coming. I'm starting to push my limits, which is frustrating
but good. I understand most of the things people say unless they are
talking to me, which is mostly a confidence issue I think.
I'm not actually the only missionary to play the piano, just the only
one in the district. I've heard two or three other missionaries play
at baptismal services (our chapel has the only fount in the country),
and honestly most of them are better than me. Oh well.
Last night me and Elder Burkhart cooked dinner. We made chicken
flavored rice, a ranch/taco sauce, and some scrambled eggs. The
Africans didn't like it, but I thought it was a wonderful change. No
tomatos or onions involved. Having meals like that every now and then
will hopefully keep me sane. I'm doing really well with water, I can
down a liter in less than 10 minutes, I don't know my fastest speed
It didn't really rain all that much for us this week. We had one big
storm and that was it. It was interesting walking in the streets
afterwards though, lots and lots of puddles to avoid. I hear it's
worse with that in Togo, there are even less paved roads there. I'm
not wearing my sandals yet, I've decided I'm not going to unless it's
actually necessary. It's just something that helps me remember that
I'm a missionary. That being said, it might be totally necessary the
whole rainy season. I really don't want to use them though.
I'm not going to lie, this last week has been a little bit of a
struggle. I feel that I could have progressed a lot more than I did.
I'm definitely not as confident as I should be in lessons, and I've
released the stress from that by judging my companion a little bit.
Not that he knows, it just completely drives the Spirit from me when I
do it. I'm also just finding the balance between what I expected
missionary work to be like and the realities of what it can be here.
It's a new week though, and I'm going to push really hard to make up
for last week.
The good news is that my gospel study has made leaps and bounds. I've
really been learning and growing in terms of the gospel. I had the
opportunity to read through the book of Mosiah in the last week, I had
never realized how much it talked about Christ and the Atonement.
That's really my goal for the next while in my gospel study, learn
more about the Atonement. It's pretty much the greatest thing before
or after sliced bread.
I am officially out of clean shirts from Provo. I was saving one for a
special occasion, which turned out to be Sunday thanks to a washing
mistake. So now I'm officially Africano. Which is ironic, because
Sunday was also the first time I've had a real shower since the
mission home. Our shower head for our bedroom was broken, we had to
just use the house. Then than broke too, so we have to use another
bathroom now. All six of us now use one shower. Thank heavens we're
The amount and variety of American culture here is bizarre. I've seen
on TVs now: Shark Tail, Brer Rabbit, and sonic the hedgehog. I've also
seen a smart car and heard Phil Collins and Justin Bieber. Oh, and the
only western drinks I've seen are Coke, Sprite, and three flavors of
Fanta (not Grape, unfortunately).
Funny story time! Elder Terranova and I switched placques on each
other on Wednesday during study time. Then we forgot to change back.
Elder Ntengo and I stayed home most of the day because we still had
the painters in our apartment, but Elder Terranova had a full day of
appointments. Oops. I didn't find out until branch choir rehearsal
that evening. At least I was wearing one, only one word was wrong.
One of the zone leaders got malaria this last week. From the looks of
it, that's not fun. I definitely don't want to come down with it.
It's so weird to me that Finals week has come and gone for BYU. I
wasn't stressed at all about tests for the first time in a long while.
I felt a little lost, school still has a strong grip on me.
As far as how the work is going, it is definitely going. We got Prince
confirmed yesterday, and we have a few more expected baptisms next
month. Hopefully those will pan out, but maybe not. One person we had
committed ended up in Togo on a mostly permanent basis. Most people
are willing to talk to us if we ask. Getting them to church is harder.
Also, a lot of people think we are Jehovah's Witnesses. Apparently
they had a missionary effort here, but something bad happened and they
were kicked out. The Church is still new enough here though that we
have to make the distinction fairly often.
Over all, things are good here. I'm learning and growing in new ways I
wasn't expecting, so it's almost like school. I'm happy though, and
hopefully the Lord is happy with me. He might be getting tired of me
asking him so many questions though. Hope things are going well back
in Utah and other associated places, take care.
Love you all,
Elder Ethan Christensen

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

April 16, 2012

Hi Everyone,
Things have been going pretty well this week. Not in the least because
we got to baptize an investigator. Of course, he wasn't confirmed a
member because he was late to church, but hey, what can you do? His
nickname is Prince (pronounced Prance, yay french), I can't pronounce
his real name. I don't think that I'm actually going to get the chance
to get in the water and baptize someone while I'm getting trained, my
trainer doesn't believe in there being lots of people doing the
baptizing. He just hands it off to another missionary who is already
baptizing. Oh well, I'll have opportunities later.
As far as emailing goes, it has kind of been left to us to decide what
to do. The goal behind contacting people back home is to stay updated
and show the miracles of missionary work for both the missionary and
the family, and not to distract/bog down the missionary with thoughts
of home. So I'm going to play it by heart for a little while and try
and find the balance. So if I don't email you back for a little while,
be patient.
Health wise, things have been going much much better this week. I've
been drinking a lot more water, which has helped a lot. I drink about
3-4 liters a day, which probably still isn't quite enough. I've also
gotten some bread back into my diet, which has been nice. The bread
here is absolutely delicious. It also has zero preservatives, so it
can go moldy in 3 days. Also, I found the fried peanut butter I saw on
the internet. It wasn't in rings, but it was still pretty cool. Tasted
exactly like a peanut piled up with peppers. One of the spiciest
things I've eaten. And about 1 cent a pop.
In other health news, I had the chance to weigh myself today. I'm the
same weight from when I left the MTC, so I seem to have made a decent
transition. Of course, I did hear that I may have actually lost a few
pounds and then made it back with water weight. I guess we'll see.
Also, apparently my hair is long enough that I have a legitimate
potential to get head lice. I just don't want to give it up because I
won't be able to get it back for the rest of my mission. Also, it
fascinates the African children here.
Also, I use the word also a lot in this email. But my sleep is
improving. I'm still waking up a fair bit at night, but I have so much
more energy now. Probably a part of being more hydrated. Also, thanks
to the Doxy, all my acne has cleared up except for some on my face,
and even that is doing a little better now that I'm handling the
sweating better (the washable handkerchiefs are a lifesaver! So much
As far as real mail goes, I've gotten a letter! There was a sister
from Ghana in the MTC who was going to Cote D'Ivoire (and no, we don't
know why she wasn't sent to the MTC in Ghana). Apparently there is
some sort of pouch system between our two missions, because I got a
little note from her. It was cool to actually get some real mail.
Especially since this mission is no longer a Dear Elder pouch mission,
I think my real mail is going to be a little slim from here on out. On
the other hand, if you do send me a written letter, I promise to do my
best to send a response. It might just take 4 months, I don't know
right now.
Weather here has really been pretty decent since I arrived. It's
started getting the tiniest bit wet, we're heading into the rainy
season in a few weeks. Now when I say the tiniest bit wet, I mean it
rained like a real downpour from Pageant, nothing you could possibly
see in Utah. A storm did pass by us this morning, we could see it. And
hear it, the first time I heard thunder here, I thought a building had
just collapsed. It can literally go for 30 seconds or more.
The work here progresses. I'm becoming more involved in lessons
slowly, I'm getting to the point where I feel I could, I'm just not
sure what to say. I had the same problem in the MTC for a while. The
trick is just going to be to open my mouth and start talking. Good
thing I'm good at talking.
Fun story, we had a bible bash the other day. That in and of itself
isn't all that fun, but when we got there, I realized that it was the
wrong house. We accidentally blew off our actual appointment to have a
bible bash. Oops.
I got to play the piano for sacrament meeting today. That was
interesting. I'm a little more rusty than I thought. Also, I had to
basically sight read a hymn, I think it's number 124 in English. They
sing hymns a little differently around here, I'll have to demonstrate
when I get back. Also, I've been reading through the lyrics of a lot
of the hymns in French, and they are really quite beautiful. I need to
go back and compare them to the English versions. God Be With You Till
We Meet Again in particular I like so much more than in English.
Okay, it's good to know that my visa card isn't going to work at an
ATM. There are banks I can do money transfers at, but at the moment I
don't trust my French enough to go do that. I wasn't really planning
to use it until the end of my mission anyways to buy souvenirs. Don't
worry too much about my funds; I did the math, and I'm pretty sure
that we as missionaries get more than the GDP per capita here, on top
of free housing and utilities. So we're pretty rich. Plus, rice is
suuuuper cheap.
I was thinking about the email I sent last week, and I realized that
this mission is a lot like the Hill Cumorah Pageant. The best stories
are the miserable parts, and then people ask you if you actually like
it, and you say "Of course! I want to go back so bad!" Know that there
is really no place I'd rather be right now than here, I know that this
is where the Lord wants me to be.
Love to you all,
Elder Ethan Christensen

Monday, April 9, 2012

April 9, 2012

Hi Everyone,
Well, the honeymoon season is over, now it's really time to get to work.
So I've started getting conflicted reports about who I can and can't
email. Apparently that is a little ambiguous right now. I asked
President Weed about it in my letter to him, and hopefully I should
know soon. To those friends who did email me this week, thank you so
much. Please understand that I haven't written back yet because I
literally need every blessing I can get, and I know the best way to
get blessings is to follow the commandments and mission rules. So I'm
playing it safe right now until I know for sure.

My health this week has been a little bit of a downer, my body is
still adjusting to Africa I guess. 
The last few days I learned the importance of hydration. Like if you
can see dried sweat on your arms, that means you aren't sweating any
more. Also, your salt levels are really low now. These things added to
some sleep issues and nutrition got me a little sick this weekend.
Apparently when you get a cold here, it means you actually have a
fever. That broke this morning, and I feel great now.  
Also, during that sickness I had no desire to eat food, so I'm
probably down a little weight right now. Not too much though, I'm
still at a very healthy level. I've heard stories of missionaries
losing anywhere from 50 to 100 pounds here (but the 100 pound loss was
a missionary who came here at 300 pounds).

As far as food goes, this is what I've been eating. Breakfast is
essentially something like oatmeal with some powdered milk on it
(speaking of breakfast, how does one make pancakes from scratch? That
sounds really good right now). Lunch is either pasta or rice, with
tomato/onion sauce and either chicken, fish, or hotdog for meat.
Dinner is usually rice, pasta, or foufou, with the same sauce and
meat. So I'm getting a little bit of protein, but not a whole lot.
I've found tuna fish at the local supermarket (which is smaller than a
regular market somehow, and also named Africagel/711). So I'm going to
buy some bread and get that into my system too. And try and eat more
fruits. As of yet, I haven't had a mangez-vous yet (dinner
appointment), so I haven't had a whole lot of exposure to what the
regular fare is here. I was at an appointment where I saw a woman be
stung by a scorpian, stab it, and throw it in the soup she was
making. That was interesting.

Teaching here is going well now. We have some investigators now, and we've
been working a fair bit with some inactive members too, which has been
really insightful. I believe tomorrow we're meeting with Ibrahim, who
has a really cool story. He works in the airport, and when the group
of missionaries before me came here, he approached the mission
president and asked what was going on. About four weeks later, he's
baptized. Oh, and he's from Nigeria, so he speaks English. So I'm
teaching that lesson, it's going to be interesting without a doubt.
I'm kind of glad for that opportunity, because I really haven't been
able to participate in the other lessons as much as I would like.
Between not understanding, not having great speaking skills, and not
knowing the scriptures as well as I apparently could, It's really easy
to just sit there and not say anything. Unfortunately, those are the
moments when I get the most distracted by home, so I'm trying really
hard to think of things I could say. I won't lie, it is difficult. But
It will all turn out alright.

Funny story, we were teaching a lesson to an inactive member, when I
heard a soundspeaker system start up. I wasn't sure what was going on,
until I started hearing something I'm probably more familiar with than
any other missionary from America. The Islamic call to prayer. They
were literally holding a prayer service right outside the house
complex. It was really interesting to have that contrast of religions
going on. Even more so because there's a synagogue about two blocks
away. That's Africa for you. Other than that I haven't had a lot of
interactions with Muslims, other than walk past them in the street. We
got turned away once with a "no thanks, We follow Islam" response.
I've also been in a lesson with a polygamist already, apparently
that's a little bit more prevalent here than I had thought. I guess
we'll see.

Easter was a pretty boring day. The only thing special about it was
that us missionaries got up and sang "Christ the Lord is Risen Today"
for a special musical number. Other than that, it was a regular Sunday
as far as I could tell. I guess we'll see what Christmas is like.
Apparently we're starting a branch choir, we had the first rehearsal
Saturday night. Or maybe that rehearsal was going to be for the
musical number, I don't really know. I kind of just roll with things
at the moment. Regardless, on Saturday I had the opportunity to play
the piano. It was really satisfying to have something that I could
contribute. Also, just to play the piano, that really can calm me

Today we had lunch with Elder and Sister Southam, one of the couples
here in the mission. Pulled pork sandwiches, and ice cream and
brownies for dessert. Yum!

Yesterday I was talking to one of the members in the ward who
understands a little English, talking about what I had done before the
mission, what dad does, and stuff like that. It was really an
interesting experience. He had no concept of how common chapels are in
Utah. Or the concept of commuting. I wonder how much culture shock
must go the other way, for those African Elders who end up in the US.
Also, it really is touching to me to see how the members reach out to
me. A lot of them know that the only way I'm going to be able to speak
French is if I actually speak it, so they make sure to include me in
conversations and ask me questions. I've heard older missionaries say
that they don't like the members here, but I don't understand it.
Personally, I love the members here, even if I don't actually know
more than 4 names.

I still haven't gotten a haircut yet, I have the longest hair probably
of any missionary, and longer hair than half the country (including
lots of the women). I've adjusted pretty well, the biggest issue is
when the gel breaks down, the part gets a little funny looking. Also,
it's gotten sunburned, oops. The kids here love my hair though, most
of them have never seen anything like it. Or my watch. Or my skin.
Sometimes I feel a little bit like a celebrity. Also, I've been called
Chinese about five or six times. Which has been interesting.
For some reason, apparently when I'm talking to Fong speakers, I
should introduce myself as Elder Hansen. I guess that is just easier
for them, but I don't really know enough about Fong to say for sure.
Also, the Elders from the Congo have seen more American TV than I
have. Apparently I look a little bit like the main character from Kyle
XY and a lot like Clark Kent on Smallville. I'm assuming that's just
because of my hair, but they've taken to calling me Superman at least
once a day. It just makes me laugh.

Overall, things have gotten a little bit more difficult here. But no
one said a mission was going to be easy. I worry that there's a shoe
yet to drop and everything is going to get that much harder again.
That'll probably be when I'm no longer training or something. Over all
though, I'm still happy. I realize that probably some of this letter
sounds like complaining, but I don't really think it is. I just want
to talk about what's happening and give context. The work here is
amazing. The gospel is still true, and life here isn't all that bad.
Also, we tracked down an old investigator and committed her to baptism,
so the work is progressing even in spite of my poor French!

Haha, one last funny story. So when I was dehydrated my zone leader
made me take this sugar/salt water mixture. It tasted awful, so I pulled
out those little flavor pouches you sent me with Mom. I don't know if
you looked at them all that closely, but it turns out caffeine is a
listed ingredient. I figured it was worth it to get down that mixture.
I felt a lot better afterwards, but between the sugar, caffeine, and
some stomach pain, it took me two hours to go to sleep. I haven't
decided if I'm going to use the rest or not. I'm assuming it's not
really that much caffeine, but there is a principle involved. We'll
Elder Ethan Christensen

Monday, April 2, 2012

April, 2, 2012

Hi Everyone,

President and Sister Weed and Elder Ethan Christensen
Haha, it's harder using a straight French keyboard than I thought it would be. I'm picking up fast though.
So I have news about mailing. Apparently due to some US regulations put in during the last few years, the US no longer accepts mail out of Benin. So it is literally impossible for me to mail anything back, without using an intermediary somewhere in Europe (and I have so many of those, right?). Because of that, President Weed lets us correspond through email with people that aren't family members, and we are given some extra time on the internet because of that (plus the internet is just slow here, and Benin is no longer free on Dear Elder).

Before I tell you all about Africa, I have to tell you about the trip there. So we left the MTC at 5 in the morning, got through security, called home, got on the plane, all good. Got to JFK airport and had to go through security again to get into the international terminal. Saw a few flights to the Middle East, was jealous. Couldn't sleep at all on the flight to Paris, so I played Mahjong and Solitare for most of the time (I figured watching TV or a movie probably wasn't bueno, and it was too dark to read). Got to Paris and had to go through security again. It's more nerve racking when you can't understand the security people. Then we got into the terminal and crashed. For hours. Finally we woke up to get on the plane. I had to get my bag weighed, turns out that the weight restriction is different going into Africa. Like half the weight of the American limit. So I had to check my bag, and they were going to charge me 200 euros for it. Somehow, when they pulled up my name in the system, they saw that I had 46 pounds free in my checked baggage, and let me check my bag without a fee. I know for a fact that I didn't have 46 free pounds, I didn't even have 4.6. So I'm counting that as in-field miracle number 1.   We got to Africa all fine and dandy after that. Got off the plane and said 'yep, feels like New York summer.' Our bags weren't even checked by customs, at least that I saw. President and Sister Weed picked us up and took us to the mission home, which had really good air conditioning and live security.

That morning I discovered my clock is broken, in that the alarm no longer works. Not the second impression I wanted to leave on the Mission President, but oh well.

In an unrelated turn of events, I ended up in Benin like I was expecting. What I wasn't expecting is that the rest of my group went to Togo. So they got another 3-4 hours in the car, and I drove 10 minutes to my apartment. I'm in the Gbedjromede branch, at least I think that is how you spell it. I live right across the street from the Southams, one of the missionary couples. My Companion's name is Elder Ntengo, a 24 year old from the Congo who has been out about 7 months. To my knowledge he only speaks about 20-25 words of English, so communicating with him isn't very easy. Luckily, I'm not the only English speaker in the apartment. There's also Elder Burkhart, who has been here for 6 weeks, and Elder Terranova, one of the zone leaders. Six of us all told in the apartment, which is a little high for missionaries.

As far as conditions here, I was very surprised. I thought I had come in with very few assumptions. Not only did I have quite a few, but they were almost all wrong. That being said, I haven't been to Togo yet. First things first, yes there is toilet paper here. Also, apparently the water is clean enough to drink without the filter, but I've been playing that one safe for now. The food has not been a problem at all. The sickest I've been have been some phantom jitters because I was expecting to feel a little sick. Foufou is pretty good it turns out, although I didn't really doubt that. It only smells like feces occasionally, usually it drifts between wood,charcoal, fish, sulpher (haven't figured out where I'm getting that from), and gasoline/moto exhaust.
The weather here has been really nice so far. Obviously it's hot, but it hasn't been anywhere near as hot as I feared. That being said, apparently it has just been a cool week, I haven't really felt the hot African sun yet. Well, except my arms, they're pretty burned right now. They're a nice bright shade of skin cancer.

I also was wrong about the work, although that's not my fault. I arrived and found out that we only have contact with one progressing investigator right now, and one recent convert. The missionaries in our area before, as far as I translated correctly, only filled out about 6 investigator sheets the whole time they were here. And most the ones they did fill out, they didn't put an address or phone number, so we have no idea how to get a hold of them. In effect, we're pretty much starting from scratch. Which was the tiniest bit disappointing when there were 7 baptisms on Saturday in Benin. That will come in time though. With lots of hard work, the Lord can't make things too easy.

I was wrong about a lot of things of the language too. I assumed that I would be able to understand most things and be limited by what I could say. On the contrary, the first few days I didn't understand any French unless it was spoken by an American, but I haven't really had to deal with not being understood in turn. The accent here is just very different from what was used in the MTC. Plus, different forms of address are used, it's a lot less formal. I was told on Saturday that all Congolese missionaries speak with a thick accent, but my companion's is particularly thick. I was told that if he spoke English, he'd probably be from Boston. I'm starting to figure out his accent, but if I'm not concentrating, I lose what he's saying entirely.

Easily the biggest misconception I had about Africa is how I would feel about it. When I went into the MTC, the fact that I couldn't understand what people were saying honestly made me a little upset. It wasn't for a little while before I really started to enjoy my experience there. Adding to the heat, the humidity, the food, all the warnings I'd received for the last 6 months, I really came in expecting to be miserable for at least a month, probably more. But last night I just started thinking back over everything that has happened in the last 100 hours or so since I had landed, and I started going through all the blessings I'd received since then. Which is weird, because I don't do things like that all that often. But as I was going through, I realized just how blessed I have been. Which really built a testimony for me the God loves the missionaries, and answers the prayers in their behalf. The point of all this though, is that as I was laying there thinking, I realized that I was genuinely happy, and had been pretty much since we had landed. I can't think of a moment so far that has been "miserable." Yes, not everything has been super fun, but there is always something cool and exciting. I really believe that anything can happen in Africa. I don't know, maybe as we start teaching real lessons this week things will change and I'll get frustrated. But I hope not. Because I think this is how missionary work is supposed to feel, only a bit more productive too haha. Only time will tell I guess.

More in the way of events, I got to bear my testimony to the branch on Sunday. By invitation even. Also, apparently April Fools here is when you shout "Poisson Avril!' which means April Fish, and then if you steal something you can keep it for a week unless your parents make you return it. I think that's what all went down, but again, I don't know how accurately I'm interpreting things. I think all white people probably look similar down here, a couple of members were surprised to learn after church that I'm not from France (thank you MTC for teaching me to bear my testimony, and for a bad microphone so that most people didn't hear when I said " my clothes in French are not the best (I meant skills, oops)). We also went to a market today to go buy food. It was insane. It literally felt like Indiana Jones or Jason Bourne was about to bust through in a high speed chase. I don't think I can accurately describe that experience in an email, I have to make noises for it. I also have a new scariest experience in a car. Let's just say the taxis here are not at all like taxis back home.

I need to go now,
Elder Ethan Christensen