Wednesday, May 30, 2012

HI Everyone,
Okay, I do not have a lot of time at all this week. Connection here is
deathly slow and we got to the cyber super late today because of our 
activity today. What activity is that? We went out to see the city on
the lake! Literally, they've built a city on the lake. Stilts and all

The funny part is that they've actually started gathering up
some dirt so they can teach their kids how to walk. It was really
cool, but we got caught out in the rain coming back. Don't worry, I
took lots and lots of pictures. And the tallest building in the city
was a mosque. Go figure.
That's a bummer that your roof is still leaking with the new roof. 
It's a good thing Utah doesn't have a rainy season. It's rained about 
3 times today already,and I could see it raining again today. So yeah, 
it's kind of wet.
This week was another bizarre week with my companion. I went on a
couple of exchanges, and then I actually went out with him for an
afternoon. Then there was a mini transfer and I got to be companions
with Elder Ratoniaina from the Bureau. He's from Madagascar, has only
been on his mission for about two months longer than I have. So I was
effectively senior companion. That was really interesting. It really
pushed me, and I think I learned a lot. Bizarrely, just about the
point when I had psychologically accepted that my training was
officially over, Elder Ntengo came back and the transfer was over. I
don't really know how that all worked, but now I'm back with him.
Despite that, due to some other Elders getting ill I still went on
some transfers. So our key indicators ended up being pretty pitiful
this week, even though I was out being a missionary. This week we
really should be back to normal, but we will see. I'm still figuring
out what "normal" means in Africa.
We had some interesting issues with power this week. I guess we burned
out a critical wire or something, because we kept losing power. And
just us, not everyone else in our building. So there were some rough
nights. Luckily, nights are cooler during the rainy season. We got
that all fixed though, so we are good there. I think, anyway.
I got to sit through the lecture on how to get married here, it was
very interesting. You need no less than 8 different identifications
for the two people and the witnesses, the paperwork is a mess. It all
comes out to about 45,000 CFA, which intriguingly is the same price as
my 3 month visa I got this last week.
Oh yeah, Zone conference (for all of Benin) was this last week. That
was cool, they had all the new missionaries bear their testimonies.
I'm really glad it was last week and not like my second week, to say I
am a lot better at French now is to put it mildly. I'm excited to see
how far I can go.
I'm sorry, but that's really all I can do this week. I promise I'll do
my best next week to get you a nice long email.
Elder Ethan Christensen


 P.S. yes I got Cameron's email. Tell him yes, I've had a lot of spicy
food. The equivalent they have here to fry sauce is nothing less than
really spicy peppers and onions smashed between two rocks until they
make a green paste. It can be REALLY spicy if they don't put in a lot
of onions.

Monday, May 21, 2012

May 21, 2012

Hi Everyone,
The time is really flying here, it's hard to believe that this week is
4 months. Crazy. I'm fast coming up on having been in Africa for the
same amount of time as I was in the MTC. I actually went this morning
to get my Visa renewed, that was an interesting experience. They took
scans of all my fingerprints, I didn't even need that for the actual
My companion is doing a lot better with his knee, Sort of. The surgery
was a complete success, they got the bone-thing out. It looks like a
pizza bite (I did get pictures of that). He's been inside all the last
week, but I've been out on exchanges with the zone leaders for pretty
much the entire week. So while not a lot of work was done in our area,
I still got to participate in missionary work. That was cool, but it's
pretty fair to guess that I've had more exchanges than any other
trainee, and probably more than most missionaries total. I wonder if
I'm ever going to have a normal companionship for a full transfer or
two. Probably not.
Actually, going on exchanges has been really interesting. Our area of
the city is a lot better than I thought it was. I've been out by the
lake a few times now, and that is a little scary. That's more of the
slums Africa I was expecting. I'm glad I got to start where I did, if
that had been my first few days it would have been a little
challenging. Also, I taught a Muslim for the first time yesterday.
That was not very different from a regular lesson, but it's possible
he was just being nice because his friend was there. We'll see I
That's crazy that Jacob is old enough to be an Elder. Watch out, he
can be Elder's Quorum President at BYU now! I'm glad I never had to
worry about that before my mission. 
The rainy season is officially here. It's been raining most every day
this week. The evenings are actually quite nice, at night with the fan
it can even get a little cold. I heard Friday night went down to 75
degrees. I've been taking pictures, don't worry! Also, I found all the
forever stamps I lost in the MTC, so it turns out that that isn't a
Speaking of mail, I got the package! I was really surprised, I wasn't
expecting it for  three more weeks. I didn't really schedule the candy
out well, but it was Easter candy. I wouldn't have done that back home
either. The tootsie rolls were delicious, but sending them again is
probably not a good idea. Apparently there have been problems with
food getting sent and bugs/bacteria/nasty getting into it. So it
should probably have a seal of some kind. I'd also forgotten about
some of the things I'd asked for in the past, so that was cool.
The mission office doesn't actually give us the money straight. They
give us a card which we take to the ATM and get our money there. But
it gives us our money in 10,000 notes, and bread only costs 100 per
loaf. So you just have to find ways to break it down. In honesty, I
think it would probably be easier if I hadn't come with so much stuff.
I'd have more things I needed to buy. That's the irony of things. I
did go buy the generic Nutella they have here, it's pretty much
indistinguishable from the regular. And about half as expensive. I
even found a Mars bar, which I'd never seen before(it's a milky way).
They also have Canadian Smarties (M&Ms).
I feel like there  are two kinds of people who want to talk to you
about Jesus. There are the people who call you over and say "tell me
about Jesus" and then just look at you. Then there are the people who
try to preach Jesus to you. It almost feels like those people are
waiting for you to contradict them about something so they can show
how much they know the bible. The thing is though, they're about 95%
right. So what has happened a few time this week is that they talk and
we just go "yep, that's true" for 10-15 minutes. Still trying to
figure out a way to gain control of those situations.
This week I've had some great study in the Book of Mormon. One
experience I had in particular I read something early in first Nephi
and saw something new. I proceeded to read the same 20 or so verses 4
times and learn something new each time. The scriptures really are a
treasure. I wish I would have realized that more before my mission.
Do you want to hear about how small of a world it is? I'm 8000 miles
away in Africa, and I have personal or one separation connections with
at least 8 missionaries here. They're all Americans, but still. It's
Fun story time. I was out with Elder Terranova when all of a sudden we
got a call from the Senior couple. They had a dinner appointment with
the wife of the Branch president (she's a nonmember). The problem was,
they had misheard the day, and we were already a half an hour late. So
we ran over there and ate a lot of food. It was all really good. And
for dessert, cake and ice cream!! So all in all, that was a good day.
BTW, did you know that mint water was actually a thing? It tastes
In working with some of the members this week, I got the chance to see
what happens when missionary work goes right. Some of the members here
are crazy strong in the gospel. Their testimonies are stronger than a
lot of people in Utah. I can only hope that some of the people I
baptize will end up like that. The faith they have, even in the face
of incredible adversity, is simply incredible. I don't know that I
ever want to go to Togo, even if there are more members. The people
here really do mean a lot to me. I'm probably still not quite to the
level of charity that I need to have, but I'm getting closer.
Are you guys studying out of Preach My Gospel as a family? I think
that would be a great prep for pageant. Wes could lead the family in
some good old-fashioned companionship study. Actually, it's not a bad
idea for cast team either. Those YSA are going to be missionaries real
soon too.
Okay, time to go.
Love to you all,
Elder Ethan Christensen

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May 14, 2012

Skyping with Ethan

Hi Everyone,

It was really nice to get to talk to all of you yesterday, sorry I couldn't share everything. Don't worry, there will be time when I get back. I actually haven't been to the hospital yet, Elder Bukasa the district leader spent the night there with him. He should be done with his surgery by now though, so that's good. For people not in the know, my companion spent the night at the hospital to prep for his knee surgery this morning. He's had to go in to the hospital every morning for the last week, which has kind of been a cramp on the work. It turns out companionship study really is useful and stuff.

Laundry is not actually that bad. I do more than most people because I'm not really comfortable wearing the same shirt three or four days in a row. It definitely keeps my shirts cleaner than some of the other missionaries, but I just have to do a little bit more. I don't know, maybe that will change. It is a nice time to just sit and think about things though. About the plunger. I left it in the MTC. Sorry mom, but the whole point of using a plunger is that it is big and agitates the water. You sent me with a sink plunger. The soap doesn't bother my hands, but I haven't gotten down the knack of washing without scraping my knuckles, so I've been using a brush scrubber thing. It works pretty well so far.

I shouldn't have to dump water out of my shoes that often, never worry. That only happens when we are caught in the rain. If there are just puddles in the road we can walk around them. And the rain most often comes when we are back at the apartment either in the morning or for lunch. The bigger issue is that my shoes will wear out at some point, unless I end up in the bureau or as an assistant for long periods of time. Which is possible, but not likely.

Don't worry about sending a conference edition of the ensign, we should be getting one in a few weeks. It'll be nice to read the priesthood session talks in English, we watched them in French. I could understand what was being said, but translating for two hours like that takes a lot of mental energy.

I would take a picture of the cyber (where I e-mail from) for you, but I sent my camera to the hospital with Elder Ntengo and Bukasa. By the way, there might be some scary pictures on the card when you get it. Just a heads up. I'll see about getting them transferred off before I send it.

So, news for the last week
Well, like I said, we had a baptism, which I got to perform. It took two tries, but whatever. It turns out that a lot of people here have never actually been submerged in water before. Usually, standing bodies of water are kind of gross around here. So actually being immersed is sometimes a shocker for some people. The next day, I was playing the piano for sacrament meeting, and from where she was sitting, I couldn't see her. So I thought that we were going to be 0 for 2 on getting people confirmed the next day. Luckily, she was there and did get confirmed. Also, she's only 3 days younger than I am, that was a little bizarre to realize.

I wanted to share a cool experience that I had this last week. We went over to a member's house because they asked us to come over. When we got there, she didn't really have any specific needs that she wanted addressed, but just wanted to read the scriptures and talk a little bit. My companion wasn't really sure how to handle that, so we ended up more or less opening randomly to Doctrine and Covenants 8. As I read, the Spirit hit me really strong. I talked a bit about what some of the promises and principles of the section are, and I could tell that the investigator was feeling the Spirit too. That was honestly one of the best moments of my mission so far. When you see that people are feeling the Spirit too, there isn't really anything else like it.

I also learned an important cultural principle this week. If you eat fast, they think that you are really hungry and give you more. In this case it worked, since I was really hungry, but it was good to be reminded of that before I accidentally did it when I wasn't hungry. Slow and steady wins the race.

Also, apparently they are hugely slowing down the rate of transfers in the mission. To the point that I may have only 4 or 5 areas that I serve in, and not too many more companions. I've heard multiple times of missionaries staying in the same area for up to 8 months.

Yesterday I got to see the meeting that will kickstart home teaching in our branch. I think that there technically has been home teaching before now, but it has been incredibly disorganized. So the first step is to organize, and then we will start actually pushing to get it done. I use a collective we there, but the missionaries aren't really involved with it. We were just at the meeting as translators.

I got to go to a 'supermarket' last week, it was interesting. The variety of what was and wasn't available was pretty..... eclectic. That's pretty much the only way to describe it.

I'm no longer the new guy, officially. The new Elders from Provo came in this last week. Like my group, only one stayed in Benin and the rest went to Togo. I haven't seen the one who stayed yet, he's on the other side of the City.
Oh yeah, dinner last night after the call turned out to be pancakes and banana bread muffins. I'm going to be so disappointed when the senior couple leaves next month. Oh well.

I've been asked by a few people what kind of animals I've seen. Well, the answer is, not a whole lot. Cats, dogs, chickens, goats, birds, lots of lizards, dragonflies, general bugs and birds. There's apparently the occasional monkey as a pet, but I haven't seen one yet. Wait, I did see cows a few days ago lounging in the middle of the roundabout by the chapel. That was bizarre.

Fun fact, my life turned upside down this last week. There's a homeless crazy guy who hangs out in front of our chapel all the time. This week I found out he's actually not homeless, just super crazy. So there you go.
Anyway, time to go.
Je t'embrasse,
Elder Ethan Christensen

Monday, May 7, 2012

May 6, 2012

Hi Everyone,

Things are going really well here, never fret. I'm surviving, and quite possibly thriving. Judgement is out on that one still I think. They're taking a short recess.

I haven't gotten the package yet, but that doesn't mean that it hasn't come. The Assistants are so busy that they only get to the post office ever other week or so (they go back and forth to Togo at least twice a week, for reference). So we'll see. It's still well within the expected wait time frame though. Still hoping for some mail though.

I did get a haircut, never fear. It was a little shorter than I anticipated, so the side part has sadly departed (lol). You'll see it on Sunday though.

Do I have any interesting stories? Do I ever! It's impossible to be a missionary and not have crazy stories. First off, I saw the Jehovah's Witness building in my area. I wanted to take a picture, but way too many people already mix us up, we probably shouldn't have even walked past it.

We were waiting once this week for a lesson, when all of a sudden I realized we were in a bar. Oops. And we had already taught a lesson there. So I've spent about an hour in a bar. No big.

I got to teach a lesson to a Nigerian convert this week. That was interesting. I'd never actually taught the first lesson in English before. Also, it's a little bit different teaching a recent convert than an investigator.

I want to tell you guys a little bit about an investigator we have named Paul. Paul is a self referral because one of his coworkers showed him a brochure of ours. He asks questions and takes notes during our lessons. Our lessons with him have been incredible for me. I've participated on a level I've never had in the field. It's during those lessons that I really feel useful as a missionary. My companion sometimes has some trouble understanding what the question is, but I've been able to cut to the heart of the problem and we continue on our way. Last night we gave him a Book of Mormon, and his promise to read and study was really sincere. The prayer he offered at the end of the lesson was more honest and open than any other prayer I've heard an investigator give. I walked out of that lesson a happy missionary. Of course, now it's up to him to actually do it. But that's his personal agency, we've done our part so far.

The Spiritual growth a missionary can see is incredible. I spent a lot of time this week studying faith. The scriptures are sooooo full of faith, it's incredible. I had an amazing experience reading Alma 32, and I've probably read that chapter at least 15 time before. Another scripture that has really hit me hard this week is Mosiah 2:24, which promises IMMEDIATE blessings when we obey the commandments. I cannot tell you how true that has been for me since I've been a missionary. I've also just had the Spirit showing me things right, left and behind me, more than I ever could have hoped. Now to use them all in lessons.

Okay, the rest of this email is late. The power went out at the Cyber twice, now we are at the couple`s house. And I can't figure out how to use an English keyboard anymore. Thank heavens I hadn't loaded in HTML mode like I usually do, otherwise my draft would have been lost. I don't have much more time though.

Dad, in response to your question, I'm in Gbedjromede. There are some accents on the "e"s, but we usually drop them when we write it, so I don't know exactly which accents. You pronounce it, bed-row-med-day. The G at the beginning is kind of silent. you can drop it all the way out, but technically its there, just without a vowel in the middle.

As far as the gift of tongues goes, since I got used to the accents here I haven't openly noticed the gift of tongues that much. I can tell you that I understand way more than I have any right to, and when I am really trying during a lesson I don't feel like I really have any problems speaking. For the most part though, I think that it is just that I learn fast here, more than some miraculous instant fluency.

Less fun story, I cut myself a little shaving a few days ago. Which was fine until I was here, and one of the African elders though the scab was some food and ripped it off. It didn't really hurt, but its impolite to bleed at a party.

Request for when you do pageant, can you find Alvin's tomb? It's marked on the map in the back of the scriptures, but I realized I've never seen it.

By the way, I wasn't looking for hypnotism in the manual last week, it was just something I saw while flipping pages. Just to be clear.

Got to go, we get to watch priesthood session!!!!

Love you lots
Elder Ethan Christensen

P.S. Is it weird that the primary message I got out of conference was be a good dad/husband? That's pretty much the only message I got.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

April 30, 2012


Wow, I've been in Africa for a month already, that's pretty incredible.

I don't have much time to write today, we didn't get to the Cyber until pretty late, and we have an appointment relatively soon. So I'm sorry siblings that I do not have the time to write back. I will do it next week.

Sending photos- I was aware of the opportunity to send back my SD card, I've been planning on doing that. I'll probably end up taking a fair number of videos, I don't know how I would take 1200 pictures in the next 3 weeks. I'm still iffy about sending pictures by email. I have no idea how long it would take to upload a photo, and I never have enough time to write. Also, I'm pretty sure that is why memory cards get fried, no telling who has done what on these computers.

I still have not cut my hair, BUT I will have it done today. I was actually supposed to get it done this afternoon, but it didn't quite happen. Don't worry, I don't have lice yet.
The work is moving forward. There are 3 "Groups" that are being made into Branches. I am not serving in one of those. I'm with the Gbedjromedé branch, it's the original one here (we're the only ones with a baptismal fount as far as I know). So, I am not moving, but I do know that some Elders have been moved in the last week. It's really good to have a new building here though. We were talking last night, and we're pretty sure that the size of the buildings probably drives people inactive. Our branch building is so full, in order for a new convert to have somewhere to sit, someone has to stop coming. At least that's what we are thinking. Also, just problems with figuring out who lives where. We found a list of everyone baptized in our branch from 2010 to when I went in the MTC. There was 150 names on it. We honestly have no idea if they are at church or not. So that is going to be a big push for our district over the next few weeks.

It's been interesting to see the other challenges/problems the church has here. I've actually had to spend some time in Manual 2 looking up church procedure. Never thought that would happen. (By the way, did you know the church discourages members from participating in hypnotism shows? At least, if I translated that right.)

The language comes in spurts, some days I do really well, and others I can't seem to get myself to say anything. I'm going to really try and push this week to just speak all the time though. I've had a couple of experiences that have really built my confidence, now just to apply them to lessons!

I haven't gotten the package yet, but it's only been a few weeks. I probably won't see it for another month. Speaking of mail though, I got my first letter from America this last week! It was from the Stake Presidency, it was a little thing about general conference and some notes from President Neilson's talk in stake conference. It was mailed before I left the MTC, haha. It was really exciting to get some real mail like that.

The missionary work is coming well enough. If you count the number of baptismal commitments we've extended, the work goes really well. If you count the number of people actually coming to church..... Well, that's a key indicator we can still work on. Luckily, a few of the investigators from before me and my companion came are starting to get a hold of us again. We still have to do a lot of OVB this week (Open your Mouth, street contacting essentially.) It's hard, but no one said being a missionary was easy. At least no one slams doors on us. Partially because no one has doors, half the time we walk up to a door frame and say "kokoko"

In other news, I get to really teach this week. We finally are in good contact with an English speaking recent convert. So I'll be teaching those lessons. I'm excited, but I'm not sure I've ever taught the lessons in English before! Talking with Nigerians is always an interesting experience, because in my mind I'm thinking "you aren't white, I need to speak French. Wait, you don't speak French, but English. But he's not white...." and so forth.

As far as what I said last week about struggling with my expectations and reality, I think that a large part of it is I was probably thinking of the missionary I want to be at the end of my mission, and not the missionary I can be right now. I'm getting there, it just takes a little bit of time is all. Sometimes it's really easy for me to see the end goal, but actually doing the day by day stuff just bogs me down.I'm getting there, don't you worry.

I've discovered two main secrets to surviving Africa heat. The first is to not move a lot. That doesn't work for missionaries. The second thing is to enjoy every breeze as much as you can. I am really good at that. I actually saw a kite a few days ago! I was shocked.

If you want a little taste of what I get in Africa, try making Bissap. It's really good. I believe it's boiled habiscus leaves. All I know is that it tastes kind of like tiger's blood snow cones. That's probably your most realistic chance. Or just eat everything with onions and tomato paste. That sums up most of my lunches and dinners. Mangez-vous (dinner appointments) are always fun, but we don't have one tonight. Also, I have no idea what the things we eat are called.

We are finally going to get to see General Conference next week. Or at least, some of it. Probably only a session or two. Oh well. I'm still excited, nobody spoil it for me!

I don't know how Mother's day is going to go down yet, I will ask the Southam's about it when I go over for my haircut.

Got to go now, shouldn't be late for our appointment!
Elder Ethan Christensen