Wednesday, June 27, 2012

June 25, 2012

Hi Everyone,

Wow, sometimes I can't believe how fast a week can go. Or how much one
can do in a single week. Elder Kabongo showed up a little after my
email last week. Since then we have been working almost non-stop. It's
been really good for me I think, even though I'm tired all the time.
I've seen some language improvement for sure, and I'm participating
more in lessons too. It also has just been nice to see another style
of teaching, I was starting to feel like Elder Ntengo and I were
getting into a rut.
At church yesterday I found some drink cans in one of the rooms. They
were Gold Cow energy drink. I had a good laugh about that.
I got Jacob's graduation announcement yesterday. That was really cool.
It's hard to believe that he's passed that point already (according to
the stamps, it showed up in the post office in Cadjehoun after about a
week, and then sat there for the rest of the month).
We are officially in the rainy season. The irony is that it has
actually stopped raining a bit. But it's cool. I'm actually kind of
cold at night with the fan on. I may have said that last week. So you
may actually be warmer than me out at pageant. But if anyone gets uppy
out there, just turn the AC to pure fan and no cool. That's about the
best I get 90 percent of the time.
This week I've really learned a lot about humility. I've run across
some situations that, honestly, I don't know how to help these people.
Take Simone, for example. She's the sister of a member that we met
this last week. Two years ago, her husband ran away with the kids, and
she recently found out that he actually is still living in Cotonou,
she just doesn't know where. She also works in a voodoo household as
basically a maid/nanny, and they don't want her to take the time off
on Sundays to come to church. Her story is a little bit unique, but
lots and lots of people have trials that I honestly can't begin to
comprehend. It's really humbling for me to just have to do the best I
can and let the Lord do the rest.
As far as replacing the Southams, not exactly. The Church is letting
the apartment go. There is a new couple that apparently will be coming
in in the fall, but I believe that they will be staying in the Bureau
with the Leavitts. That, or they will be staying in Togo full time.
I know of an Elder that went home about a month ago for medical
reasons, but not more recently. He went home due to a foot problem I
think. The Elder that was hit by a moto is still here.
Thank you for everything, but I'm out of time. Had some screen issues,
and we've got to go to an appointment. Love and peace and the gospel,

Elder Christensen

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June 18, 2012

Yes, it's been an incredibly busy week. So much stuff happens as a
missionary, a week should only be boring if you're stuck on your bed
sick. There have been a lot of ups and downs this week. I've hit some
new highs, but I've also been humbled in some new ways. C'est la vie,
n'est-ce pas?
A couple of days ago I thought about how patient my companion has
actually been with me. With all my little quirks and faibles, and
especially the language barrier, it's absolutely incredible. It kind
of punctured a little hole in my bubble, realizing that I wasn't
actually as good as I thought I was. That bubble has a lot of holes in
it now. Which is good. Eventually, we'll get to the point where we can
start ripping off the pieces and see whats underneath. Yeah it'll be
painful, but it'll be worth it. That's one of the biggest points of a
mission after all. The biggest kicker was that I studied patience just
a few days before that, and totally missed the point that I was
supposed to get. That's possibly what smarted the most.
Good news. I was cold last night with the fan on. I'm acclimatized now
(the computer is running on French spell check, it doesn't know how to
spell that word. And single other word is red lined.).
Probably the two biggest things of the week happened at the opposite
ends. On Tuesday the Southam couple left the mission. They also left
us a bunch of food supplies. Let me tell you, alfredo sauce tastes
about a million times better when you've had tomato and onion sauce
for the last 3 months. So they get a huge thank you for all of that.
The other big news for the week actually just happened. I'm getting a
new companion! This evening, in fact. It's very sudden, and we don't
really have any idea what's going on. But Elder Ntengo will be leaving
me and I'll be getting Elder Kbunga (I don't know the spelling, but I
think it's that) to be my new companion. He's Congolese too. That
makes 3 official companions over the course of my first 12 weeks in
Africa, and about a week and a half where I didn't have a steady
companion. I wonder if the Lord wants me to learn how to adapt?
Other news from this last week includes getting the General Conference
edition of the Liahona! I devoured that, it was so good. Also,
incredibly focused on the family. Have all general conferences done
that? I've never really noticed it before. I hope you guys have gone
back and read some of the conference talks. Even if you have, I
challenge you guys to read President Ucthdorf's talk about mercy
during FHE tonight. These talks really are inspired. Also, they now
have video archives online back to 1971. I'm definitely hitting that
up when I get back.
 I also got a real letter from Rosie Merrill. She doesn't know about
the blog, but thank you! That's my first personal actually mailed
letter I've received so far. So Rosie, you win a shout out and a
prize. Everyone else, feel free to write me too. First prize is taken,
but there are other fabulous prizes which are still available.
Not to add one more thing to your large pile of pageant preparation,
but have you put the head on Flat-me yet? And if so, could you send a
picture of it? I need to know if I look good. haha. Personally, I vote
that you stop in Nauvoo. It really is an experience that shouldn't be
missed. Eat some fudge for me.
Yes they do have Father's day here, and it's even on the same day. The
primary got up and did a little song, it was cute. I got wished a
happy father's day by a couple of members, that was a first. I don't
know why they hold mothers day on a different day, but keep fathers
day the same. Oh Africa.
 And Yeah, they are doing a third season of
Sherlock. They approved it at the same time as season 2, but kept it a
secret for a long time in order to have a lot of fun with the
cliffhanger. That's what the internet told me before I left, anyway.
It's interesting to see the little details that stick, and which ones
have faded. I've forgotten the lyrics of most of the songs I used to
listen too.
I don't remember if the Fon guide was an ebook or not. It very well
could be. We'll take what we can get. Maybe the mission will end up
printing up some copies. You never know. The people here absolutely
love it when we speak Fon, even when we only know a few words. I can
pretty much only say "welcome" and different variations on good bye.
The first convert we had since I've been here was called as the Young
Mens President yesterday. That's a bit of a jump. He still only has
the Aaronic Priesthood himself. It was amazing to go over to his house
yesterday evening and find him sitting there with the manual and his
scriptures, planning away for the lesson next week. He's going to do a
great job.
I recently decided that John is my favorite Gospel. Its just so good.
I wish I had read a bit more in the New Testament before my mission. I
know all the stories, but not necessarily where they are.
If you want to see something cool, try youtubing Reverend Maurice Mog.
I don't actually know if he's on youtube, but it's likely. He's some
sort of preacher guy who makes and sells music here. It's pretty
popular amongst the members. Personally, I have no idea what he's
saying, but I'm guessing it's  about the savior.
Well, it's time to get back to the work. It won't happen on it's own.
That's not His plan.
Elder Christensen

PS, remember all of those drink pouch things you sent me with? Yeah,
turns out only the grape ones were caffinated. I should have looked
closer. Cherry Limeade never tasted so good.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hi Everyone,
The rainy season here isn't too bad. It rains about once a day,
usually in the morning. It's very rare for us to be actively walking
out in the rain, and it's not hard to avoid walking through the
puddles. People here understand how to live around all this. I love it
when it rains at night, because it makes it cool. Unfortunately,
sometimes it also knocks out the power. Over all though, it doesn't
really slow down the missionary work at all. Unless there is a monster
storm in the afternoon, for some missionaries that is too much.
Personally, I think it's awesome.
As far as things to send, it wouldn't hurt to have a few more pens. I
have about 4 months left in my journal, so factor that in. I still
haven't missed a day yet, don't fret. For quality, well, we'll see
with time. Also, I could see my watch strap breaking sometime in the
next year. Not soon though. As far as hygiene stuff, it looks like
I'll be running out of most everything around Christmas time. Based on
the rate I have been using stuff at least. Seasonings I'm good on,
they actually have a fair number of seasonings here to buy. Not every
dinner tastes like tomato now.
Funny story. Remember how I was joking about buying TOMS in Africa?
Well, I actually saw a pair the other day? Problem was, someone was
wearing them, and I didn't have enough small bills to buy them. Also,
that would have been weird. It was just funny to actually find a pair.
I got the chance to give a little lesson at District Meeting this
week. That was cool, I talked about how important the Book of Mormon
is in the conversion process. One problem we have here is getting
people to read the Book of Mormon, I assume that that is a problem in
every mission. Speaking of the Book of Mormon, we placed my Arabic
one! I didn't get to do it personally, it was the zone leaders that
got to do it. But the guy apparently was actually interested in the
church, so it's not like we just handed it out at random.
A few days ago I made an important milestone. I had a dream where I
was black. And there was a little bit of French involved too. I'll be
Africano in no time.
Yesterday notice went by for transfers. The only one moving out of our
apartment is Elder Mampionona who is going to Togo, and he's getting
replaced by Elder Attisogbe. So I'll be with Elder Ntengo for at least
6 more weeks.
A few days ago we were out tracting when we met this older man named
Christoff. He's one of those 'born Catholique' older men. But at the
end of talking to us he said 'you know, usually I just brush guys like
you off, but I felt something when I saw you, so that's why I talked
with you guys'. I have no idea if he'll ever join the church, but it
was really cool to have that experience.
This last week has been incredible for me in the scriptures. I've done
some more study about Christ-like attributes. It turns out that in
French, the verb 'to complain' literally translates into English as
'to pity oneself'. That was a really interesting line of thought to
pursue. I also decided that, once I'm really firm in the lesson
material, I'm going to read through the Gospels and probably all the
book of Mormon looking for Charity. That's something that I really
want to develop on my mission.
Do you know how awesome it is when someone you've been teaching for
two months finally comes to Church? It's great. Now to get him to come
This week I really saw some of the parallels between the church here
and the restoration of the church in the states. It is such a
testimony builder to me that, though we be but imperfect men, the work
goes forward. And, while some of the problems here are unique to
Africa (like the challenges that come with getting legally married),
in a lot of ways the church here is just like back in Utah. So I'll be
able to apply a lot of the things I'm learning here once I come home.
Speaking of coming home, Elder and Sister Southam go home tomorrow. I
cannot even imagine being at the end of my mission yet. On Saturday
there was a bon voyage party that all of the primaries in Cotonou put
on. It was awesome. I really felt the love that they had for the
Southams, and that the Southams loved everyone there. Which is
incredible considering that the Southams only speak very broken
The other night there was a wedding negotiation that happened under
our apartment. We didn't get to see the actual process itself, but we
watched everyone show up and there was lots of noises. I took a few
pictures of what I could.
On Wednesday we were in the Chapel and I saw a mosquito on Elder
Terranova's hand. I thought, oh, I'll do him a favor and smack it. Did
not even register that he was using that hand to hold the phone he was
talking on. Oops. We proceeded to make some faces at each other.
Have I mentioned that missionary life is not really different from
regular life? I kind of had this conception that everything would
change, but really it doesn't. You still interact with ordinary
people, and you haven't suddenly become perfect by being set apart.
You really have to work to become better. That's true for me and for
every other missionary. Also, what really hurts is when there is no
immediate punishment for breaking the rules. In the MTC, there was
supervision everywhere. Here though, you could break a rule and no one
would really know except you and your companion. And Heavenly Father,
obviously. I'm not guilty of any serious rule breaking, don't get me
wrong. What really pushes me to better myself is when I realize what
is required of me. Unfortunately, that usually involves someone else
telling me I've been doing something wrong. Or when I'm given new
responsibility. The trick of the mission will be learning how to
implement all that on my own. Because that's how I'll have to do it
after my mission. I have no desire to be who I was before my mission
again. Not now that I have an idea of who I can become.

Love to you all, take care,
Elder Ethan Christensen

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

June 4, 2012

Hi Everyone, 
Wow, time flies. I can't believe that I've been in Africa for longer
than I was in the MTC. I can't believe it's June either. Partially
because the weather is no warmer than the day I arrived.
Lots of stuff happened this week. I went on a couple of different
exchanges again. I was actively able to prove to myself that I can
function as a missionary, even in French. Elder Burkhart and I had a
lesson which I really got to help out. I actually probably took more than
my fair share. Now the trick is applying that into my companionship
(my companion still has a little bit of a 'trainer-trainee' mindset).
Technically I still have a few weeks left of the official training
process, but my training has been anything but standard. I'm still
with my original companion, and may be for some time. There are some
transfers in two weeks, but both of us have only been here about two
and a half months, and President Weed usually doesn't move people
until at least 4 months. So we'll see. I could very well be in
Gbdèdjromédé through the rest of the summer.
We went to teach a lesson this week, and it was really interesting.
The guy was 19, super chill and generally cool. He had actually read
and understood the Restoration brochure we had left with him. The
problem was, he got stuck on a verse in John that says that no one has
ever seen God (there's a Joseph Smith Translation on it, but how do
you explain that to a new investigator?) It was kind of funny, at the
end we were both saying that we would pray for each other to be open
to the truth. The faith that people have here is incredible. They
really are so close to the truth, but are just led astray in a few
small and simple (but important) things.
One day during an exchange, my companion ran into some US cultist
people. Something called ECK, very bizarre. Their Mahanta leader
apparently taught Jesus or something. It was funny to read their
brochure, and also a reminder that that is how much of the world looks
at us, except we give our books out for free. Really what we have to
do as missionaries is just be as friendly and ourselves as we can.
There's a reason why the church does it's 'I'm a Mormon' campaign.
This week we got a 'Stand Ready' alert. Basically what that means is
drop what you are doing and go back to the apartment. So, we did. The
initial story we got was that there was a war going on, but gossip
being gossip, of course that wasn't the case. Turns out there was a
shootout between some robbers and cops about 45 minutes away, so there
was no real danger at all. So you can stop hyperventilating Mom. The
mission takes really good care of us, never fret. And it isn't really
dangerous here, that's the first time I've heard of anything like that
happening. Everyone I've talked to says that other than when the real
war broke out in Cote d'Ivoire, this is the first thing like it. So
quite likely, it will never happen again.
So two nights ago I was right about to hop into bed when all of a
sudden I heard some music that sounded very familiar. It took me a few
moments to place it. The bar that's kind of close to our apartment was
blasting 'Who let the Dogs Out?' It was awesome. Also musically
related, it turns out that the African singing on Lion King is Zulu.
And no, people here don't speak Zulu.
Saturday afternoon I was not feeling very good, and it started to rain
pretty bad, so we stayed in for a while. Figured going out into the
rain while sick, and fast Sunday the next day was a bad combination.
To compensate, I took apart my fan (they give every missionary a fan
to blow on him during the night). Mine had been making some
interesting noises. More or less, it's just old and crappy. That was
the eventual diagnosis. It probably has a few more months in it
Gospel highlight of the week was Friday night. I had read something in
a verse in Section 88 that perked my interest. I ended up reading the
whole section two or three times. I got a loooooot out of it. Which
impressed me because I read that section probably 5 times over the
course of my time with the JSSP. I really think that a lot of it was
actually from having been through the temple. It's the first time I
can think of a specific blessing from the temple, although I highly
doubt it is the first. One thing that I have been noticing is that
things that I've always known conceptually are really starting to be
real to me. Elder Bednar has talked about how understanding actually
occurs in the heart, not in the head. I'm on the path. It'll only take
the rest of my life.
Wooh, power just went out. Thank heavens for saved drafts.
No, I'm not really planning on sending another SD card with Elder
Shaffer. I took a lot of photos at Ganvie (the city on the Lake), but
not that many. I've still got a lot of pictures to take before I'm
done. I'm kind of thinking that I'll send that one home with Elder
Terranova in about 5 months, I'm not really aware of anyone coming
home before that. I can't even begin to imagine what I'd feel like if
I only had 12 days left.
I tried making root beer last night with the concentrate you sent me
with and some Tonic soda I found local. It tasted like root beer
flavored cough syrup. Absolutely disgusting. Such a disappointment. Oh
well. I think that you can carbonate water with yeast, yes? I can find
yeast at the supermarket, so that could be possible.
I need to go now, I hope this email makes up a little bit for the one last week.
Elder Christensen