Wednesday, May 29, 2013

May 25, 2013


Well, here I am! It was nice being able to talk to you on Sunday, I'm glad that that worked out. Even if Some People didn't really stay in camera frame too much.

So here's a funny story for everyone. On Sunday I taught the 'gospel principles' class. Well, usually I translate in that class for our Nigerian investigator. There wasn't another American who could help translate, so our one French Elder sat down and gave it a go. So an American was teaching in French and the Frenchman was translating it back into English for a Nigerian named Gospel. All in a classroom in Benin. If that isn't the set up for a punchline, I don't know what is. As it was, I had the urge to chuckle a bit the entire time. 

In other news, my driving abilities are improving again. I just had gotten rusty again. But I seem to be doing okay now. Which is lucky, because I'm going to have to do it a lot more soon once we go back down to 2 office missionaries. Unless something unexpected happens. Again.

I seem to have this knack for teaching lessons with senior missionaries. Elder and Sister Eastmond gave a Book of Mormon to someone and he was interested, so they brought him by yesterday so that we could talk to him. That was a fun experience, he seems like he could progress. I've been very happy with the number of contacts we've been getting lately. Ok, I lie, I always wish we had more contacts. But I'm happy that so many of our investigators are coming from contacts rather than door to door. 

This last week I had an amazing experience in the office. Like I may have mentioned, I am the one assigned to enter baptism information and send it to church headquarters. Well, on Tuesday I found a form from my last area! I thought the name looked familiar, so when I called to confirm something I also asked who it was. Turns out it was one of the last new investigators I had back in Togo. It was super cool to know that he had continued with the missionaries, I had been super hopeful for him before I left. The best part though? The person who actually baptized him was someone else I had found and taught almost every single lesson to (I think we still needed to teach obedience and obey the law of the land or something), and who now wants to go serve a mission! Sometimes I've felt like I didn't really accomplish anything in Togo. I think that's one reason why I'm in the office is so that I could learn about things like that and know that I really did make a difference.

One of the best feelings that you can have as a missionary is when you are in a lesson and you ask the investigator what he or she actually feels about your message, and they tell you that they know that it is true because they have seen their life change as they have read the Book of Mormon. There isn't really a feeling quite like having an investigator bear their testimony back to you. It is moments like that that inspire me to keep going. So now Romario and Sonia have solid baptism dates for the 15 June. I'm very excited, both of them have already come to church for the last month or so and they have good testimonies (for clarification though, they are separate investigators).

This week I've been learning the power of memorizing scriptures. It has been something that I haven't been working on too hard for a long time because I've been doing so much of my studying in French. I decided to go and memorize a couple of verses in English though. Memorizing verses, though hard, really helps me feel like I'm locking myself into the gospel. Almost like I'm taking a rope and tying myself to the iron rod.

In other news, I have been officially designated as the translator for the missionary conference we will be having with Elder Dickson of the 70. Yes Mom, I'll have someone take a picture. Now I just wish I knew what vocab to learn, the last general authority to come to our mission used lasagna as an object lesson, which I still don't know the vocabulary for. 
I may start teaching piano soon here at Gbegamey branch. I need to figure out if there is more than one keyboard though. 

I love you all, but Mom I love you the mostest,
Elder Christensen
PS mom, I hear it's been a few weeks since you've updated my blog. Not all my friends are on missions... just most of them. 

May 18, 2013

Howdy Everyone!

Glad to hear that California was a lot of fun. Sounds like you did everything that was fun (did you go to Legoland? I've always wanted to check that place out.) I agree that that is definitely a quicker car trip than for HCP. It wouldn't feel like very much time at all these days. Especially after the 30+ hour itinerary coming home that I could have. 

We don't do late night driving here. Latest I've ever been out on the roads was about 8:30 PM, and that was because we were taking the Cococodji Elders back to their apartment. President and Elder Semken once were out later due to an emergency, but our members in the government freaked out and told them they should never do that. As far as what we drive, we have a Ford Ranger, a Toyota Hilux, and some sort of really narrow Toyota bus that I'm pretty sure doesn't exist in the US. There are a lot of interesting car brands out here, lets put it that way. I've been really surprised by the number of mercedes and BMWs that I've seen. Also, there are Peugeots and some other European brands that you never see in America. I'm getting a little better at driving again, but I'm mostly just letting Elder Burkhart do most of it. He doesn't mind much. I'll try to get a picture of the car after we come back from a Cococodji trip. It can get really dirty if it rained recently.

Teaching has been going a bit better these last few days. We actually just set a baptism date for a teenager named Romario. 15 June. We had fixed that date for our Nigerian investigator as well, but we haven't been able to see him this week and we won't be able to cover all the material with him in time (it's a little slow with him even when we do see him). I'm excited for Romario though, he seems to really be getting it, highlights in the chapters we give him to read, and has been sharing a little bit with his friends and family. We're hoping to get some contacts from him in the future. That has been one thing I have really noticed here in the office. All of our investigators that have progressed have been ones we received as contacts or contacted us themselves. I never received enough contacts in any other area to notice it. Lets hope that that continues. 

We got to watch the priesthood session this last Monday for a "mission FHE" activity. We called it that so that the sisters could come too. Except we had speaker problems, and the projector died twice, and the last two talks never did get downloaded so we just read them out loud.... 2nd world problems (fun fact, Benin was literally a 2nd world country, it was allied with the USSR in the Cold War). It was still really good though. I really liked Elder Uchtdorf's priesthood talk. 

I'm still missing two sessions of conference, but I've had the chance to read most of the talks anyways. I'm still wrapping my head around the fact that I only have one conference left on the mission!

You want to know something interesting that happened to me? You do? The other day while we were doing companionship study, the Census man came by! So I've been officially counted on the 2013 Benin Census. I'm sure that will be fun for my great-grandchildren to see on Family search v 8.6. Except apparently my middle name is Elder. Still kind of interesting. I can only imagine how hard it is to get an accurate census here with all the villages and everything. 

Another cool thing that happened to me is that I received a letter this week. Not just any sort of letter though. No, this was a letter from Jerusalem. Shout out to Katie who wrote me two months ago in the Jerusalem Center just to test to see if a letter could make it from Israel to Benin. Myth Confirmed!

Downside of the week is that I had to go out to Cococodji again to look at more branch buildings. Usually this is okay. Unfortunately, the dust and dirt really got on me and I had a huge cough for the next day. I ran through an entire bag of Halls breezers in one day. But hey, I never needed them until now. I'm feeling a lot better already though. Cococodji really needs a branch building though. The first week they had their group at the missionary apartment, they had 50 members/investigators show up! And they are looking to have even more at church tomorrow! We are working on that.

Elder and Sister Semken are going to Togo tomorrow and Monday. This means that it is just us Elders running the office Monday. I've been entrusted with the finance office key. in case of emergency. The joke is that I'm trusted with the safe, but not the oven. Security levels here are very clear on that regard. But the safe is locked anyways, and I don't know the code.

This week I got to try and help Elder Semken with the accounting website/program we have for all the credit card transactions. It was interesting to see a very accounting scenario. In someways I had no idea what I was doing, and in other ways technology felt natural. Unfortunately, we got so stumped to the point we had to call in to Salt Lake. The problem...... The website didn't support Chrome. Oops. 

You bought me a phone? Thanks I guess. You'll have to show me tomorrow what kind. 
Speaking of talking tomorrow... I'm thinking that that will be before church your time. I should call in about 8 or 8:30, unless something goes wrong. Then I'll be calling at about 11:30. So know that if I don't call before, I'll call then. But everything says I should be able to call in the morning your time. Excited to see you all tomorrow!
Elder Christensen

May 11, 2013

Greetings from Africa,

I'm still doing pretty good out here. I'm a little surprised to hear that you are in California though. Spring break trip? Or Dad's official "I'm sick, I'm going to use my sick days"? 

I think I'm okay with being in the office for a while still. There are much worse things. I'll probably get tired of it eventually, but who knows. The most annoying part is probably being in a threesome. Both of my companions are good, there are just sometimes problems when you are three. I don't think President will let me pick my next assignment coming out of the office, the Elder I replaced really wanted to go back to Togo but didn't. Now, I have no idea what President will do with me. But that's forever far away. You are right though, my tan has faded a lot. I haven't gotten a good burn in months, and that will be even harder now that the rainy season is in. It rained for hours and hours this morning. We're probably going to have to find a new route to church tomorrow, some of the streets are totally flooded. 

I don't know what Wes learned in regards to peppers, and I don't know how Jacob is eating hot food, but my hot food is very simple. Take a pepper. Take some onions. Grind them together. Sometimes add in other things (tomatoes sometimes). Finished. Throw that into whatever you want, or use it instead of ketchup. 

I haven't been able to go over the border yet, office missionaries rarely do that. Maybe with this next transfer coming I might, but it's far from sure. I haven't really even done any driving since I got my license. The one time I did, I stalled out a bunch. I'm somehow a worse stick driver than I was back when I was first learning. Not sure how I did that. I think I know what my problem was though, I should be okay next time.

I still haven't officially decided if I'll do Winter semester or not. Things are looking like I might be coming home in time for that even without me officially asking. But there's still 5 months before we submit for flight plans. 

This week was a very interesting week. Why? Well, lots of reasons. First of all, I got to be a big part of the zone conferences that happened this week. In the conference I attended, I played the piano (never having learned how to play Called to Serve finally came back to bite me), translated for Sister Weed (I forgot the verb 'to deceive' but then the verb President told me was actually 'disappoint' so we're even on that), and gave a lesson about how to fill out a baptism form. That went a little longer than planned, turns out not a single missionary was aware of what "head of the household" actually means in church-speak. It ended up being good though. I'm hoping that the baptism forms that come through next week will be nice and orderly! That would be a miracle. 

The next off-proselyting odd thing happened on Thursday. I went with Elder Semken to check out a potential new branch building. It was HUGE. Some sort of mansion a bunch of Chinese people were living in while supervising some road construction. It could honestly fit two branches pretty easy. Then we went and helped the Cococodji Elders plan sacrament meeting, President Weed has authorized a group for that area. After that we went around to Gbedjromede, Akpakpa and Finagnon branches looking for chairs. Because if you are going to have a group, it's best to not make them all just stand there. That took pretty much the entire afternoon. 

Dad should love this. Elder Semken has not been able to hook up his computer to the big printer we have. Well, I found a fix for it. 2 hours later, a brother from Nigeria shows up to work through some of our internet problems, and I realize I've only found a "static' fix. Pride cometh swiftly before the fall. I get the impression that he won't have time to work on that before he has to leave, so I will probably just end up trying to work through it on my own again. 

So let me tell you about the little miracle we had this week. I call it, General Conference. We finally got to see it in church. The other miracle is that we had 6 investigators come and watch it (well, 5. Gospel didn't understand a word so he left after 20 minutes. I wouldn't have lasted even that long, I don't blame him). But all of our investigators loved it and one of them said that it answered all of her questions, she wants again to be baptized. That was a huge breakthrough for her, she has been on a down streak for about 2 weeks now. Just her getting to church was amazing, it had rained that morning and we hadn't mentioned that it would be conference. She even brought her 18 year old daughter, who also enjoyed it. 

I recently heard a little about that family that I was teaching back in Togo. I think I mentioned that the older brother did get baptized, but that the Mom hadn't yet gotten spouse approval. Well, apparently Steve is now family history consultant for the branch. So sounds like he is getting pretty integrated. That's been a bright ray of sunshine in all this overcast.

This week I had a really good pondering about Consecration. President Weed talked a bit about how we need to consecrate ourselves to missionary work, leave other things aside. I started thinking about about that and trying to see it in the light of the Law of Consecration. A dangerous subject, I know. But I really liked some of the insights that I received. I know that if I keep thinking about it, I'll make myself work in Church Welfare when I go home, so I'm probably going to change topics soon. What I really learned is that consecration is to put something to a good use, to dedicate it and make it work for good. Elder Christofferson gave a talk about 3 years ago about living a consecrated life. I found it very insightful. 

Lots of love, make sure to bring me back a souvenir from Cali!
Elder Christensen

May 4, 2013

Hi, Everyone,

Okay, hope everything is still going well back there.
Glad to hear that Dad's surgery went well. I wasn't aware he was going to do it so soon, I had the impression it would be maybe in June. In any case, glad to hear he's alright and loving life. Things have finally quieted down around here as far as medical things are concerned. It seems like something serious crops up about every 4 months. So everything should be quiet again on that front for some time. I'm in pretty good health myself too, so that's nice.

I actually jumped the gun on saying that we would be going down to two in the office. There were some other things going on that I wasn't aware of. Plus, President Weed has an amazing ability to never once do what I think he will do. That's how I know he receives inspirations, because I'm always going off the wisdom of men. So we are still three in the office for the next 5-6 weeks minimum, and I don't really know what happens after that. 

Yes I did finally get the driver licence! It's nice to no longer have to worry about that. Now we just have to worry about things like not running red lights and having all of our paper work in order (did we get pulled over today? Yes. Was I driving? No. Did we end up doing a 'righteous exchange [as Elder Bednar puts it]? Maybe. All I know is that it was hot and obnoxious. Also, we were going to take the Finagnon zone to Ouidah on Monday, but can't because the van has to have some inspections done. 

Do I really need Jdawgs sauce? Well I still have a lot left. But that's because I'm always saving things 'for a special occasion.' So I'm not really sure. If you want to send a few more spices (like Mediterranean herb, garlic and herb, stuff like that), that would be nice. Those really help. The other thing that I would maybe like is a small alarm clock. I came out with one, but it broke. Maybe I'll go see if they sell one in the hypermarch√© before you send that. 

I had a thought about Pageant. I'd love to see a Benin or a Togo flag flying in the bowl. Just saying. 
Yes I will be fine to do my call a week later, I just cleared that with President. 
I think that Jacob is doing just fine, I wouldn't worry about him, except that he might get fat. 
We got to greet the new missionaries this week, that was fun again. We now have a sister missionary who is younger than I am. I never imagined that I would be able to say that. The two Elders seem to be doing pretty good as well. 

So for some reason, I never get the chance to write these emails all at once any more. I just spent about an hour working with the District Presidency to figure out boundary changes for the branches. It probably would have taken only 45 minutes, but for some reason we can't get Google Earth to work on any of the computers here right now. Super awkward when you lean in to start.... and then nothing happens. Thankfully, the Spirit told me that we could still use Google Maps, so we were able to talk about everything even though I couldn't actively draw it. Big growth is going on, let me tell you. It's an exciting time to be a missionary here. I like being able to see the big picture, that has been a lot of fun.

So here's an interesting little factoid for you. There are some churches here where it is against church rules for a man to marry a woman who is older than him. Even by one day. Apparently the fact that Adam was created before Eve can be taken a lot more seriously than I take it. 

This week I really enjoyed taking a little bit of time to read some of the middle chapters in Alma. I haven't really taken time to read more than random verses in that section really since the start of my mission. Of course, I would find a lot of new applications. In reading Chapter 24, it talks about how the Anti-Nephi-Lehis buried their weapons. For some reason, I started thinking about how in Psalms (Topical Guide for the win), it talks about how the tongue can be a weapon (in James 3 it's a fire). I thought about how we need to bury our attacking words as well as our hand weapons. I also loved how they acted while they were strong in their desire to keep themselves from sinning when their desire would be weak. I've been calling this the "act from a position of strength" principle, but I know there's a catchier phrase that general authorities use. We usually think of it as the "don't go into nightclubs so I wont be tempted to drink" principle. I find this example in the scriptures to be very moving. It goes beyond "don't enter the nightclub" to almost be "give my keys to a friend so that when I want to go to the nightclub I won't able to." I also found it very interesting how they covenanted not only to not kill, but also to not be indolent, that they would be hard workers. I still haven't figured out the meaning of all of that.

My shower moment for the week was thinking about how everything we do in life is really to learn how to be responsible. I've found it interesting for months now that our immortality and eternal life is 'work' for our Heavenly Father. Every covenant we make, from baptism, priesthood, endowment, marriage, are all designed to make us be more responsible for our own actions, and especially to make us understand our responsibility unto others. I've found this to be somewhat profound, I'm hoping it helps me step up a bit. 

It's a little weird to me that I'm at that point where all of my high school or college friends are home or will be home in the next three weeks, and I still have 9 months or so. It's not getting me homesick or anything, it's just a little odd to know that they are going back. The way time is flying though, I won't be too far behind them. 

Did I ever mention that they are going to start teaching French in the Ghana MTC? I think we only have one more wave coming in from Provo. Plus those Ghana MTC Elders no longer need Suit Coats. Weird...

Okay, I think I wrote a decent letter today. I'm not sure what the flow is like though. Sometimes not having friends write is nice because I get to write it all down into just one letter. On the other hand, that means that friends are not writing much.

I love you Mom (because I won't actually get to say it on Mother's Day),
Elder Christensen  


April 27, 2013

Hi from Africa,

Well, this week was not as super busy as last week, but it still was not a normal week. I'm not sure if those weeks exist in Africa.
Glad to hear that everything still seems to be going well back at home.

I had an interesting spiritual experience this week. There's a theme about life that the most important mental action occurs in or right after the shower. I think it's one of the only times most of us ever let ourselves just stop and ponder things. The main point is that one morning the scripture Ether 12:27 popped into my head with a personal connection. A few months ago, the idea of being in the mission office was almost scary. I really wasn't sure if I would trust myself to be around computers every day. When I worked in the JSPP office, I didn't have a 100% record (sorry Kay, my bad). Since I have been in the mission office, however, things have gone really well. I haven't really even been tempted much to misuse the computers. It was really impressed upon me that this weakness has become a strength. I haven't given in. That was a ray of sunshine that helped me come out of a little slump.

In other news, I just got to show President Weed how to log off of his facebook account. I hope I kept a straight face.

In other other news, I'm currently nibbling on some orange flavored chocolate direct from Ghana that Sister Weed brought back for us. It isn't very sugary, but it tastes pretty good. Did I mention that I eat oranges sometimes now? Of course, the oranges here are almost just lemons, and my teeth feel funny afterwards. But hey, conquered that food too. I'm honestly not sure what is left. I conquered most of my old picky eating habits. Scratch that, I'm still not huge on green beans.

Well, I accidentally forgot my planner, so I lost a lot of the stories that I wanted to share this week, I'll try to get a few in though.
Oh yeah, did I ever mention that I bought a little drum for a souvenir? That's been almost a month. It's just been sitting here in the office, I like to strum my fingers on it from time to time. It looks cool, trust me. 

We had lots of fallen appointments this week. I think its time to really push to find new investigators again. We did get a new contact this week from a member. She was talking to someone who was interested. This contact? One of the only female guards I have ever seen in Africa. Kind of like that time we went to Washington D.C. and it took us 3 days to see a white security guard.  

On Monday I spent at least 4 hours in a car. It was tiring. First we had to go sign on that new apartment. Then we came back into the city to drop off our Realtor that found us the apartment, then headed all the way out to Cococodji to pick up one of the Elders there for a medical appointment (yes, the medical mess continued.) Then we brought him back into the city, then at the end of the day we took them home (it is really hard for them to get taxis home, they are so far out [technically, they are only maybe 15 kilometers from the city center, but it takes well over an hour to get there]). Yes I took a couple of little videos on my camera. 

The other side of that is that we had to go get gas for the car. That could have been challenging. We are starting a gas shortage here, so we filled up while we could. Funnily, a half hour later we were back at the station to fill up some tanks for the generator for the mission office. This time we got in straight away. Probably because it was two white guys in shirts and ties holding giant tanks in a line full of motos. We where there only about 5 seconds before someone came to serve us.

I had a brilliant Macgyver moment this week while trying to figure out how to take a photo of an x-ray. If you can figure out how I used paper towels to do it, 15 points to your Hogwarts house. Now, the slightly embarrassing part is that I then proceeded to email those photos to the wrong address. Oh well, no one is perfect.

I'm sorry if it sounds like I have few spiritual moments/teaching moments. I do have them, but they take a little longer to type. 

Responses to questions
Yeah I think I would be okay with staying in the office for a while. It's challenging, but my current motto is "never a dull moment." I'm not sure what will happen this next week though. The transfer just got a little derailed, I believe President is rearranging things as I type. Among others, my companionship will almost definitely go down to just two Elders. Good thing I didn't spill the beans to anyone about where they were being transferred though.   
Not too many people are emailing me for the moment. Two friends on missions in California write me little blurbs almost every week, and then I get random letters from time to time from other friends. It's kind of nice because it helps me keep down the temptation to get on email at other times, but at the same time, everyone likes mail. Every missionary likes snail mail too, which has been even lower for me lately. Just saying.
As far as things that I need..... I don't think there is too much. Scratch that, Elder Burkhart is telling me that I need another bottle of Jdawgs sauce. I've really enjoyed those little Tide single load things you've been sending, it makes my sheets nice and soft. I guess I would like some pens. 
Conference talks have not officially come in yet. That being said, Elder Semken has printed off a couple of them for us to read as we sit waiting for medical appointments and test results. I loved Elder Holland's talk. Elder Cardon's was probably my favorite though of the ones that I have been able to read.
About an MP3 player.... On the one hand, it would be good because my CD player is back on the fritz. On the other hand, I have seen so many missionaries have problems with MP3 players. Obedience, not technical. I don't know if I would want an MP3 player. I know you wouldn't put any bad music on it, but it is super easy to put music on those things. Maybe if you were to fill it completely up, with conference talks and the like too. I'll think about it and give you a real response next week.
Well, I love you a lot mom, sorry I didn't say it enough back at home
Elder Christensen

so I haven't finished the main email. Why? because I've been asked to make a copy of everything we have for that one sick elder because he is going home. Never a dull moment (and never a p-day without impositions). I am going to finish that email, I'm just trying to copy a cd with a uroscan on it.
Elder Christensen