Monday, October 14, 2013

October 12, 2013


Yes, I did get the little package from Elder Allred. The camera works fine and I've already started to take pictures again. Thanks. I also enjoyed seeing Jacob's MTC photos, that was a nice surprise. 

I actually helped Elder Semken write that email, I was the one that was actually at customs trying to deal with the problem. Flat rate envelopes are not treated the same as boxes. Flat rate envelopes, padded envelopes (which sometimes can be very big), and small boxes (smaller than a shoe-box, maybe a little larger than a quad) all go straight through the normal post office. In the 8 months that I have been here, none of those have ever been opened, although one or two were a little ripped. One of our Elders receives a bag like that at least every other week. I think that we will be able to resolve the problem with customs in the next few weeks, but we will see what happens. I am positive that we will be able to get them to back off on taxing candy. I have not yet actually received the package you sent me a while back. 

I'm still in the office for at least two weeks. This week we are welcoming 20 new missionaries, and the next week President will be in Ghana for a mission president seminar. After that, who knows. Elder Mary is still having problems getting his residence card, if he doesn't have it in a month he will have to go to Togo. I'm not sure what that would mean for me. I do still think that I will open up that new apartment/group, which would be a lot of fun. A lot of work too. I did find out that for a while President was planning on sending me back to Togo to train. But then he decided to keep me here a little longer. I'm glad that I didn't know that until after the fact. You do know that you've been in the office for a long time when missionaries that you welcomed in the office their first day are now senior companions. 

I didn't get to see any of conference yet, but I have been able to read several of the talks on From what I have read, it seems to have been a stellar conference. An interesting trend I've noticed is that conference is getting more about missionary work. I still remember that the first conference of my mission, for every single talk I saw I wrote "about family, read again after mission." 

Woah, what? Davis cup is this week? That's crazy. It can't already be that time of the year. 

This last week we got to go with the Gbedjromede zone out to Ganvié. If you remember I went there when I was about 3 months in Africa, it's the city on the lake. It's known as the "Venice of Africa." This time it wasn't nearly as fun though. No clouds made it hot, we spent a lot more time in the water traveling because we changed our launch point, and we didn't have a tour guide explaining everything to us on the way. I did manage to get really nicely sun-burned though, which helped me get back some of the tan that I've lost since being in the office. I still enjoyed the experience, but not all of the missionaries were so excited about it. 

This week I got to add "car dealer" to my list of experiences. We are in the process of selling one of the mission cars, and people have been coming in all week to look at it. Of course, the awkward part is that the car doesn't actually work (the alternator died), and area offices told us to sell it 'as is'. The mission really has been a crash course in life.  

The investigator we have been working the most with is Habiba. She's from Cote d'Ivoire and has had a lot of troubles in her life. She's been to church twice now and likes it. The thing that slows down our lessons more than anyone else is that she doesn't know how to read. She is trying to learn but it's slow. The Book of Mormon is hard for people that don't know how to read. In French there is a lot of grammar that is only used in formal writing, it's never used when speaking. But she wants to learn more and she is progressing.

Sorry for getting a little frustrated last week. I did say that I would already have an answer by this time. At least I'm in the thick of things, just imagine that you are Elder Shearer's mom, he has no idea what's going on with travel (of my wave, he is the only one in Togo right now. In fact, he has never served in Benin. He spent his entire mission in Togo). Here's what is happening on that level. Flight plans have been requested, they have not yet been received. The day President told me to request is December ___. Your email address was sent in as well, you will receive the flight plans the same time we do (I actually thought we would have received them by now, it was supposed to be a nice surprise for you).I think one or two of the other missionaries are aware of the date, but you should let them tell their mothers. President is not sure if they will let us fly on that day or not, it may be a few days later. We will find out soon.

Elder Christensen

October 5, 2013

There's snow already in Utah? That's not a good sign. 

General Conference here will still be with DVDs, so I still have a while before I will see it. Our internet video-streaming capacities here are extremely poor, so I doubt that I would be able to watch it online. I may be able to read it on in a week or two. That would be nice. 

I'm glad to hear that Jacob's convert is going to get to enjoy conference. That's got to be a special treat for her. Conference here isn't nearly as exciting. Especially since we often end up watching two sessions back to back. Which makes it four straight hours. That's hard, even for long-term churchgoers. 

President did say that the reason why I will be staying in the office a little bit longer is so that Elder Mary doesn't have to train two new office missionaries at once. I also have a couple of things I need to teach him still. Although his residence card application hasn't been accepted yet (this is a very long story, the summary is that immigration services forgot that we are in fact a church), and he might have to go to Togo in a few weeks. At that point, I don't know what would happen. 

I did buy a lot of my souvenirs this week. I'm trying to avoid buying stuff that is too tacky. I do have a couple of good pieces though. A couple of cool masks for example. I'm still looking for a couple of little statues though. No one ever got back to me about what kind of souvenir they would like. Unless they tell me soon, I will just assume they don't want anything. 

My spiritual thought for the week is John 10:14-16. The thought that the Savior knows us just as well as he knows his father is very comforting. It also is a motivation for missionary work. We are out here to help gather in these sheep that the Savior knows personally. That chapter really spoke to me this week. 

Transfer calls are this afternoon. I'm one of the last people in the mission that doesn't know everything about the transfer (some people are blabbermouths). 

This week was a week of food. With Elder Razanamparany going home, lots of members had us over to eat. It was all good food, I'm pretty sure I gained a pound or two. Oh well. It's weird to have him go home. 

I guess the second spiritual thought of the week is one that Elder Uchtdorf has taught a couple of times. Being busy for the sake of being busy isn't a virtue. Another interpretation comes from sister Eastmond (one of the couples here) in that part of being meek is being easy-going and happy. Lately, I've been rather uptight and stressed. The Savior was never uptight. He never made people feel like they were wasting his time. That's definitely a virtue I need to work more on. If not, I'm going to be a difficult person to deal with for a long time.

We got to go on an adventure this week. The Eastmond couple invited us and the Semkens out to Porto-Novo. We went to go look at what is probably the only "organic" farm in all of west Africa. It was actually a really interesting trip. It would be very interesting to see how those principles could be generally applied or enlarged. I'm not sure if it would work here or not, but it gave a lot of food for thought (and a lot of real food too, those were the biggest cabbages I've seen in Africa!). The restaurant on-site was also the only restaurant I've ever seen here that took Visa cards. Everywhere else you can only pay in cash. There was only one downside to the whole trip; there was a miscommunication about what to wear, so we all showed up in jeans and t-shirts when really it was still a shirt and tie thing. Oops. I am going to get Elder Semken's photos though, never fear. 

I heard from our american member who works at the embassy that BYU has changed the honor code? Apparently mustaches and skinny jeans are now out? Not that I was planning on wearing either of those when I got back, but I'm curious to know if it is true or not. Maybe other things changed as well. 

I also heard the most interesting conspiracy theory this week. Apparently, Dick Cheney collaborated with a mission president in the US to get this man baptized, and then they put something in his teeth so that they could track him before they made him come back to Africa. Now this man needs money so that he can go back to the US and finally thank Dick Cheney for helping him become a member of the church. That was hard to translate with a straight face.

Elder Christensen

September 28, 2013

Yes, Africa was hot this week. Hot and wet. It has rained a number of times this week. Luckily, I never got stuck in the rain. One time we did a split though and my companions weren't so lucky. Please don't say it is going to be a bad winter. That scares me. I'm already going to freeze when I get back. 

I'll be happy to get that over to Elder Gray. By the way, he said to tell his Mom that he really is fine, but his cyber is absolutely terrible so sometimes he isn't able to write. He just is never able to log in I guess. I've been really lucky, I've never had that problem. I will definitely still be in the office by the time Elder Sagers gets here. During my interview with President Weed yesterday he told me that he is going to keep me in the office a few weeks after this next transfer. I don't know if he means all the way to the next transfer or not. We will be opening a new apartment soon, so I think he is planning to have me go there once it is open. We will see I guess. At any rate, I think it will be about the end of October when I will leave the office. 

I was able to get the personal money out finally. I'm not sure if I did something different, or if it's because I happened to use the ATM at the country headquarters of a bank. But I did get the money. I still haven't gotten the package, but I'm not worried about that yet. I would give it another 2 weeks still. 

I did talk a bit to President Weed about departure dates, but he's still looking into it. It will happen when it will happen. But when it does happen, I will be the first to know since I will probably be ordering my own flight plans. You could get ahold of Jeff and ask if he knows of an opening if you want. I'm told that the ward I was in off-campus has been divided, I'm honestly not sure if I want to go back there or not. I know I said I would never go back on-campus, but I think it'd be interesting to live in the new heritage towers now that the BYU freshman demographic has changed a bit. I don't know if I would be allowed there or not though. Officially, my only request is that I not have to stay in a cardboard box on the street. Unless you get me a really good space heater. 

Yesterday was one of my crazy African story days. I was invited to another wedding. This time it was a double wedding. One of my converts in Aibatin got married, and his cousin married one of my old investigators that later got baptized. So I was officially on the list. Thanks to the rain, the road out the the mayor's office was an absolute mess (we actually do most of the weddings here outside the city because it is significantly cheaper that way). Then during the wedding it rained some more, and it was even worse getting home. Overall, I spent about 4 hours crammed into the mission van, trying not to bump too much into a newly-wed bride I didn't even know. When I got back, I had a couple minutes to calm my head before President whisked me into his office for my interview. He asked a lot of questions this time, I think mostly because I was the absolutely last interview so he didn't feel the stress of having to rush somewhere else. It was a good interview. After that we went to go teach 'Hakuna Matata.' He is doing well, he and his wife came to church again on Sunday. They like being able to ask questions during the classes. They are really doing pretty well. After that we had a lesson with a woman from Burkina Faso that a member referred to us.
The day ended with us going to the church building so I could play the piano for a funeral. Except the funeral actually wasn't at the church. So we grabbed the piano and headed to the house where it would be held. Turns out they asked me to be there 2 hours before the service was actually scheduled to start. I wish they would have coordinated that with us before, because the service started about 20 minutes before we usually go home for the day. Lets just say that we did not make the curfew last night. But yeah, now I can scratch off "play the piano outside for 200 people (most of whom were not members) for a night funeral in Africa" off of my bucket list. 

We had another baptism this morning. It was not planned very far out in advance this time. We have been teaching Catherine for about 5 weeks now, and she has come to church about that many times. She will be moving to Equatorial Guinea very soon, and asked if she could be baptized before she left. We asked President about it, and he said yes. So we did it. It actually was really good, her uncle who is a member of the church in another branch showed up without knowing she would be there. We also happened to baptize her on her birthday, which we didn't know in advance. She really does love the church, but I'm a little worried because there doesn't appear to be any church presence in Eq. Guinea. I know it might be a seed planted, but seeds often lie dormant for very long periods of time, and not every seed survives.  

I want to go back to the temple so badly. Missionaries here don't get to do it. One is because it is expensive. Two is because it takes a lot of time. Three is because the Ghana immigration/border people are not good news. Maybe one day I'll visit that temple, but not during my mission. Going to the temple is pretty high on my list of things to do once I get home. 

Well, looks like there are no secrets ever. But, as I feared, the application has run into some snags at the regional level. I give myself a B- on that project (partially for the faulty work, and partially for the faulty security). 

Huh, looks like I wrote a lot this week. Cool.

Elder Christensen

September 21, 2013

Hi Everyone,

Yes, it's been another crazy week in Africa. I don't know if there is any other kind of week. I just realized though that I've now spent 30 weeks in the mission office. Ouch. But President has dropped a couple of hints that I'm almost done here. I've had a really great experience here, but I will definitely be ready for the change of pace when that happens.

So our new mission couple arrived this week! Elder and Sister Christensen were really cool. It was funny to watch everyone who came into the office over the course of three days do a double take towards me. Everyone thinks they are my parents. Or at least my aunt and uncle (and yes, one of the first things we did was compare our genealogies. And no, we aren't related in the slightest). We had a good few days with them before they headed over to Togo. I think they will be alright over there though. Oh, and they took me out to lunch once before they left. That was nice too.

So you remember how last week I wrote about a new investigator name Hakuna Matata? Well he came to church! That's right, I had a rasta-man and his Costa Rican wife come to church! Unfortunately, between us and Sister Weed we forgot to ever tell him what time church starts, so he showed up 90 minutes late. Oops. They still liked it though and are planning on coming back tomorrow for all of it. We all pretty much went into shock when they walked into the gospel principles class.

Yes, you can send the camera out with Elder Allred. I'll still be in the office when he gets back. Also, please send a Spanish Book of Mormon (Mrs. Hakuna Matata doesn't read French very well, but the distribution center in Accra doesn't have any we can order). I tried again last week to pull out my personal money, but it still didn't give. I was using the same ATM though. I'm going to try some different ATMs this week. I was going to do it this morning, but didn't have the time due to reasons given below. 

So this morning we woke up at 5 AM because we had to get to a "DMV" by 7 AM. Elder Mary and Elder Gomun (one of the assistants) had to take the written exam for their drivers licenses. There were over 500 people there to take the test, we spent 3 hours waiting for their names to be called. 

President Weed spent most of the week in Togo doing interviews, so I didn't talk to him about my departure date. My interview with him will probably be Tuesday, so I'll ask then. I can tell you that Dec 15 won't be possible for me though. I do know that class registration is in about a month. As far as housing, can I just stay in the cabin? Haha, no I'd freeze to death there. 

They are painting the mission office right now due to some water damage (discolorations) we had a couple of months ago. They aren't working very fast, and the office is a mess to get everything out of their way. Painters here are not very careful, when they painted the Gbedjromede apartment they got paint on one of my white shirts! It stayed there for months before finally going away. Or I lost the shirt, I'm not actually sure.  

This week I thought a lot about stewardships. Heavenly Father really expects a lot of us. Since everything is his, all we are are stewards. We need to show respect to everything he gives us (friends, family, goods, callings, bodies, etc). In the world there is definitely a sense of "it's here to be used, if I don't use it, someone else will!" Whereas the Lord often says "yes, it is there, but I still don't want you to touch it." We aren't here to get as much personal profit as we can. People generally (and by that I often mean me) lose sight of this. In the words of Elder Holland, even when we do manage to put something on the alter, we often hang around as if waiting for a receipt! Related to all of this, the personal goal I set during this week is "if it isn't mine, and I didn't ask permission, don't touch it!" I wasn't perfect at that at home. I'm trying to do better now.

I still haven't gotten the package, but I imagine I will get it in the next two weeks. 

Love to all of you,
Elder Christensen 

September 14, 2013

To respond to your question, I don't know anything about numbers superstitions here. 13 doesn't seem to mean anything. 5 and 7 I think are a little significant, but mostly due to some voodoo stuff about snakes (I wasn't really paying attention to the tour guide at that point). Oh, and they love twins here for some reason. That's about all I've got for the moment.

Honestly I still haven't tried to get money out my account. I haven't had time/we haven't passed by an ATM recently (those things don't grow on trees here). As far as a camera goes, I obviously still haven't bought one yet. Here's an idea though. We have a missionary returning to the US for a week due to a long story that isn't mine to tell. He said that if you want, I can give you his address there and he will bring it with him. The thing is that he comes back October 6, I'm not sure if you want me to go that long without a camera. If you want me to go ahead and buy one this week, signal the Semkens and I'll go out and buy it (but mention if you want it to be a nice camera, or just a cheap one to get me through the rest of the mission). 

Today was a very busy day. First off, we had a baptism. It was the first time I had more than one candidate. Both Kevin and Marielle have been coming to church for almost two months, and were very prepared. It was a nice service, and I was able to help out with the piano again. The only bad thing was that it rained pretty hard, which probably scared off some of the people that wanted to come watch. Kevin gave a wonderful testimony, I can tell that he is going to do just fine. With luck, I should have 1-2 more baptisms before I leave the office. That'd be really nice. We have a couple of investigators that I really like.  

After that, we went to a lunch appointment with a convert of Elder Razanamparany. We got permission from President Weed to do it. That was fun, she made some good food. Super awkward when the other missionaries caught us though (no, we weren't entirely in our area. That's why we got permission from President Weed first). 

After that, I got to spend the afternoon running Elder Ragodonandrasana around the city to his old areas to pick up/drop off things he had forgotten. That took some time. That's why I'm writing a bit later than usual.

Important news! The Christensen couple arrives this evening. I'm hoping they take me out to lunch on Monday.

This week we had 12 missionaries finish and go home. That included my trainer and two of my senior companions. That was really interesting to watch them all go. I'd always assumed that when they went home it would sink in how little time I have left, but that shoe actually hasn't dropped yet. It will probably drop next month when my companion goes home and I receive my flight plans. No, President hasn't told us what day yet. But we put it on his agenda to think about it. I did request the flight plans for the transfer before me though. 

So this is something that I don't get. I have had times on my mission where, even though I was working hard, nothing seemed to be progressing. Nothing I said seemed to change anyone. That's normal, it happens a lot on the mission. The part I don't understand is that EVERY SINGLE TIME I write letters to other missionaries, I somehow seem to be an answer to their prayers or help them with the big problem they are facing. What's up with that? Maybe I should have just stayed home and served as a "mormons writing hands" missionary. I'm happy to do that for my fellow missionaries, but why does it seem to work so much more in letters than in the field?

We got the most amazing contact from Sister Weed this week. His name is Aristide, but most people know him as Hakuna Matata. He is a Rastafarian who sells souvenirs near the office, and his wife is from Costa Rica. He says he's interested and will bring his family to church tomorrow. Elder Mary is super excited because he'll finally get to preach the gospel in Spanish (Mrs. Hakuna Matata doesn't speak French, only Spanish and English). 

Oh, guess what? That paper christmas tree you sent me, I left it in Doumassesse. It is still taped up on the wall in Doumassesse I just found out. Missionaries are so lazy sometimes. Now I understand how some people can leave their christmas lights up all year.

Okay, that's the letter for this week.

Love you all!
Elder Christensen