Monday, December 29, 2014

Unity in the family

Bonjour,                                                                              12/29/2014

       Things have been good this past week, and it was nice to get to talk to you guys! The week started out with the Christmas party. We started out the day driving a ways to a orphanage just north of Calavi to do a little service project there, where we cleaned bottles, then sang and gave candy to the kids and such. It was really cool to have that opportunity with them for sure. Then Christmas day was a little tough, as even though people don’t really celebrate it here, they still aren’t really ever at home, but luckily we were able to get some teaching in. The work in our secteur is coming along pretty good! This past Sunday we had 4 new Amis at church not including those that were there last week, so we were once again super blessed in the work. 
        Were still working a long with Eli and Jeremie, who were hoping will get baptized in January. They’re some of the smartest people I’ve ever taught, and I’ve still never seen many people that know the Bible as well as they do. Olivier was sick this last week so we didn’t see him as much as we would have liked, but we’re still hoping for his baptism in January. He is no doubt someone who could be a big help to the church here and especially when we start the group in a month. Along with that we have other Amis that are progressing really well also so it’s been a lot of fun still this past week. Its a little exhausting as our secteur is huge and there is a lot of walking, but nice at the same time as we don’t have enough time to see everyone so we have to pick and choose a bit. 
        We worked a little bit in the other secteur this past week with the recent converts over there. One of them is an older lady named Paulette that can’t really walk because her feet are bad, and as a result she can’t really come to church. She’s one of the sweetest ladies ever though and reads the Book of Mormon about all day long. The other is a young man that was baptized a while ago by Elder Layton back in Gbegamey, and then moved here to Calavi. Its a little tough for him as his father lived in France for a while and actually got with the missionaries there, and was baptized, but then fell away and now practices Islam. The young man is awesome though and is at the age to be getting ready for a mission but is having trouble getting to church because of the distance so we’ve been working a lot to motivate him. I also thought about trying to get him more involved and active, as I’ve seen that one of the best ways to stay active in the church is being active in serving and such. So to motivate him and get him going we’ve talked to him about starting to go to shut-in's. As I remember before the mission that is something that I always enjoyed and helped others a lot. We planned to talk to the Branch President then next Sunday we will start taking the sacrament after church to Paulette the older lady that can’t walk. I’m hoping it will be a way to help him feel the spirit of service and at the same time it will help her a lot as well. 
        This past week we worked a lot with some of our Amis that are full families which is always fun, but a little sad at the same time seeing that there are many problems with them. Mostly that the fathers are either very alcoholic or very abusive. We worked a lot with them, but its tough in those situations to really see what you can do at all, but we left them with plenty of commitments in the Book of Mormon figuring that will be one of the best ways of helping them. Sure enough one of the families the Loko’s was at church all together on Sunday, we were figuring most likely just the father, or just the mother, but it was really interesting to see them all together and a good experience for all of us. It was great as the District President who is in our branch and is a returned missionary gave an awesome lesson on the family and the responsibilities of parents and unity in the family and such. It seemed like the perfect lesson for them. So we’re hoping this next week as we pass to see them again we’ll see more changes as well happening. We’ve been really blessed this past week for sure, and also can see that things are very promising for the group we'll be starting up in February. 
      Another kind of funny story this past week. As I said we recently started heading out to a little village west of our secteur, and of course its full of voodoo like none other. There was a family we saw and didn’t really even start teaching but just visited. There is a member that lives there that introduced us to him. He apparently is a big time priest in voodoo and that’s about all he does, people come to him all the time for spells and all that for good health and such. And the member told us that he is scared of us now, and tries to avoid us every time we come out there now, as since the last time we stopped by at his house and taught his kids, he said his spells and all the black magic stuff haven’t been working like usual, so he’s trying to avoid us now. Ha-ha, we thought it was pretty interesting how that worked. But yeah things are going well here, like I said were working like dogs right now but its been great! I hope things continue to go well there this week.

Elder Oliverson
My companion Elder Kasonga and Me

Activity at orphanage.

Part of the service project the week of Christmas.

Me and Mou Tham at the service activity. It was just north of our secteur and we had a pretty good view.

The Christmas party. The older Americans up front with the new ones in the back.

Primary Christmas party.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Moroni 10: 4-5 "Testified to them the truthfulness of the message".

Bonjour,                                                                                                                   12/22/2014
Things have been great here this past week. We were finally able to get in and focused on the work so it was awesome. It was a week full of many miracles as well. My companion is doing great and is obedient and humble, as ever, so we’ve been entitled to many blessings because of it! Its been clear that the Lord has helped us come across many new Amis that were prepared in advance as well. In Calavi, as our secteur's are so far from the church, about 45 minutes. President authorized us to create a group here in our apartment, which we will be starting up in January, so in turn, as all the converts we have here are leaders in the Calavi branch, we will not really have anyone in terms of members in the group, so we’ve seen that we really need to start getting to work in finding people, especially men that can become Melchzeidek priesthood holders. We’ve been praying a lot, and talking with everyone, and have seen that the Lord has quickly answered out prayers. 
This past week we’ve continued working with Eli, our Ami that was at church last week. Again like I said I’ve never met many people that know the Bible as well as he does. He has many talents and I can see what a powerful member of the church he could be if he gets baptized, so we’ve been working a lot with him towards that. He likes proof in everything we teach him, so to a point we we're giving it to him, then he asked a question, that again I could easily answer, but my new companion simply opened up to Moroni 10: 4-5, and gave the simple response that all truth comes from the Holy Ghost, so in turn all these questions that he has can in turn be answered usually by prayer. It was a good reminder to me as well that we need to always rely on the spirit and let our Amis do the same. We noticed that as we had been teaching him his brother was assisting with us. His brother is much more humble, and willing to listen actually, but much more quiet so we didn’t notice him as much. His brothers named Jeremie. So in English their names actually turn out to be Elijah and Jeremy, like the prophets in the Bible. Ha-ha, but even with all of his brother’s objections and such he stayed close and really understood our message. In our next lesson he explained that he new our message was true, but was afraid to leave his church as him and his brother were adopted by the pastor, who has taken care of them his whole life, and paid for school and such. So in turn leaving his church would be in a way disrespectful. We had a big lesson on the importance of turning to God rather than the fear of men, and left him to pray again. The next time we came back he had made the choice that even with the opposition that would come he wanted to be baptized into the church. We fixed his baptismal date for the 10th of January, and he was at church on Sunday and loved it. 
Along with that we came across another guy on the street the next day named Alfred. He stopped us first asking me if I was an English speaker, as he was interested in talking with me. It turns out he teaches English at the university here, so he actually didn’t speak to bad. In turn we were able to start teaching him, and could see quickly that he was super interested in our message as we explained the restoration to him briefly. He explained how he has always wanted that his family be together in the same church as they are divided between multiple, which causes them many problems, so we fixed times to be able to see all of them. He came to church with us on Sunday and loved it. Just like Eli and Jeremie he is extremely intelligent and is progressing well. 
Along with them we received a contact from some other missionaries named Olivier. When we finally contacted him we found that he lives super far away, and is extremely well to do. At the same time you can see that he is very humble, and gives most of what he has. He is in his late twenties and lives with his wife. In the first lesson he explained that he didn’t really believe in religion but rather in personal worship and such, his wife though is Methodist. We’ve really worked towards showing all the blessings for the family in our message and such, and in turn explained the restoration and the story of Joseph Smith. He understood really well, and was incredibly open to all that we taught him. He promised to pray, and to come to church. Sure enough Sunday he was with us at church, and explained to us afterwards that the spirit confirmed to him that what we have taught him was the truth and that we were really the Lords servants, and in turn we were able to fix a baptismal date with him for the 17th of January, and are hoping that his wife will soon follow! We’ve been extremely blessed no doubt the past while, and have seen that our baptisms that we have fixed and our Amis in progress are people that could do a lot to help the church and especially help in leadership with the group that we are soon forming here in Arkonville. It’s been amazing to see how well all of our Amis were prepared and how quickly the spirit has testified to them the truthfulness of the message. Honestly when I got here as we were opening a secteur, I was planning on the first couple months being contacting and planting seeds, but we’ve been able to get things going quickly. Along with that we already have too many Amis that we really don’t have the time to visit all of them. This past week we headed a bit out farther west, where it becomes just village. I thought Kegue my first secteur in Togo was out there, but here you feel like you’re camping, its about a 45 minutes walk just to arrive there so we don’t go there too often, and along with that its extremely far from the church, so we will probably wait till we get the group here to go back out there, but there is surely a lot of promise there. We’ve been exhausted though with all the work, but it’s been great as it’s been very productive for us! 
My companion is doing well and is still learning also. He’s come a long ways for sure! Today I taught him how to mop the floor, so there are always little things like that I forget about. He’s doing really good though, and has a strong testimony. He comes from very humble background, but you can see it has made him a really good person. I’ve been really working with him in helping him talk to people and rely on the spirit as he is a little timid, but like I said he’s come a long way! We're hoping to still be able to get work done this week even with Christmas coming along! The mission Christmas party is tomorrow so we're looking forward to that, and as I’m one of the three drivers in the mission I'll get to drive the truck again:). Our secteur is really nice though. Its calm and reminds me a lot of Togo, a lot of brush and plants, and apparently pretty big snakes, but I still haven’t seen with my own eyes so not sure about that. I know that out towards the village area there is plenty of voodoo, so we will see how that goes for us. 
The training is going great too! I was thinking the mornings would be tiring with the extra hour of training, but it’s been good, as it’s more of a mutual companion study and we learn a lot together. The apartment is doing well. Some of the Elders like Destribois, my comp and Agui are learning English, so we’ve been helping them a lot with that too. Things are going really well here though; I hope all goes well there for you with Christmas this week!

            Elder Oliverson

Monday, December 15, 2014

He has said it’s that part that has been missing.

Bonjour!                                                                                                                         12/15/2014

  This past week has been a pretty great one, and had a lot of changes. Sunday night I had my last weekly dinner with the couple and President, so that was kind of a bummer:)! Monday we went back to Togo for the beginning of the transfer to pick up the sister missionaries there, so that took up a lot of the day. That night we had a little FHE with Rebecca’s family. It was really sad to have to say goodbye to them, but I know I’ll see them again soon in passing by the bureau, but they’re doing really well also! Mama Rebeccah has called me like every evening since I’ve been here in Calavi.                 
Tuesday was supposed to be the arrival of the big group of new missionaries, but turns out they switched it up to Wednesday. So we had the departure of the 4 Americans, Elder Rybin, Potter, Hales, and Garza. Its still really weird every time you see someone go home, but its getting a lot more strange as the groups going home didn’t get here too far before I did.  It was sad seeing them go, but won’t be long before I see them again either so that will be good! Wednesday came along with the arrival of the huge group of missionaries, which took up about the entire day. It was exhausting no doubt. There were a lot of really cool new missionaries and a lot of Americans coming in as well. Along with that I got my new companion! Sure enough he did the classic Congolese name change. So instead of coming in as Elder Tshiunza his name is now Elder Kasonga. He’s pretty awesome though. He comes from a family of about 11 kids, with a very very humble home to say the least. Sure enough he is actually a very humble person, which is awesome, and every few minutes asks me what he can do better. Along with that he honestly mirrors just about everything I do, so it’s a little worrying sometimes and keeps me on my toes. Ha-ha, it’s been a little tough though. I forgot a bit what it was like to be a new missionary, and when remembering back to how I was, not knowing really how to effectively teach the gospel, let alone speak French, I could say my comps had a ton of patience with me. So I’ve been doing my best to show him the same. Its been tough though as I’ve had to teach him first how to get his money out, then how to buy food and such, then how to cook, how to clean and all the above. But he’s catching on to everything really quickly! He’s really quiet like I said, but super nice as well, so I’m doing my best to help him to continue to grow, and he’s doing really well as he is super teachable. 
Luckily in the apartment there is Elder Agui who is an Ivorian who is teaching him a ton too about how to live here, so that’s helped out as well. In the apartment there is Elder Hansen who is a new American, and he’s pretty cool, and Elder Kongolo another Congolese. And then Elder Destribois a French.  The best way I can describe Destribois is he is about the exact twin of that one kind of obnoxious kid from polar express. He’s hilarious though, and is probably honestly one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He’s super intellectual, and knows everything about almost every subject; along with that he speaks the best French I’ve ever heard, so it’s been nice living with him. I love the apartment though as its super nice, (for here) and there are a lot of good missionaries in it. The last week has been a little tough though as we arrived, me and my comp in our area around 11:30 pm. then waking up early the next morning and getting to work in the brand new secteur. I feel a little bad for my comp, as its never easy opening up a secteur, let alone as a new missionary. We’ve been super blessed though at the same time. There is a special spirit with new missionaries and even though he doesn’t have all the techniques and such down, he is still very powerful. 
This past week we’ve found many new Amis, and have been able to keep ourselves really busy. Probably the best miracle was finding a guy named Eli. He lives a bit far, but his dad is a Nigerian pastor. He was very open to the message, and explained to us that he knows the Bible to an extent is not complete, in that it seems there is stuff missing. Sure enough we’ve helped him find the Book of Mormon, and he’s absolutely loved it, and has said it’s that part that has been missing. Out of all the Amis I’ve had he is no doubt one of the smartest, and the one who has the Bible almost memorized, so he’s been tearing apart the Book of Mormon. This past Sunday after he showed up to church, so we felt very blessed after just a few days to already have someone in progress like him. We went back to teach him that night about the restoration and had an amazing lesson, he understands extremely well its surprising, and you can clearly see he is someone that has been prepared in advance by the questions he asked. For example he was talking about Jean 3:5 where it notes that man must be baptized by water and the spirit to enter into the kingdom of God. And explained that in most churches he only sees really the half of that. On Sunday though we had a confirmation so it was a stellar example for him. That night while visiting him we were able to fix a baptismal date for the 13th of January so were pretty excited about that no doubt. We’re looking forward to it as well as even just one convert like that can help us bring many more into the church. Along with that we’ve found a few families that are doing great as well. But I can see that as both of us have been striving to be obedient, we’ve been greatly blessed in finding many people to teach, and good serious Amis as well. 
Our secteur is super far from the church though, and we end up taking a little bus to get there, which is tough. Along with that it will make it really difficult to get Amis to church but it should be good. The secteur is up in the north west of Calavi, so pretty far from everything and calm and tranquil, it reminds me a lot of Kegue, my first secteur in Togo. Because of the distance from the church though we’ve been talking with President about creating a group up here in our apartment, and he said whenever we’re ready we are good to go, so we will have to see how that goes. Like I’ve said it’s been only a few days, but were already starting to see good success in the work, which is nice. The Branch here is pretty awesome. It’s a little small as it’s only existed a couple months, but there are some solid members, and actually the District President lives here. This past Sunday a lot of the leaders were there as they released the District President, and ended up calling a new District Presidency, I think in preparation for the Stake which is not far off. The new District President is President Kpadonou, he is Beninois, but lived in the ivory coast a lot of his life, and is a returned missionary, and sealed in the Temple. The interesting part is he’s very young, just in his 30s or so, but he will do a great job. Calavi has been great though, and I love my companion as well, he’s coming along pretty fast with everything. It’s been exhausting lately, but it feels really good getting back in the secteur. I hope all is going well there, I love and miss you all a ton!
                                                                                                                    Elder Oliverson

Me and Elder Merrill after the transfers. We were dead tired:)
Sister Precious. She's is Nigerian. She works in the bureau and does a ton for the church. She speaks English, French, Lingala, font, Mina and Yoruba so shes pretty helpful.
Saying goodbye to mama Rebeccah.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Testifying of him.

Bonjour!                                                                                                                   12/06/2014

        This past week has been pretty well; it’s been nice to be back in Cotonou and to get back to working in our secteur again. The secteur is doing a lot better as well, and our Amis are coming along more too. I’ve known for a while, but my wish came true! As I can now tell you guys that I’m getting transferred and will get to spend the last 12 weeks of the mission training a new Congolese missionary. It was great working close to President and I’ve learned a ton in the past few months, and there are way too many blessings to count, but it was getting a little exhausting, so it will be great to get to put all the focus these last few months on the new missionary and the secteur! I’m going up north of Cotonou, to a little area outside of it named Calavi North. Its pretty far away, and pretty far away from the nearest church which will be difficult. And along with that we will be reopening a new area, so we will basically be starting from scratch, which will be very difficult, but a lot of fun. It would be really tough as a new missionary to get to the mission and open a secteur like that but hopefully he will be patient as well. Ha-ha, the new missionaries name is Elder Tshiunza, there is a good chance he will probably change his name as Congolese usually do. If it’s the case he'll be Elder Kasonga. I’m looking forward to it as he is the only Congolese coming in the next group, as the entire group of elders is almost all American. He will be getting here on Tuesday so it will be fun to see him! Its good as well as President puts a ton of stress on training, as he sees it as one of the most important parts in the work, as if we want the mission to change or improve it comes in the training, as we can either make or break the missionary with the habits we help him start. The situation will be really difficult with the secteur opening and being lost, but hopefully it will go well! President said that most of my focus should be on him more than anything in making him the most effective missionary he can be. We talking a lot about the example with an apple, where you can count the seeds that come from an apple. But you can’t count the apples that come from a seed. As we can see directly some of the success we had as a missionary, but we can't really see how far the seeds we planted and the things we prepared will go. It should be a lot of fun as well. There are already 4 missionaries in the apartment there so we will just add on. 
        This past week I tried to make the most of the time I have left here. We have some pretty good Amis, and I see a few of them getting baptized in not too long. We have one in particular we’ve had for a while named Louise, who was progressing well, but was fearful to get baptized as she didn’t want to make the commitment then make mistakes afterwards which would ruin that. So we’ve been talking with her a lot about the commandments, like the law of chastity and the word of wisdom, in hopes it will help build her confidence to be able to keep these commandments after baptism. Its been really cool as in the past she has made many mistakes, and since learning more about these commandments she’s been pretty sorrowful for all she has done. So we shared the story in Alma 24, of the people after having received the missionaries, and choosing to change and repent, and then they were forgiven, and to keep strong they buried their temptations far so they couldn’t really even fall back into them if they wanted. It’s really cool to see how merciful the Lord is to us no matter what we have done in the past. Our other Amis like Ken and Constantine are doing pretty good as well. Ken is still held back a bit by his father, but again I see him being able to be baptized soon as well. This past week when we were visiting him, we ran into the chef de quartier. Its weird how it works here, but he’s sort of the leader over the area, and works a lot with the government, so he was a little arrogant to say the least. We went to talk with him, and were surprised at how well he knew the church, as he has visited Ghana multiple times, and has even seen the temple. He started by bombarding us with the classic questions like why we don’t let everyone enter in the temple, and how we should start doing that otherwise people will start wondering and thinking we do terrible things, and on and on. It was interesting though as I’ve understood by this point that arguing, or trying to prove a point just doesn’t work, as they aren’t there to try to understand, but rather to attack. I really liked the talk last conference by Elder Anderson though where he talked about Joseph Smiths name being known for good and evil, and it’s our job to do have of that, in testifying of him. So that is what we did boldly, then leaving the guy with a Book of Mormon, so we will see how that will turn out! But yeah the work is going well here, and is better than ever. The next week should be exciting with all the changes coming up also, before I leave I will get to order mine and Elder Ringle's flight plans so its crazy to think those will be here before I know it. Along with that I just saw today that Elder Dube from the Seventy will be coming to visit the mission in January, so that will be really cool! I hope all is well there though, I love and miss you all a ton! Thanks for all the love and support!                                              Love and miss you guys a ton!

                                                        Elder Oliverson

Ouidah, with the voodoo priest over the snakes.

Trip from Togo to Benin.