Saturday, February 28, 2015

Its incredible to think back on all that I have learned these past two years, and all the incredible experiences that I have had, and the people I have gotten to know and love.

Bonjour,                                                                                                                   02/28/2015

Wow, it was so weird reading the emails and seeing you guys saying see you Wednesday. It seriously feels like just yesterday when I was opening up my call, and having no clue where Benin actually was. Its incredible to think back though on all that I have learned these past two years, and all the incredible experiences that I have had, and the people I have gotten to know and love.
I can say that I had a lot of ideas of how the mission would be having had three older brothers that served in third world countries as well, but until you’ve come here or been a missionary its hard to really understand how awesome it is. It’s still really hard to believe the end is already here. The feelings are very bittersweet as you said. I’ve never liked saying goodbyes, but especially ones like these where I know that many of these people I will never see again in this life. I will really miss as well just Benin and Togo in general. Yes there are a lot of things that are pretty rough, but there are a lot of great things as well. Especially just how friendly and outgoing all of the people are, I doubt there are many places in the world where you can just go start talking to about anyone on the road about God, and they will listen to you and want to hear more. It’s been the greatest blessing to have had the chance to serve here no doubt.
This past week has gone by pretty well, and I’ve been doing my best to not really think about it being my last full week. We had a good church on Sunday and its good to see the branch in Gbegamey continue to progress forward. We had two baptisms in the branch this past week so things are starting to pick up again little by little. I gave the lesson from the talk by Elder Jorg Klebingat, which was a talk that I had really liked before. Unfortunately I didn’t have a ton of time to prepare the talk, as President called us Saturday after the cyber asking us to go help out some missionaries that were having some problems as he was gone to Togo. It was still really good though, and a solid talk he gave.
We had a really fun family home evening night on Monday with the branch. It was the little thing that  Desvergez and me started a while back for all the young single adults and other members that don’t really have families to be able to come and have FHE together, it was a good time for sure there.  Its fun showing them games that we would use back home. For example the object lesson where you have a line of people and whisper something to the first and he then passes it on to the last, and by the time it gets to the last person its completely different. They thought it was the coolest thing ever, Ha-ha; I used it as an object lesson as I talked about charity and not gossiping or backbiting, especially among members of the church.
We had a good meeting with President on Monday like usual. Elder Merrill pointed out something interesting in the scriptures that I haven’t noticed to often. But the point about how many prophets went to the mountain to pray, or receive special revelation. Obviously we also refer to the Temple as the mountain of the Lord. I don’t know why I haven’t really noticed that before, but its a clear example of what a great place the Temple is to receive answers to prayers and revelation. That is one of the things I look forward to seeing the most is the Temple again. It’s been too long!
Things are going well in our secteur. This past week we were able to find even more new Amis, which was nice, and good for sure as its difficult here. We were also able to fix a few baptismal dates for the end of March. We have a certain Ami named Carlos that has been an Ami forever. He wants to be baptized but hasn’t been able to come to church on Sundays because of his work. We’ve been working with him for a while on it, but that kept coming up as an excuse. We looked a lot at the story of Nephi with him, and showed him that no commandment the Lord gives is impossible to keep. Hence if he really wants to he can find a way to be at church on Sunday, which would in turn allow him to be able to be baptized. We showed how Nephi had the faith that the Lord would provide a way and accomplished the commandment. So we invited him to do the same in going to his manager and asking for Sunday off. He said he had already done it multiple times but it has never worked. So we showed again how many attempts Nephi and his brothers made before they actually succeeded. Just this past week though his manager finally decided to let him take the Sunday off. He was pretty excited and a little amazed as well at how everything finally worked out, and its help strengthen his testimony in the Book of Mormon, but he should be getting baptized on the last week in March.
This past week I’ve been able to drop by and say goodbye to certain people. Like I said I’ve never really liked saying good-bye because you really don’t know what to say, especially when there is a chance you will never see them again. I got to go up and see Olivier though, which was nice. He was the old Ami I had in Calavi, who was doing awesome but is waiting to get married before he can be baptized, so I will look forward to hearing from him when he makes it into the church.
We also went to a little FHE with Ambroise's family last night. That was pretty awesome as Ambroise reminded me of how it all started. I was surprised how he remembered all the details of that first day me and my trainer stopped by in the rain as he was with his friends, but he remembered point by point. It was awesome to see really how far the family is progressing, and continuing to go forward. They are still not sealed yet, as they are preparing a time when the entire family can go together, with all the kids to get it done. That is another good news that I'll be waiting for in not too long.
All in all this past week has been pretty good. Like I said I’m still trying to just make the most of the time that I do have left, as I know I am going to miss this place a ton. I know that I will really miss being a full time missionary. I remember Garrett saying the same thing, but it is true that I will miss just the simplicity of it, and really having your only worry being to serve the Lord and preach his gospel. It will surely be missed. Like I said though I’m not done yet so I will try to make the most out of what is left! I hope all is going well there. Thank you for all of the love and support, I have really been blessed in seeing what an awesome family and friends I really have. I love and miss you all a ton.
                                                                                                          Elder Oliverson

FHE at Gbegamey

Elder Oliverson with Olivier and his soon to be wife.

Ambroise Family

Ambroise  & Elder Oliverson


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Making the sacrifice for the Lord

Bonjour,                                                                                             02/21/2015        I’ll be a little short today, as we didn’t have that much time. Things have gone pretty well though this past week! Sunday was a good day at church, and like I said you can see the branch continue to improve each week as the leaders are really humble and seeking to improve. I got to teach Elders Quorum the lesson from the manual for this year which was “living joyfully even in tough times”. It was nice with all the participation, as I would say the people here live much harder times than anyone in America, yet many of them still seem to rest kind and in a good mood, so it was actually in a way a good lesson for me on how to always live joyfully. We talked a lot about perspective, but most of it was them talking about why we have trials, and the fact that they are for our good. But we pointed out mostly that like D&C says they are for our good only if we endure them well.     
         It reminded me of my time back in Kegue when nothing was working in the secteur, and things were tough with the companion. I could have easily just endured it, and made it to the next transfer, but I realized that wouldn’t really be enduring it WELL. I can see now though because of the efforts I made back in Kegue it taught me a lot of lessons and made me a much better missionary. It was a good lesson though. And hooray they want me to teach Relief Society this Sunday as well:) this will probably be the last time I will ever teach it again so I’ve got to make the most of it.       
        Monday we had a lot of planning for the zone conference that was on Tuesday, and along with that we had to go pick up the two Africa west area security supervisors from the airport, as they came to ensure the mission was a safe place, and teach us about more security measures we should take. When they arrived one was Ghanaian and the other Nigerian, and they didn’t bring a translator with them, so I got the awesome opportunity to translate again for their hour-long presentation. Ha-ha, luckily though we found another malagash missionary who speaks pretty good English to take the other half, so I avoided translating again for two hours for the conference.        
        It was a pretty bittersweet conference being my last. Every zone conference the missionaries arriving and leaving bear their testimonies. I remember when I got here, and I don’t even remember what I said as I didn’t speak French, and I was super nervous. Then I’ve just always seen the missionaries going home bear their testimonies, so to have it be me and Ringle finally was pretty strange. It’s still hard to believe a bit. Its good to see how the mission is going though, and to see that it has changed a lot these past two years that I have been here. The conference took up a lot of the day though. 
        It’s going well with our secteur also. It’s been a little tough this past week, but we still have some pretty good Amis. We had to postpone the baptism for Louise because of her family but we’ve really been working with her. We see that it is possible for her to get baptized, but there is still a lot of opposition, so it comes down to inviting her to make the sacrifices. We read a lot of stories with her of sacrifices, and the ones that she needs to make. Its tough asking people to make such great of sacrifices, but were trying to help her understand that as she’s making the sacrifice for the Lord, he will never just let us fall.        
        And honestly thinking back on my mission, some of the best and most faithful members I’ve ever met are those who have made the most sacrifices. So we will have to see how things turn out with her. We’re trucking along though still in the secteur. My comp is doing well. The French is still coming along, and a lot of people don’t understand him, but I try to get him to talk as much as possible even if he doesn’t say much, you can feel a real wave of the spirit it seems whenever he adds in and such. We are organizing a little fireside for the branch to help them get more motivated for the temple to be able to prepare for the next temple trip coming up, as this branch has had the lowest outcomes the past few times. We figure its mostly because the people don’t really understand what awaits them there, so they aren’t willing yet to make the sacrifice, but when they understand better they will make more efforts to go. We started a little branch fast in a meeting this past week, as we could see that we need help in a lot of areas.
        I can say that before the mission I never really understood why we fast, or what the real meaning of it is, but its been interesting here to be able to understand it better, and how it shows that our spirit has more power than our body, and that we truly want from the Lord what we are asking for. It’s been interesting to see some immediate changes that are already coming up for us in the branch. For example the past Sunday a random family just showed up to church, and many new contacts have come for us and the other companionship in the branch just this past week. You could say they almost came out of nowhere, but it was pretty obvious that they came from somewhere. Things are going good here though; I hope all is well there.          
        Its good to hear that the family is doing well! I look forward to seeing everyone soon. Thanks for all the love and support, I love and miss you all a ton!                                                                                                                                                                          Elder Oliverson

Elder Amoah & Me.
Elder Florion & Me.

Kasonga & Me.

Elder Jenkins & Me.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Our duty is to teach and invite them to accept the Gospel

Bonjour!                                                                                                         02/14/2015

        This past week has been pretty good for us. Things are doing well in the branch and are improving a ton with the new leaders that we have in. They’re all very humble and we work with them really well also. This past Sunday was missionary Sunday. And I was lucky enough to get to give a talk, teach Sunday school, and then teach Relief Society. Ha-ha, I wish I could keep teaching Relief Society after the mission, but I doubt that will be a possibility. It was really good though. I talked about modern prophets, as its a note that people don’t discuss much here, as they know Joseph Smith is a prophet, and that the church is true, and that we do have a prophet on the earth today, but as we barely get General Conference or the Liahona here, its hard for them to hear much of the words of modern prophets. Honestly its one of the greatest blessings we have.
        I shared the story about Brigham Young and the saints coming into the Salt Lake Valley, and they were confused as to why he told them to stay there. The earth was desert, and they had already suffered a lot, gold was just discovered in California, and the experts of the day like Jim Bridger told them that he would pay them for the first crop they could plant there as he knew it was almost impossible. It is similar today as the prophet often teaches us stuff, when the "experts" in the world speak differently, and often the world seems so much better and greater, like California did to the pioneers, yet those who stayed with the prophet in Utah ended up prospering greatly because of listening to him above all else.
        In Relief Society we talked about agency. It was good as it was from the manual from Ezra Taft Benson. It reminded me too of a story that he told a while back about obedience, and how obedience is what makes us free and brings us blessings, even though the rest of the world makes us think differently. He talked about one day when he was with his father as he was flying a kite in his backyard. He asked his father what kept the kite up there, his dad told him it was the string. He was so confused and said that it couldn’t be the string, it’s the air that keeps it afloat, and all the string does is hold the kite down from going to far off. His father looked at him and let go of the string, and sure enough the kite fell to the ground. It was a good comparison he showed about how we often see obedience as something holding us back, and down, when really its what opens doors and makes us free.
        Along with that we’ve started up having branch council, and cep meeting each week in the branch, which has really started to get things going much better now. Our branch President is doing awesome and is still incredibly humble. As I said before it’s the Ghanaian that Desvergez and me worked with for a while. He shared a story about when he was called to be the branch president a few weeks ago, he was stunned, and actually refused saying he could not do the task, as he was and English speaker and barely speaks French, how could he lead the branch. The leader he was with simply told him it was the Lord that called him and nothing was impossible with the Lord. Its been interesting to see as we have all noticed that in just these past couple weeks his French has improved drastically, and he has been able to accomplish all of his tasks and duties in the church without any problems. It’s been awesome to see that.
        This past week we have been able to find a few Amis. Mostly contacts from a few members and a contact from President, so we’ve been doing our best to be able to work with them a bit.
Our ami Louise is still doing really well and is getting everything ready for her baptism next Saturday so were really looking forward to that. She has a lot of opposition from the family, but you can see that she has a real testimony as she’s not letting that hold her back but is still going forward with the baptism.
       We have another ami that is still blocked from baptism because of marriage. It’s a very complicated situation, but seeing that our duty is to teach and invite them to accept the Gospel, that’s what we’ve been trying to do. This past week we taught them quite a bit about personal revelation and the importance of counseling with the Lord about all of our questions and the guidance he can give us. When we did our follow ups with them, she told me all the responses she had gotten, it was interesting to see that she wasn’t super surprised, as it just seemed so normal that she speaks with the Lord and he will respond, it was a very good example of faith to me.
       We have a lot of other Amis that are progressing fine, but have random hold backs that either keep them from coming to church or being baptized. Its not always easy to ask them to make certain sacrifices, but I remember Elder Dickson telling us that if we don’t ask them to make sacrifices we are holding back many blessings that they could have from them. President has had us pretty busy as well this past week, as we will have zone conferences this next week, so we’ve been with him a lot getting that all ready.
        This past week as well we had a bit of a sketchy experience when we were driving back along the beach road. It had just rained so the sand was pretty wet, but as I was going off the road a bit, the car started to slow down as it was getting stuck in the sand. Not much of a big deal as that always happens, so I always take a stop, and do the cool flip into 4-wheel drive. As I did though and went on the gas the problem came up that we were not moving forward anymore but down rather. I was stunned, as the good ol' Hilux 4 wheel drive has never let me down. We came to realize that we were buried a solid foot in the ground now. Ha-ha, the problem is the beach is always a bit of a dangerous and sketchy place as there is hardly anyone over there and its the place people usually get robbed. I thought about calling Elder Bulunga, but realized it would take them about 40 minutes to get here, and along with that if they came to pull us out they would most likely get stuck as well. There was no way either that we were getting out ourselves. After a few minutes random guys from everywhere started wandering over to us, which is kind of sketchy, as you don’t know if they’re going to rob you or what’s going on. When they got to us we realized they were actually there to help us. I was still not convinced though as without another truck it seemed impossible to get out, but they dug out the tires with their hands, and we had about 8 people pushing on it, and slowly got it out of the deep sand. It was no doubt a great blessing and a tender mercy that we had there.
        All in all things are going really well here! My comp is doing pretty well also, he’s still getting used to eating pate and such, but it’s going well! I hope all is great there. I love and miss you all a ton!
                                  Happy Valentines Day!!
                                                                                Elder Oliverson

Ghanvie again!