Monday, October 28, 2013

The Heavens Help Those Who Help Themselves

Better pic of me and my new comp. Yeah... he's a little bit shorter than I am! But 5 years older than me! About the tie: Elder Kapuku baptized someone who makes beaded ties by hand. A call, 6000 francs, and a few weeks later... I get two cool beaded ties. One of Benin and one of Togo.This one is Togo, of course!
(Love the photo bombers in the back! Is that Elder Jenkins? -Fro)

Another week gone by in a place otherwise known as “Come and See”… well, I’m really not sure what there is to see in my sector but, as always, I’m trying to make the most of it. 

My first full week with my new companion has been a successful one in my books. As always, we were a little lacking on the lessons front, but I’ve come to learn that it’s not always the number of lessons that make a missionary successful or not… rather, it’s the amount of people that the missionary knows and talks to that’s important! 

That is why this week, my companion and I have been trying to make a huge effort in trying to find new people to teach. We have about 3-5 amis that we’re keeping from the time I was with my old companion and know we’re just trying to find new people to teach. Unfortunately, that means doing OVB… a missionary’s least favorite thing to do, especially when that means doing “porte-à-porte” meaning going door-to-door. Last week, when my companion wanted to do it, the very first home we walked into was surrounded by tons of weird dried fish and like 10 old ladies who I knew (right off the bat) did not speak any French! My comp tried to speak to them but he soon realized that here in Togo, a LOT of people do not speak French, much more than in Benin that is! To make a not too long story shorter, it was a complete failure and my new comp soon realized that door-to-door really does well...stink! 

However, last Sunday I decided that we would set a goal to meet a new person every day. I kinda just said it in passing, but well… I think the Lord took me seriously and I’m glad He did. Whether it was through our own efforts (in talking to people on the streets) or God just placing people in our path, we managed to find a new person almost every day since! I didn’t count Saturday and Sunday (I’ll explain that later) but I thought that was pretty cool! I’m not really sure if they will progress or not, but both my companion and I were very excited to see this mini miracle happen. Just goes to show, if you put in your effort, the heavens really do help those who help themselves! 

Kegue Building Dedication

Lots of people, lots of food!

About Saturday and Sunday, the new and most exciting out here in Togo for the Church is the fact that we were able to finally dedicate the new Church building up in Kegue! How about them apples?! It only took six months to dedicate it, but at least it’s finally done. On Saturday, they organized a huge activity where people came to learn more about the Church and who we are exactly. I can’t really say that it turned out to be a success (there were a lot of people) but it was just pretty awfully organized. For some reason, we watched a lot of Church videos from Youtube that were in English… meaning, because of the poor video quality and because of the fact that it was in English, nobody understood what was going on! Well, the Americans did, but I don’t think they threw the activity for us. 

However, not all was lost as there was a ton of food! And, as with Church activities back in the States, it’s the FOOD that really counts! I didn’t get to eat that much because my group didn’t prepare anything (that’s a very long story in and of itself) but I did get to drink a lot of beesap and citron (two local juices out here). 

Cowboy Stadium of Lome. For some reason, it's all bench seating! We got a chance to go explore it a little bit after the activity on Saturday. I've seen the inside only on TV so it was fun to go in it and actually see it. I would be scared to death to watch a sporting event there as nothing is up to American building codes, so the massive crowds would most definitely kill you if you're not careful!

On Sunday, we went to the dedication of the building. We had one of the local Area 70 come do the dedication (he’s from Cote d’Ivoire and happens to be from Elder Digbe’s ward!). He was the one who offered the dedicatory prayer and it was really great. Very spiritual and I think it was much needed after the disastrous activity from the day before.  Unfortunately, I had to miss most of the talks that were given by the district president, the Mission President and his wife, and some other speakers. Why? Well, I had to try and direct the Nigerian Brother John to the Kegue building.  I missed a bit of it but it was worth it because at least Brother John finally found the building and he got to listen to the dedicatory prayer be translated by one of the Nigerian elders (Elder Imokuede, from those of you who remember my days at Tokoin!). 

Anyway, it was a fun weekend! We didn’t get to do much in terms of actual missionary work, but it was a nice break from the routine that I’m so used to doing on a week-to-week basis! It’s been a while since the mission has thrown together a nice mission activity for us (last time was in March) so I think it was well worth it. 

Another funny little thing that happened this week....President Weed made a surprise visit! He had just finished a week in Accra (Africa West Presidents meeting for mission presidents, stake presidents, etc.). He had decided to drive there because of some scheduling problems and on his way back, he decided to give us a surprise visit since we're not even a half mile away from the Ghana/Togo border! The funny thing is that we had just cleaned the apartment that morning (we weren't able to clean it last Monday because of an activity)... turns out that was pure inspiration! I had even paused in my cleaning that morning and wondered what would happen if the mission did surprise inspections, but shrugged it off thinking, nah, they wouldn't do that, but kept cleaning anyway. Thankfully, when there was a knock on the door and it turned out to be President Weed, the appartement was nice and proper! *phew* I really like President Weed, he is a really cool person. I'll be sad to see him go before the end of my mission!

Maybe you should save this for may actual year mark but the dedication was probably the last time before our year mark that Elder Kunz, Elder Seidl, and I would be together! (Ok, I couldn't save it until the year mark - 17 days from today -  I was too excited to see those three faces together.  Yay for MTC comps! - Fro)

Well, not too much more to report on this week. I’m doing great! Training is still a bit tough and there’s a long way to go in terms of my comps training, but ca va aller, as we say! We’re finding people to teach which is a great first step… though we did take a step back in that none of our amis came to Church this past Sunday… ugh… but I’m sure everything will turn out alright. 

Just keep praying that the Lord will put the right people who are ready to hear the Gospel in my path! I think that will be key. Also, pray that we will be able to feel promptings from the Holy Ghost so that we can know who these people are! 

Thanks for the support and the love that you guys are all sending my way! I know the weather is getting cold in the states, but I guess that means you’re also sending more heat my way… that I could do without! Take it easy everyone! 

Elder Hawkins

Note from the Fro: And the OTHER good news is....the mission office found his package which had arrived in Benin on Oct.1st but could not be found!  Hopefully he gets it this week. Praying that the work continues to move forward in his sector and that he continues to keep his spirits up and not get too discouraged.  He always "sounds" happy when I'm able to email chat with him on Monday's.  I'm so grateful for that! (both the positive attitude AND the ability to email chat, that is...!) 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Elder Legbanon and I... the FIGHTIN' NYEKONAKPOEANS (pic taken at the cyber just for Fro)

And the roller coaster continues! 

Wow, what a crazy week this one has been... but the big news first, I am finally un "père"!

Yup, mon fils has finally made it out to the mission field and his name is Elder Legbanon, the very first Beninois missionary to serve in the Benin Cotonou mission. He is one awesome dude! Here's a little information about him...

First, Elder Legbanon was only baptized into the Church about two years ago, ironically by one of the only Togolais missionaries to serve in the Benin Cotonou mission! Back in Benin he worked as an ironsmith (building doors, window frames, furniture, etc... apparently he wants all the furniture in his house to be made of iron... errrrr... okay). He used to live in the middle of Benin but moved down to Cotonou due to family problems from back home. Because of that he dropped out of school from an early age but took up an apprenticeship as an ironsmith which he has been doing for a number of years (he's about 26 years old now!).

In terms of the Church, he grew up as part of a church called the "Christanisme Celeste" which is a church that I think might only exist in Africa. But he found the Church because one day, they pushed back his Church service, which he thought was really weird. I think he had problems with them before but he was tired of them at that point. So, knowing that he wanted to go to Church and respect the Sabbath day, he prayed to God that he would find the right Church to go to... and well, just like that he saw our Church with the sign on the outside. He went in and asked the missionaries if this was really a Church... and well, the rest is history, He was baptized just a few months later and has been in love with the Church ever since!

He is a really great guy though... someone who is always trying to please his neighbor and be friends with just about everybody he meets. I really don't believe there is a bad bone in him. Also, happily for us, he is a cook! And a good one at that! So now, he makes us breakfast, lunch, and dinner and it's not even bad either. However, he hasn't made pate yet and he was really sad to find out that Elder Digbe and I REFUSED flat out that he make pate for us. We told him that if he wanted it, that he could make it for himself and Elder Digbe's companion (he's Congolais so he likes pate too) but as for us, we would just eat something else... I think that about crushed his little heart! He is convinced that he can try to convert us to liking pate! No. thank. you.

It's a bit weird though... now I'm finally on the other side of the companionship as a trainer and a senior companion. Every single thing that we do together is a flash back to my first few days on my mission. It is absolutely surreal sometimes! Everything that we do together just makes me feel like I was doing this only yesterday with Elder Kiputa when I first got here: falling asleep during companionship study, lessons, and personal study, never talking during lessons because I was still in shell shock mode, ahhh... good times really! 

It's interesting though as now I'm the one who controls the lessons, decides what we do, and knows how to do everything. It's definitely an interesting dynamic that I had never known as a junior companion. However, my biggest fear is tiring out like some of my former companions did. So, my goal is to make sure that I try and stop... remember what it was like being a junior companion! Being just a little guy is tough!

However, one of the hard things about being a trainer is trying to show my comp an example! He is like a little puppy in that he follows EVERYTHING that I do, like how I write in my planner for example. So, now I have been forcing myself to get up on time, to work out in the mornings, to do all my studies on time, to go to bed on time, etc. I don't know if he recognizes everything I do as the rules yet (he's in a little shell shock period of his own too!) but it's the example that counts. That's one thing that really stuck out to me when Elder Kiputa trained me... was that he always tried to show me a good example and that has always stuck with me... so, like a good father, I'm trying to do the same thing for him!

Other than the new companion thing, things out here have been same old, same old! Nothing new to report on. Although, another interesting thing now is that I'm the only American and English speaker in the apartment, which I have never gone through on my mission. Needless to say, now it's French 24/7 nonstop. It's good for the French skill, but wow... is it tiring! However, it's cool to be able to communicate with all of them and get to know them all a little bit better. Elder Edwards, my zone leader and someone who just got out of living in an all African apartment for 4 months or so, told me that the best way to get through it is to just talk to everyone and get to know them like you would an American! I mean, it makes perfect sense really but I guess sometimes the constant French makes it tiring. However, I have felt like I have really gotten to know these guys well in talking and chatting with them.

Anyway, the time is getting short so I best be going now. Keep praying that my companion and I will meet more people to teach this week. I know that he has the energy to do it, but sometimes I doubt that I do! However, I know that I can do it. Only I have the power within me to do it, don't I?
Have a great week everyone! Be great!

Elder Hawkins

My dream come true! SO, background information. People always say here that they know how to speak english "small small"... freaking nigerian english... I always joked around with Elder Shearer that if I ever made an English class, I would make signs that said "Learn English BIG BIG"... well, I recently had some inspiration to give members handouts to give to their classmates so that they will come to my english class... and well... I just had to take advantage of the opportunity.

Note from the Fro: WOOHOO! He has a great companion!  He's thriving and happy and worried that he's going to gain weight with a chef as a comp, haha. Also, you may have missed it, but remember the Starlight Express song I posted a couple months ago?  The one we'd always sing to him when he doubted himself?  Yeah, I LOVED that he slipped in a reference to it right there at the end..."Only I have the power within me.." Yes, Elder Hawkins, you do.  We hope you use it Big, Big too!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Whatever, Wherever, Whenever

Our second to last days as companions! Elder Kapuku and I. Picture taken at the very north limit of my sector, lagoon in the background. It's gross and not blue/magical as one might think.

Hello tout le monde!

Wow... to tell you the truth... usually in these letters I think nothing happened in the previous week but this week was one heck of a roller coaster week. Not sure if it was quite the Millenium Force, but definitely like El Toro at Great Adventure in NJ... fun, fast, but definitely not smooth and a little bit tight. Let me explain!
First, this week started off with Elder Haggard leaving on Tuesday, which left Elder Digbe, Elder Kapuku and I in an awkward tri-comp... of course, Elder Kapuku had already long ago checked out so it was really hard to get him to work... thankfully, I had Elder Digbe to help me out. So, Tuesday and Wednesday were kind of a mess as we were waiting for him to leave.

Akifs + Birthday = AWESOME!

However, the climax of the week of course fell on my BIRTHDAY! Ah, what a glorious morning! Though, it wasn't all about my comp leaving (trust me, I did like him!) but I also got some cool visits from people in doing transfers (meaning the APs and all the other people being transferred to Benin). Then, the office gave me a call to see whether or not I got my big b-day package (malheureusement, I didn't), but in calling me all of the office Elders and the missionary couples in Benin sang me Happy Birthday, which was very nice! Elder Haggard also sent me a nice text and the ZLs gave me a call too.
To top everything off, I of course had to pay a visit over to Akif's and got some good charwamas... ahh... soo good. I didn't get much in terms of gifts or anything, but I really wasn't expecting anything to be honest. Just the fact that people called me and wished me a happy birthday was good enough for me! At the end of the night, I celebrated with my what once was Tastykake (thanks Sister Lowe!)! I tried putting matches in it and blowing it out... however, 20 matches later and no success. We ended up just ripping a piece of paper out of my planner, making a makeshift candle, and I (errrr... well the wind really) blew it out.

My awesome birthday cake and cool birthday hat (thanks to Teagan Lowe! Letter is on its way btw). My face is cherry red because we had to close all the windows so that the matches wouldn't blow out. Turns out that the apartment gets hot with now wind and apparently newspaper hats conduct heat! Learn something new every day! 

Probably not the most exciting birthday ever, but will be one of only two I will ever celebrate here in West Africa, so I think that's special in and of itself. Jared asked me if I got to celebrate any cool African birthday traditions .. unfortunately, no... and I think that's mostly because people don't really know when their birthday is and most people never tell you how old they are right away anyway... so I think birthdays aren't that big of a deal around here!

The candle that I could have used as my b-day candle, but was bigger than the tastykake itself and extremely dirty as it has been sitting in my window! 

However, the real birthday present came this past Saturday... when I finally reaped the fruit (well, a fruit) of my labor and I baptized one of my amis, named Balbina!

As many of you know, this has been a long time coming, as it has been over 5 months since the last time one of my amis came to the waters of baptisms. To tell you a little about Balbina, she's an ami we've had for a little over two months now and is the sister of a member in the group named Olivier. Now, when I first got to Nyekonakpoe, Olivier was inactive but thankfully we've been able to meet with him and work with him and he is active and has been active in the group now.

Olivier, Balbina, and the whitest yovo you will ever see.

For a while, I was getting discouraged out here because we've had about 4-5 amis who we've fixed baptismal dates with, but for one reason or another, they just would always fall through. Whether it be they weren't ready or they were traveling (as in the case of Balbina's about a month ago), I was getting super, super discouraged. Though things in my sector had been getting better, I felt like I was hitting yet another barrier and another problem in this sector.

However, the Lord has heard my prayers and I don't really think I can aptly describe how happy I was the day of her baptism. To be honest, I didn't even notice how happy I was until other people around me started to tell me that I was! I was the one who performed the baptism for her... and, it took two tries, but we finally got it done.

Balbina and I... for some reason there was a crowd waiting in line to take pictures so Balbina (who is rather timid!) clasped onto me... it was kinda cute and funny at the same time!

This baptism has taught me a few things now... first of all, the Lord really does work in mysterious ways because, even though it was really hard not to baptize anyone over 5 months, it made this baptism all the more sweeter and all the more special for me.
Second of all, it taught me to understand the scripture in Doctrine and Covenants, that says:

"And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!" (18:15).

Let me tell you, I have been spending a lot of days "crying repentance unto" the people of Nyekonakpoe. A lot of days under the hot Togo sun. A lot of days walking and wondering when things would get better. A lot of days thinking of why nothing was happening. The list goes on and on, so I'll stop myself there, but I think you all get the point that these past four months here in this sector have been a tough four months to say the least.

Yet, after Saturday, I can honestly say that every last yovo yovo song, every last "il est sorti", every last "je suis occupé"... every single last disappointment, discouragement, and sorrow that I felt over these past four months is gone. I wish everyone who reads this email could have been at that baptismal service and could have seen that smile on my face... but even more so, I wish that people could have felt the incomparable joy in my heart. For the joy in my heart really was great and oh so sweet.

As for when next time will be, I'm not really sure to be honest, but for now, I can't ask for much more. This past week was a blast for multiple reasons. It has given me the courage and the strength to continue to march on and move forward. Of course, the road ahead will be neither easy nor simple, but it is always and will forever be doable and never impossible. Like I was saying last week, the coming months will be hard in training a new missionary, but I feel as though the Lord as given me a big boost and a new dose of life! I'm ready for whatever comes, wherever it comes from, whenever it comes!

Onward, ever onward, as we glory in his name!
Forward, pressing forward, as a triumph song we sing!
God our strength will be; press forward ever,
Called to serve our King!

Thanks for all the prayers everybody! May the Lord bless each and everyone of you, wherever you may be. May he bless you through whatever trial you may be going through as well! I know He has certainly blessed me through mine!


Elder Hawkins

Note from the Fro: Not a thing Fro can add to that awesome testimony.  Except that he's asked that we pray for him this week to have the strength and motivation to continue to work hard in this sector with his new companion.  And to thank everyone for helping to make his first Birthday in Africa so special.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Happy African Birthday to Me!

Just thought i would send some pix of our apartment. Now these aren't of our part of the building (on the lower level) but they're cool to see nonetheless.
I don't get to see as much cool wood carvings as I would like! Pretty cool though huh? I think they work perfectly for a missionary apartment... 
How do you like our German Psalm Well?

Here we are... back at the good ol' Cyber. Thankfully the sun has gone down so the glare is off of my computer and it's a bit cooler, thus making me able to see my screen now that the glare and sweat are gone! Counting those blessings.

Today was a fun day! There was an activity planned for the missionaries out here in Togo, but that all fell through so Elder Haggard forced me to go and do stuff with him. So, we decided to go to the French bakery that's about 15 minutes away and get some delicious French pastries... now you should know that my luck with this place has not been good. Last week when we went, we both got Pain au Chocolat. Mine only had 3 little chocolate chips in it but Elder Haggard's was FILLED with chocolate. Needless to say, I was not pleased.
But, we went back. I was tired of getting the pain au chocolat like I usually do so I decided to try something new. The thing I got looked good on the outside so then I started eating it expecting something wonderfully sweet, but there was a hot dog in the middle! What the fro?! Once again, foiled by the bakery... at least I only spent 80 cents on it!
After that, Elder Haggard and I decided to go on an adventure and visit Elder Kunz out in Baguida, the newest sector out here in Lome. Elder Haggard and I figured it wouldn't be too bad of a ride because it's just a straight shot from the main road outside of our apartment... were we wrong...
That brings me to one of the things that tires me the most out here on the mission: negotiating with taxis. Since there are no such things as mile counters or anything, everything is negotiable. Taxis out here always at least double the price of everything when they see my whiteness and it's always a chore just to debate the price down to something reasonable. Of course, what you all will find the most ridiculous is that we're usually negotiating just a few dollars or cents! Still, when you're only living on $140 a month, you gotta be thrifty! 
Anyway, we kept trying to negotiate with the taxis to take us out to Baguida for about 3 dollars... we weren't exactly sure how far it was, so we thought that would be a reasonable price because you can get pretty far here in Lome for 3 bucks. The trick is that (because it's on a straight road) you can't rent out the whole taxi. That means that the taxi driver can pick up other people on the road and you give them permission to squish you into the car like sardines in a can.
So, we did find a taxi that eventually took us to Asigame (the Grand Marche) for a dollar (that was a rip off though since it's probably only 2 miles away). Then he made us get out of his taxi and get into another taxi that was taking people to Baguida. That guy only needed about 70 cents a person to get out there so we were more than happy to take that price. So, squished in with 6 people in a 5 person car, we were off to Baguida!
Which turned out to be like halfway to Benin! My goodness it took us forever to get there! It wasn't really halfway to Benin but we passed a ton of stuff. In talking to Elder Kunz when we got there, apparently, Baguida is technically not part of Lome and told us that if Lome becomes of stake, it would be out of the Stake limits! So yeah, it was pretty far. In total, it took us 45 minutes from the time we left the apartement all the way to their apartment. However, the time was well spent and Elder Kunz and I got to talk for a good long while which is always great (we're MTC Brother's after all!). 

Posted this pic before, but Elder Kunz is the one in the middle!

On the return trip, Elder Haggard and I stopped by le Festival des Glaces to celebrate my birthday! Got some pretty great ice cream and burgers... it was a bit on the pricey side ($10 for everything) but it was worth it and I figured I could splurge a little bit on my birthday! It was definitely a great birthday treat... and I also made sure Sur (Dad) knew that "Le Festival des Glaces" has a location in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, his dream country. 

Anyway, that's the gist of my p-day today. It was pretty fun if I do say so myself... exploring as always been one of my favorite pastimes, even in tiny third world countries! 

I'm sure as most of you might know, my comp is leaving this week and I will officially become a senior companion and a trainer... aka a mission father! I'm very excited but really scared too! I don't want to mess him up and I hope that he's willing to work hard, which is the key to a successful mission. I can't say that I've always worked hard out here on this mission, which I probably give too much blame to my near "dead" companions for, but I'm ready to do things right with him. 

The scary thing is that I'm not really sure exactly how that's all going to work out because I'm really short on ideas, but everyone seems to be sending me the quote from this past conference on how we need to "doubt our doubts before we doubt our faith." There are a lot of doubts that go through my mind about training in this sector, because it's still tough. Maybe not as tough when I first got here, but tough nevertheless. Sometimes I doubt that we'll find new people, that we'll get people to come to church, or that I'll even have the strength to do this work, since it will be me doing a lot of the work now.
However, I'm not discouraged and I believe good things will happen if I work hard... which also scares me to death because when I imagine working hard, I imagine doing door-to-door knocking, my least favorite missionary activity! But, I know that the Lord will give me the strength to do it, if I just ask for it. And who knows, maybe my companion will end up loving it and will help me love it too! Really, the future is full of possibilities, both good and bad. Sadly, we only tend to focus on the negative outcomes that might happen rather than the positive ones... I mean, today was a perfect example of that! I was a bit scared we were going to get stuck in the boonies trying to get out to Baguida today... I was scared our driver was going to take us to some village by accident and then we would have to hike our way back to Kodjoviakope! Instead, I just trust my instincts and the fact that the Lord would watch over us, and look what happened! I had a great day... so that's the outlook I'm taking with this new chapter of my mission... just got to start doubting the doubts and not doubting my faith.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf's recent conference talk about doubting your doubts, not your faith!

Like Sur says, life isn't fair, but with a little luck and faith, we can always turn the odds in our favor... but, it all depends on you!
Thanks for the Birthday wishes and the love everybody!

Elder Hawkins

Note from the FroSo glad he got to go see his good friend Elder Kunz, no matter what the obstacles.  He was in really good spirits today for sure.  He was able to download some of this weekend's conference talks and put them on his mp3 player.  Plus we sent him some music especially for his Birthday that he was able to download as well.  Not sure if you've noticed, but sometimes he makes little spelling mistakes and spells words in French like "apartement", which I just have to leave, because it's fun to see the French slipping through!  

Also, a special shout out to the LOWE family, he received your package and was thrilled! The TASTYKAKES made his day! Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

He was also excited from this little conversation he had with the new couple in Togo: I was talking to the new couple the other day and they told me that in November, the Young Men's president and the Sunday School president would be visiting us... of course, a couple of seconds after he said that i was like WAIT A SECOND, THAT'S UNCLE RUSSELL!!! 

How cool would it be if someone from the FAMILY actually visited his mission??? My mom is checking on that right away.

Meanwhile, I'm leaving you all with one of the songs we sent him for his Birthday.  It's dedicated to him from our dog Pixie.  She likes to sit on the top of the couch (not unlike a cat) and look longingly out the window.  Elder Hawkins always imagined she was singing this song in her head (and he would sing it in the voice he has for her!).  Now we know she's definitely singing it to him! ;)