Monday, November 18, 2013

And Their Burdens Were Made Light

"Yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord." 
Mosiah 24: 15

Yes, the burdens of Nyekonakpoe have finally been made lighter than ever, as the yoke of Nyekonakpoe has been completely lifted off of my shoulders now and I will soon be taking the yoke of Office Elder upon me.

To be honest, this transfer came completely out of the blue for me and I did not see it coming. I didn't think I was going to be transfered until after the 12 week training program that we do with new missionaries (which would have finished in January). I also didn't think I was going to be going to Benin anytime soon either... nor did I think that I was going to be put in the Office! Geez, how things have changed.

I don't know too much about what my time at the office will be like... whether it will be long or short (the past two Americans to work there were there for a LONG time) or if it will be more or less harder than my last two sectors have been. I also don't really know what kind of work I will be doing either, so don't ask me until next week!

However, what I do know is what I have endured over the past 5 months out here in Nyekonakpoe. On June 12, I came into Nyekonakpoe, knowing that the sector was in bad shape and knowing that I would be "killing" a companion who had already checked out. Then he left, and another tired companion came in and things weren't much different. Day in and day out, seeing the same not progressing investigators. Day in and day out setting up goals that would almost 90% of the time almost completely fail. Day in and day out returning to the apartment early, only to feel guilty of wasting the precious two years that I had given to the Lord. 

Day in and day out... it was the same sad, sorry results. 

Through all the ratez-vous, the non mangez-vous, the "interested" investigators who really weren't interested at all, the awful heat of that African sun, the long walks back and forth through and to the sector, I can say that I wouldn't have traded it for the world.
I suppose the best way to describe my feelings toward this sector are "no pain, no gain" and "what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger."

One important thing I have realized is that Christ, in Matthew 11:28-30 as well as in the scripture I quoted to start, is that the Lord never promises to just take away our problems. Instead, he strengthens us and enables us to not only endure our burdens but succeed through our burdens. I don't think that I have ever read in the scriptures that God would magically throw away every problem we have or just throw our "yoke" off to the side of the road! No way! That's not the way He works. 

Instead, He takes us up and makes us stronger; builds us up, makes us stronger. I can honestly say that I am in no way the same missionary that I was when I first came into Nyekonakpoe. Before, I was that big timid white guy who would only spurt out a couple of nonsense phrases into a lesson. Before, I thought not baptizing even one person a month was hard. Before, I thought I could get away with just letting my senior companion do all the hard work...

But now, I'm the one taking charge in lessons. I'm the one who has the right scripture to help a troubled soul. Now, I'm the one who makes sure that an ami is cared for at Church and makes sure that members come with us to help teach and create friendships between amis and members. Now it's me calling the shots and who calls the plays! No longer do things just pass by me, but I have finally learned what it is like to play an active and engaging role in missionary work. I have really learned what it means to be a missionary.
The sector that I will be bidding farewell to is still tough. But, both I and it are in better shape than we were when we first met each other. And, the one baptism that I was able to accomplish in Nyekonakpoe will be forever embedded in my memory and cherished forever. And, who knows...I might have done a lot of sowing and planting here, there still could be fruits that come even after my departure!

You know, maybe the Lord could have given me 100 people to baptize in these five months. Maybe the Lord could have helped me turned Nyekonakpoe into the envy of the mission. Maybe the Lord could have helped me become a legend in the mission for doing the impossible in Nyekonakpoe.

But you know what? I have the feeling that the Lord didn't want all of that... instead, I think He wanted me to learn that even when the going gets tough and even when the yoke gets heavy, He's still there, by my side, helping me do my best.

To be honest, I think that's a lesson that I will cherish throughout the rest of my mission, and even, for the rest of my life.

And you know what? I'm okay with that.

Love you all... talk to you in Benin!
Elder Hawkins

Photos of our Hump Day Celebration at Akif's:

 Us with our signs that Soeur Dix made for us in the MTC that were above our desks!

The MTC gang

Obviously had to get REAL ice cream afterwards. Found out that real ice cream is actually too sweet according to Africans! Can something actually be too sweet?!

And, well, for dinner one of our members named Mama Happy prepared us some delicious sauce and patte... which made my comp really happy to eat! So, I got to celebrate both American and African style! I suppose that's kind of the story of my life out here on my mission... learning to balance the African newness with the American oldness that I'm used to!

Photos from dinner with President and Sister Weed last week: (sent by President Weed, so I didn't get the usual pic descriptions! - Fro)

And finally...

Note from the Fro: Love the lesson my boy learned in Nyekonakpoe!  He says he'll miss his new companion the most.  Sad they didn't get that long together.  He's also hoping that he'll be able to go back to Togo to finish out his mission as he's made so many friends there.  But he's excited to go and learn the ins and outs of the mission.  Although, he's most excited about the opportunity to drive a truck in Africa!  Boys. He also reached another milestone this week.  His apartment won for cleanest apartment!!!  First time ever for him!  This is what he said about that: 

"What won it for us though was that I cut our "lawn" with my swiss army knife and I think that's what impressed them. A few days before they came over and said they would give bonus points for any work we would do on our gardens but I was saying that's hard because we don't have the tools! Well, being determined to win, I knew what I had to do. So, I whipped out my swiss army knife saw blade and work gloves and just went at the lawn! I got it in pretty good shape for the hour work I did to it! Well, at least I got it good enough to impress the couple!" 

Oh I got a good giggle over that! If only I had a picture of it, I'd send it to the Swiss Army Knife company!

Last week we got an email mid-week saying he had asked President Weed for special permission to call his sister to say goodbye to her before she embarks on her own mission this week. He wanted it to be a surprise, so we weren't allowed to tell her!  She was shocked and confused, his voice was the last one she expected to hear over the phone. It was an unexpected wonderful hour we got to hear his voice over the speaker phone as he gave his sister advice for the MTC and wished her luck.  And so fun to hear their usual banter back and forth.  How I'll miss that! I'm trying not to think about how I won't hear both of their voices on the same day again until Mother's Day.  Nope, not thinking about that at all.  Love these amazing children God sent to us!  May He continue to watch over, protect, and grant them opportunities to learn and grow. 

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