Sunday, January 26, 2014

Lengthen Your Stride

Either it's snowing outside or there's a huge snow flake in my window. Probably the latter. (thanks Teagan!)

I think it's fitting to say that this week definitely went a lot quicker than my first week went in Africa a little over a year ago. 

Fittingly enough, I had my interview with President Weed this past week which was great as usual. I would imagine that it was much different from the interview I had in his office a year ago as a brand new missionary. Hair a bit shorter, shirt a bit more yellow, and shoes with a lot less rubber, the interview went very well and if I had to pick a theme for it, it would be "lengthen your stride and try a little harder." 

It's still a bit weird to think of the progress that I have made over the past year. My biggest problem a year ago was obviously the language, but it was also my lack of missionary knowledge and African know-how (i.e. how to cook with only a stove and rice cooker, how to wash clothes by hand, how to deal with the heat, how to eat patte w/o gagging, etc.)  Now, I have more or less gotten used to many of these aspects (even eating patte w/o gagging). 

I think that the biggest problem now is that I need to keep myself from getting into a routine where I start getting into bad habits. Having more or less a grasp on how things should go as a missionary, these are what as known as the "Golden Months" of my mission... you might even call me a fine, well-oiled missionary machine. 

In reflecting on the things that I could do to get the most out of my "Golden Months" on my mission, I've made a list of different aspects in my life that I would like to improve on during these Golden Months: 

  1. Physical fitness: Become a "parcours" master: I feel like you just can't learn French without become a parcours master... I mean, it's a French word after all! (oddly enough, the French call it "jumping"). My goal in becoming a parcours master is to help me get into better shape and become more agile, two traits especially key for missionary work. For those of you who don't know, parcours is where you have to try and find the most creative route from point A to point B, which usually includes a lot of jumping, back/front flips, jumping off of/on to roofs, etc. If you need some examples, just watch the first scene from Casino Royale and you'll catch my drift. It's pretty exciting stuff and I'm not sure if I will be able to do it, but how cool would it be to land into your amis house with a Book of Mormon in hand and then shout in a cool Superman voice amongst the rubble " Halt! I AM HERE TO PREACH THE GOSPEL!" Forget door-to-door, I'm going roof-to-roof!

    I'm not really sure how I will start my parcours training, but Elder Lala being French might be helpful. I'll keep you posted.
  2. Territory awareness: Real Life "Crazy Taxi": As some of you might now, Crazy Taxi was an amazing game from the 90s on Sega Dreamcast where the main objective was to pick up and drop off as many people in a city within the smallest amount of time as possible. My goal with this is to help increase my knowledge of the Cotonou city limits and make a little extra spending money to buy souvenirs. Anyway, I feel like I have an excellent opportunity here, as I have the mission bus at my disposal. The roads are in pretty rough shape here, but I think that will be good off-roading experience and good practice for four-wheeling.

    The only problem is that I don't think taxis here make that much money. Well, actually they do make a lot of money here because there are so few, but at the same time, I will be competing with a lot of moto taxis. However, I think if I did my Crazy Taxi time, I would probably be able to make enough money to buy all the souvenirs I want! I still don't know how I would fit the $40 5ft wooden giraffe in my suitcase, but that's a minor detail.
  3. Scriptural knowledge: Osmosis: This is a little known study trick but highly powerful: learning by sleeping with books under pillows. I'm not sure where this learning trick was invented from, but I believe it came from 1980 Chicago-area high schools (I think it was even a John Hughes movie). Anyway, the basic concept is that when you put books under your pillow at night, your mind will absorb the information contained within the books.

    I only used this method rarely when I was in high school and college with mixed results, but I feel like I'm wasting tons of time at night. I mean, why just sleep when I can learn and sleep with little next to no extra effort? I'm currently in the middle of reading the Book of Mormon again, but I think I can even speed up this process by the power of osmosis. Why learn it when you can absorb it! I feel like I will cross off a lot of my reading list by the time I finish my mission!
  4. Cooking ability: Benin/Togo Cookbook: My newest project, in order to increase my ability to cook, will be to create the very first cookbook to come out of Benin and Togo. Back home, everyone is used to that Chinese place around the block, the Mexican restaurant down the road, and that amazing new Ethiopian joint across town. However, have you ever heard of that cool, new, hip Beninois food bus? Nope didn't think so.

    I think the main reason is because none of the recipes here are really written down. Many times, I ask for recipes but people don't really know recipes, they really just know how their mother made it! Who knows how long you're actually supposed to let the corn flour/water mix boil before you add the rest before you make a wonderful patte! Who knows how much pima is enough pima to make your eyes burn out! Who knows how to really make delicious fried banana plantains the way everybody's Ivoriane aunt really makes it!

    But now, I think I can make my mission even more successful by creating the world's first Beninois/Togolais cookbook! It will be full of different kinds of pattes, sauces, spaghetti, and tomato paste recipes. Really the possibilities are endless and I'm not sure why I didn't think of this sooner. As I collect these recipes, I will also try to make the recipes myself which will in turn make me a better cook when I get home! And who knows... maybe I will open up that cool, new, hip, Beninois food bus when I get back home! The opportunities are endless!
  5. Money management: Take negotiating classes: One problem that I have had so far on this mission has been managing my money and budgeting. Sometimes I feel like I don't get enough soutien a month, but other times I think I just end up buying way too many charwamas in a month (probably the latter). Anyway, the point is that I need to shape up and get my act together.

    Being that the market here is all based on haggling, I feel like I can cut costs the most by haggling more on my purchases. Imagine: save 50 francs on my spaghetti here and 100 francs on my daily yogurt purchases really adds up! We're talking BIG savings here! My only problem is that I am still white, meaning I already have a big draw back.

    However, in taking negotiating/haggling classes, I think that minor set back will be nothing. If I can learn the art of negotiating taxis from 2000 francs to 1900 francs, the savings are endless and I might even be able to buy myself and extra charwama at the end of the month! The biggest thing holding me back from signing up from negotiating classes is that I don't know where to sign up, nor do I know if they exist here. I know Grandpa Koncurat could teach me if he were here.  Or maybe Dad could send the guys over from Barter Kings? 
Hopefully most of you caught on from the very beginning that most of those were all jokes (most...). I don't really think the mission president would appreciate me taking the van out and being a taxi for hire! Nor would I think he would appreciate the call when I tell him a have a broken leg after falling into somebody's parcel because their tin roof couldn't support me! 

Still, in all seriousness, the areas that I mentioned above are still things that I would like to improve on in my mission life right now. Physical fitness, territory awareness, scriptural knowledge, cooking ability, and money management. As to how I'm going to do all of that? I'm not too sure. I think I have spent more time thinking about the funny ways to improve myself rather than the actual real ways to do so! 

Nevertheless, however I end up trying to improve myself and my mission, the key message here is that there's always something MORE that we can do to lengthen our stride and be a little bit better! Of course, perfection will not come in this life, but as we try to getter better and stronger, the gap between us and perfection will be so much the smaller! And of course, a little prayer never hurt anybody in trying to improve! Remember, we were given weaknesses so that we would humble ourselves before the Lord and then He will help us to become stronger (Ether 12:27). So here's my question to you all, what will YOU do to lengthen YOUR stride this year?  If any of you become a parcours master, I want to be the first to know!

Thanks again to everybody for the love and support... keep sending those emails and those letters, because they are great! I will do my best to always keep everyone back home in my prayers... may the Lord bless you all in your endeavors!


Elder Hawkins


Elder Ouonnebo and Lala prepping the pizzas! (the one I prepped was already in the oven at that point) we had a LEGIT pizza party to celebrate Sur's Birthday last Monday!

Ooooohhhh yeah... FRESH PIZZA! Thanks Fro for sending that pizza crust about a year ago! I knew they would finally come in handy! 

Elder Ouonnebo pulling out that pizza from a REAL OVEN! Well, the Semkens call it a fire-in-a-box because that's really what it is... but thankfully the fire-in-the-box did not burn our pizza! 

Why yes, it was delicious!

 Don't ya wanna Fanta, Fanta....Fanta floats anybody?
Hipsta pic. The problem when you are in air conditioning and you go inside (I recently got out of the car and my glasses completely fogged up but I ran inside to take a picture!)

My amazing chicken bbq sandwhich that Elder Lala and I made! Turns out that, even though both of us are not very good cooks, as a combined effort, we actually do a pretty good job! Food truck worthy, no?
Thanks for putting up that highly visible sign! And thanks for putting the sign like 300 ft in front of the detour road... good thing we have reverse.

Note from the Fro: Well he certainly gets points for creativity, right?  

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Elder Hawkins, A Mission Novel: Revisited

ONE YEAR IN AFRICA! Me and Elder Kiputa, a year ago...

Wow... crazy to think I'm actually finally here in Togo... let me just say, it's pretty different from the U.S of A! 

That was me, one year ago... little Elder Hawkins, stepping into the Wild, Wild West (Africa). I didn't really make a big deal out of my one year mark on my mission for a reason... why? Because the MTC wasn't the start of my time out on the field... however, this past 16th January, that year mark finally came. I honestly cannot believe that it has been a year since I got off of that Brussels Airlines flight and took my first steps on the "Dark Continent" (which was fitting because it was nighttime when I got off of the plane!). I have the impression that it was only yesterday that I stepped off that plane, met with President, went with the Assistants to Togo, and then met my trainer.

In honor of this grand year mark, I thought it would be fun to visit the very first email I sent from Africa... or rather, the NOVEL of an email that I sent my very first week in Africa. My objective is to see how things have changed in this short year, maybe try to explain some of the weird things I didn't understand when I first got here, and, well, just laugh at how shell-shocked I was back then. I'm not going to copy the whole email, but just a few snippets that I like.

Everything that's in italics is from the original letter. Anything in bold or in blue font is my commentary. So, without further ado, here we go! 

The Weather

IT IS SO HOT! Think about how PA feels right after a big rain storm in the summer... now multiply that by every day of every hour and add a few more degrees and you have Togo! I didn't think it was possible, but my back has turned into Niagra Falls and it basically never stops. Really, there wasn't a smell like most people said there would be when I first got off the plane... instead, there was just this blast of humidity. I have to tell you what happened at the airport too... I'll write about that later.

Well, that hasn't changed. It's still freaking hot as ever here. My back is still Niagara falls when I go out and teach. All those people who said my body would get used to the heat when I first got here? LIES. Instead, I'm just used to sweating all the time! 

Just so you know, every night when I go to sleep, my temperature gauge on my clock reads at about 90 every night, without fail. Thankfully I have a fan for myself (and apparently it's like that throughout the mission (duh because we would die if we didn't have fans)). But yeah... those handkercheifs are saving me because I just sweat all the time. And honestly, it really doesn't cool down at all (a little in the morning, but every morning I wake up drenched in sweat and feel pretty gross). BUT! The cold showers do make me feel nice and awesome in the morning... you really don't need hot water here.

I have actually learned to cope with the heat at night and don't sweat as much as I used to. I can tell that I have definitely gotten used to the heat here because now I think the mornings feel nice and cool. I can tell that my definition of "cool" has changed from 50-60 degrees to 70-80 degrees! And I have gotten used to cold showers... but that doesn't mean that hot showers aren't awesome and still necessary! 

People like...
  1. To burn trash. Yup... still true but I still much less of it here in Benin because I'm in the middle of the city and most people do pay for trash pickup. However, I think it's still bad in the more rural parts of the city.
  2. To speak their own language. Again, this is still true but in Benin I don't see it as much as I did in Togo. Little kids actually speak French here, whereas in Togo they never would speak a lick of French. I think the reason for the lack of hearing much Fon is because there are a lot more foreigners here and they speak French/English most of the time. 
  3. COIFFURES!!! Oh my goodness... if you could guess what the most common shop/place/thing would be in Togo, what would it be? WRONG! It's a hair stylist (coiffures in French). African women love, love, love, love, love to get there hair done. With so little money, who would have thought?! Honestly, every street has these little shacks (literally, no joke. They are these tiny huts, probably the size of the bathroom downstairs in the basement) where people go and get their hair done. We're actually teaching a coiffeuse right now... super sweet lady named Elaine but we were talking to her one day while she was cutting hair with this crazy old razor blade! It was all rusty and it sounded like it was hurting the client's head as she cut hair! And they are all named in some way or another about God. "The Hands of God" "Divine Coiffure" "Coiffure of God" to name a few. It is really funny how many of them there are. I have determined that the Togolaise love three things: coiffures, motos, and blasting big speakers. Pretty crazy.The only thing I can add to that is that Togolais also love patte, and I would put that first. As for Beninois? Their first loves are still coiffures, motos, and blasting big speakers. The only difference would be Voodoo... way more voodoo here and I hear a lot more traditional Beninois music than I did hear traditional Togolais music in Togo. 
  4. Obama... just because he's black... seriously the only reason. They have tons of stuff about Obama. Every day I walk past a shop called Obama's Cafe or something, with a giant painting of his head and the slogan "Yes We Can." Saw a kid running around in Obama underwear yesterday too. Just some weird stuff...  
    You know... that has actually really cooled down since I've gotten here. I don't see as much Obama stuff as I used to and almost nobody ever talks about him whereas when I first got here, people would always bring that up when they found out I was American. 
My Companion
Super cool... his name is Elder Kiputa and he's from Congo. (...) He's been on his mission for about 17 months now and I think I'm his 2nd or 3rd trainee. He speaks English a bit, but not with me! He only speaks French to me which is really hard but super useful at the same time. He's pretty nice and understanding of my American ways. He always knows what to do and he takes over on a lot of the lessons. I'm gonna have to start speaking up more, but it's been pretty nice to let him take the reins. He is also a New Testament master... I'm pretty sure he knows every random reference there is in the Bible because he can reference it like nobody else. Also, he likes to take long awkward silences... sometimes we'll just be at somebody's "house" (they're kinda houses... I can't really explain it) and we'll just sit there and people will just be doing stuff like we're not even there. Kinda weird... but I guess that's why they say there's no such thing as awkward here because there isn't a word for it in French.

So, about the awkward silence thing... turns out that I think he was actually trying to get me to speak but I wasn't picking up his signals because I was always just thinking out in lalaland. However, Elder Kiputa was a great trainer, even though I was only with him for 3 weeks of my mission. Still, he was super patient with somebody who almost never talked in lessons, pretty much never had any idea what was going on, and helped me figure out the pricing of stuff here. It has been almost 5 months since he's gone home! Jeez... that's crazy to think in only 3 months I'll be at the same point he was at when he was training me!

My Apartment
Pretty junky... 
Yup... 'nuff said. Tokoin apartment was junky and there's a reason why they moved out of it too. Every apartment I have been in since has been much nicer and has been at a much better standard. The toilets are nowhere near as scary, the kitchens don't have any cockroaches, the rooms are always at least 10 degrees cooler than they were in Tokoin (even though it was on the second floor, it was basically a cement oven), and the apartments now are just plain nicer than Tokoin ever was. However, I'm so glad that I started there and that apartment has given me a much greater appreciation for all of the new apartments that I move into. 

Oh, I have to tell you about the noise here. Togo is probably the most noisy country in the world... who would have thought for one of the poorest countries in the world?! But anyway, on the right of us we have the family from l'enfer... they fight ALL THE TIME!!!! The parents and the kids! It's just ever constant. Then behind us, we have a school so every morning it gets really loud because they surround the apartment on two sides. Then, behind the school there's a giant Mosque! Boy, I sure do love those 5 AM prayers now! And the other 4-5 prayers they do throughout the day, especially on their Sabbath days (think it's saturday or something). Then, on the same block as us, there's this weird Christian church that I have never heard of. They meet in this warehouse type thing but they are super loud! They also blast their speakers and it sounds like they're mad all the time! Makes for Sunday morning prep very interesting and very loud. Yeah... Togo as a whole is just loud though. You also here their claxons going off (horns) because that's how they try and get you too look up and see if you need a ride. In Togo, you don't need a license to be a taxi moto, so anyone can do it... probably why they are banned by the mission! 

Still true to an extent... again, I've gotten used to the noise but the noise that goes on during lessons (like from the woodshop next door, the main road traffic, the bar blasting it's speakers) still really bothers me and chases away the spirit big time. Sometimes, I prefer not even teaching lessons with noise like that because it really just is a waist of my time and their time if they're not feeling the Spirit. 

Other than that... it's still noisy. Our neighbors here blast the worst Beninois music of all time, almost all the time. I'm pretty sure they're Voodoo people. Neighbors still yell often too.

However, none of that can even compare to the amount of noise of the Tokoin apartment. I forgot to mention in that letter the noise from planes that would take off. I remember I would wake up at 3 AM because of a plane taking off, 4 AM because the mosque would go off, and then 5 AM because the neighbors' rooster would go off... ugh that was the worst and noisiest apartment by far! 

Tell you what though, the food here is pretty good! (what, are you kidding me? The food is good here? What was I even thinking?!?!) The fruit here is probably the best I've tasted any where (okay, that's still true). The pineapple here is really, really, really good. It's not as tart as Hawaiian pineapple, but it's just a sweet... it's also whiter than yellow. Still, all the fruit here is delicious and you can buy it anywhere. Also had my first Mangez-vous this week. Two actually. My first, we had this spicy spaghetti which was really good and had pineapple for dessert. (oh, okay that's probably why I thought the food was good because my first mangez-vous was a top-of-the-line mangez-vous that's pretty rare). The other, we had the infamous pate... it's pretty messy stuff. The one we ate the the Branch President's house was really spicy stuff and really messy. It was good though... but his wife gave me this weird chicken wing that I thought was a tongue at first. Thankfully, I figured out it was a chicken wing and I ate it... probably the chewiest chicken I've ever eaten. Elder Kabango made Congo pate which is a bit tougher but tastes much better in my opinion. Hopefully, future mangez-vous will have cool things. Btw... most of the food is super spicy here! Yes!!!!!

So, I think I quickly realized a few months after writing this email what good food and bad food are. How do I know that? That whole last part about the patte and the Congolais patte are a lie. At first, I did like Congolais patte, but then I would eat it every day for about 6 weeks... which is why I now detest it. And I will admit that there are good pattes and there are good sauces, but my very first experience with patte was with a Gumbo sauce which is grrrrrrooooosssss so slimy and gooey and messy. Oh young Elder Hawkins... such a naive little yovo.

Yovo, yovo, bon soir, ca va bien?, merci. 
Apparently it gets pretty annoying after a few months but I think it's funny right now. Yovo is the West African way of saying white person (kinda like gringo). 

Apparently? I think it only took me until the next week to get annoyed with that song and get so irritated by it! Gosh that was irritating! Still is! Can't believe I even thought it was funny at first! 

The French has been tough. When I first got here, I could not understand what they were saying because they do speak fast, quietly, and it's not perfect French either. Now, however, I'm starting to follow the lessons and what's going on... it just takes a lot of focus and a lot of attention on my part. However, that being said, people love my French-ish accent. I don't have the American-French accent that most missionaries come with so people compliment my French on being very clear and precise, albeit rather European. I always have to explain that I lived in France for about 8 years and the people seem to like me here. I had to bear my testimony in French yesterday in Sacrament meeting which was scary. Especially since I am the ONLY white person in the branch of like 40-50 people... though I've gotten used to being the only white person since getting here. But yeah, the French is coming. I can feel the progression little by little everyday. It's hard to believe that I'll ever be fluent, but everyone says I'm going to be a translator soon since I already have a pretty good level of comprehension here. So, at least I'm already ahead of the game. 

That, my dear readers, might be the greatest miracle that had ever happened since I have gotten here: the gift of tongues. What an incredible, incredible gift that has been from Heavenly Father. That was probably my biggest source of stress when I first got on my mission. However, I received a wise piece of advice from my good friend, Elder Gunderson, that the language wall would fall... and it did. It wasn't all at once... and there's still a bit of the wall left... but wow... how far I've come since I first got here. I will be the very first to admit that there's still a long way to go until my French ever gets to the level that my English is at, but the amount of stress that has been taken off of my shoulders now that I can speak and get around in French has been great. I try to thank the Lord every night for being able to communicate in the French language every day of my mission. 

Though, let it be noted that my French is well... Togolais/Beninois French! 


There's a lot more to my letter, but those are the highlights from it. I can't believe that I have been on this crazy continent of Africa for more than a year now. It doesn't feel like it has been a year, but well... it has. It's weird to think that many things have changed for me in this past year, but I think the biggest change has come from me! I think most of that change came from this point in my mission one year ago... and when I say change, I really mean to say "humbling." I often say that the three first weeks of my mission were the longest three weeks of my life and as I read my journal, I can often see why... everything around me changed. The food. The people. The smells. The work. The heat. The list can go on and on and on. 

There were points, one year ago, where I honestly didn't think I was going to make it. To me going home was never an option... however, that doesn't mean that I wasn't thinking about home every single waking moment of those first few weeks. I remember lying in my bed in that small Tokoin oven apartment, staring into the dark, thinking to myself, "Is this really going to be my life for the next two years? Is this really what I signed up for?" Sometimes I would even think that where I was couldn't be real, that it was just too strange and too different. Honestly, the change was sometimes to the point that I would just cry. I would just cry and say to myself, "what the heck is going on? Why am I doing this?" 

And yet, all of those changes have now become a part of me. My skin a little darker, my nose a little more habituated to the smells, my eyes a little more used to the sun, my ears a little more apt at understanding French. No longer do I question is this place real... now I consider it my home away from home! No longer do I wonder about there being no other white people, but now I wonder why there are other white people when I see them! No longer do I discourage myself in thinking of all the time that I had to do on my mission, but now I worry that I don't have a lot of time left! 

The changes that I dealt with and the changes that have happened within me are nothing short of incredible.

However, the one part of my life that never changed nor ever came into question was the support I received from my Heavenly Father. No matter where I was, no matter how tough the moment was, and no matter what was going on around me, He was always there. He was the one who comforted me at night and gave me hope that I would, as I thought, survive. I have felt that I truly have built upon the rock of my redeemer, as Helaman 5:12 says. At the beginning of my mission, it sure did feel like "the devil (sent) forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm (had beaten) upon (me)." I also did feel like I was in a "gulf of misery and endless wo." And yet, "because of the rock upon which (I am) built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall" the adversary "(has had) no power over (me) to drag (me) down to the gulf of misery and endless wo." 

I could not be here if it wasn't from the comfort and aid I received from Heavenly Father and Christ. I can testify, with all of my heart, that I have seen the Lord work miracles in so many lives, not the least of which my own. I know that Christ lives, that he cares for me and each and every one of us, and that we are not doomed for failure! He loves us! He cares for us! He heals us! 

Thank you everybody for the help you have given to me over this past year in Africa... from the endless amounts of emails, packages, letters, thoughts, and prayers, I just really couldn't have done this year without you guys too! 


Elder Hawkins

P.S. Happy Birthday Dad! How cool is that you get to share your birthday with MLK day! Make sure you go out somewhere special! 

Cool picture of the setting African sun. 
This is the stupid traffic I have to deal with in Cotonou. Almost every intersections has stoplights... but, do they work? Uh, no. So we get huge car traffic jams in the middle of downtown. It's kinda like that board game "Rush Hour" where you have to try and get the red car out off the board through all the traffic! 

Erevan... aka "Heaven in Benin"

Elder Lala cutting our "Galette des Rois" which was shared with President and Sister Weed, my comps, and Elder Semken, who turned out to be the king! 

Note from the Fro: What a year! Cannot believe that it was just over a year ago that I was tracking that long flight to Africa!  Very proud of the lessons he's learned and the ability to keep on keeping on. 


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Quels Fondements Fermes...and Charwama's

My main ride here in Cotonou. It's a full diesel, high suspension, lots of leg room (errr... room for a lot of people's legs?)... or... It's just a Japanese square on wheels. Yup, we'll go with that.

Does fit more than the advertised 12 people when 15 missionaries want to go get Charwamas on P-day! 

Well, just another week in the saddle! I know that's really not an expression nor does that make any sense, but it doesn't matter! I'm in a good mood!

One might ask, why Elder Hawkins, why are you in such a good mood? Well, let me tell you: thanks to this gigantic charwama that I just finished eating from Cotonou's best "Festival de Charwama" restaurant. 

However, I'm also in a good mood due to the baptismal service that I just came from. No, I didn't have a baptism, but when I first came to the service, I wasn't in a good mood. I can't even put my finger on why... I just wasn't. 

Though, I think one of the reasons might have been the fact that I had eaten nothing but a slice of beef jerky all day; a great meal if you're out camping but not a great meal if it's 3 PM at a baptismal service. Elder Lala (my new companion; he's half Malagesh so his real name is Elder Lalakljasfejadvjkasdflhasdfjklh but we just call him Elder Lala) and I really wanted to eat some charwamas from this "Festival de Charwama" which has the best bang for your buck charwamas. However... we didn't have their phone number. We were scrambling around trying to find it... calling every person we could think of who might have it. Except, nobody had it. At that point, I was really missing my iPhone where I could just look it up and call them in a jiffy. As we were lamenting this potential grand foiling of an amazing plan, Elder Lala received pure inspiration: we decided that we would call over a zimijan (taxi moto) and pay him to go over to this place and get the phone number for us. 

We called over a zimijan and explained to him our mission. He accepted, at the steep price of 400 francs (80 cents). However, it was worth the price. So, off we sent him and we played the waiting game... hoping he would return with this valuable piece of information. 

Then, the baptismal service started. Okay... not a big deal... we'll just sit in the back so that way we can look out the door... opening hymn, prayer, first talk... uh-oh... once we start the baptisms we have to go to the back of the building to see the baptism, which Elder Lala and I had to go to because we were both chosen as witnesses. We were both praying that Elder Ouonnebo would take just a little bit longer as he was giving the talk.

Thankfully, our faithful little zimijan came back to us. Hooray! We pay him and, then just like that the baptisms start! Perfect timing. After the baptisms, we call and place our order like a pro. Ahhh... I love it when a plan comes together *cue Hannibal from the A-Team* 

Now that we were en train to getting our charwamas, we were super happy. As the baptismal service continued, the new converts came up and bore their testimonies. The first guy gave a really nice and short testimony about how he knew the Church was true. Nothing too exciting but simple enough... then an 8 year old came up and bore her testimony about how we shouldn't insult people and hit people in order to obey the commandments. If only Adele had learned this lesson at that age...

At the end, we were ending with Africa's favorite hymn: Quels Fondements Fermes (How Firm a Foundation). Usually, I'm pretty tired of singing this hymn all the time (and when I say all the time, I mean ALL. THE. TIME.). 

And yet, this time around was different. As I was singing the four verses that are almost completely memorized by heart, I realized that this hymn really is a perfect hymn for the Church here in Africa.

I say that because there are so many problems in the Church here. From branch leadership problems, to missionary problems, to country problems, to every problem, there are just a lot of problems here. Sometimes, you just look some things that resemble apostasy and you think to yourself, "Is this really the same Church I left back home in the States?" Sometimes, you really just have to wonder why people even stay in the Church with all the problems they face. And almost all the time, you just want to go home and escape it all. 

When I compare the Church of here to the one back home, I'm not really surprised that I'm still active. Practically my whole family is in the Church. The Church is super organized where almost everyone has a calling and more often than not actually fulfills it. I even go to school at the Church's school! 

Then, I look over here... and these people have none of that. Absolutely no support system, well at least on the surface. But then, you realize that some of the people here have amazing faith. Like the girl in her mid-20's who joined the Church despite all her friends making fun of her decision and telling her not to. Or the 50 year old photographer, who had joined 20 some odd churches before finally finding the one that felt right. Or even the 16 year old child of four, who being the only member in her family, comes to Church every week and on time, even dressing and bringing her neighbor's 2-3 year old kids every week. 

Honestly, it's easy for people to look at this place and wonder how there is still a Church. But the reason it is still here is because of each and every individual's faith. And that is what is really the most incredible thing about this place. How the faith of each member is really what keeps this Church going... despite all of the acidic problems that seem to happen here, it cannot penetrate the concrete faith created by each and every one of the members here. 

This place is not doomed for failure. This is really the Lord's work and it cannot fail! Though our faith my waiver and our hearts may get down, the Lord has promised us that in these last days, his work will prosper and will succeed. Despite the waverings, despite the trials, despite when they come, and even though you don't always see the light at the end of the tunnel... the Lord has really blessed this place as well as its missionaries. Here, there are countless numbers of miracles that happen, one of the absolute biggest being the fact that people stay faithful to the covenants that they have made with the Lord in continuing to come to Church and keep the commandments.

I think the last verse of Quels Fondements Fermes really sums everything I want to say really nicely. I would copy the English version, but it just doesn't feel the same for me!

«Quand tu passeras par la crainte et les maux
Tu ne seras pas vaincu par leurs fardeaux
Car pour te bénir, près de toi je serai
Et dans ta détresse, et dans ta détresse,
Et dans ta détresse je te soutiendrai.»

Basically, it's the Lord speaking here. He says that when we pass through our fears and our trials, we will not be overcome by our burdens. For, in order to bless us, the Lord promises that he will be close to us and then, in our distress, he will support us. He will be our firm foundation.

And those are the blessings that the Lord has given to these people... despite everything that does go wrong here, there are a tremendous amount of things that do go right... and for the most part, that comes from the little grain of faith that each and every members carries in their hearts. Because, really, it's that that keeps the Church growing everywhere, the missionaries working, and the blessings coming.

And, at the end of the day, that's why I'm here: to add to those little grains of faith that give these African countries their fondements fermes! 

Thanks for the prayers, the emails and the support everybody! Till 'next week!


Elder Hawkins

Étoile Rouge, or the Arc de Triomphe of Cotonou.

As you can see, there`s not as much traffic as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but it is filled with crazy moto drivers who don`t know how to drive. You tell me which one is worse! (no, I was not driving while I took this picutre. I was pulled over on the side of the roundabout thank you! Jeez!)

Note from the Fro: I always love it when he tells me he has writer's block and honestly can't think of anything to write about!  Then we get something like this. Sometimes, you just have to have a little faith.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Just Another Yovo Day Down in Africa

The Cauldron Chair. Surprisingly, not very comfortable after a 45 minute lesson!
From an ami's house. They actually do use these pots all the time to prepare food on the side of the roads!

L'ami de l'église: 

Scrub, scrub, scrub. Laundry, laundry, laundry. Washing, washing, washing. I'm Beninois and I love doing laundry by hand! Alright, now let me just take these wet clothes and hang them up on the line.

OH NO! The missionaries are here! Goodness, is it really Thursday afternoon at 16h00? Wow, according to my phone it's 16h45... goodness they are right on time! I thought they wouldn't even be coming today. 

Oh, "bon soir! Comment ça va?" Well, I hope they don't mind that I didn't sweep the sand in front of my parcel... ehhh... I'll do it anyway, I just wouldn't feel right if it wasn't all nice and swept up! Yovos really like nice and neat things anyway! 

Okay, now where did I put those little benches of mine. I hope the neighbors kid's didn't steal them again and use them to dissect the dead lizard again. I think there are still some lizard guts on that one stool actually. 

Alright, found a couple of stools... let me just put them down for them. Jeez, that big white guy is really sweating up a storm. Haha... oh yovos... sometimes I wonder why they even come here because it's so hot here in Africa! Oh wait, it's Harmatton... it's freezing right now and he's still sweating! Haha oh yovos. 

Goodness I hope they don't ask me to say the prayer again. I really like talking to these guys, but I never know what to say during these prayers. I'm so used to seeing my pastor pray for me... he uses all these weird names for God that I can never remember! How am I supposed to remember all of those weird crazy names?! 

Oh good... my Ivorian brother will say the prayer... *phew* 

Dang it... looks like the Yovo caught onto the fact that I really don't like to pray... now he's taking out his little Book of Mormon book bible... Alma 37:37... jeez, what kind of name is Alma? Yovos sure do like weird names... why are there never any Bible prophets named Koffi, Kwami, or Kodjo? Gotta love those Ks! 

"Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day."

Hmm... Counsel... never really thought of prayer that way. I thought it was just another way to shout praises to the Lord. You know, I really never thought that about prayer like that... as a communication or council with the Lord. 

Ahhh... now the Good Book... I really do love this Bible that I bought for only 3000 francs. It's old and tattered but the word that's in it is what counts. However, I still have no idea where Matthew is... maybe it's near Jeremiah?

WOW... look at the tabs on the Yovo's bible. Now that's advanced Western technology there! Wooooowwwww soooo amazing. I wish I had that

Okay... FOCUS now FOCUS... okay, let's see I'm supposed to read what verses? Okay, Matthew 7:7-10... 

"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?"

That would be kinda weird... getting a stone instead of the bread you asked for! I guess it is true... a good Father will always give his Son what he has need of! Does one really only have to ask and then he will receive? That's an amazing blessing of the Good Lord! 

Wow, you know what... I really do like this concept of prayer! I guess it's not just reciting something or singing praises to the Lord! It's communication that counts, not just what you say! 

OH no! They want me to pray now! Well... okay then... here we go...

Okay... that wasn't too hard! Maybe I'll keep on doing that! That's pretty cool actually! 

Alright not too bad... that was a nice little lesson. I told the missionaries that I would be there this coming Saturday at 16h00 but you never know when the next Emergency Family Meeting might pop up! 

Hey, I wonder where that yovo, errr... Elder Wayhkins got his glasses! They are pretty stylish! Yovos are so funny... always wearing glasses for style! And I wonder where he got that ring too... I guess that means he's married? Where's his wife then? 

Alright, see you later missionaries! Thanks for coming! 


Elder Hawkins:

Great... late yet again to another lesson. I guess that little rule in that missionary handbook never does really apply out here in Africa... I remember learning in marching band that, "If you're early, you're on time. If you're on time, you're late. And if you're late, that's unacceptable." Here in Africa, it seems to be, "If you're late, you're on time. If you're on time, you're early. If you're early, that's just weird." 

Oh... doing laundry, yet again! Gosh these people seem to be doing never ending amounts of laundry all the time... that's probably why their hands are so dang rough and calloused. 

Okay, okay man you don't need to sweep the sand/dirt... dirt is dirt whether it's been swept or not... actually... for some weird reason, I do think it does just feel a little bit neater when everything is all swept up. It kinda reminds me of the streaks the vacuum would leave after vacuuming the carpet! 

Hmmm... this stool seems like it's about to break because it's so darn woobly. Ehhh... probably not. I've sat on worse... hmmm... what's this weird greasy stuff on the side? Is that victago? (African menthol herbal rub). Eww... not really sure what this is... well... let's just hope it's not lizard guts!

Oh gosh... it's so hot right now... I know it's the cold season and it's dry but I still sweat like a pig for some reason. People just don't understand that it's not like I want to sweat all the time! I think people here believe I make the choice to sweat! Ugh! All those times people told me, "oh your body will get used to it," HA! Lies! I just got used to sweating all the time! Although, maybe that's what they meant? 

Okay, what are we supposed to teach today... ahhhhhh... woops, forgot to bring my planner to the lessson! Errrr... jeezzzzz... goodness what did we plan on teaching again!?!?!?!?!?! Well, this guy really doesn't seem to want to pray... maybe he doesn't know how? I feel like that's what stops a lot of people from praying here... they just don't know how which makes them feel like they don't know what to say! Alright... that's a good lesson! Prayer! 

Hmmmm... what's a good prayer scripture... okay, let's flip to a random page in the Book of Mormon... ah ha! Perfect Alma 37:37! This has to be one of my favorite prayer scriptures because it has specific directions for us to follow and then gives us really amazing promises from it too. Sometimes, I wonder what my life would be like without prayer and I realize that it wouldn't be good because I feel so much better when I take the time out to pray... even if it's just a little thought in my head or if it's a long prayer before I go to bed and when I wake up... it's all the same. I can tell you one thing... without prayer, I would not be able to communicate with these people, that's for sure! 

A quote that I loved from the MTC (though I'm not sure where it's from) is "Kneel before God so you can stand before men." That really is true and it reminds me that the source of my strength really does come from God before it comes from men or even myself... even though some people might find that corny, typical God talk... it's the truth! 

Well, he seemed to really like that scripture we shared... I think another good one would be from Matthew 7:7-10... I really love the imagery the Lord uses because I think it's something that even a child could understand. What kind of person would give someone a rock when they asked for a fish?! It just doesn't make sense! So why wouldn't God give you what you ask for that is just? 

Well, let's see if the lesson worked. I'm going to ask him to pray! 

Okay, he didn't say no... so here we go...

Wow! You see! It's so easy to pray... sometimes I think people believe that prayer is some long winded speeches that we have to say to God when in reality it's quite the opposite! Just say what's in your heart, whether it be long or short, and He will listen! The Lord has promised that in so many different scriptures, I don't think I can count them all! 

Alright, time to get going now... already late for the next lesson obviously! What's new in Africa?! Which means...we're on time actually. 


AND NO... I'M NOT MARRIED WHICH IS WHY MY RING IS ON MY RIGHT HAND AND NOT MY LEFT HAND! GAHHHHH!!!!!! I should really carry around a FAQ sheet for my amis because I feel like they ask me the same questions all the time.

Oh well... at the end of the day... whether you're in a lesson, eating a handful of patte, or sweating bullets on the way to a rendez-vous... it's a once in a lifetime experience and with every day being my last here in Africa, I know that I'm here to make the most out of it. I might sound crazy, but sometimes I think I might miss this place at the end of my mission! 

Naaaaaahhhhhh... that's just crazy talk! Onto the next lesson we go! 



Happy New Year!


Elder Hawkins

Hipsta pic of my seltzer water for sienna... oops Sister S-Hawk

Puppies for sale on the side of the street! At least I know where to get them now!

Note from the Fro: This kid.  He just makes me smile!  Always love a little insight on his daily comings and goings.  And yes, the simplicity of prayer.  It's a powerful thing.  Just one question for you all....