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.

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