Sunday, June 29, 2014

Work, Work, Work....Repeat

Work, work, work! That's really all I can say about this past week. We have been working like crazy this week. I still don't know how many lessons we taught in all but it seemed like every day was just packed with lessons and people to teach, which is great! I give a lot of the credit to Elder Izekor, who has an amazing ability to just talk to anybody about taking missionary lessons, which is something that I am still trying to work on! 

It's been really funny working with Elder Oliverson though... it's weird being around another American 24/7 because well... it's just weird! I feel bad for Elder Izekor because we just team up on him all the time, but he takes it all like a champ! 

Anyway, I suppose I can talk about a few of the amis that we have because I can't think of much else to talk about!

  • Gouda (like the cheese): This was a contact that we received from one of the Guards at the bureau. He is also a guard, but he works at night which is why we are able to talk to him during the day. He has been very interested in what we have had to say, but he has been tough to talk to. He's one of those people who believes he has the worst situation in the whole world and that God has really forgotten him. It's really weird that he even still believes in God and that he says he knows that God loves him, but sometimes I think he just likes to vent to us which is why he keeps going on and on with his "Woe is me" type thing.

    One funny thing that happened this week was that we taught him the Word of Wisdom. His two biggest problems will be to stop drinking coffee (which is hard since he works the night shifts) and also his weird tobacco habit (he has this ground up tobacco, that from what I understand, he puts up his nose and snorts it... it's weird. Elder Oliverson just told me that it's called snuff which I have heard of before but never wondered enough to find out what it was. Still weird). Anyway, he told us that he would give up the coffee for a week and see how it all worked out. He refused to give up the tobacco for the time being because apparently it has too many healing abilities (ironically, he was sick when he was telling us about that).

    Well, the funny part is that when we came back the next day to teach him, he told us that 5 minutes after we had left the previous day, his tobacco fell out all over in his pocket (I guess you can't sniff it once if falls into your pocket?) and he said that was the first time that that had ever happened since he had started doing it. He was totally surprised and he knew that it was a sign from God but he was like what the heck?!?! That's not fair!!!!! Haha, it was funny but hopefully he doesn't buy some more because his baptism is slated for next week and he can't get baptized if he's still sniffin' away!
  • Rebecca and Sarah: This is a mother and a daughter we are teaching of a member in our branch (Romario if Elder Christensen is reading!). We contacted them last week and have taught them maybe 4-5 times in the past 10 days. At first, she was telling us that she was just going to listen to the missionary lessons because she wanted to know what her son believed in (she and her daughter are devout catholics). So far, the lessons have been going great. Both of them ask great questions (Sarah is only 16 which is even more surprising!)... and in our last lesson with them, Sarah had whispered to Elder Oliverson that she knew everything that we were teaching was true... Elder Oliverson (he told me all this after it happened) was caught by surprise and was like, errr... hold on, wait a second, what?!?! But yeah, then I jumped in and heard her talk about how she knew everything we were teaching was true and that she had prayed about it and she had a good feeling come over her. 

    Anyway, it has been nice to teach them. I'm not sure if they will be baptized anytime soon because I think the mom is still a little hesitant to join the Church, even though she knows what we are saying is true. But with a little prayer and a little luck, you never know what can happen! 
Also, I wanted to talk about this lesson that I had this past week with a few new investigators. We were teaching these two teenage guys the first lesson, but there were like 3 other people there who were just tuning in and listening. (side note: that's the one cool thing about Beninois/Togolais. If there's a stranger who comes into their house and starts talking they will all come over and start listening, even if they weren't invited over!). Anyway, one of the people that was there started asking some legit questions. The questions were "why did Jesus choose Peter as his prophet and apostle if he had known that he would deny him three times?" and the other one was "why would God just wipe out all of the wicked with a flood during the times of Noah if he had really loved us?". Anyway, I had to explain to them that Jesus picked Peter not because of how he would fail him, but because of how he would be a powerful apostle/prophet after His (Jesus') death. I talked about how nobody on Earth was or is perfect, save it be Jesus Christ. And then I explained the Noah question in talking about how many times the Lord had told Noah to warn the people to repent or else he would punish them. I then used an example of how a parent would try to tell a kid not to touch a fire yet he keeps getting close to it and even touching it. I told them that a parent would eventually punish the kid for not doing as he was told (I said that the parent would actually hit the kid, because you know, everybody hits their kids here so that example works really well unfortunately).

Anyway, what really hit me was that, a year or two ago, I probably would not have been able to answer those questions the way I had that night. One thing that the mission has taught me is how to respond to questions, both professionally and correctly. A lot of times, people will try to ask questions just to get you fired up and angry (Gouda, the ami I talked about, likes to play devil's advocate so he would be one of those amis!). But, that's not the way the Lord taught while he was on the Earth, did he? But, I think the most impressive part about being able to answer those questions was feeling the Spirit flow through me and help guide me through these answers. 

You know, one thing that surprises a lot of people about us is that we go through so little training. People believe that you should have to go through years of training in order to become missionaries like us, but in reality, we only go through weeks of training before hitting the mission field! I really believe that that attests to the divinity of this work because the Lord can take rather immature 18-21 year olds and turn them into incomparable missionaries! 

How great of a blessing it is to feel the Lord's hand in this magnificent work! Despite my imperfections (my companions can tell you about them all!), the Lord gets what he needs done... He helps those with questions get answers... and, most importantly, He helps us change lives for the better. 

I thank you all for the support and prayers! They, as they have since the beginning of my mission, have really helped turn me into the missionary that I am today.


Elder Hawkins


MANGEZ-VOUS! Ate at one of Elder Oliverson's recent converts from the branch. They are a really great family. The wife is the RS President and then their husband has apparently been called as the DMB (ward mission leader). They have a few daughters and they are really nice! Anyway, we ate my absolute FAVORITE beninois meal, djenkoumen (red patte). And plus they had made really good chicken. It was great. I will miss that when I get back home.

Elder Kunz, Elder Konduah (GHANA!), and Elder Oliverson.

Dorkas, their littlest daughter, who is a spaz and saw me
taking a picture of my food and then wanted me to take a picture of her food. Haha!

Just my next door neighbor cookin' a cow hoof. No big deal guys.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

As Unique as a Pigne Tie

 President at our Apt for the last time!

As we've been gearing up for the departure of President Weed and the arrival of President Morin, we have been going through a lot of changes in the office. Of course, you know already that Elder Oliverson is here in order to help President Morin out during his first couple of months in Benin. So, this past week I have really been trying my best to train him on how things work in the office. 

Of course, that's not the only thing that we've been doing. The Africa West Area sent an auditor here to do an audit on the mission before President Weed goes home (that was fun)... President Weed had movers come earlier this month to take his stuff back to the states (his office looks so barren now! We've even had to replace President Weed's chair! (errrrr... don't ask me why...).

But, this past week, President Weed has been going around interviewing the entire mission and he ended the cycle with a little testimony meeting yesterday which turned out to be really great! President gave missionaries time to bear their testimonies over a period of two hours and it went by really quick in my opinion. We had about 60 missionaries at the meeting and I didn't even get to bear my testimony. However, we did have about 30 or so missionaries get to go up. 

A lot of things were said... a lot of people bearing testimony about the Gospel, the mission...(even a Ghanian Elder saying how much he loved everyone here, and the Americans too even though we beat Ghana in the World Cup!)...but also a lot of people thanking President and Sister Weed for all that they do. 

Oliverson, Rich, Kunz, me... in pigne ties coming back from Conference.

However, my favorite thing that was said during the testimony meeting was a comment that Sister Weed made towards the end of the meeting. But first, I have to explain that about 10 days ago, the Sisters in the mission got this bright idea to buy a pigne and make ties for all the elders and dresses for all the sisters. I really didn't think it would work out but the taylors and the seamstresses were able to whip up everything for us by Friday morning. All in all, the fabric and the ties looked great! We gave a tie to President Weed and a dress to Sister Weed too. 

Sisters giving Sister Weed her dress... I cropped and tried to get the colors to pop as much as I could! 

The comment that Sister Weed made, however, was what really touched me. She talked about how we took fabric and made tons of different things out of it. Yet, even though we all used the same fabric to make the dresses and ties, each and every single on of the items were completely unique. There was no one tie alike, nor one dress alike either. She made the comparison of how that's a lot like how we are all children of our Father in Heaven, and even though we all come from the same cloth, the same person, we are all so different in our own unique ways. 

I thought that was really cool, especially as I have been reflecting on my mission as of late. For some reason, I seem to always compare myself to others... compare my achievements with those of others... compare my shortcomings with those of others. All of that adds up to getting down and feeling inadequate, which is not at all good for the work that we are doing out here. 

As my mission is coming to a close in a few short months, sometimes I have been left to wonder if I am coming close to accomplishing all that I have set out to accomplish. Did I teach enough people the gospel? Did I baptize enough people? Did I study enough? Was I obedient enough? Will I have enough cool stories to tell when I get back home? Basically, was all that I did (and will do until the end of my mission), enough

And then, Sister Weed's comment dawned on me. If you look at all the ties and what not, some people might like more red in their ties... others might like ties with more yellow... others with more blue, etc. But, really, a tie is a tie and it serves the same purpose. And, all the ties were even more cool as everybody was wearing them together in one unified group.

It made me realize that I'm really not exactly like any one other missionary, and I don't need to be. Some missionaries are great at contacting and talking to just random people... I am not. Some missionaries baptize what seems like hundreds of people... I am far from that number. Some missionaries can do so many things that I just, for some reason or another, cannot (or are very hard for me to) do!

But, you know, maybe that's just not what's on my tie! I know it's a pretty funny comparison, but I've come to learn that no matter what I accomplish on my mission, the important thing is that I still came out... I'm doing things that I could never have done if I had never chosen to come out here and serve a mission. And really, it's not about just ME but all of us and what we can accomplish together in that one unified group. 

I'm so grateful to be out here, serving a mission in Togo and Benin. There has truly been nothing more satisfying that I have ever done thus far in my life. It's probably been the hardest and most challenging part of my life, but I'm really thankful and I have realized that no matter what the outcomes, no matter how many baptisms, no matter how many times I've studied, no matter how many cool stories I end up with... at the end of the day, I am who I am and the Lord sent me here to do what I have to do, and not whatever anybody else has to do. And really, doesn't that apply to all of us here in this life in general? 

With love,

Elder Hawkins

That is not a swimming pool. That's a guy in a sewer in a flooded street... don't worry he was trying to fix the clog I guess because we passed by later that night and there was no more water on that street! 

Elder Izekor teaching me a new way to iron.
Don't know if that's normal in Nigeria or not but... kinda odd.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Ca Va? Ca va bien!

Panorama of around the mission home

To greet people here in Benin or in Togo, or really any Francophone country, one of the most common ways to ask how they are doing is simply by saying "Ça va?" Of course, when I was in French class back in Middle School, we were taught five different ways to respond to this questions (from I'm doing great to I'm doing very bad):
  • Ca va tres bien (it's going great!)
  • Ca va bien (it's going good)
  • Comme-ci, comme-ca (doing okay, just alright)
  • Ca va mal (not great)
  • Ca va tres mal (not at all great)
When I first arrived on my mission, I had expected to hear one of these five phrases in response to this extremely common question. However, what I found surprised me. Usually, whether somebody was doing laundry, watching over their kids, working, doing nothing, or had just woken up, their response was 65% of the time "ca va bien." No matter what they were doing. 25% of the time, they would say "ca va tres bien" and that meant they were actually really happy. The other 10% was actually never the other responses I mentioned but something like "ca peut aller" (like "eh, I've been better") or "ca ne va pas" (it's not going good). As you can see, very rarely did people respond negatively to a greeting.

When I first got on my mission, I had an ami (who I later baptized) that had told my companion and I something very interesting. He talked about how, in Togo, that even if somebody just died in their family, a Togolais will always respond "ca va bien" He told me that despite the miserable situation that many Togolais (and Beninois) find themselves in, they will still always respond to you with a smile and try not to make you worry. 

That always stuck with me through my mission... walking into rooms the size of small walk-in closets, eating food that costs about as much as a box of paper clips, seeing people wash only a few articles of clothing to last an entire week, sometimes I wonder how people could always respond "ca va bien." 

Because, quite frankly, when I had to do those things like washing clothes, eating patte, or sitting in a hot cement room at over 100 degrees, my life was not going very "ca va bien!" Actually it was more like "GET ME OUT OF THIS PLACE" (not an exaggeration). 

Of course, I also think that many people fall under the category that they do not know what they are missing... if only they knew the majesty of a washing machine! If only they knew the savory goodness of an italian hoagie! If only they knew what a 5-bedroom, 3.5-bath house with air conditioning and CARPET was really like! 

And yet, weirdly, I started to reply the same way these people reply to ca va... soon enough, I was even tres bien too! Even when my days were just downright awful, when the heat was just a tad over too much, when the sweat stinging my eyes was making me blind, I couldn't help but say ca va bien! 

One of the things I have learned in doing missionary work is that sometimes you just gotta slap on a smile and go. Don't we all have to do that sometime or another? Even if you don't feel like smiling. Even if you don't feel like going into the heat. Even if you do feel like smacking that kid following you trying to touch your skin because you're white and won't leave you alone until you make a sudden movement and scare him/her/them away. 

This might be one of the shorter weekly emails that I will have written home, but I think that this is something to think about this week: just saying "ca va bien" despite the circumstances and the trials surrounding our lives. Saying ca va bien is not forcing somebody to change their despair into hope in a blink of an eye, but saying ca va bien can ease the mind so easily and it can help you keep a good perspective on how your life really is (and it's not just about the negative you're focusing on!) Think about it, life really IS ca va bien!

The next time somebody asks you, "Ca va?" remember to always answer "Ca va bien", no matter how you feel, because chances are, somebody here in Cotonou or in Lome just responded "ca va bien" even though their lives might be, what we consider as "ca va tres mal!" 

Thanks for all your prayers and good thoughts coming my way. Miss you all and wish you a great week!

With love,

Elder Hawkins

From behind the mission home... the junkyard as I call it... this is the shock that all missionaries see when they first get into Cotonou and West Africa (for some). It is quite the shell shock. I don't remember if I sent the picture I took from when I first got here but it's a goody

Also, note all the ducks!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Africaball and Baptism, Life is Good

I think this week could not have started any better because it all has to do with one of the greatest words ever to be created in the history of mankind:

Elder Hawkins swinging away and probably imagining my head as the ball.
(pics courtesy of Elder Haggard! He added the captions. Haha!)


That's right... I played baseball, Africa style. How? Well it all had to do with my favorite Mexican-American missionary, Elder Silvas from Anaheim, California (well near it anyways). He and Elder Buxton, both avid baseball fans like myself, found this baseball bat sized bamboo stick in their sector and had this crazy idea that they could maybe, just maybe, play baseball with it. So, for a while they were playing baseball with a ball made up of rolled up paper and they told me it worked pretty well.

Elder Hawkins and Elder Silvas posing for the camera as we set up teams to play Baseball.

Thankfully, they had the bright idea of bringing it to the beach for a mission activity we were having this past Monday. They brought the bat and an old tennis ball they found. We drew the lines in the sand and we had teams of about 7-8 people per team (pretty much all Americans... Elder Desvergez tried to play but... errrr... didn't quite understand that you had to run the bases after hitting the ball). 

Elders Hawkins and Jenkins (?) realizing that they aren't physically active enough so they needed to stretch.

I had so much hope that this little pickup baseball game that we were playing would actually work! It had been so long since I had actually played, watched, or seen anything that resembled baseball! (okay, that one time I ate at an Indian Restaurant and watched cricket does not count.) 

Elder Silvas batting

Little by little, the game was coming along! Hits were being hit, great fielding plays were being made, chants from Backyard Baseball were being chanted... ahhhh... it was just some good ol' American fun.


But have no fear, Elder Silvas, myself, and a couple of other missionaries hopped into the car to go down the road to Erevan, aka Heaven in Benin... where one can find all one's yovo needs. We were on the hunt to buy new tennis balls, no matter what the cost! But, typical Benin, Erevan did not have any tennis balls they were willing to sell to us! They had some back in storage that were "defective" and they refused to sell them to us even though we told them they don't need to be perfect tennis balls... just something good enough to hit with a bamboo bat! 

Alas, as we were walking away, completely defeated, Elder Woodland made a joke saying that they should know that old tennis balls just get sold as dog toys after a while. BINGO! We bolted to the dog section of the store and there they were: the perfect African Baseball! It was a little steep (paid $6 for two balls) but it was totally worth it as we were able to continue our game of Africaball. 

As for my stats, I think I had a couple of RBIs and even had a few runs scored... even had to do some sliding which is more like me just letting my legs collapse under me and fall to the ground (it was sand so I could do whatever). I did have one strike out which was pretty embarrassing but after that I regrouped and had some pretty good hits. Had to channel in my inner-2007 Ryan Howard after all. I even held up my bat and did the same batting stance that he would do before going to the plate and everything... I'm sure only Keegan and of course Fro will get that but everyone out here got a kick out of it.  

What our Companions chose to do in place of baseball. (Notice what flag they are centered around.)
OBAMA Beach!

Afterwards, everybody who was playing was talking about how that was probably the best P-day activity that we have all ever had since coming on our missions (I agreed). All the Africans were just watching us and probably wondering what we were doing, but I asked Elder Izekor about what all the other guys were thinking and he said they all thought it was pretty funny that we were playing American baseball. They said they were pretty interested so maybe we'll get a P-day Africaball league started out here pretty soon and teach these guys how to play some baseball! 

Elder Izekor, myself, and Innocente's family! Sammy, the little kid, was not likin' the baptismal service (as seen from the picture) but he settled down after a while!

On a more spiritual note, my ami Innocente got baptized today! It was a great baptismal service! Even though I was freaking out just a few hours before because someone told me that the baptisms actually started at 9 and not at 10... but it did eventually start at 10 like I thought so there were no worries... everything went very smoothly.

Lala did actually make the end of the baptismal service (though he was super late because it started raining)!

I'm really happy for Innocente... I actually mentioned her a while ago, in one of my posts when I had an ami ask me if baptism would solve all her problems and make her life worry free (from my email sent on April 12). We had a couple of problems with the baptismal dates because of things she had going on but she always kept faith that she would be baptized. She was telling us that she knew how it was a test from the Lord, testing her faith and her willingness to be baptized. 

I think it was for the best that she was baptized today though. Because of the extra time we had, we were able to really prepare her for baptism and really were able to reinforce all the lessons that we had taught with her so that she would be ready for her baptismal interview. 

I think the culminating point of the actual baptism though was the testimony she gave afterwards. All converts are invited to bear a little testimony with everybody and she was the first one to get up and bear her testimony on her baptism. She told us how scared she was the night before because of all the unknowns and what not. Then she said how she felt so heavy going into the water, but remarked on how lite (light? mo you gotta correct this for me!) she felt coming out of the water. She testified that she knew she made the right choice and honestly, my heart was so full of joy and love at that moment. 

Words could not express they joy a missionary feels when we see people walking along the path that leads to eternal life. I remember telling Innocente during that one lesson I mentioned earlier how baptism is not the solution to our problems but is a tool to help solve our problems! In fact, I'm reminded greatly of a scripture in Mosiah 5, my mission scripture actually: 

 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
 How true is it, that we enter into a covenant or an alliance (in French!) with our Father in Heaven! My goal with Innocente, now that she has been baptized, will be to help her recognize this tool in her life. What an amazing tool we have, a covenant and an alliance with God! I've heard it many times, both in English and in French, that succeeding in life is not about what you know, but about who you know! What better person to know, and get to know, than God! Someone who can give you anything in the twinkling of an eye, I think, no... I know that's a good connaissance to have! 

Thanks again for all the support, love and prayers that everyone sends my way. I got some great letters to respond to this week so I'll try and write back as soon as possible! 

'Til next week!

Elder Hawkins

MOTO MISSIONARIES! Just kidding, these belong to the guardians of the bureau. Oddly enough, they are parked in President's garage! 

me being crazy at the baptism... nice picture of my tie though.

Is that green or red? Do I go?