Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Long Road to Aladda

#hipstapic #afrika (that's for SisSieHawk)

During my sejour at the Bureau, I have gone and traveled to a lot of places... Togo border, Porto Novo, Ouidah... well, let's just add another place on that place: Aladda! Maybe Fro can get that on a map to show you where it is, but it's about 20 miles north, outside of Cotonou... and 20 miles might not sound like a lot to you all, but when the road is mostly unpaved and a lot of the way is just bumpy roads, 20 miles turns into a good hour to hour and a half trip. I mean, if a gas tanker flips over because of how bad the road is, you know that we aren't joking about road conditions!

Says it should take 40 mins, but....this is Africa!

The whole purpose of the trip was to help out the amis in Cotonou get married. As some of you might know, it is actually very hard for people to get married here not only because of dowries, but also because of the government's restrictions on getting married in Cotonou. For example, there was a couple trying to get married here and they asked for just about a million pieces of documentation (like birth certificates, IDs, high school diplomas, etc... a lot of stuff that really don't have anything to do with marriage!). Plus, it can be very expensive to get married unfortunately, running from 50,000-100,000 CFA which is $100-200... a lot for just a simple marriage. 

So, we took Fr. Chodaton, who is the former police commissioner of Cotonou (and in my branch) to his village of Aladda to try and negotiate for one of the city officials to come to Cotonou and marry people (for cheap). It would end up saving couples about $100 so it's definitely worth the trip. Of course, the not exciting part was driving up there and then driving around the cities (I was *this close* to bottoming out the car but thankfully 10 Beninois came and helped us out!). 

It was pretty cool to get to see the country side of Afrika... it makes me feel like I'm actually serving in some crazy, weird place in Africa and not some dirty/grimy city. We didn't see any wild animals, but that's all good... getting out of the city is always fun so I'm down with that. 

This week, I felt like I went crazy in picture taking so I'll probably let the pictures do more of the talking than my own letter. 

Just a truck full of cows... 

Don't have room for a road? Just destroy the homes on the side of the previous road! Pretty, huh?
Hmmmmm... what's all this black stuff on the road? That's weird...

Wait a second, that can't be a flipped over gas truck can it?!?!
Oh crap... it's a flipped over gas truck... What the heck?!?! Should we even be driving on this road?!?! 

Well, at least people are trying to save what they can... free gas anyone? 

Hipsterized photos taken on the trip to Allada... really nice hillsides... 

.....actually reminded me a bit of the rolling hills of PA!

 Cool white plants that I found at this random house in Allada.

Anyway... things are going pretty well... other than the Aladda trip, there wasn't much else that was too exciting. The big news right now is that I'm leaving the Bureau! Pretty crazy isn't it? I'm not going to write too much about leaving the Bureau this week because I'll still be here a week from now, but it's a bitter sweet feeling. I'm going to go to Menontin, which isn't very far away from the Bureau. I'll be training a new missionary, Elder Semeha... who is from Togo! That's pretty cool in my opinion because my only two sons are from the two mission countries! Not many people can say they've trained both a Beninois and a Togolais on their mission... actually, nobody can say that yet so I'll be the first! 

I'll be leaving the sector in good hands though... I feel like we have some good amis right now that are progressing well. If you remember the family I was talking about last week, just yesterday the Dad said that he was going to get married to our ami Rebecca... we're not sure if it's really going to happen yet, but if it does we are going to be so excited!!!! We've been working a lot with this family the past week, especially with Romario and Sara (our recent convert). We had a cool lesson at the office with them, talking about the family proclamation and how families can be together forever. We gave them a big copy of it so that they could hang it up in their house and then we gave them like 5 photocopies to share with people.

The funny thing is that once they both got home, Romario went to go see his Dad, Abel, at work and gave him a copy... then a few minutes later, Romario left and then Sara came and gave him another copy without realizing that Romario had already given him one! But the best part is, they told us that when he came home he actually sat down and read it! That's the important part! 

Click HERE to print a copy!

During that lesson we had, I gave them a picture of the Ghana, Accra Temple. I told them that this is the goal that they should be aiming for: the day that their whole family can get sealed together in the Temple, for all time and eternity. So, they took that and the next day I saw it hanging in their living room, just like how I had asked them! It was right next to the family proclamation that we gave them! Another cool thing is that Abel's dad saw it when he got home and told his family that they really needed to frame the picture and not just have it taped up! So... I think that's good that he's realizing how important it is that they get married to help them progress towards the goal of marriage in the Temple. Now don't get me wrong, they're a long ways away from reaching that goal, but I know that one day, it will happen! 

Ghana, Accra Temple

One thing that has been important to learn on my mission is that baptism is NOT actually the most important goal to have when teaching people... it's just the starting point. Our goal is to help people live the Gospel for the rest of their lives, an important part of that being making temple covenants! Even yesterday, the first counselor in the Branch was telling us that we should tell the wife that we can baptize her, by herself, once she gets married to her husband (meaning that she doesn't have to wait for her husband to get baptized in order to get baptized)... though I knew he didn't mean anything bad by the comment, I told him that our goal with this family is not to just baptize them... but our goal is to help bring them through the temple one day! So we're going to try and help the whole family come in... not just part of the family.

That actually reminds me a lot about what President Morin was teaching us this past Thursday, when we had a Sacrament Meeting as a mission (well, half of the mission). He talked a lot about how we will start to focus a lot about retaining our converts and truly converting them to the Gospel so that they will progress in it and get all the blessings that they need out of it. 

I feel really blessed that the Lord has given us the Agbo family to teach and see! They are so awesome and I have so much hope in them right now... like I mentioned last week, I've always hoped to find a good family to bring into the Gospel, and I think my companions and I have found the perfect family! It's crazy to say, but sometimes I feel like I'm a part of their family just because I love them so much... I'm definitely going to miss them when I'm transferred, but... 'tis life as a missionary.

I hope that everyone will have a great week! Thanks for sending prayers, letters, and kind thoughts my way!


Elder Hawkins

a few more pics:

The District of the Bureau. The "Beau Gosses"
Oliverson and I having fun jumping at the beach.
Hipsterized photos taken at the Beach... we just randomly went to the beach one day to go and take some pictures because our RVs fell through and we were feeling the need for a little break!

... got some cool pictures tho!

Yeah, I had a little too much fun I think. Thanks Elder Izekor for pushing me in the ocean in my faithful Doc Martens. (don't worry... I think they'll make a full recovery).

This is Celia (Romario and Sara's littlest sister)... this is what happens when you take out the tresses in somebodies hair... AFRO! BOOM!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Forever Families

The Incredible Lala has left... it was a sad day but this last picture was taken in haste as he was excited to finally be off to the airport haha

Alright folks! Don't have too much time to write today but here are some of the things that happened this week:

500 Franc Charwamas ARE BACK!

So, I don't think I've ever talked about this before but there's this guy in Gbegamey who used to sell these awesome little 500 franc charwamas from a little stand on the side of the road. It's pretty ghetto to say the least, but when you can get 4 good tasting charwamas for the price of one, that's just an offer that you can't refuse! Sometimes, after our coordination meeting, Lala and I would go with the Gbegamey Elders (Elder Gray when he was there, now Elder Kunz) to go get some nice, cheap drive through grub. It was so great. 

Alas, the guy would almost always be there. And then, a few weeks ago, his stand disappeared all together! How great was my misery when I thought these 500 franc wraps of deliciousness would disappear forever! 

BUT NO! That was not the will of the charwama stand man!!! For he opened up shop down the street, with a freshly painted stand and new tupperware to put all his preheated meat and the likes in it! I'd like to say our patronage helped buy that paint and new tupperware, but who knows? And of course, they tasted as good as always... let's just hope he's here to stay.

The Wide Open Roads of Afri-ka!

The Road to Togo... Still as awful as ever

We had some transfers that went down this past week and in order to help out with everything, we had to go meet one of the mission employees at the border to pick up some elders that were coming over to Benin. 

Before picking them up at the border, I thought that the ride was going to be relatively easy because it hadn't rained the whole past week and I had thought that rainy season was officially over! 

But no, it rained cats and dogs the night before which made for quite a mudfest on the roads over to Togo... thankfully there weren't many semis on the road so they weren't taking up space and causing traffic... and also, if they were on the road, I feel like they would have had some huge accidents because the mud was just incredible. It was like driving through pudding most of the time. Except I'm pretty sure you should not eat the pudding that we were driving through.

However, we did make it safely and the only problem we encountered was when we discovered a flat tire on the truck after we had finished eating lunch. If you guys had seen the road that we had traveled down, you would have thought much worse would have happened! 

Flat tire... disappointing. You'd be surprised all the looks we got... three white guys and a 
Congolais trying to change a tire. We did it though!

BOOM! Our truck (left) and the Assistants (right)... you can obviously tell that we won.

Yet, one thing that I've noticed in the 8 months I've been driving here is that missionaries are really protected by the Lord... on more than one occasion, I could honestly tell you that I probably should have ran into a moto, gotten stuck in a ditch, or have totaled the car (okay, well not totaled it but greatly damage it!)... yet every time that we pass through without harm, I can honestly feel the hand of the Lord protecting us and helping us complete our work here. It's actually quite a miraculous feeling and one that's hard to describe, but I thank the Lord for all his help in keeping us safe on the roads out here. It truly is nothing short of a miracle with the amount of miles that we drive out here.


This was probably the most exciting thing that happened this whole week! Our ami, Sara, who I talked about not too long ago, has finally gotten baptized today by Elder Oliverson. Her mother, her brother Romario (who is a member), her sister and cousins were able to attend which was really special. Everything went really smoothly... but the most interesting thing that happened at the ceremony was during the time that the new converts have to bear their testimonies. 

While Sara was bearing her testimony, she actually started to cry really hard. Not tears of sadness, obviously, but you could tell that it was the joy she had as she was looking at her brother (I think he was crying too). Even more exceptional was when their mother also started to wipe away her tears as her daughter was testifying.

Let me tell you something, in Africa, people don't cry. Period. Except when little kids get smacked in the face (even then, most don't cry). Almost 99% of the time, people will never cry no matter how strong the Spirit is during a lesson or whatever they're doing.

I'm not really sure why it is like that, but it was really odd to see her start crying, though I knew that it wasn't a bad thing. It was actually really amazing to see the love that is in this family, a love that is ever increasing with their acceptance of the Gospel.

I feel so blessed to have been part of the whole teaching process with this family... it has probably been one of the most enlightening times of my whole mission. We've really had to prepare a lot to teach and to help bring the whole family into the Church... and though we are far away from done, I feel like today was a huge step in trying to help this family reach it's full potential and hopefully, one day, create eternal covenants with God that will keep them as a family forever. 

Family photo! Elder Oliverson, me, Sara, Rebecca (the maman), Romario, Elder Izekor, Ceilia (she's the one I sent a picture of last week). The two kids in front are Sara's cousins... didn't pick up their names!

A dream of mine on my mission has to be able to find a family that can accept the Gospel and reap the blessings from it. I really hope that this small step, in baptizing Sara, will help bring the rest of the family into the Church, and you can bet that I'm praying with all my heart, mind and strength so that one day, this will happen. I know that, from my own life, there is really only one way to experience true joy and everlasting happiness... and that is through a family that lives the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I know that is true thanks to my own family and that has really been a driving force as to why I'm even here, serving a mission in this little tiny part of the world... sometimes it's hard with the trials of being away from home, of being in a place completely different from yours, of being stuck in doing the grueling work that is missionary work, but at the end of the day... whenever there's a moment I want to stop, think about quitting, or feel the urge to return home... all I need to do is open my scriptures and remember... 

... that my family, my driving force, is never really very far away...

With love,

Elder Hawkins

More Pix:

Elder Ritchie!! The Assistant (to the) President, who I miss dearly! But it's all good... he's going to BYU so we'll see each other!

My main man Elder Digbe... another missionary I'm gonna miss a lot... we weren't comps, but we lived with each other for four months at Kodjoviakope

Crazy tomato truck! I swear he probably comes from Kodjoviakope because they were always loading up outside our apartment!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

So Let's Be Frank

Back in the olden days, the days way before the mission, I remember the Fro talking me into watch the classic film "Gone With The Wind." Though I'm sure it is a great movie and I would probably like it a lot better now then when I was 13 (purely guessing the age here), but Clark Gable's classic "Frankly, my dear" line has always stuck with me just because, well, it's a classic! 

Something that I have noticed since being here in Benin and Togo is that these people are, much like Clark Gable's character in "Gone with the Wind", very frank. I think that would be the nicest way to put it anyway! I'm not sure if it's just a culture difference or because they just don't care, but people here are always very open and tell it how it is. 

The thing that made me think about that quote is from this really funny moment that happened this past week with one of our amis, Rebecca. During one of our lessons, she was telling us this story and all of a sudden she made the comment along the lines of, yeah, it was really hard especially because I was constipated the whole day... 


Now, you've got to understand, this isn't just a regular conversation between good guy friends that talk about weird stuff all the time (i.e. Sean and I haha) but this was between 3 twenty something year old missionaries and a mother in her mid-40s... if this kind of conversation were back in the US, awkward would not even begin to describe the feelings that would have filled the room. 

But, this isn't the United States, this is AFRIKA. And to be honest, when she said that, I didn't think it was even that weird until Elder Oliverson whispered in my ear "Only in Africa" right after she said that. 

That's just one example of the many, many times people here just say random things that you would never, ever expect to come up in regular conversation back home. To give you another example, the one that comes to mind the most is when people compliment others on being fat. Well, I know they mean it as a compliment, but it sure doesn't sound like it when somebody just comes up to you and says "you're fat" or "have you gained some weight?" As you can imagine, those are always my favvooorrrriiite things to talk about with people. Of course, they don't mean to be mean, but here it's actually a compliment to be big because that means you're successful and that things are going well. 

Another example of people being frank is when the kids scream yovo at me. Quite frankly, I am white so I guess that works. 

I think it's just really interesting to see how people don't beat around the bush too much here. Of course, there are a lot of exceptions but I think one of the reasons that people are so frank here is because of the vocabulary too! People don't usually know what the more formal way to say something is... like for example, you don't ask where the bathroom or restroom is but you have to ask where the toilet is! 

Another example is sarcasm... it doesn't work here... at all. A common thing that we say among missionaries to describe each other is by calling each other "sick". Like if a missionary did something crazy, we'll say that he is "malade." Make sure you don't say that in front of a member because they'll think the missionary is actually sick and start to worry about them. Another example is when I tell everybody I like patte... people actually think I really like patte... 

I can't think of very many other examples but I think everybody gets the point... people here tend to be very frank... and whether it's just because of the culture or the language, it's just how they are! 

The thing that I have learned from that is how sometimes, we really need to be frank with people! We can't always hide behind pretty language or formalities just to avoid awkward situations or avoid reality even! Sometimes, we just have to be frank with one another, express our feelings when we really need to.

Yesterday, I was having a rough time with Elder Izekor just because it seemed like we were both doing stuff that got on each other's nerves. I really didn't want to confront it because it would have just been so much easier and at the end of the day, I know I would have gotten what I wanted if I had played the "well I'm the senior companion/district leader, so just do what I say" card (which, I am sorry to say that I have used that card before! Cut me some slack, I'm an oldest child.) 

But... I knew that in order to be a good district leader/senior companion/friend/person, I just needed to be frank with him in order to figure out how we could go forward in our companionship without it being super weird between us. So, we sat down together and I told him I'm sorry about anything I did to offend him and just got everything out on the table so that we would all be on the same page. Well, as it turns out, Elder Izekor just likes playing mind games with me and likes me to think that he wants to do everything opposite of what I want to do. For what purpose? I think it's just to annoy me in a joking way... but the point is that I was really glad I was frank with Elder Izekor so that we could move forward from the misunderstanding we were having! 

Other than that, this week has been good! Amis are progressing, there are people to see, I still spend a lot of time in AC and a car. So let's be frank, I really can't complain! 

Hope you all have a wonderful week! 


Elder Hawkins


The two cutest things in all of Africa:


This is Celia, our amis daughter who is so cute. She doesn't speak a lick of French, but she's just so funny I can't even explain it. I would adopt her but we're currently trying to convert the family so that one day they can be sealed in the Temple and be a family forever, sooooooooo... guess I'll have to find another cute African kid to adopt.

We found this little puppy at an amis house. It was so dang cute.

Not so cute: Roadside meat stand! However, the best and cheapest way to get all your beef and pork needs! 

One of our regulars at Church...

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Happy Birthday America!

We went to eat at President Kazoti's house (Fidjrosse branch president) on Monday.Elder Legbanon, my "fils", actually lived with him before his mission and this is his moto! 

Goodness, I think I'm becoming too old for this email business because my fingers start to get tired by the time I write this weekly email to everybody. I guess that's what happens when you've been on the mission for almost 20 months! Maybe I should hire somebody to start typing my emails for me. Ha!

Anyway, this week was pretty crazy with the Mission President change! It was really funny because while the Weeds were preparing to leave, you could pretty much tell that they were not really believing that the end was already arriving. However, they have done a great job in getting this mission up and running. President Weed will always be the "Papa" of this crazy little mission here in Togo and Benin. 

Before he left, we were able to give him a huge journal filled with letters and pictures from almost every single missionary in the mission. They already knew we were going to do it (thanks to missionaries who gave them their letters directly!), but I think they were really surprised to see how BIG the actual book was. In my letter to President, I thanked him for everything that he did and told him a story about how he was an answer to a blessing I promised to one of the members here! Soeur Ola, who owns a boutique out here and was actually found by President and Sister Weed over 1.5 years ago, always helps us go teach people we have. Well, one day I promised that if she came and taught with us, then the Lord would send a customer to her boutique (this particular day, she hadn't had a customer for the past few days if I remember correctly, or at least she hadn't had one all day!). Well, she came out and taught with us. The next day, I asked if she had any customers and she told us that right after she came back to the boutique, President and Sister Weed came over and bought some stuff from her! She thought that we had conspired with President but I promised her we hadn't, and that that was a blessing from the Lord! 

President Weed is surely missed in this mission! He was very inspired but he finished out his three years valiantly. I hope I will get to see them again after the mission! 

However, on the very plane that took President Weed brought President Morin, our newest Quebecois (still have no idea how to spell that!). We waited for about 30 minutes outside the airport for them and it was great to finally meet them in person... the whole time before they came, Elder Oliverson and I were investigating everything we could about them! The night that they got here, they had a 2 1/2 hour planning session with the couple and the Assistants because President Morin wanted to get started right away! 

Sister Morin, me, President Morin (I didn't know where to put my hands! gah!!)

The next day, he went to a district meeting with the Elders in Fidjrosse, where we were the ones to bring them charwamas! What a privilege it was to introduce President Morin to the wonderful world of CHARWAMAS!!!! He was slightly confused as to what it was at first, but soon enough, he came to learn of the wonderful goodness that is the middle eastern delight.

One of the funniest yet confusing things about him is whether to speak French or English. Sometimes he speaks to us in French, sometimes he speaks to us in English! I told this to Sur, but the funniest thing he said was "Ou est le garbage can?" He was speaking Franglish I think (unless garbage can is really how you say garbage can in Quebecois), but he said Garbage Can with a perfectly American accent. I found it rather humorous. 

Sister Morin is really sweet too. It's really great to see how excited they are to get to work and make this mission grow even more than it has! I hope that their zeal for the work will continue to grow and stay with them throughout their three years. 

One of the most interesting things that I've noticed is how much different President Weed and President Morin are! With President Weed, he had a very deep voice, he always seemed like he was busy, and he was also American! President Morin, on the other hand, is very soft spoken, is laid back (in a way where he doesn't seem stressed... though maybe that will change but he might just be really good at hiding it!), and he is also Canadian and a native French speaker. There are many other differences but those are just a few that I'll share for now... I've only known him for a few days, so I don't want to make too many conclusions on President Morin just yet! 

In any case, I'm really excited to work with him and get to know him. Though he will only be my mission President for 4 months, it will be interesting to see what I can learn from him in the time that I have left. 

In other news, yesterday was the Fourth of July! As you can imagine, Benin does not celebrate the 4th of July, much like last year that Togo doesn't either (I know, I know, you would think they would celebrate the birth of America!). But that's not stopping Elder Hawkins! I printed off some copies of the Declaration of Independence for my district to read! I also cracked the windows on the mission truck to show off my mini-US flags my mom sent me! (we felt like diplomats riding around!). We got a lot of weird looks from people, but I didn't care! Also, that morning I played MoTab's "God Bless America" album. Elder Izekor really loved that! At the end of the day, Elder Oliverson, Kunz, Seidl, Konduah, and I went to a big pizza place right on the waterfront to celebrate. It was amazing pizza (it was cheese stuffed crust pizza!). We spent way too much money on it, but it was totally worth it because we were celebrating the 4th of July!  

A for America...and the "Texan" pizza with cheese, mushrooms, French bacon, and ham


My Boys Kunz...

 ...and Seidl! (and Elder Konduah!)


Enjoying a beautiful pizza by the riverside (not pictured: trash in the river).

The sad part about the pizza place was that it would have been a perfect place to see fireworks as it was right on the water front. It kind of reminded me of eating out in New Hope, except the water smelled awful and it was filled with trash. However, if you look past the bad smells and the trash, it was quite delightful! 

I hope everybody back home was able to celebrate a great 4th of July! Our country is truly blessed in more ways than you can imagine. Sometimes, it can be hard to forget all the problems that exist back home, but look at all the things that are right about it: paved roads, constant power, great education, clean water, baseball... what more can you ask for?!?! 

In my personal study this week, I have been reading through the Alma war chapters in the Book of Mormon, which I just realized coincides quite well with the 4th of July, as the Nephites were fighting for many of the same principles that our founding fathers fought for as well. Here's a good quote from Alma 46:12-13: 

And it came to pass that he (Captain Moroni) rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole. 
And he fastened on his head-plate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land—

That reminds me a lot of the famous painting of George Washington praying at Valley Forge, who I am sure was fighting for many of the same principles expressed by Captain Moroni in the Book of Mormon. I find it interesting that many things that are so valuable to us, like freedom and our beliefs, are usually the things that have to be fought for. I hope that we remember why America was born and what the people were fighting for when it was born, and that WE continue to fight for it too. 

God bless America! (and Benin and Togo, too... because we need it!)

Elder Hawkins

More Pix:

Elder Izekor with the ugliest car built on earth.