Monday, August 18, 2014

My Area of Expertise

Well, back in the hot, sweaty cyber! I’m actually writing this email in a Word document right now as to not waste time while I wait for the connection to come back. This is exciting.

As for the week, we were pretty productive, if I might say so myself! We were able to get a few new amis and I was surprised that we were able to teach the amount of lessons that we did! I think this week we can push ourselves even further and harder if we really try (and of course, I will really try).

This past Saturday, we had the annual Mormon Helping Hands activity… if you remember last years, in Togo, we went to the TVT (national Togo television station) and did some weeding and cleaning up. This year, our part of Cotonou (there were three projects in three different places so that people could attend without paying too much to get to a project) we went to a… drum roll please… hospital!

Goodness gracious, no I didn’t work with people with flu-like symptoms or have to wear a crazy body suit to prevent getting Ebola… this hospital seemed more like a clinic for people to go to (so no patients actually stay there). Plus, we didn’t even go inside the hospital. What we did was move rocks and then spread cement so that way they can put cobblestone in the courtyard (which will double as a parking lot I suppose). It wasn’t that big of a project actually because we finished in like an hour (there were about 200-300 people there I think). Of course, the real reward came from getting some African sandwiches and African lemonade! Boom! Score! Oh yeah and the blessings from helping your neighbor made me feel nice and good too.

Getting there was actually the most fun part of the whole thing… our branch rented this ghetto bus that I call a “Tokpa bus” because you see them on the main roads all the time heading to the main marche aka Tokpa. They are always PACKED full of people and they look extremely uncomfortable. But… I didn’t have time to complain on Saturday… it was either take the bus for a dollar (that covered the return trip too) or pay a moto ride… I’m still not sure what is safer, but I suppose the bus is and plus all the people can double as airbags if you sit in the middle and get hit by a car, right?

Anyway, like I said, the bus was pretty ghetto. What they do is they take out all of the normal benches in a van (they don’t really have these kinds of vans back in the states but think of those big Ford vans) and then put in tiny benches that have been welded together by an ironworker. Needless to say, the more spots you put in the car, the more money a bus will get so the benches are tiny… and they didn’t really think about giving leg space to a 6’2” guy… so the whole ride wasn’t too comfy. But, it’s a cultural experience! That’s what’s important!

I think the funniest part was that we stalled twice in trying to get across town to the service project… thankfully I was packed way too far back in the bus to have to go and push it out of the road. I’m sorry I couldn’t get any pictures for you guys but I’ll be sure to take a picture the next time I’m in a Tokpa bus.

Speaking of Tokpa buses, I actually took my first real one today! Meaning I actually packed myself like a sardine in one of those buses and took a nice ride. There was a soccer activity down in Gbedjromede that we stopped by and said hi to a few people… then Elder Mejean and I went down to the marche to buy some ground beef and flour… I’ll be sure to NEVER take a picture of the meat market I bought my meat from. Remember that picture of that roadside butcher? Think that but about 10x bigger with a billion flies.

Taking the bus was actually kind of funny. All the buses stop by this big gas station right outside of the marche and people stand around calling the places where their busses are going to. Once they see the white guys, they start going nuts. Some guys started grabbing and trying to pull Elder Mejean in their busses (nobody touched me… guess I have some sort of intimidation factor). We finally found one and got inside. There were already about 10 people stuffed in there and I of course I thought, well we should be off pretty soon because I don’t think you can fit very many more people in a van the size of a small VW bus. But three more people got in and they tried calling more people to get in but there were no takers… so off we went!

One thing I should talk about is how there are two people that work for the bus… the driver and the (name I have given him) cattle herder. The cattle herder’s job is to get as many people into the bus as humanly possible. So, as we were driving off and away, the cattle herder put his head out the window and kept calling out “Calavi” (the final destination). So, though I thought there was no more room, we pull over and another person gets in… then we get going again, and two minutes later, another person gets in. At this point, I’m thinking there is no way on this green earth that another person could fit in here… well, the Cattle Herder set out to prove me wrong I guess and we pulled over for a third time, and the cattle herder opened up the back and crouched down in the trunk (think back of a minivan).

But then, the driver proved me wrong and we pulled over AGAIN to pick somebody up. This time, the driver got out and a lady got up and shared the driver’s seat with the driver. In total, I think we got up to around 18 people before we got off. I don’t think I ever understood being packed into a car like a can of sardines until that experience. But all in all, being crowded into a Tokpa bus with no AC was actually kinda fun!
That’s one thing that I have been enjoying about these past couple of weeks… even though I’m nearing the end of my mission, new experiences are happening all the time. Like being asked to teach Relief Society!

At first, I thought it wasn’t that big of a deal that they asked me because I figured it would be about missionary work… well, it turns out that the subject would be on how to raise children in a gospel centered home, which is of course my area of expertise as I have raised many children in gospel centered homes!

As nervous as I was to teach a room full of sassy African women how to raise children, the lesson actually turned out quite well. We had a really engaging discussion about how do things with kids in order to give them gospel-related experiences that they will remember for the rest of their lives (daily prayer, family home evening, reading scriptures as a family, etc.). I explained that doing those things would help influence a child’s choice once they start having to make decisions that can influence the rest of their lives. We talked about how parents can’t make choices for their kids, but they can be examples to them and give them experiences that will help them remember the importance of the Gospel of Christ in one’s life. Thankfully, having parents that did all those things with me during my own childhood, it was actually a pretty easy lesson to teach.

However, the very last question that was asked was really powerful. As everyone in that room, besides myself and Elder Mejean, are converts to the Church, a sister asked how they could do all of those things to help influence their children to choose good over evil. How could they, members with little experience in the Church, do all the things that would be necessary to be a good Latter-day Saint parent?

Daniel Garn

Then, I talked about a convert and pioneer in my own family: Daniel Garn. He, much like the sisters in that room, was not born in the Church. In fact, he was the 35th member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He walked and talked with the likes of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, etc. He too had to fight a lot of opposition coming from family members and friends for his choice in joining the Church and following the counsel of the prophets. Yet, because of his dedication to the Gospel, his faith in Jesus Christ, and his belief in truthfulness of the Church, hundreds, if not thousands, of lives were changed because of his choice. So many people have come to know the infinite amount of blessings found in this Gospel because of his example.

I told the sisters that they too were at the head of many generations of faithful members of the Church to come. They too would be the pioneers that could change the lives of their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc. I told them that if they continued to study the Gospel, be faithful to Christ, and fulfill their duties as mothers and wives that they would one day see thousands of their own posterity blessed because of their example and their dedication to the Church of Jesus Christ.

Honestly, I don’t think I had ever taught more powerfully my whole mission. I could feel the Spirit in me, just burning so greatly. While I was talking, just about every single person in that room was paying attention. It was a really extraordinary experience. I didn’t get any thank you's after the lesson (it’s normal here) but as I was talking and testifying, I did get a few amens so I’ll take that as a thank you!

I just want to end in saying that I’m so thankful for the courage that my own ancestors had in standing up for what they believed to be true! Thanks to them, I’m out here helping others learn about the Gospel and learn that there really is a Father in Heaven that loves and watches over them. I think it’s pretty cool that, though I have never met the pioneers in my own heritage, I am helping the pioneers out here in Benin and Togo so that one day, they too can have their posterity look at them and admire them for their faith and their courage. 

Who knew that there would be such a strong connection between 21st century West African and 19th century American pioneers? And who would have thought that I would have been lucky enough to be a part of both?

Thanks for the prayers and love,
Elder Hawkins

How to eat a coconut, West Africa style:

1. Find a coconut lady (we actually have a member that does them not too far from our apartment!). And yes, that's how coconuts are fresh off the tree.

2. Have the her cut a coconut.

3. Take off the "lid" of the coconut. (You can see the actual coconut "meat" that most people are accustomed to seeing).

4. Drink away! It's actually kind of sparkly/soda-like oddly enough. Very sweet and very delicious!

5. Give the coconut back to the coconut lady, have her cut it open, and eat the still moist and chewy insides (it has the same texture as wet rubber but it's not very hard to chew). Again, really good! 

Note from the Fro: Note to self: get Trevor to teach RS when he returns. And try not to worry about the meat he bought covered with flies....


  1. Maybe Elder Hawkins should tell everyone about the coconut preparations in Kodjoviakopé... Not very graceful.

    1. Elder Haggard, I remember that! He DID tell about it, I believe it is documented on this blog with pictures and all. Something about breaking the cutting board?

  2. I love that he talked about his own pioneer ancestor with these wonderful women. They can change the lives of thousands if they can teach their children. I love the "amens" during his lesson :) Great letter!

  3. Oh my goodness, I was about to have a panic attack as he talked about all the people crowding onto the bus. I'm claustrophobic and once had a similar experience on an elevator. I love how he is embracing it all. I love his story about teaching RS and sharing with those sisters how they can be the pioneers for their posterity. I'm sure he hit a chord with many of them; he sure did that for me. I love the coconut eating lesson. I've done all of that before in Cayman so it was fun to be reminded of the experience. He sounds so great!