It is so very good to be able to email y'all! I hope that whatever state you are in, school or work, home or abroad, that you are all doing okay. Know that you are all in a missionary's prayers, and that's gotta count for something, right?
This week was good. There were a lot of appointments that fell through, but we tried our hardest to fill them. We got a lot of unplanned member visits in, which was very good. Right now, we are trying to find an innovative and inspired way to use members in our missionary work more, so we hope to keep finding ways to do that.
I myself am doing fine. My arms have gotten considerably more tan this week, so I hope to come back looking like a dreamboat for any interested ladies. Alas, I shall not have a very romantic French accent: right now I am working on developing an African French accent. It involves a lot of rolling your Rs and such, so it's not very nasal, but I like it. I think I sound beautiful. Anywho, the front of my mouth is very sore from practicing this accent, and from smiling all the time. At least it's a good kind of sore, right?
For Wednesday evening and most of Thursday, we went on companion exchanges. The Zone Leader, Elder Yamapia, came to Akpakpa, and I went over to an area called Finagnon to work with Elder Mutombo. Elder Mutombo is a fireball, and he gets the job done! I was the only white guy in the apartment, and I realized that my sense of humor is nothing compared to the humor of Africans and Tahitians.
We got a lot of work done during the exchange, and it was cool to work in a different area of Cotonou. Elder Mutombo taught me so very much, in word and in example. He gave me the advice to use more scriptures when I teach, and he also said something that has just stuck with me: "As missionaries, we are not called to be timid, we are called to speak." I just love that! We must be humble and meek, but we must also be bold and open our mouths. So, lesson learned (for missionary and member alike), you should be humble and teachable, but don't be afraid to open up and really speak about what you feel and believe.
Friday, Président and Sœur Morin came, with the Assistants to the President, to do interviews and a brief checkup on the area. President Morin is ridiculously sharp and intelligent, but in a very soft-spoken and humble way. He can get to the core of a problem easily (I think part of that is his calling to minister to us as missionaries). For example, the other companionship had been having a little trouble getting along, and his advice was just to make sure that we are consistently praying as a district each morning. In my personal interview, we talked and he gave me a lot of good advice (make sure everyone is there for district prayer, make a lot more notes in your Preach My Gospel manual, etc.). I absolutely love President and Sister Morin. They are such awesome people to be around, and I know that they have been called to preside over and counsel us.
Africa continues to be the place of my dreams. I feel so in love with this city, these streets and these people. I wish I could reach across the screen and bring you all here, walk with you, talk with you, and show you the place I have grown to call my Home Away From Home.
The food here is actually so very good. The Ice Cream, when you buy it in the right place, is heavenly. The bananas are divine. The best kind are only about the size of your finger, and they are as fresh and tasty as can be. My favorite food, however, might be the bread, which, when also bought in the right place, is amazing. It is soft and warm, almost like a cloud, weighed down by that fresh-off-the-street taste you can't really replicate. I miss Mom's homemade bread every now and then, but I'll settle for some Akpakpa bread. The croissants are angelic, with the cream cheese as a pleasant surprise in your last bite.
The thing I am probably in love with the most, behind the people, is the sky. Right now we are just finishing the rainy season, and barely starting the dry season, so there are a lot of clouds in the sky right now, and most of the time the sunsets are average or subpar. However, every now and again, you get a sunset that is glorious. The sun burns in such a way that it is bright, but you can still look at it in its simple, golden perfection; the clouds are set on fire in a tangy and soft way, just like orange sherbert; all framed by the sky, painted blue like the water underneath a tropical cliffside. I have tried so many times to capture them in photos, and it doesn't even compare to what I see with my own eyes. At night, the stars are so beautiful. When I walk home at the end of the day, I can see so many; not too many in an overcrowded way, but just enough to tempt me to stop walking, fall down, and try to count them.
Sorry, but I can't help being a little romantic about this place.
One lesson I learned this week applies to everyone, I think. Our biggest struggle here, behind appointments falling through, is the people clinging to faulty logic regarding the Bible. While the Bible is awesome, they want to read only the Bible, or they don't really value the Book of Mormon, or they won't give us a chance to introduce the message we have to share. When they read the Book of Mormon, they finally get it and start to grow, but it's hard to get them to even that first step. Me and Elder Hansen were talking about that one day, and I felt inspired to say this, paraphrasing:
"That which we yearn for is that which we find and become. These people have a strong desire to learn more about the word of God, and up until now they can only get it from complicated, confusing logic that is mis-interpreted from the Bible. They think the next step will be another complicated way to understand the Bible, and not something simple that comes from the Book of Mormon. But at the very center of their character, they have a desire to learn, and one day we'll get to that desire."
I believe that, no matter what, everyone is genuinely trying their best, or they think they are trying their best, with what has been given them. If you understand that, working with people becomes so much easier.
The Book of Mormon changes lives. Give yourself the time of day to read it.
I really can't think of much else to say, except for one little thought I had during one of my studies: Are you reading your scriptures every day with the intent of feeling the Spirit and learning something new, or just to mark it off your daily to-do list? No amount of time or pages read are worth it, unless they are coupled with prayer and the Spirit.
I love you all. Let me know how things are going back home, thank you for taking the time to tell me a bit of how life is going. I love you and pray for you.
Avec tout mon amour,