Hey howdy hey, everyone! I hope this letter finds you all safe and well back home.
Fun fact: There are two places that a domestic African chicken can sleep. The first is a cage. The second is in a tree. Yup. Chickens fly up to the tree branches and spend the night there. One member was telling us that one time, up north in the village, him and his family went chicken hunting for dinner for a funeral. They started the chicken hunt at 10pm, and it took four hours for them to get a hold of one chicken.
Follow-up from last week's sport activity: The zone t-shirts we wore exposed a bit more of our arms than an average white shirt does. Also, this was the first time my calves had seen bright daylight for an extended period of time. Naturally, I burnt pretty bad. No worries, it's turned into a small tan by now. Nevertheless, I have "three degrees of glory" on my arm: pasty white, pale red/brown, and attractive bronze. Haha, what a day.
One morning, on the way back home for lunch, we helped a maman haul a cart of coconuts for a few minutes. Here, you can buy a coconut, right on the road, and the maman will take her machete, cut it up so you can drink the milk, and then cut it more so that you can eat the meat. African mamans with machetes are bold, fearless, and scary. They hack like nobody's business. Nevertheless, the milk and meat were sooooo good, super fresh! 20 cents wisely invested. (;
Me and Elder Angbo are doing great! This week, we really hit it off, and we've been becoming good buddies. Elder Angbo is my fourth companion from Cote d'Ivoire, so I've learned a bit about Ivoirien life and culture. The youth speak a slang called "Noushi," which is code talk they use to avoid being caught by their parents. I love spending the evening just swapping stories about cultures with Elder Angbo. We both hope to stay together until after Christmas, so that way he can practice his English with y'all over Skype. He's such a good, good man, and I'm super blessed to have him as my companion.
Concerning our investigators, we've been teaching with power and authority. We feel the Spirit testify of our words. Some people choose to ignore the feelings we know they feel, and reject the message. It's sad, but just another part of the work. I've gained a healthy respect for free agency, and I feel like I've grown a deeper understanding of our Heavenly Father. He always invites, and never forces. I'm trying to do the same. Whenever an investigator decides that it's not for them, we sigh, brush off our shoulders, and continue the harvest.
We visited with Philomène on Thursday. She's become really opposed to the idea of baptism. I suppose her family hasn't been a very good influence on her, but every time we ask what's up, she gives an excuse, we resolve her preoccupation, she promises to come back to church, and then never come. In our lesson, she said that she doesn't want to get baptized a second time. We said "okay, no problem, we're not going to force you." She had lots of weird questions about different churches that we tried to respond to, but ultimately we told her that we're not here to bash on other churches, but just to present our message. We asked her what she thought about all of the things we had taught her, and she said that she knows it's the truth.
I decided to get personal. I bore my witness of eternal families. I talked about my family, the trials we've faced sometimes, and the infinite blessings of an eternal family. That silenced the room real quick, and the Spirit was there, palpable and testifying. I bore my witness that I would not have come over 5,000 miles, leaving my home, friends, and family for two years, to come into her home and teach her if I did not know that this message is true, and that she could have an eternal family too. I bore my witness that we could help her achieve this goal, and that if she respected the commitments we give her, she would have the same blessings.
I was just caught up in the thick feelings, but my companion said he couldn't speak. He was observing Philomène, and he could tell that she was feeling the Spirit, and she knew that she was feeling the Spirit. Through no credit or part to me, the Spirit came in power and testified of truth. No one and nothing, in a million years, can make me deny that the Spirit came and bore witness of my words. Well, Philomène promised to come to church, and on Sunday she didn't show up. Frère Akakpo said that she just went to her church. That breaks my heart a little, and I'm sorry that Frère Akakpo's going to have to wait a little while to receive those promised blessings, but I'm not giving up hope. I know they'll come one day, just not right now. God loves His children.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Sam's been doing great. We had a really great lesson about Moroni 7. He asked if there was a way for the nation and the world to become a better place, and we read parts of 4 Nephi 1 and Moroni 7. He loved the idea of charity. Afterwards, he gave me and Elder Angbo a shoe polish. That man sure can polish shoes! My shoes were shining! Sam missed out on Church yesterday, so we'll have to postpone his baptism, but I've got high hopes for him. I really feel the Spirit whenever we teach him, and I know that the Lord's got big plans for him.
Our big focus this week was on Awofah, Elizabeth, and Denise. Awofah didn't pass the baptismal interview, which is a little sad, but nothing we can't work on. We're hoping to return in a couple of weeks. She's doing great, though!
We did a pre-interview with Elizabeth on Thursday, and she did great. We asked her if she's ready to take upon her the name of Christ, and she said yes. She started talking about all of the different churches she's joined, and wow there's a lot! From pastors selling handkerchiefs dipped in the blood of pythons sacrificed to Christ, to a church that wears those orange construction vests and casts out demons by unanimously shouting "HOLY GHOST BOOMBA!/HOLY GHOST FIRE!" she's seen it all. But she bore her testimony of how this will be the last baptism she'll ever do.
Denise has a slight mental disability. She doesn't talk very much, and she doesn't really follow the lessons. We tried teaching her, but she couldn't really remember anything or respond to any questions, so we just encouraged her family to review the lessons afterwards in their dialect. According to them, that didn't work too well either, so we decided that Président Attiogbé would know best if she needed to be baptized or not.
Well, come Friday, and the baptismal interviews passed wonderfully! Président Attiogbé actually speaks their specific dialect, so he was able to converse with them freely. According to Elizabeth, Denise's tongue just let loose. She responded perfectly to every question, and she talked more in the interview than she talks at home. I firmly, firmly believe that the Lord performed a little miracle for us, and that the Spirit brought to Denise's mind everything she had been taught. It was a very inspirational, tender mercy.
The baptismal service was great! No bucket-hauling, just a perfectly filled font. Elder Angbo baptized, and he's actually really good at baptizing, no problems whatsoever. It was a very tender mercy for me to be able to take part in this wonderful day.
Elizabeth has been visited by countless missionaries, and I've been a witness to how rooted she once was in all of her religious traditions and experience, and how she could just not accept the need for our message. I've been a witness to her conversion, and it was through no part of our own. Only the Spirit (and Arnaud's super awesome mom) could have brought about this change of heart. Conversion is real. People can change. The Spirit testifies.
Transfer calls are this week. I don't expect anything too crazy, if anything we'll probably get two more elders in the apartment. Then again, there are 18 missionaries leaving and 19 coming in, so it's bound to be a little hectic, but nothing we can't handle! (:
Well, I hope y'all have a wonderful week! We've had some wonderful spiritual experiences this week, and it's been another one of those "I love my mission!" weeks. I'm happy to be here, and I wouldn't trade this for the world. I hope that General Conference is a good one!
Que Dieu vous accorde une bonne semaine, pleine des miracles!