Hey y'all! No worries, I am still alive. Sorry for having missed last week’s emails. We arrived at the cyber, and the power was cut. I said a prayer that the power would return, and that if the power would come back, that I would not email past 18h00, on the dot. The power came back at 17h58. It was a test of integrity, but even though I missed talking to the family, I felt good about that decision.
With that out of the way, let's review these past two weeks.
On Saturday the 5th, we had a baptismal service! It was for Christ and Miracle, and I had the wonderful experience of baptizing! And boy it was interesting. Christ was the first to be baptized. We forgot to explain and practice how we do the baptism, so when Christ entered the water, he kneeled down in front of me. So after sorting that out, I said the prayer, and I plunged him in. Apparently, being a little too enthusiastic, I plunged him a little too hard, and his feet popped up. Elder Mutombo (he came for the interview because Elder Dakouri is the district leader) was a witness, and with a smile on his face told me I didn't have to push it that hard. So, round 2, I was more gentle, but Christ's feet popped up nonetheless. Before the third try, I took a deep breath, and said a silent "Heavenly Father, help me out" prayer. The third one was the charm. Miracle entered the water next, and, being a shy nine year old girl as it is, seemed pretty terrified. Luckily, it only took me one try for her. As I was changing out of my baptismal clothes, I was feeling pretty down. I felt like I had probably scared Christ and Miracle, and that their baptismal experience was a traumatic one. Then I just felt Heavenly Father's love so strong, telling me that it's okay, and that it'll all work out. I felt like a small child again, and I just felt comforted knowing that everything was well. It took Dad three tries to baptize me, and I had a wonderful experience. So Dad, if you felt at all like how I felt, no worries, it was wonderful. And, thinking of how I baptized someone named Christ, I also had a cool impression: "Imagine how John felt when Christ came to him. That inadequacy is somewhat relatable to your own experience". We stopped by to visit Christ the following week, and he told me, with a genuine smile on his face, that he felt joy, that he felt really happy when he got baptized. No matter how imperfect we may be, God's work moves on, and any effort we give is returned to us an hundred fold.
That same Saturday, transfer calls came. Me and Elder Dakouri are staying together for the end of his mission, but we got a little surprise. Elder Hansen got transferred to Fidjrossé, so we now have only us two in the apartment. Elder Dakouri and I now cover all of Akpakpa. It was really sad to see Hansen go. He was my trainer, my symbolic father, and my best bud in the mission, and I learned so very much from him. He taught me so much about listening to the Spirit. Nonetheless, I know he's going to do great things in Fidjrossé. With Hansen gone, I am now the branch pianist, and the English translator. Super fun! In all things, I feel super grateful to be back in the other half of Akpakpa. We don't visit it as often, but I feel really good to be back with more of the people I love. Plus, working two area books at once is a fun challenge. I love it!
In terms of culture, I see more and more cool details that I love every day. Right now we're in L'Amaten, which is a dust storm that comes in from the Sahara. Things are super hot and dusty here, which is a cool opposite to cold and snow in Utah. And, my favorite part, when the sun rises and sets, it's this small glowing disk in the sky. Remember the sunset on Tattooine in Star Wars? Our sunset is just like that, minus the second sun. Yes, there are days where I feel like I'm serving my mission on Tattooine. :) We went to Dantokpa this morning, which is a huge flea market across the lagoon. We get to go about once a month, and today was my first time there! We went with Elders Ake and Randjimalala from Avotrou, some of my two favorite elders in the zone. You know all those movies and photos you see of African markets and bazaars? Imagine that, spread over about 12 square kilometers, and amplified by a bajillion. Crowded, colorful, sandy. The sounds of people haggling prices, money being changed, and hundreds of ladies walking around, selling and shouting "Pure water!" Literally anything and everything you can think of is for sale there. Fabrics, suitcases, clothes and shoes by the butt-ton, and a lot of the stuff you donate to those charities. I've got to say, I've been pretty good about adjusting to the cultural changes. Up until now, I hadn't noticed any big cultural differences, I just felt the same as anyone else in the city. At Dantokpa, I felt staggeringly and overwhelmingly white and American. I don't know how to describe it, I just felt like "Wow, I'm so white, and I've got no idea how to survive here." No worries, I felt good and safe with my missionary buddies. And, when you're in a group, you've got more bargaining power. I didn't buy anything, I took this visit as a time to observe and learn.
Things are going better between me and Elder Dakouri. Last Tuesday night, he was kind of in a bad mood with another missionary over the phone, and I felt really tired, and I just said a silent prayer of "Heavenly Father, we need a miracle down here". Miracles come in funny ways. As we were cutting vegetables for dinner, I cut some peppers, and then I started to cut some onions. As onions tend to make people cry, I started to cry as well, and like an idiot, I rubbed my eyes with my hands. That's how I accidentally set my eyes on fire. Next thing I knew, my eyes felt the most painful feeling ever. I set the cutting knife down, walked to the bathroom sink, and tried to wash my eyes out. That did practically nothing, and I started to shout out in pain. Dakouri came in, and asked if I had rubbed my eyes. I said yeah, and then he just started laughing. "Don't worry companion, that's normal." He then walked out of the bathroom, and a moment later I heard him tell me to come back to the kitchen. Staggering, I walked in, and Dakouri filled a pot with water. "Stick your head in that, keep your eyes open," he said. After many dunks, I felt a lot better. My eyes were red, but we just looked at each other and started laughing. So, after that incident, things are improving. Things aren't perfect, but I realized that I have been very prideful, and I haven't really taken the time to walk in Dakouri's shoes. I hadn't been nearly as loving and charitable as I should have been.
In terms of final spiritual thoughts for this week, I'd like to share a little bit about Christmas. Here, there isn't as much Christmas celebration, and it's all commercial. Lots of tinsel, lots of raised prices. In thinking about the differences of Christmas celebrations here and back home, I do miss carols and food and ornaments and ward breakfasts and Santa Claus, but there is one universal Christmas tradition that I've still got here in Africa: If you're searching for the perfect gift to give for someone, or if you're feeling down and out, or you're feeling the Spirit of the season, I suggest giving as Christ gave: love and service. Love is like peanut butter and hot sauce sandwiches: you can never have too much. If you find your life lacking in any areas, try seeing how much more charity you can add to it. It's not an instantaneous process, nor is it necessarily easy, but it's the one gift we give that doesn't require wrapping paper or price tags, and it's the gift that will make you smile almost as much as Heavenly Father smiles when He sees His children taken care of. After all, love was the gift He gave to us, in a manger, beginning with humble parents and shepherds, and continuing to fill the world. Do they know it's Christmastime? Yes, they know, because there are little christmas trees and toys and tinsel for sale. But, more importantly, they know or they will know that it's not the season of money or candy. They will know that it's the Season of Christ. And yes, it is the most wonderful time of the year. :)
I love you all, and my heart is with you during this wonderful season. Make the most of it, and have an excellent week!