Howdy y'all! Hope all is well in the Good Ol USA, or wherever you may be. We just got back from a zone activity in Ouida (we'll get to that one in a minute), so I may not be able to get to personal emails today, and even the pictures might have to wait.
Things are going well here in Akpakpa. This week started out kind of tough, but it came out as one of the best I've had so far.
So, Tuesday and Wednesday, I was pretty stressed out. It kind of felt like everything was working against the mission experience for me. Companionship problems, fatigue, appointments falling through, people thinking I can't understand French, etc. I was in need of a good fix-me-up. With that in mind, I decided to fast on Thursday for personal revelation. Thursday morning, during personal study, I read a few of Mom's letters, and let me tell you Mom, you are absolutely inspired. I read the one "What to do when you feel stressed," and I cried for the first time since I came out on my mission. You absolutely had the Spirit with you when you wrote those letters, and I'm so grateful for you, and for all the family. I decided that I would not worry, that it would all work out by the end of it all. I decided I could endure with Christ's help for another few transfers.
But then, the Lord started to work His wonders and turn things around:
Thursday, we decided to have Thanksgiving. Elder Marurai and Elder Hansen did chicken, mashed potatoes, and cole slaw, Elder Dakouri did some fried bananas, and I insisted upon the Charlie Brown touch of toast, popcorn, jelly beans, and chocolate graham crackers (closest we could get to pretzels), all with some sparkling cider. It was pretty good.
Friday, every missionary in Benin came to Dgebromide for a zone conference with Elder Vinson of the Second Quorum of the Seventy. It was really good to see some old friends, meet some new faces, and just be together as missionaries. We spent some time laughing together, buying different souvenirs from members, and cleaning the building for the coming of Elder and Sister Vinson. We all gathered in the chapel, sang "Called to Serve," and when the mission leaders came we all stood. It was really cool to see a general authority that close, and next to our mission president no less! Elder Vinson and his wife are absolutely in tune with the Spirit, and we are blessed to have them in the Africa West Interregion. Sister Vinson talked about obedience, about what rules we need to place more emphasis on, and how we must act when another missionary is being disobedient. Elder Vinson talked about faith, the faith to move mountains, about how the Lord is so individual with each one of us, and how our will must be in line with the will of Heavenly Father. It was awesome!
To wrap it all up, Sunday morning was district conference for all of the Cotonou district. Imagine, if you will, Latter-day Saints from all over the coast coming, some sacrificing a bit, some sacrificing a lot, to come and hear a general authority speak. We all gathered in the Palais de Congrès (really cool building, look it up), with white shirts, colorful dresses and boomba, a sight to behold. The choir, directed by Frere Landu of Akpakpa fame, sang marvelously, accompanied by Elder Hansen. The overall message of the conference was about strengthening our families through family prayer, scripture study, church attendance, and family home evening. When Elder Vinson got up to talk, instead of using a translator, he said he was going to try to give his talk in French, and he did so wonderfully. An Australian speaking French over the pulpit in Africa to me, an American? Gift of tongues right there. The Spirit was so strong! Elder Vinson promised the congregation that within six months, Benin would have its first stake. This is a huge blessing that has been in the works for more than 4 years, and so many missionaries have come and gone without seeing the fruits of their labors, and now we get to see the blessings of thousands of saints. He also promised that one day there would be a temple here, and that Cotonou would become a strength of the Lord here in West Africa, but all of that can only happen if the people here build strong families. District conference is definitely my new favorite meeting. All the good things I had ever read or heard or seen about this mission got rolled into one that morning. I felt absolutely happy to be here.
Then, today, the Assistants and Bureau Elders took our zone to Ouida, which is basically the biggest tourist attraction in all of West Africa. We visited the voodoo Python Temple first, and that was cool and weird at the same time. They worship the python, and they have all these interesting rituals and ceremonies. At the end, you get to enter the actual temple and put some pythons around you. They're not venemous, they don't bite, and they're really chill. Nonetheless, I've got a pretty intense fear of snakes, but I held true! I was the first to have a python put on, and it was freaky cool. I could feel it wiggling it's head around, touching the different parts of my shirt, and that was intense. But, I don't regret it! Totally worth it. In the center of the temple, the guide pointed to this jar filled with water and a python, and said "We believe that God lives there". It was kind of underwhelming, but a good learning experience. I have now been in the temples of two different religions, and I've got to say, I like the God in our temples. To wrap it up, we went to the beach. The Point of No Return (the place where the slaves were loaded onto the ships) cost too much money to enter, but there is another monument that celebrates the first Christian missionaries landing on the beach just a few meters down the road (it's free to visit that one. Coincidence?). It kind of enlarged the vision of us missionaries bringing freedom to the nation. Super cool. And, as only twenty year olds can do, we played a super intense multiplayer version of rock paper scissors next to the monument.
I love you all, and I thank you for all your prayers and love on my behalf. God is absolutely there to hear your prayers, and he has power over all. He's not a python swimming in a jar; He is our Heavenly Father, and He loves us, and He will never abandon us. Never.