12/9/13 - Transfer & Zone Leader call, Togo Stake organized

my favorite family!

this week was going by really fast until thursday.  i remember the moment so clearly.  i was eating pate at sister laura's house right before going back to the apartment.  she had helped us for a couple of rendezvous and she invited us over for some good ol' pate and ademain sauce.  anyways i've got a nice big ball of pate in my hand and we get a call.  i pull the phone out of my pocket and see "E. Assistants".  my heart just dropped into my stomach.  transfer... i answered and yep i'm being transferred this week.  i'm going to a secteur called Anfame to work with elder Dagrou.  They called me on thursday because they invited me to the zone leader council friday morning.  i'm replacing the zone leader in anfame who is going home this week.  What!! yeah i know i instantly lost my appetite and couldn't finish my pate.  it's still all surreal for me, it hasn't really sunk in yet. i didn't think i'd miss attiegou as much as i do right now.  we have some really great investigators and are really getting the branch going.  Elder Kongolo and i were just starting to get into a rhythm, and teach well together.  and bam mutated [transferred].  but i'll go where i'm called.  it should be a great opportunity to learn serve and love the other missionaries which i'm excited for.
well that was the biggest news for this week, definitely.  i think i might leave tomorrow, not sure maybe wednesday.  also i made a goal to testify in ewe when i left attiegou, but because of the conference i couldn't do it.  i was pretty bummed.  i was getting close i can say a simple testimony now. 

but the conference was great.  stake in Togo!  elder vinson of the seventy came.  all the missionaries went to the saturday adult session and sunday too.  all of elder vinson's talks were really awesome.  i loved it.  he is from australia, so his accent was fun too.  we created some wards too. a lot actually like 5 or 6.  called bishops and the stake presidency.  it is a big step for togo and will help the mission out a lot because it takes some keys from president and gives them to the stake president. the lord is hastening his work!

i haven't opened my oreos yet maybe tonight.  peanut butter is heavenly.  snow at home!  wow sometimes i forget that it is december because it doesn't feel much different.  hot and humid all the time.  it's nice though i'm soaking it up. 

Christmas.  i'm not sure what the program is.  i heard the cyber in anfame is really good, and so skype is possible, but i'm not sure when... it could be that i could skype at like 11 am here, or you call late at night.  but really i'm not sure.  i don't know our number yet but i'll tell you next week.  and confirm some things.  but i would like to skype if it works out.

but other than that this week was great.  i got a chance to see a lot of missionaries this weekend that i haven't seen for a while.  the transfer slowed things down but it's alright.  it was only a little transfer because there are more people going home at the end of december so i think there is going to be the real transfer then in a couple of weeks.  but we'll see how it goes. 

i think that's all for this week.  i love you all.  i pray for you.  pray for me so that i can do and be all that the lord wants me to do and be.  love you all!
Elder Rybin

Elder Semkin, Sr. Missionary Ramblings, 12/13/13

To all of you,
     The Christmas season is very different from the season of years past for these missionaries.   There are few Christmas songs, the stories of Christmas that they heard before their missions are only in their memories, there are no pageants, I have yet to hear anything about the birth of the Savior from the pulpits, nor Sunday School classes, and none in Relief Society nor Priesthood.  Likewise, I have not heard a seasons greeting.  Last Sunday I visited with a Branch President and told him what Christmas was like at home.  He said that they don't know the hymns nor songs of Christmas.  He hadn't thought about the Christmas story as a possible subject for talks.  I think that somehow these marvelous people will get something from Christmas the next two Sundays.  
    The current make up of the mission is; 20 sisters,half of the Elders are from the states & Europe half of the elders are from Africa.  Your sons are very diligent in their work and they are glad the Christmas season is here.   They are teaching by word, deed, and example the reason for the great Christmas message to the world.  ...For unto us a child is born.... They remember the sweet times of home.  They remember their families and friends.  They are happy.
     Their work has changed their lives and you will be so surprised when they return.   They are surprised at themselves!  One of our soon to be released missionaries made the following comments:  Said he; As I reflect upon my mission I contemplate some scriptures and quoted from Mosiah 2: 20-24, I am so blessed because of the change that has been wrought in my life.  I want to just bawl. He expressed in such a humble manner that he hopes that he can continue to do what is asked of him and expressed a willingness to do so.  He expressed gratefulness to the message he was privileged to deliver and thankfulness to his family, friends, leaders and others who helped him along the way."  I know his sentiments mirror what your sons say and think.
    Not that this work is easy.  I look at their shoes, dirty and worn out from walking long distances on dusty roads.  I look at their yellow colored collars.  The creases in their trousers are almost non-existent, they are stained.  Their meals are scanty but sufficient.  The heat takes a lot out of them.  On P-day their wash tubs turn to mud as they put their shirts, socks, underclothing into the water to clean with their hands and rub the dirt out until the the skin on their knuckles are nearly worn off.  They sleep with a fan on hoping to be comfortable.  Can you imagine this?  And they then say, most of the time,  "today is the best day of my life".   I reverence their love and devotion.
     They love to teach, they love the people.  They wish that everyone would come a partake of the fruit of the tree of life.  But, they have the disappointments of people not being able to come to the table and feast at the Lord's table.  But, they know that the message delivered will resonate into the lives of those who are just not quite ready.  They rejoice with those who come into the waters of baptism and begin a new life.  
     The language and customs can be very challenging as well, both of the people here and their companions who they grow to love as they mature in the nature of their missionary call.  
      We are grateful to all of you for your love and concern for your valiant sons, the Lord knows them, and he takes care of them.  Just as he took care of our forefathers.   Through the trials of living we are prepared to receive great blessings.  Blessings that we can't even begin to imagine.
      Merry Christmas and a happy holiday season,
           Elder & Sister Semken

12/2/13 - First Stake in Togo, Eric baptism

so like usual, we are here at the cyber, late, and i have basically no time.  but i can briefly pass over the highlights of the week. 

first i got the package this week.  ate some wheat thins and candy, but haven't touched the oreos yet.  i am kinda scared, i just like looking at them though.  everything else was good too, i'm stocked up now and happy. 

thanksgiving this week.... i forgot until right before bed. :)  i don't think i really ate dinner.... but you all probably ate plenty for me anyways. last night we went and ate foufou at a members house, and that was good.  i pooped when i got home and next morning... that's some good foufou :) 

Caden taylor is home from his mission already?!? wow.  that's crazy about kristen. 

also today we went to the foire.  i spelled it wrong last time.  it was pretty cool we bought some little african stuff.  next year's Christmas presents some of them... :) i couldn't find a chess set, but i got a few leads, and well see.  benjamin, i didn't see a lion skin, but i saw a carved elephant that was like 3 feet square, pretty sweet.  1400 bucks though, and probably weights a butt ton.  there was some cool stuff though. 

fast and testimony meeting is AWESOME.  i love it when my converts get up and bear their testimonies!  it's the best.  marie gave a wonderful testimony yesterday and i was so happy.  she talked about how much the gospel has changed her life and how she has come to love the scriptures.  it was amazing. 

also we had a baptism saturday!  eric a friend of aime.  he is great.  aime too, but he wasn't there yesterday for church.... he had to go sort out some family stuff.  we're seeing him tonight though. 

sunday big news!!! togo is getting their first stake!!! oh yeah! i'm pumped, not a 12 coming but a 70.  should be awesome.  making progress.  vide vide hevi wo nato.  that means little by little the bird makes his nest in ewe.  it's a saying they have. 

thanks i've got no time left.  love you all.  good shopping, christmasnessing.  drink egg nog for me, no milk.  i love you!
Elder Rybin

Mom's note:
We received this picture from Sister Christensen.  She and her husband are Senior Missionaries in Togo.  One day I felt like Elder Rybin had been gone FOREVER!  The picture came just a few minutes after I had voiced that thought.  Thanks for that tender mercy!

11/25/13 - Pre-Thanksgiving dinner, new young couple

hey family!!

how are you all doing!  this week is thanksgiving!  we had a thanksgiving party with the zone today and ate a little bird like a mix between a turkey and a chicken.  it was pretty good.  not like home exactly but a good african thanksgiving.  other than that i don't think we have any big plans for thanksgiving.  i found some mountain dew in a store in the city and have saved a can that i'll probably drink on thursday.  but yeah. 

can you believe it's almost december?  wow christmas is just around the corner.  i haven't got my package yet but I'm not worried it'll get here soon. i'm not sure if we have any zone activities planned for christmas; not sure.  there is a transfer  menacing again soon because there are some missionaries going home in december.  so i don't know if i'll even be here in attiegou for christmas; never know though.

this week we taught a really awesome lesson with a young couple.  we talked with the wife first a couple days earlier.  she was interested but it was a little difficult because she doesn't speak much french; but we had someone there to translate, and it turned out to be a really great lesson.  she accepted to be baptized at the end too.  then we came back and she says that she gave the brochure to her husband and they read and both had the same dream that our church was true.  we came back and taught them both together this time, and they are really great.  both don't speak french that much, but while explaining the first vision Asou, the husband, cecile is the wife, his face was just speechless, he was just soaking it up.  at the end before we even have the chance to invite him he says he wants to come to church, and asks us if he can be baptized in our church somehow.  (yeah! i know!  awesome right!)  downside is that they aren't yet married... but when we explained that he needs to do the dowry before, he didn't even hesitate in saying that he has to do that because he needs to be baptized.  it was awesome!  those are the people who are truly prepared. those who don't ask questions or make excuses they just do everything you ask.  it's going to be tough because they are really poor, but we promised them miracles according to their faith and desire.  cecile was there at church yesterday;  asou had an emergency in his village, otherwise he would have been there too.

Thanksgiving Bird
i'm attaching a picture of our thanksgiving bowl of one of the birds.  turned out really good.  have fun at carols this week i think that is all that i have for this week.  thanks for all your letters and stories.  i love you all.  happy thanksgiving!


Elder Rybin

Note:  Sister Bennion lives in our home ward.  Her parents (Elder & Sister Peterson) are on a mission in Ghana.  They travel around West Africa working with Young Single Adults.  One day they happened to find out that Elder Rybin is from American Fork and lives in the same ward as their daughter.  Check out their mission blog.  http://petersensinghana.blogspot.com/  and look at the entry for Tuesday, September 17, 2013, Trip to Togo.  Elder Rybin's picture is at the bottom.

Elder Semken, Sr. Missionary's 9/29/13 ramblings

29 September 2013
To Family and Friends,
      We now have another couple who have been assigned to the country of Togo.  In essence they replaced the Leavitts who returned home at the end of June.  They are the Christensen's from Yarrington, Nevada.  This is some 80 miles from Reno in a beautiful valley.  President and Sister Weed know them from their temple worker experience. He is a second generation as a pharmacist.  Both of them worked in the store together.  Their son is taking their place as the third generation of owning the town pharmacy.  He served in the same mission in France that President Weed did but not at the same time.  She also speaks French.  As a pharmacist they know a lot about how to treat various illnesses.  Already that skill has been a nice blessing to the mission.  
     They have a very nice story about their calling as temple workers.  It is their story to tell.
     Yesterday, the first baptism at the Cococodji Branch was held.  As you recall from prior ramblings this area was opened in February.  They started with 47 people coming to church.  Today they have about 125 and 8 more were added yesterday.  The branch President had  the privilege of baptizing his son first.  Then 4 elders had the blessing of baptizing at total of 7 others.  It was drizzling.  It took Francine & I and two elders about 11/2 hours to travel the muddy roads the 12 miles to the building.  It was raining and it would be similar to a driving in a snow storm (not a whiteout) in Utah.  The drivers here did not know how to drive in it.  Cars, SUVs and semi-trucks were stuck and broken down.  Some because they went in water to deep and they didn't know what to do.  You keep moving.  I took the lead and a few followed me through.  The rest stopped and waited for the storm to pass and the water to drain.   The French and African Elders that were with us said,  "this is an adventurer". Their were about 35-40 people their to witness this first baptism event.  
     I took another way back to Cotonou.  There wasn't much traffic but the road was in poor condition because of the rain.  Another adventure the Elders said.  
      Today at church the Priesthood and Relief Society met together.  The lesson was taught by President Modeste, the 1st counselor in the District Presidency and a master teacher.  I have also previously written about him.  We sat with Sophia, our convert baptism.  At the time I didn't know two other people who were sitting next to her.  The lesson was about the Priesthood, in the home and family.  It started with a 6 or 7 minute video with Elder Oaks.  President Modeste then gave a wonderful discourse as he always does.  He had good and proper discussion.  Now, remember about 1/2 of the people in attendance (this is at Fidjrosse Branch), have been members for less than one year.  Many only a few months.  They asked what to us were simple questions.  Who can hold the priesthood?  Why can't women hold the priesthood? What about when no priesthood is in the home? Then their were some questions that were from the more experienced members.  Sophia answered the question as an expert about the woman's role and the priesthood.  When we started to teach her she was surprised and questioned the role of women in the church.  We took two or three weeks of instruction on this issue.  She understands this as if she had been a member all of her life. President Modeste handled all of the questions perfectly as well as explaining the blessings of the Priesthood.  
     Following the lesson I was introduced to the two sisters, a mother and 11 year old daughter, sitting next to Sophia.  They are her sister and niece.  I turned around to visit for a moment or two with others.  We still can communicate even though we don't speak French.  I then turned around and saw Sophia's sister visiting with President Modeste.  I called him over and to bring Sophia's sister as well.  I then introduced President to Sophia and told him that he was speaking with Sophia's sister. Since the time Sophia and Sam were taking the lessons, Sophia and Sam have been under a microscope.  More on this at another time.  Today was the first time that Sophia's sister had come to church.  She has not had any lessons.  President Modeste told me that he had been visiting with Sophia's sister and she said that she wanted the Priesthood in her home.  Naturally we had the elders set an appointment to teach today at four.  As I am writing this she and her daughter are taking their first lesson.  That little bit should give you something to ponder about.  It does me!
     This past week the office elders informed me that they would have a baptism this week.  I was surprised since they baptized last week and hadn't mentioned anyone being ready to be baptized this week.  They had been teaching a young lady for 2 or 3 months who was moving to New Guinea and would not be baptized since the church does not have any presence there.  At the beginning of the week she announced that she really wanted to be baptized regardless of the lack of the church in New Guinea.  The elders called the mission president and told him the circumstances and  said that she could be baptized if that was her wish.  I told the elders that they won't know what happened to her for 20 years when we read about her perhaps being the first member of the church in that country and what a great person she is.  You see, the Lord plants seeds in many places in various ways his wonders to perform.  
     Other thoughts, whom the Lord calls he qualifies.  I have been wondering about my lack of language skills in French.  I have other lessons to learn as well.  I recognize that once we have mastered or nearly mastered something that then the Lord will give us another challenge or calls to our mind some other virtue that needs working on.  He doesn't have us work on everything at one time.  Of course that would be an impossible task.  Well this mission is giving me plenty of opportunity to discover virtues and other challenges to improve upon.  What a great thing to discover; how to improve my character and abilities and meeting various challenges and trials.  Time and patience and observation frequently solve the various challenges. This is a great place to be.  
     The missionaries are learning great lessons of life.  They are wonderful and doing well.
           Elder Semken

Elder Semken, Sr. Missionary's 10/19/13 ramblings

19 October 2013
   The past month has been very intense.  We have released 18 missionaries and the month before 6 more.  This week we received 20 new missionaries and received 8 others.   This means that over 50% of the mission have new companions, which entails new responsibilities for over 75% of the remaining missionaries.  There are new trainers, a new assistant to the President, new district leaders, new zone leaders, and senior companions.  We have two new missionaries who are only 18 years old.  Most of the Africans who come are 23-26 years old.  So you can imagine the stress and strain on the younger missionaries who are there trainers, senior companions etc.  This is very challenging for them and also for the Africans who have a culture that if I am older than you, I am the boss.  So, now everyone gets to learn his/her individual challenges and short-comings.  It does work out.
     To give you an idea of what happens when someone is taking the lessons or becomes a member.  Sister Semken & I were introduced to a young couple who are receiving the lessons.  We saw them at church two times and they are very friendly and receptive.  They don't speak English so we have elders translate when necessary.  Almost two weeks ago we were invited to help with a Family Home Evening presentation.  There were about 8-12 people there and this young mother and child came.  We had a discussion which got on the subject of women and how they were treated.  One man said women are our servants.  Well, that didn't sit right with me and I proceeded to explain the proper role of man and woman.  The women were so pleased to hear that they are not a lower class.  We didn't talk about marriage.  Anyway I saw the man the following Sunday and he was glad to get the explanation of man and woman.  At the FHE we played games which they joined in and thoroughly enjoyed.  FHE is not a lecture time.  They thought that it was what they were supposed to do.  We also had treats.  They were glad to see that not everything is so formal and that all in the family can and should participate.  The young lady asked the elders if Sister Semken and I could come to her home and talk about marriage.  She and her husband had observed how the members treat their children.  They don't want to spank or hit or yell at their children anymore.  So, they asked a recent convert how they made the change.  They told them that we taught them a better way to teach and train their children and that it is working very well.  We go to their home in 15 minutes.  
     Your missionaries are doing well.  We are now seeing many go home and we are both sad and glad.  You know what that is like.
      Elder Vinson of the Seventy, he spoke in this past conference, is here for the District Conference.  The missionaries may get a chance to meet him at the Conference tomorrow.  He is wonderful!  He is in the West Africa Area Presidency and knows a great deal of Africa.  This requires a lot of time for the mission to assist and accommodate him.  We learn a great deal from him.  We talked about the African life, the missionary roles etc.  He said that we notice that those young men from America, Europe adapt faster that many of the Africans.  Partly attributed to the scouting program.
     We visited Customs yesterday and there seems to be some softening from the letter I wrote 2 weeks ago.  We will give you more info as it becomes available.  But, one package got through yesterday with not custom duties and we thought it would be approximately $50 US.  Not all is as it was yet.
     The mission President is back from his surgical procedure and is back to full speed.  Your missionaries had a special prayer day or two for him.  They are awesome.
      We are grateful to you,
             Elder & Sister Semken

Elder Semken, Sr. Missionary's 11/3/13 ramblings

Good morning, it is another nice day in Benin/Togo;
     Zone Conferences were held in Benin this past week and they will be held in Togo this week.  At the present time things have finally settled down since we had so many missionaries depart the past 6 weeks and so many come the past month.  The new responsibilities of the missionaries that have been here requires additional training on the part of the mission president.  Then the new missionaries have a lot of adjusting to do as well.  It seems to me that things are going well and about as expected.
     These young men and women are exceptional.  There skills of language is remarkable as well as their enthusiasm.  They are very kind and considerate towards the members, the community, and their companions.  They learn the gospel and have the opportunity to put the things that they have learned to the test.  A mission becomes a refiner of men and women.  
      The challenges of culture may still be their biggest challenge.  Things are so different here and we learn new things regularly.  I have spoken about the traditions of the fathers:  Here is an interesting story that Sister Semken and I have been involved.  This couple, Gladys and Patrick and their two small children have been receiving the lessons.  They are not married, which is extremely common because most couples can't pay the dowry.  Sister Semken & I taught them about marriage.  They know they can't be baptized without being married and getting permission from both families and paying a dowry.  They live in a 12 x 15 sq foot cement lodging.  No running water, one 2 foot florescence lamp.  They thought that they would would not be able to be baptized for several months in order to save for the fees to get married, settle the dowry questions etc. Well they went to visit Gladys' family about marriage.  Her family is very traditional Catholic.  Her father came over to their house following their visit and said we are so glad that you will be married in the Catholic Church.  She said, we don't want to do that.  He said, we are so glad you are going to be married civilly.  She said yes and we are going to be baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  He said, we support you in your decision.  We are just glad that you are getting married, and BY THE WAY, THERE WILL BE NO DOWRY TO PAY.  Now, go figure.  That never happens.  There are miracles that happen regularly.   Your sons and daughters are a part of these kinds of experiences.  They learn so much from others and they have so much to give.  They are a true blessing to these people.  Thank you for your efforts on their behave. 
     Christmas is not celebrated as much here like in America or European cultures.  But, the missionaries love it.  We have a Christmas dinner and program (put on by the missionaries).  It is a lot of fun.  It is always nice for the missionaries to call home and they look forward to it.  They welcome the cards.
      This is a great place to be!
           Elder Semken

11/18/13 - BEACH!! Zone trip

ok family,

our cyber has been sooooooooooooooooo slow for these last couple of weeks.  aujourd'hui it took me 1 hour 10 minutes to load up my email.  yeah i don't know what's wrong but it's really frustrating. 

anyways.  it's been a long time. it feels like that i haven't written.  but the biggest news for the week is that today we went to the beach!!! yes, mom, you do have permission to be so totally jealous.  it was amazing!  right as we started walking on the sand and i smelled the salty ocean breeze i was taken back to malibu.  it was bitter sweet because i wanted to go swimming really bad.  but yes it was great.  i tried to imagine what you all were experiencing in good old utah winter, shivered, and took a deep breath and enjoyed the sun for you all.  mom if i could've called you i would've so you could hear the ocean waves, sorry.  im going to send some pictures today.  but don't worry mom.  i collected some beach rocks and shells and sand, so I'm all prepared.  it was a great zone activity all in all. 

on the beach there were people fishing that we were talking too.  their fishing is crazy!  at 5 am this morning they rowed out in a boat super far and place this huge net (like 600 feet long) and they pull both sides all morning long until noon and they pull the net in with a whole bunch of fish.  just as we were leaving they were pulling the net up with all the fish.  it was pretty cool.  hard work though. 

we've been working really hard. elder kongolo and i are are having more success little by little.  we are setting some big goals and seeing some miracles.  it is going good.  there are still a lot of things that need to happen but it's coming along.  also we got a call this weekend and there is a transfer this week.  elder kognani is transferred to benin.  he is being replaced by elder sonatiananiana yeah i just typed a whole lot of i a and n;s and its something like that.  he's malagash.  it will be a little weird.  i really like elder kognani and we've been in attiegou together for the last 4 months but that's the mission.  there's going to be another transfer in december because people are going home, and were going to get a new assistant and a couple new zone leaders.  we'll see. 

oh i think those nuts that i talked about awhile ago are hazel nuts. what do hazel nuts look like before they are pulled out of the fruit stuff?  i don't know. 

my package is in benin?!  that's awesome.  that was fast, i think it could take a couple of weeks to get through customs here, and a couple days to get to me, or a week so i could be just before christmas.  but i'll think about the couple offer, to get something else here quick.  sounds like a good idea, but i'm not sure what yet.  i'll let you know.  because the cyber is so slow we don't have much time today either.  so have a great week.  enjoy the pictures! 

i love you all!
Elder Rybin