March 2013 - Great information & stories from Elder Semken (Senior Missionary)

31 March note:
Hello to all of you!   
     These young men are so very amazing.  They have energy, enthusiasm, curiosity, skill and great attitudes.  They do learn a lot in a short period of time.  Some of it a little intimidating and challenging.  The have to learn a new language and all of the lingo.  Even though French is the language, the people do not speak the formal French that they were taught in the MTC.  There are also other languages FON and tribal languages.  None of which are a written language.  Usually they have to have someone who speaks Fon and French to translate.
    They have to learn to eat completely different from home.  They don't have hot chocolate, eggs, hash browns, pancakes.  I know of one missionary who gets an avocado or variation sandwich at 7:15 am nearly every morning.  I was at his apartment early one day and shared the sandwich with him.  I think it cost 50 cents.  They have to learn to budget and this was his way.  They take cold showers, in some apartments the water doesn't always work.  Then they have to haul water to their apartment in a water jug and use that.  They are frequently without electricity.  This is caused by weather and just not enough energy and so the country allocates the electricity to various parts of the city for a few hours.
    The new missionaries learn quickly that hair cutting the American way isn't done by barbers here.  So, they have their hair cut similar to the Africans.  Which is SHORT.
    I see these missionaries asked to lead the music in sacrament meetings.  Can you imagine you missionary just getting up and leading the music?  Plus, it is frequently done with out any piano.  There is no such thing as an organ here.  And the way it is done is:  the chorister (your missionary) sings the first line or two before they start.  That way they will know the rhythm, etc. They are awesome.  
     The mission now has three sister missionaries.  By the end of the summer we will have at least 10 and we have been told that we can expect 20.  This means opening 5 new areas.  The work is expanding here at a very fast pace.  The church is allowing the church to grow slowly so that the foundation of the  future will be good.  If we increased the number of missionaries to say 125 from our current 94, (with the addition of the 20 sisters and departures we will have about 108 at the end of September) we would have more converts than we could take care of.  
     The rainy season is in the air.  It is kind of like knowing fall is approaching.  The morning air is a couple of degrees cooler, their is a slight breeze and it is cloudy and the humidity is increasing.  In the last 10 days we have had a couple of rain storms.  This is our first season of rain so I am not quite sure what to expect.  
     Tomorrow, Monday April 1, the missionaries have a football (soccer) with the members.  Monday is a national holiday, called Easter Monday.  We hope there are no injuries.  The missionaries can get sick but usually they are back to work in a day or two.  The dentists that we have the missionaries go to are excellent.  Their offices are state of the art and clean.  The medical doctors are a little different.  They are very competent but they lack the proper facilities.  If we need to have the missionary get a shot, we have to go to the pharmacy (they are very good as well) get the vaccination and the syringe for the Dr to administer the injection. 
     The missionaries do a lot of teaching.  They do teach.  They have to walk to all of their appointments (rendezvous).   I don't know how they get around the puddles, more like pond, when going somewhere.  
     I think that it is safe to say that most missionaries lose weight the first 2,3 or 4 months of their missions.  That's because they don't get Oreo cookies and milk before going to bed.  They don't get to workout like they would at home.  Their legs are strong, but they won't have 6-pack abs.  
     They all seem to be doing very well, they are happy and of course there are things from home that they miss.
    A missionary who just returned home told us the following, "home is where your loved ones live".  He continued to say that while he is returning home to his family, he has a home here in the mission, because he has loved one who live here.  Would you imagine that of your missionary when he left for the mission field?   So very thoughtful they become, and are.  They will love their mission as they lose themselves in this great work.  One more thing, they do feel the prayers of those they have left for a period of their life, I know it.  They speak highly of you, parents, brothers and sisters, friends, teachers, neighbors, scout leaders, Thank you again for your willingness to share yours sons and daughters with these people.  They have a great MISSION PRESIDENT.  
    With our warmest regards,
      Elder and Sister Semken 

3 March 2013

To the families of Missionaries,
    The past two weeks have been extremely busy.  We are going through a 20% turnover of missionaries in a 5 week span.  On March 23, 2013 we will have 5 zone leader and one assistant depart.  This represents most of the skilled and well trained missionaries.  But, thanks to their great skills they have trained district leaders and other missionaries to step into the various leadership roles.  Sometimes I just look and shake my head at what the lord can accomplish to the teachable.  Their mission president, President Weed, is a man who
receives inspiration in his assignment.  He certainly has the mantle of his calling.
    I thank you parents and family members to your contribution in the development of your fine young men.  We are grateful for their service.
    The new missionaries have developed their language skills remarkably well.  I am told that their great companion challenge them to speak while shopping or they will go hungry (not really).  They have to learn to cook, sleep with a fan on, clean up, wash clothes in a bucket, no hot showers, I did find one apartment that has hot water.  The water is not really cold, so no harm done.  They learn to take the advice of drinking 3 liters of water or more every day, take malaria pills.  Then their is the spiritual lessons to be learned.
      Last week Elder Ounlou was in the mission.  He is an area Seventy.  I picked him up at the airport and drove him to his hotel.  I asked him what he thought was a major challenge of these people in Africa, and specifically in West Africa was.  He just responded that they have to give up many of their traditions.  On monday I visited with President Weed about his visit and he told me the following:
President Weed and I have spoken about why meeting start late.  Sometimes as long as 20 minutes late.  Well Elder Ounlou said that they have these tribal customs that all the people have to be in their places before they make "a Grand Entry". We are the CHIEFs.  They expect to be noticed and honored for who they are.  They are to be adorned with gratitude from the members.  Well, this is changing in the church.  These men are servants, called to serve and not to be served.  They are learning well.  Next: I have spoken about how women
are an object of possession and are not to have any say-so in decision making.  They are to keep quiet.  Remember that they have been bought by their husbands, the dowry has been paid.  

     Unfortunately this is still very much in effect.  At a branch meeting Elder Ounlou repeated his experience with this thought process.  He had been gone for a week on Church business and when he came home his 4 children told him:  You are not going to teach the Family Home Evening lesson any more!  Elder Ounlou looked at his wife and thought to himself, "what insurrection is this all about."  He ask his children WHY NOT?  They said, because when you teach the FHE lesson you are just matter of fact, and just TELL us what we are to do.  While MOM when she teaches we sing songs, we laugh, we have fun, we get to talk and ask questions, We have a real good time.  So you don't get to teach the lessons anymore.  Now, remember what I said above about the status of women and who the
"supposed" chiefs are.  Elder Ounlu quietly said while looking at his wife,  Oh children, I will receive lessons and instructions from your mother about how to be a better teacher, will that be ok?
      This was an act of humility on the part of a West African, someone who is one of them.  The men gasped and couldn't believe that a man as important as this Elder could be saying something like this.  How could a woman teach a man anything.  The women were very pleased with his comments, as you might guess and rightfully so.  He was able to teach in 5 minutes that would take us foreigners and long-time members about two years or more to get this idea across.
      There are real Pearls of Great Price.
          See you latter.
            Elder Semken