Elder Mike Semken, Sr. Missionary Ramblings

2 February 2014
To all of you,
    Where or Where did January go??  
The mission has been very busy as usual.  Except for one delightful sister we have just had the normal amount of sickness.  Every missionary has responded well.   The one sister from the Congo returned home for some medical treatment.  We think that she will return following her recuperation.
    It seems that all new missionaries go through a period of adjustment that they may question why they are here.  The president takes his time and can see their future and knows that they have been called to Benin to serve two years by the prophet.  It is extremely rare for a missionary to return home because they decided that Benin isn't paradise.   I only know of one.  I think that as the missionaries go through the various trials and challenges of any mission that they come to know who they are and a little about how the lord tempers them for life and for eternity.  These young men learn a lot about persistence and team work.  
     Yesterday, I attended the baptism in Gbedjromede.  Unlike a year ago my behavior was significantly different.  The baptismal font had not been filled.  It took until a little after 11 am to fill it.   The service was suppose to start at 10 am.  My type A behavior a year a go could not handle that.  The water runs slow here.   Some of the missionaries used a bucket to pull water out of the well to shorten the time to fill the font.  Yes the were in their white shirts and ties.  I showed them a little trick on how to keep their ties clean and not get wet.  Either take your tie off or tuck it in you shirt.   Oh, they said.   They were wonderful.
   We started our monthly apartment inspection.  The apartments were good.  Some better than others.   Does this sound familiar:  A before an inspection of one of the apartments I found a few things disgusting:  Trash in the hallway for example.  A lot of trash.  I counseled them to get rid of it.  When I walked into the apartment I looked for the trash.  It had magically disappeared.  While no one was looking I opened a seldom used door to a balcony, yep, there was the trash!  Unlike a year ago, I just mused.  I then gathered the missionaries together and led them to my discovery.  It was looking in the closed close to hide the clothes not hung up, or looking under the bed for the hidden soda pop can.   We all had a nice laugh.  They asked if they could just drop it over the balcony.  
      We got more mail on Thursday.  Yes, some more packages arrived that had been mailed in November.   One 4 November 2013.  
     February will be a busy month again.   Zone Conferences and a missionary conference in Togo and Benin with a General Authority.  A few missionaries will have a visit with the General Authority.
     Your missionaries are doing well.  Thank you for your prayers.   They pray for you as well
                 Elder Semken

 21 January 2014
Good morning to you,
    The mission is once again very busy as always.   President Weed will finish interviewing every missionary on Thursday.   He interviews every missionary about every six weeks and has frequent contact with them throughout the month.   So he and Sister Weed are very well aware of the missionaries situation temporally and spiritually.   Every missionary will have his/her ups and downs throughout the month.   Most of the time the missionaries are pretty even.   Once in a while there are things that seem to be bigger than life.  Give a day or two and things are back to normal.  For instance, I have a landlord who is may not be as nice as our other landlords.   He lives in another village 1/2 of the time, which is not unusual.  We spend more time with him trying to solve problems.  He seems to be difficult to live deal with.  Just before a major holiday on a Friday and another holiday on Monday he has left to travel to his other home.  On Friday afternoon the missionaries water was turned off by the water company for non-payment.  The water nor electricity company are suppose to turn anything off on a holiday.  So the missionaries were without water for 4 days.   We do own our water tank on the top of the building.  And the missionaries should have been able to get water.  But the door to the roof was locked and they had no access to the tank.   Results, no water.  So the missionaries went across the road and paid for water that they put in 5 gallon containers and carried up the water three floors every day for 4 days.  When I found out about it on Friday night, I offered to pick them up and bring them to to our apartment for showers.  They thought it was a nuisance and continued to carry the water.  Now how would you like that!  I visited with the elders following their ordeal, they said it was extremely difficult and was one of the hardest things they had to do.   The stairs are uneven and a new elder tripped and fell, hurt his back.   I think on Elder Maxwell's talk on "patience" and wonder what they learned and what I learned.   All is well.  I hope it doesn't happen again.  By the way the President was at their apartment when the water was out and the electricity went off as well; which is a usual occurrence in our mission.  The president seems to be where the challenges are and is well aware of them.  The Lord knows how he is tempering each of us.  There was a book written several years ago by Elder Dyer, as I recall, called The Refiner's Fire, or something like that. 
    Another example,  last Friday we went to the Post Office.   We received about 15 Christmas packages and 25-50 letters and cards.   We go to the post office 2 or 3 times a week.  They had been stored for some time.  This is not unusual.  They told us that there had been some kind of security breach which caused the delay.  Some of the packages were mailed 19 Nov and 23 of Nov and up to 21 of December.   This is why we suggest DHL or FEDEX and not USPS.  Some of the packages, letters will be delivered to Togo today.  Some packages that the missionaries are expecting still have not arrived.  Those with letters and packages were very pleased.
     I noticed a trend this month of January.   It is only 2/3 of the way through the month and missionaries are short of money.   I wonder if they got caught up in the Holiday season spending more than they should have.   They will be fine, they do know how to manage.  
     As I have said, the missionaries have lived many more wonderful days and have many more stories to tell.   I leave the stories for them to tell and most of the details are for them as well to share in their own way and time.  This is true of the no water in the apartment for 4 days.
    The new mission president for our mission was announced recently.  He and his wife are from Quebec Canada.  Both speak French.  I understand that she is a nurse.  I don't know much about him yet.  The picture is just being put together.  The new mission presidents go to Provo for four days.  His name is Pierre-Paul Morin. He begins 1 July 2014.
      We hope that all of you are well.  Our thoughts and concerns are for your well being as well as the missionaries.
        Elder Semken

 5 January 2014
Happy New Year,
      The missionaries were kept busy during the holiday season.   The mission has a very nice Christmas activity.   It started at 10 am and is schedule to end at 2 pm.   The activity in Togo was a week before Christmas and in Benin the day before Christmas.  They start out by playing 6 games.  The missionaries are divided into 3 groups and then depending on the game are broken into small groups.   I asked them if they enjoyed the games and all of them said yes.  Games such as pictionary and musical chairs.   There are some competitive characteristics that demonstrated.  Even the sisters are very competitive.  Following the games a there is a nice dinner and then the Christmas program.   The program is put on by the missionaries.  Each apartment or two apartments in some cases sing a song and include a scriptural reading.   The mission president gives a Christmas story presentation as well as sings.   He is a very talented musician.   The accompanied himself with his guitar while singing.
       The missionaries are then presented with a gift.   As they start to head back to their apartments they linger to visit with one another.  
       The Christmas season is also filled with many member dinners for the missionaries.
      New Year's frequently includes dinner with members as well.  Some missionaries get together and cook a pig and eat it.   This year we have a Tahitian who could help. 
     The new year has begun with Zone Conferences and Missionary interviews.  The general theme setting goals.  Later this month we will have visits by two different groups of general authorities.  These include the area presidency and other area seventies.   I think there may be one from the US.  For one of the meetings Elder Vinson is having the missionaries complete a questionnaire.  It includes questions of evaluation as to where the missionary thinks he was about 6 months ago and then where he is today.   Such as,  are you reading the Book of Mormon everyday or somedays, companion study, personal study, etc.   He is also requested that the missionaries read 3 or 4 assigned conference talks in preparation for the training.
      This past December we had very few medical issues.   The few that we had were very minor.
       Missionaries frequently lose weight as they adjust to their new diet.  The weight is generally muscle, since they don't get any real exercise.   They do a lot of walking but little lifting, nor running, etc.
      We are now experiencing the dry season.  This is the time when the high atmospheric trade winds bring the sand (microscopic dust) from the Sahara desert.   Many people wear the surgical masks to minimize the amount of dust that gets into their lungs.  As far as I can tell there isn't anything to worry about. I suppose if exposed for years it could have some negative effect.  For more than a year now we have been in what is considered a drought.  The other day when we were driving along a very sandy beach road there were tow or 3 vehicles who were stuck in the sand.  One small car was buried past his wheel hub.  Motos were having to get off and push through the bad spots. If I were driving the mission van it may have gotten stuck.  Our trucks are very good, but I have used 4 wheel drive 2 or 3 times.
     The missionary work is steady.  One great challenge that we have seen here is the inability for the members to visit one another, like home teaching and visiting teaching.  The missionaries are asked to go and re-teach their converts following their baptism.  The missionaries build very positive long-term relationships with their new friends.  All of us could put into action of fellowshipping in our own neighborhood, etc.   Developing the depth in leadership and teaching skills requires a lot of time and effort.  The members are doing well.   We have missionaries playing the keyboard for sacrament meeting.   Thank goodness for mothers who had their sons learn to play.  The African missionaries do not play musical instruments.   
    I mention that your sons are very firm in their testimony.  They have a great deal to learn and are glad they have the opportunity to learn to pray, study and testify.  We are very proud of them.
     There is always some new experience for them nearly every day.
              Elder Semken

25 November 2013
To all of you wonderful people,
    We are doing well except for some small colds.  This has been a very dry year for these people and now it is the dry season which lasts until mid-March.   The roads and streets are particularly dry and dusty.  The Elders' shirts are so bad that it is very difficult to keep them clean.   This is especially true in Cococodji.
   A few updates.  I just received word from President Weed that the one year old District in Togo will become a stake in Togo in two weeks.  The growth and stability is miraculous.  Elder Vinson of the Seventy will organize the new stake.  Cotonou is much newer than Togo but it may be possible that a new stake will be in the making by the time President Weed returns home at the end of June.
    I met the first two missionaries in Togo and Benin.  The Findleys.  They are from Canada, age about 70.  They have only take one year off since 1999 as missionaries and humanitarian missionaries.  They started here in 1999.  There were only 6 members of the church.  Now there are 4,000 plus.  It wasn't long ago when the Southam's are there first mission only had 8 missionaries.  That was in about 2007-2008.  We now have 114. 
    To describe the process sometimes.  Remember Cococodji ?  It is on the outskirts of the city, so it seems.  The President tried figure out if we should go to the real capital of Benin.  About 35-40 KMs away or maybe to Cococodji.  He sought counsel from the highest source and said it will be Cococodji.  I was tasked to find an apartment for the elders our in the wilderness.  I found a suitable place.  They moved into the apartment in February 2013.  Two weeks later we decided to find a place to hold a group.  It was in the apartment below them.  Remember the first week we thought we would get 10-15 and we got 47, following week 54 and etc.  A branch was created in May. We were led to a large beautiful building.  It could hold 2 branch meetings at the same time.  Leadership training takes time and a firm foundation must be in place.  Last week there were 140 in attendance.  That is enough to make two branches.   All of this in less than 10 months.   The work is good, though difficult.  The missionaries are happy.   In some places there hasn't been a baptism for a couple of months.  But, there will be.
      Thanksgiving and Christmas are pretty much the same as any other day in Togo and Benin.
     We are pretty much in the saddle for now.   For a while it was if we were like riding a Brahma bull.  I am in the process of teaching and training an employee of the church how we do things with the apartments, utilities, etc.  He was an excellent football player (soccer). This will allow an easier transition to the new missionary couple when they come to replace us.  
I am also helping to teach and train on how to get things done.  Like organizing new branches.  The individuals are very bright and capable.  They just need some instruction and they are very willing to do the work.  
    We have had some interesting discussions centering around 3 Nephi 18:32 through the end.  These people are faithful but they too have challenges and some stray for a while because of circumstances of jobs, distance to the church etc,  We are now talking more about Visiting Teachers and Home Teachers.  All of us have seen some who have wandered for a while but have come back and have been rescued as President Monson puts it.

       Never give up.  Never, Never, Never.  
      The missionaries do a great job of teaching and doing follow-up teaching.  We now need the members to start visiting.  There are remarkable stories to be told.
         Your sons and daughters are no longer young men and young women, but are now men and women.  They know how to do!
      Thank-you for you prayers, they are felt.
         Elder Semken