Attending Church in Farako

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The Chicken Farm Entrance

This morning we drove to Farako to attend church.  This is the place where the first members in Mali started the first group.  Farako is where the chicken farm is.  This is where it all began.

Farako is about an hour out of Bamako, going east. We drove on paved road much of the way, then we turned off, going south into the outskirts of town. Everything is dirty from red dust. There are people everywhere. There are no lanes in the roads and no traffic rules. Lots of motorcycles. As we drove south, we went through some new developing areas where cinder block homes are going up. Lots of small homes in rows. I wonder if it’s government housing of some sort. They are getting that road ready to pave. It’s like a whole new neighborhood–just red dirt and cement homes in rows.

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Then we turned off that dirt road to go to the chicken farm, another 30 minutes or so of pretty much bad roads. You have to go slow. Bumps and dips and dust. And long-horned Brahma bull skin-and-bones cows being herded on the same dirt road. It feels good to be back in the village life world. Mud brick homes, outdoor cooking. Shea trees and mangoes. Women washing. Men sitting, children playing. Dusty and dirty. It’s a wonder people live here. It’s such a hard life. We drove on until we came to the chicken farm and stopped there to greet Dramane Bagayoko, the group leader. He and a few others were there to lead us to the new meeting place.

Until last week, church meetings were held at an open bowery-type building here at the chicken farm.  Last week they moved to a new rented building about a 20-30 minute walk farther along the dirt road.

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Sis & Elder John Lewis, Sekou & Dina, Sis & Pres Binene
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Elder John Lewis & Frederic Mbaya

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The new place is a small compound we are renting. It’s a construction zone right now. Cinder block construction. Small buildings around a center courtyard. The chapel was open on 2 sides, which was nice for the breeze. It’s small. Maybe 20 feet by 15 feet. We had 3 rows of 6 chairs, some chairs in the front for Pres & Sis Binene, we sat on the side. There was a small sacrament table with a chair behind it for Elder Oulai.

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There is a side room with no windows, or maybe they were just closed. There are heavy metal window covers. As we got going, a few more people came and sat in the side room. By the end, we had 30 people there, mostly men, maybe 2 women and a few children. Barai and his son came. Dra translated from French to Bambara for the people there. Many of them don’t speak French.

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Dramane and Sekou preparing the sacrament program

Someone brought a bottle of water and a baguette for the sacrament. Elder Oulei blessed it. It all felt humble and perfect. A dragonfly came and went while we received the emblems of the sacrament. It was quiet and peaceful. I thought there is no place in this world I would rather be than here.

After the sacrament, John and I both spoke. Mostly in French. Dra translated to Bambura.  Then Sis Binene and Pres spoke. She taught them about prayer from Alma 33, 34 where is says to pray in your homes and with your families and in your fields and in your wildernesses. Pres Binene talked about the creation and all the steps, and then he taught about resting on the Sabbath and he talked about keeping the Sabbath holy.

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After the sacrament meeting ended, we had a Sunday School lesson taught from Gospel Principles manual by Elder Oulei. The 3 other missionaries went to the other groups–2 stayed in Bamako, and one went to Gomi.  The lesson lasted a full hour, finishing up at about noon. It felt good. These are the pioneers, the first of the first generation.

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The other buildings in the compound:2019-11-17 Church Farako (24)

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Sekou Dembele, First Counselor in the Bamako Branch Presidency and Dramane Bagayoko, Group Leader in Farako 

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President and Sister Binene

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We had a visitor today from Ouelessebougou with his friend. His name was Nama Kamissoko. He went to BYU-I and married a girl named Courtney. They live in Provo now. He wants to get an MBA at BYU. He served a mission in Phoenix.

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Being here is a good thing.  I feel the joy and peace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in places like this where it’s easy to feel what really matters.

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On the street where we live

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This is our street in Bamako.  It’s a lovely place, peaceful, respectful, and full of kind people.  The prayer calls from the mosques are heard several times and day, before dawn and at dawn.  The callers sing/chant reminders to us to pray and remember our God, which is rather a nice thing.

I’ve been wondering for a long time about what we would do with our trash here.  There are 10 units in our apartment building.  We live on the very top level (65 steps up).  We have no garbage disposal in the apartment, so all of our wet garbage and all of our trash needs to be brought down stairs.  But where would we put it??

We were told to bring our trash here, at the base of our building:

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Throughout the day, kids and adults sift through our trash, knowing that there could be something edible there, or something usable.  You’ll notice that there is never anything that will burn left in the pile.  Burnables are quickly taken to be burned under cooking pots.

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This is our trash man.  He comes by every morning to haul what’s left away.  I’m not sure where it goes from here, but we see these donkeys and carts all over town hauling trash away.  There are huge trash piles on the outskirts of town.  People swarm them, looking for things they can make use of.  We would do well to learn from the frugal people here who don’t waste.

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This sign taught us where we live–our area is called Badalabougou, by the 2nd bridge.  That’s how we tell people (like taxi drivers) where we live.  We don’t really have an address.  We’re in the tall building by the big mosque.  There is no mail delivery here.

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This home for rent is right across the street from us.  We’d love some good neighbors if any of you are interested.

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Zone Conference in Bamako

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We met all day today in Zone Conference with these good Elders.  The discussions and discourses were similar to those we had in the Ivory Coast zones, but tailored to this place and time.  We started at about 10:00 and went straight through until 4:30 without a break.  It was a full day!

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I loved that our discussion began with D&C (D&A in French) 82:14 where it says “For Zion must increase in beauty and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.”

President Binene talked to us about what he called, “The Frontier of Zion.”  We are the Pioneers and this is the Frontier. And there is a great work to do here. He counseled us to be especially obedient and to work hard to establish the church here on this frontier.

He finished that segment of his remarks by having us read D&C 64:29-34: “Wherefore, as ye are agents, ye are on the Lord’s errand; and whatsoever ye do according to the will of the Lord is the Lord’s business. And he hath set you to provide for his saints in these last days, that they may obtain an inheritance in the land of Zion. And behold, I, the Lord, declare unto you, and my words are sure and shall not fail, that they shall obtain it. But all things must come to pass in their time. Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work, and out of small thins procedeth that which is great. Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind, and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days.”

As we read that, it seemed as if the Lord were talking directly to us today. He has sent us to these people, to help them obtain an inheritance in Zion. And they shall obtain it, in His time, so we must work hard and keep going to lay the foundation and great good will come.

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We talked about fortifying the local members, establishing and strengthening them, because out of them will spring great things. Sekou was with us today, along with Brother Mbaya, the clerk. They are bright and good.

2019-11-15-4.jpg We talked about the salt keeping its savor, we watched a Safety Zone video, we had a discussion on preparing for and holding baptismal interviews, we talked about appropriate ways and church policies for working in Muslim cultures, and we had a good discussion about Elder Asay’s statements below:

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After our conference, we recognized birthdays (Sis Binene), and these Elders received certificates for outstanding work this last month.

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By 5:00 or so, we were finished (and Starving!).  It was a full day with no breaks!  The Binenes announced we’d all go have dinner at Amadine’s!  We enjoyed every bite!

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We were surprised that almost everyone ordered two meals!  Maybe they were making up for missing lunch!   We had plenty of food and the Elders ate everything in sight!

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A great end to a great day!

Our Bamako Apartment

Here are some of the sights we drove by this afternoon on the way to our apartment in Bamako.  This is a colorful, vibrant, busy city.  You can see that the people here are industrious, everyone is trying earn a bit of money by selling what they can out along the streets.

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Here are our Elders and Sekou up on our 4th floor balcony.  We have a beautiful view out over the city.  This apartment building was just being finished when we found it last year.

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After helping us unpack and assemble a few things, we said goodbye to the missionaries and we went to work unpacking and sorting out belongings.  These boxes and things have been sitting in a container at the chicken farm for more than a year!  We had a little termite damage, but everything looked great!

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We took a break from the unpacking to have dinner at Amadine’s with Anounou.  Amadine’s is a favorite local restaurant run by a Lebanese family.  They have great pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and local food.

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After dinner we went back to work at the apartment.  It was like Christmas opening the boxes and remembering what we packed a year ago August.  We only had 3 days notice to get things into the container, so I never took the time to write down what we sent.  John was happy to find that his M&Ms have survived!  When I asked him what food supplies he wanted me to pack, all he said was M&Ms!

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After being away from home for 3 years on our last mission, I emptied much of our food storage into the container, so it wouldn’t sit at home for another 2 years, untouched.  I figured we might as well use it here!

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I also thinned out our kitchen at home and packed some boxes of things left from our kids’ BYU apartment living.  We had plenty to set up this a new apartment.

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During those 3 days of packing things in the container, we bought beds and some tables and chairs at Costco, we found a used sofa online, and we packed enough toiletries to last us 2 years here, along with the food storage items.  What a gift it was to send a few things over so we could hit the ground running when we got here.  Tonight we made our beds and then fell right into them to try to sleep.  It was hard because we were So Excited to Be Here!  We love this apartment.  We love being surrounded by mosques and prayer calls several times a day.  All are evidence of a loving Heavenly Father watching over us here.  We are going to be so very happy here!

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Our Bamako Elders

These are our Bamako Elders!  They are a small but mighty force!

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Elder Lewis, Elder Tshiamala, Elder Oulei, Elder Usoh and Elder Sulu

Our first stop was at the branch meeting place in Bamako where we rent space for our meetings downstairs and our missionary apartments upstairs.  The first 4 Elders arrived in Bamako August 7th.  Two of those first four Elders have changed since then.  It was fun to see their missionary apartments and feel their excitement at our arrival.

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Here’s a look at their apartments:2019-11-14 Mali (64)

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The 2 apartments are very similar, with 2 Elders in each apartment.2019-11-14 Mali (58)

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What’s in the fridge??2019-11-14 Mali (54)We are going to be great friends!2019-11-14 Mali (59)

From Abidjan to Bamako!

This afternoon we said farewell to Abidjan for awhile.  The flight to Bamako takes about an hour and 45 minutes, plus transport and airport time, so much of our day was spent getting to Bamako, our other home.  The cities are 575 miles apart.  It would take 15.5 hours to drive.

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And here’s our first look at Bamako from the plane.  Bamako is north of the Ivory Coast, closer to the Sahara Dessert, so it is generally about 10 degrees warmer there.  It’s a hot dry arid country with lots of hard red soil.  2019-11-14 Mali (11)

We were greeted by our very dear friend, Anounou Sissoko.  He’s the field director for the Ouelessebougou Alliance, an NGO we’ve worked with for many years in Utah.  We’ve been traveling to Mali every year for the last 8-10 years or so.  We love our friends here.  Anounou is the one who helped us to find and rent an apartment while we were here last year.

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We were also greeted by our dear friend, Sekou Dembele, the first counselor in the Bamako Branch.  He is a wonderful church leader here.2019-11-14 Mali (15)

It was fun to travel with President and Sister Binene.  We have so much fun together!2019-11-14 Mali (16)

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Elders Oulei and Tschiamala and Frere Mbaya, the branch clerk were also here to welcome us to Bamako.  We have waited a long long time for this day!2019-11-14 Mali (45)

Elder Tenney and Elder Gbedze, Assistants to the President

2019-11-13 Abidjan (36)These two, Elder Tenney and Elder Gbedze, take care of lots of details in the mission, in addition to looking after their own area.  They are kind and patient and helpful.

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Elder Gbedze completes his mission next month.  We’ll be in Bamako when he returns to Ghana, so we had to say our goodbyes today.  We love these Elders!2019-11-13 Abidjan (41)

The Transfer Board November 2019

2019-11-14 Abidjan (6)Frere Ebick has finished making the photos of the last group who arrived a few weeks ago and all of their photos are in place now on the transfer board.  This gives you an idea of the zones and districts in the mission and who is serving where and with whom.  Every 6 weeks a new group arrives and a departing group leaves.  That’s when transfers happen.  Not every missionary is transferred every 6 weeks.  They usually stay in an area for 3-4 transfers, or as long as President Binene feels they should stay.

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A Special Missionary Conference at Cocody

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This afternoon we had a very special meeting at the Cocody Stake Center here in Abidjan.  We had several visiting authorities and missionaries in all 3 Ivory Coast Missions who lived close by got to attend.   Our 3 Area Seventies were here, and special guests, Elder Patrick Kearon and his wife, Jennifer.

It was a happy afternoon, filled with missionaries reunited.  I can imagine many of these missionaries from the different missions were at the MTC in Ghana together and many probably haven’t seen each other since.

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Here are our African West Area Presidency and the Area Seventies:SEVENTIES AND PRESIDENCY

Sadly, Elder Nash wasn’t able to come (we had heard he might).  Elder Hugo Martinez and his wife were here, along with Elder Marcel Guei, Elder Z. Dominique Dekaye and Elder John A. Koranteng.

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Elder Marcel Guei with Elder Lewis

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President and Sister Sherman from the Ivory Coast Yamoussoukro Mission

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Elder Tenney led a wonderful choir from our Abidjan West Mission.  They sang for 30-40 minutes while everyone reverently came to the front to greet our visitors.

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Left to right: Pres & SIs Goury (Benin Cotonou Mission), Elder Dekaye, Elder Guei (Elder and Sister Thompson behind), Pres & Sister Lewis (Abidjan East Mission), Pres & Sis Binene (Abidjan West Mission), and Pres & Sis Sherman (Yamoussoukro Mission)

Elder and Sister Kearon warmly greeted every single missionary, including the ones watching by video from Dakar, Senegal.  It was easy to feel their love for each of us here.

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In the picture above, notice the beautiful Sister sitting next to Elder Lewis (in the orange dress).  Elder Todd Christofferson told her story in General Conference last month.  She completed her mission here this week.

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President and Sister Sherman from the Yamoussoukro Mission

The meeting was excellent.  We heard testimonies from each of the Area Authorities and  Elder and Sister Martinez shared their conversion story.  Then Elder and Sister Kearon spoke to us.  They are warm and kind and cheered us on, helping us to feel the joy of being a messenger of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He described the aurora of light and goodness that surrounded the Sister missionaries who taught him when he was a young adult.  That same light is with us and others see it.    It’s such a great thing to be serving here.  Elder Kearon encouraged us to feel joy in our work, even when it’s hot and we’re tired and their are trials and challenges.  It’s all good!  And it’s all FOR our good!  And it really is so fun and such a blessing to be a part of this great work!

I loved how Sister Kearon opened an African fan and compared it to the scriptures and how the mysteries of God can be unfolded to our view (Mosiah 2:9).  Sometimes we search for those insights and sometimes they are given to us, like a gift.

It is a delight to be here, to be a part of this.  I wonder why there aren’t more couples coming to places like this–what could be better??  These Mission Presidents could use about 50 more couples here right now!

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What a treat it was for us to visit with the Kearons again.  We met and really enjoyed learning from them during our last mission.

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I also visited with Elder Bennett, who is good friends with Bailey Chazen, the daughter of a couple I taught on my mission in South Africa many years ago.  What a beautifully small world!2019-11-12 Special Missionary Conference (67)

We could have visited with these good missionaries all afternoon.  It’s so so good to be among them.  We miss our missionaries at home so much!

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Tomorrow these area leaders will have more meetings and a special tour of the temple construction behind this stake center.

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The heavens smiled on us as we returned home!

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We enjoyed dinner this evening with Elder and Sister Thompson (Bill and Chantal as we know them).  We lived in the same Orem ward years ago.  They are in the Abidjan West Mission, serving in Dakar, Senegal with the 6 Elders there.  We will be doing similar work in Mali, so we had lots to talk about.  Chantal helped with the translating today.  It was wonderful to spend some time with them here.  It’s just plain wonderful to be here!

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