Abidjan Temple Progress

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This week the tower for the spire is going up.  We can see the crane from our apartment living room windows.  This building gives me great hope.

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This temple will be a fortress of love–for families and for our Heavenly Father.

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I was also comforted just to be inside the stake center today.  The chapel was locked, but there were workers here fixing things.   It’s amazing how much you can miss a building when you can’t go into it as often as you might like.  Being here today was good.

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Social Distancing at our District Meeting in Cocody

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We now greet each other with an elbow touch.  No more handshaking.  No more sitting next to your companion.  No more group photos.  No more groups larger than 10 in one room.  Welcome to our new world of missionary district meetings!

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In spite of the spaces between us, we had a great meeting today.  We talked about charity and ways we can adapt our missionary work in these crazy times.   These missionaries are great.  They want to be here and they want to help others come to Christ.   We are grateful to be with them.

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John’s Letter for our Home Ward Newsletter this Month

Elder John & Sister Ann Lewis (Cote d’Ivoire Abidjan East Mission)

Hello, our dear fellow pandemicians of the Stonewood 4th Ward! What an amazing and unexpected change in our lives over the past month or so. Wow. It’s mind-boggling how quickly things can change around us. Gratefully, the things that matter most remain steady and sure. We are grateful for our faith in Jesus Christ and the strength we draw from Him through the Holy Ghost.

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The month of March began on a heavenly note as we accompanied seven Church members from the little Bamako Branch to the Accra Ghana Temple to participate in eternal ordinances. Ann and I were so fortunate to be with them in the temple and partake of the joy and spirit that flowed so freely. Our young, 31 year-old medical-student branch president was sealed to his new bride who had received her endowment a few days before. His 30-year-old second counselor received his endowment earlier in the day and was able to attend the sealing. A few days later, a sweet family of five was sealed together a]er the parents received their endowments. To top things off, the counselor did the work for his grandfather on our last day in the temple. Every day was a spiritual immersion as we spent time together in the House of the Lord. We flew out of Accra on March 12 and restricted temple access was announced the next day, including closure of the temple patron housing, which was essential for our little band from Bamako. We feel multiply blessed to have had this experience Just. In. Time!

Mission life has been one wild ride since then. We flew to Abidjan from Accra, expecting to stay for a few weeks and a@end District Conferences in the six member districts that are part of our mission. Instead, those conferences were canceled, we began having Church in our apt with eight beautiful African sister missionaries, and we started to plan for the return of all our missionaries to their home countries. For us, that involved 15 countries: Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Congo-Brazzaville, Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Kenya, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Burundi, Central African Republic, Haiti, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, and the USA. Just tonight (3/30/2020) our last seven Americans
left for LAX, a]er a brief stop in Sierra Leone to pick up missionaries there.

Our Americans left in four waves and our Nigerians left in one big wave. All the rest have not been able to return home due to airport restrictions or closures and/or border closures. The same is true of the Ivorians who were scheduled to return to our mission here. Thirty-five made it, just under half the number we were expecting. We are grateful that 75 missionaries have stayed to welcome the 35 new missionaries and allow our mission to continue functioning. The 110 missionaries here now are about 60% of what we had a few weeks ago, but they will work hard to move the work forward. They are still out finding and teaching while also protecting their health and being cautious of the health of others around them. We’ll see what changes unfold in the next few weeks.

We were given the option of returning home or staying. We chose to stay and help with the huge transition going on in our mission. We were asked to confirm our choice a few different Times and are grateful we were allowed to stay. We are basically a full-time office couple now, helping out wherever the president needs us so the young missionaries can be out teaching the gospel. We hope to get back to Bamako before too long, but while the airport and borders are closed, we are excited to contribute right here in Côte d’Ivoire. We’re taking good care of our health and Ann is wisely stocking up on food . . . just in case. WE LOVE YOU ALL. Thanks for your prayers. And thanks for being so good to our kids.

Produce Markets in our Neighborhood

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Nothing cheers me up quite like good produce.  This evening we walked through a produce market we’ve driven by a few times in Cocody.  We are trying to organize some food supplies in our apartment in case we are required to stay in while our neighborhoods try to keep COVID-19 under control.  It’s hard to imagine living without the delicious produce here.  We stock up when we can.

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We are so lucky to have so many delicious fruits and vegetables here.   I am so grateful.

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This evening we came away with pineapples, bananas, mandarins, potatoes, carrots, green beans, chives, green peppers and tomatoes.

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Departure of Last Americans from Cote d’Ivoire

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We picked up our 3 Elders living next door today at noon and took them for a final meal here in Abidjan before going to the office.  The rules here are you cannot be closer than a meter to another person when you’re out in public.  This is the line to wash and sanitize your hands before going into the mall.

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The mall is pretty empty, except for the Orange store (phones), eating places and the grocery store.  The Elders wanted pizza, Burger King and ice cream.

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You’re not allowed to sit and eat in restaurants anymore.

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Happy campers!

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Back at the mission office:

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Is it time yet??

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The only bags left in the garage today were American bags.

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Mr Finance hard at work.

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One last weight check.

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At 4:30 we loaded up our truck and the mission van.

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Abidjan Airport is closed.  This flight is a special charter flight the Church arranged.  We were the only ones there, along with the 8 Elders from the Abidjan West Mission and 25 from the Yamoussoukro Mission who came earlier this afternoon after checking out of the hotel they’ve been staying in this last week.

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Elder Van Duzer is leaving his heart behind.

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Elder Sorensen waited until the end, so sad to leave.

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Pres and Sis Lewis from the West Mission watching their missionaries departing.

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We called back Elder Livingstone, our dear friend’s grandson, for one last photo with him.

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And just like that, they’re all gone.   This flight will stop in Sierra Leone to pick up more missionaries there, before continuing on to LAX.

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We are the survivors!  Together we will rebuild these Abidjan Missions!  Farewell, dear missionaries.  Hurrah for Israel!!

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A Worldwide Day of Fasting and Prayer

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We’ve had an excellent day.  Four of the Elders spent the night at our apartment because of the curfew last night, and the rest came to join us for church here this morning.  We planned for church at 9:00 but by 8:30 everyone was here and ready to go.  We had a very nice sacrament meeting. Elder Sorensen conducted. Elder N’cho led the music.

John read this excerpt from the Salt Lake Temple dedication give on 6 April 1893:

“Heavenly Father, when Thy people shall not have the opportunity of entering this holy house to offer their supplications unto Thee, and they are oppressed and in trouble, surrounded by difficulties or assailed by temptation and shall turn their faces towards this Thy holy house and ask Thee for deliverance, for help, for Thy power to be extended in their behalf, we beseech Thee, to look down from Thy holy habitation in mercy and tender compassion upon them, and listen to their cries. Or when the children of Thy people, in years to come, shall be separated, through any cause, from this place, and their hearts shall turn in remembrance of Thy promises to this holy Temple, and they shall cry unto Thee from the depths of their affliction and sorrow to extend relief and deliverance to them, we humbly entreat Thee to Turn Thine ear in mercy to them; hearken to their cries, and grant unto them the blessings for which they ask.”

We talked about that and these interesting times. Then we showed the new First Vision film and everyone shared their testimony of the Restoration.  Then we showed this group the MTC MP Seminar training of teaching the First Vision and talked about how we can share this news. It was nice. I think the Elders really enjoyed a spirit-led conversation and a chance to share their testimonies. This may be their last time here.

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Our meeting lasted 2 hours. Then the other apartment Elders went home and the rest stayed while the 4 Sisters came at 11:00 for our second meeting.

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The second sacrament meeting was just as wonderful as the first.  We shared our testimonies and feelings about the Restoration and the blessings we receive today because of what happened 200 years ago.

After the Sisters walked back to their apartment, all the Elders came back and spent the afternoon watching the new Book of Mormon videos.  It was great to have them here.

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This afternoon we went back to the office to take care of some more finance stuff and preparations for tomorrow.

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Then we took the Elders back to their apartment.

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Tonight we received word that the flight tomorrow WILL HAPPEN.  We have tickets and itineraries for our 7 American Elders!!  We’re really sad to see them go, but so happy for they can get on with their lives and their next assignments.

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Our 3 neighbor Elders came back over when we got home and we celebrated this evening by watching one last movie:  The Other Side of Heaven.

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I think all the pictures I’ve taken of these Elders look the exact same.  They’ve been living in the same clothes for the last week!  They were pretty happy with the flight news that came in this evening.

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I showed the Elders how to find this blog so they can save the photos I’ve been taking.

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It will be a little lonely around here when these American Elders go.  They’ve been excellent neighbors and friends and wonderful missionaries.  We promised each other this evening that we’ll keep in touch in the coming weeks and months.  A lot of good has flowed out of Abidjan this last week.  And a lot of wonderful missionaries have joined us.  The work will go on.  As they exclaimed in the movie we watched tonight, “Hurrah for Israel!”

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Saturday Night with the Lewises

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We all arrived at the apartment this evening hungry.  I threw together a quick meal of scrambled eggs cooked with rice and peppers and some fresh bread that I was grateful I happened to pick up at the store this afternoon.  I’ve missed feeding missionaries.  I have not forgotten how MUCH they eat!

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The other 3 Americans came over.  They had already eaten–Elder Post made them fried rice.  We eat lots of rice and eggs here.

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Elder Sorensen insisted on washing the dishes.  A well-trained son.

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Then we all settled in to watch a mission approved movie:  Coco.  It was delightful!

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Our kids sent us an external drive with movies on it for Christmas.

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I made several batches of popcorn.

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We had a great evening forgetting the cares of the world.  These are exceptional missionaries living through an exceptional time.

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The Assistant’s Apartment

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We made a plan today to invite the waiting missionaries over for the evening to watch a movie at our apartment.  That sounded simple and good.  Then we figured out the logistics of making that happen.  First we had to take the 6 Elders living in the AP’s apartment home from the office to get their stuff.  Elder Bennett and Elder Sorensen have been spending the week there while they wait for their departure.

Staying with us to watch a movie would put us past the 9:00 p.m. curfew, so they’d all have to spent the night–with us and with the other American Elders staying in our building.  That meant we’d need an extra mattress for sleeping and something for dinner tonight.  And each Elder would need his overnight stuff.

While they sorted all of that out, I took a few pictures of their apartment so someday in the future they will look back and remember the good times they spent here.

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A room with a view:

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Laundry:

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Extra beds for Elder Bennett and Elder Gibbons:

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The kitchen:

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The bedrooms:

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The bathroom:

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A study area:

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Closets:

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Missing Elder Tenney:

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Ironing board:

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We offered to wash some shirts tonight in our washing machine.

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Missionary supplies:

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The fearless occupants:

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Heading to our apartment:

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Life Around Us

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Today the trash outside the Mission Office was picked up.

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And here’s a look at the supermarche at Cap Sud today.  We ran over to get some lunch this afternoon.  I picked up a few things here while John and the Elders ordered burgers at Burger King.

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The store today was very crowded and the lines were long.  People aren’t really respecting the 1 meter distancing marked on the floors.  Everyone is stocking up in case this store closes too at some point.

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We brought our food back to the office.  You can’t sit and eat anymore at the mall.  It’s forbidden.

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Wow, a burger has never tasted so good!

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