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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Primary Program: I Love to See the Temple!

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Here are some of the beautiful children from the Riviera Ward who presented their Primary Program today.  All the children came dressed in our Primary colors:  red, yellow and blue.  They were sharp and bright as they taught us what each color stands for and about the Articles of Faith.

They sang “I Love to See the Temple” and one young boy told us that he is thankful for the blessings of the temple and he’s excited to go there when he is old enough.  He thanked all the parents for going to the temple and teaching the children about it.  His greatest wish is to go into the temple one day.

Every time we see the temple site, there is progress.  We hope to go inside this temple some day too!

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From Child Laborer to Child Liberator BYU-Hawaii empowers a former child slave to return to Africa and lift others out of poverty.

Here’a a fascinating article from June 2016 about a good man we’ve met here, Sery Kone.  He’s the Elders Quorum President in the Riveira Ward we’ve been attending here in Abidjan.  His is a bright light here among his people and we are very happy to know him.

When Sery Kone was four years old, his parents divorced, and his dad took him from his mom, abandoned him in a village 1,200 miles away, and never came back. Sery found himself working on an Ivory Coast cacao farm as a child slave, laboring 10 hours a day just to get enough food to survive.

“When I was eight years old, I remember working with a younger boy who was extremely tired,” Sery says. “I told him to rest and I would finish his work. The owner of the farm started yelling at us. I said, ‘I told him not to work, and I will do his job.’ The owner beat us both. I thought, ‘Why? Why do I have to be here now while other children have good lives? Why are we here working hard and getting beaten?’ I promised myself that I would figure a way out but come back later to help.”

Finding His Family

Sery spent six long years on the cacao farm before he dared to leave and find his way back home. With no money, he boarded a bus for the city of his birth. The driver was about to kick him off when a stranger paid the fare – the first act of charity Sery had ever received. After sleeping on the streets for two weeks, he made his way to an orphanage, where he decided to take charge of his life. “I went to the marketplace every morning and offered to carry baskets,” he says. “Women would give me 20 or 30 cents. It was difficult but I was happy. I made enough money to buy the food I wanted.”

After a few months Sery found his family, only to discover that his mother had died from the grief of losing him, her only child. “I was angry,” he says. “I started to question everything. If there was a God, why would He let this happen to me? I had done nothing wrong.”

Sery Kone

Finding the Gospel

Because he was angry with God, Sery refused to go to church with his grandmother. Instead, he stayed home and argued with passing street preachers. When he was 15 years old he met two “street preachers” who were different – missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I read the story of Joseph Smith,” Sery says. “I didn’t get a powerful spiritual testimony at the time, but it made sense to me. I felt connected to this 14-year-old boy. He was poor; I was poor. He was trying to find his way; I was trying to find my way.”

Sery opened up to the missionaries about his past and the pain he felt. He learned about the plan of salvation, and the Holy Ghost bore witness to him that it was true. “It changed my life,” he says. “I was baptized two weeks later.”

For the next five years he studied diligently in school. As he prepared for the college entrance exam, he prayed for help. He says, “I made a promise to God: ‘If I pass, I’ll go on a mission.’ I passed, so I knew I had to fulfill my promise.” University officials told him that if he served a mission he would be banned from coming back to school. Sery chose to serve the Lord.

Helping Others Find the Gospel

Thanks to assistance from the Church’s General Missionary Fund, Sery served a full-time mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “I still carried anger from my childhood hardships,” he says, but while serving in the poverty-stricken area of Kinshasa, “my attitude changed when I saw others in desperate situations. I realized my blessings and stopped mourning the challenges I had gone through.”

Sery could not resist helping people in serious need. Sometimes he spent his own mission stipend on others. Near the end of his mission, he was transferred to an area where only five members regularly attended church. “By the time I left my mission,” he says, “ we had a branch of 150 newly baptized members. The Lord helped me know where to go and what to say by the Spirit.”

Finding Power Through Education

In 2009 Sery returned home from his mission and applied to several universities, but, true to the warning he had received, he was not accepted. He emailed his former mission president, who agreed to help him get into a Church school if he could learn English and save $6,000. After years of hard work, Sery and was admitted to BYU-Hawaii.

Despite his efforts and savings, Sery could not afford to attend BYU-Hawaii without the university’s donor-funded financial aid programs. “The scholarship system offered the opportunity for me to get an education,” Sery says. “Without that it would have been extremely difficult for me to go through school and finish my degree.”

As soon as Sery got to BYU-Hawaii, he started to research child slavery in the chocolate industry. He thought, “What is the bigger picture here? Not all farmers are bad people. They are our brothers, our sisters, and our friends. How can we help everyone be part of the solution?”

Sery’s drive to find solutions led him to join BYU-Hawaii’s student-run chapter of Enactus – an international non-profit organization that mobilizes university students to make a difference in their communities and acquire the skills to become socially responsible business leaders. He developed a plan to help fight child slavery, entered it in BYU-Hawaii’s Great Ideas competition, and won second place. He sent the $300 prize money home to the Ivory Coast to buy Christmas presents for 70 impoverished children.

To put his plan into action, Sery founded a non-profit initiative called WELL Africa (WELL stands for World Education for a Legacy of Liberty) to build schools for children who work on cacao farms. “I wanted to show farmers how helping children attend school could profit them and help the children succeed,” he says. He entered another BYU-Hawaii competition, Empower Your Dreams, and won the first-place award of $5,000. He used $3,000 to fly to Africa to move his plan forward.

Finding Solutions and Results

On his first visit home, Sery fought back tears as he saw young children working on farms. He felt deeply the pain of their unrealized dreams, and his determination grew.

“I scheduled appointments with high-ranking government officials, teachers, farmers, villagers, and community leaders,” he says. “I told them my story and how I wanted to help. They liked that I was not blaming anybody but rather trying to bring people together to solve problems.”

Sery explains, “Nobody was guilty, but everybody was responsible. The farmers wanted to increase their profit, so they looked for the cheapest workers available – the children. Our plan was to build schools next to farmlands so kids could go to school half day and work half day.

“We suggested new agricultural techniques to make the process more efficient and profitable for farmers. We proposed that they keep 80 percent of the production for themselves and give us 20 percent to feed the children attending school. So far it’s worked really well.”

When the national government wanted to help, Sery asked if they would provide teachers and let them teach the gospel in school. They said yes, and they gave the schools full control over the curriculum.

A major BYU-Hawaii donor stepped up to financially support Sery’s initiative, and in September 2014, the first school opened its doors to 300 students in the Ivory Coast. Sery put together a small team in Africa to maintain progress while he finished his education.

Other students from BYU-Hawaii’s Enactus chapter rallied around Sery to help make his dream a reality. “I’ve surrounded myself with those who have the expertise I need,” he says. “I express needs, people come up with ways and budget, and we find resources.” In 2015 their team won first place in the national Enactus competition. They went to South Africa to compete in the Enactus World Cup, where they came in second place in the entire world.

Sery’s efforts are already bearing fruit. “The first time I returned to a village,” he says, “I saw children with machetes working in the cacao farms. Now I see children with books, pens, pencils, and bags going to the school we built. I see farmers working unpaid to help and even providing construction materials. That is hard to believe.”

Finding Perspective

Sery graduated from BYU-Hawaii in April 2015 and currently works on the global audit team of a major U.S. corporation. He plans to earn an MBA at BYU and continue building schools in Africa to give the children the hope he so desperately desired. “They now see possibility,” he says. “Children can make life better for themselves, their families, and their communities.”

Today Sery views his hardships as helpful preparation. “I have depended on others for housing, food, education, and the gospel,” he says. “Today the Lord is helping me provide education for children in Africa. If I open my heart and mind, the Lord gives me and others what we need.”

Sery continues, “None of the things that happened at BYU-Hawaii would have been possible without the help of the students, the faculty members, and members of the administration here. I think the school is really true to its mission, which is to learn, to lead, and to become leaders. I truly got those opportunities. I learned, and now I’m given opportunities to lead.”

Meet Elder Joseph Gbedze from Ghana


We love Elder Gbedze (pronounced bay-zee).  He comes from a family of five.  All are members except his father.  He was baptized in 2009 at age 9.  He later baptized his mother.  Elder Gbedze has a married sister with two children and a brother who served a mission in Nigeria.

Elder Gbedze serves here as one of the Asisstants to the President.  He will complete his mission in December.  He would love to study at BYU-Provo.  Elder Gbedze has a kind gentle spirit and although English is his native tongue, now he’d rather speak in French!  We are so happy to have met him here!

District Meeting with the Gonzague-Ville District (Grand Bassam Zone)


This morning we went with the APs to their Gonzague-Ville District Meeting.  We traveled along the coast about 30 minutes to get there.  We get a lot of rain here, sometimes through the night.  The puddles are evidence!

Every Tuesday morning every district has a District Meeting–throughout the mission.  This is a time when the missionaries serving together meet to lift, teach, instruct and help each other.  I love these meetings.  It’s where the bonds between missionaries grow and develop.


This district has 4 companionships of Elders.  Some are old timers, some are new.  Everything is always done in French.  Today Elder Lewis and I got to share our testimonies.  The French is coming, bit by bit.


In every District and Zone Meeting, the missionaries recite together from memory our missionary commission and purpose:


Today District Leader, Elder Broadbent conducted and taught us.  Elder Pond read from the white handbook, and each companionship shared their key indicators for the week.

Then Elder Ilori taught us from the account of Alma and King Lamoni.  It was a great lesson!  These Elders are all excellent teachers.  We love being with them.



This is also a very musical group.  Singing together felt like being in a choir.   Elder Tenney and Elder Broadbent were planning a special musical number for some future meeting.





We all love FANS!!  Temperatures here are in the mid to high 80s.  Humidity is usually 75-95% and the “Feels like” place on my weather app is always in the mid to high 90s.  We are all always damp with sweat!  But it’s a happy heat.  It’s good to be here.






Dropping by the Office on a P-Day

We took a walk over to the Mission Office this afternoon and arrived just as the Assistants and some Elders were having their lunch.  They emptied a bag of cooked cassava (called atjete?) and peppers onto a platter, then added fried fish from another bag.  They told me the food was purchased at one of many street vendors found on any corner.  They simply tell the vendor how much arjete they’d like by CFA, and the same for the fish.  This pile of food (which they call “Garba”) cost about $5 and it fed 4 hungry Elders.

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Elder Lewis is trying to learn about the zones and districts in the mission.  He’s used to staring at transfer boards, and he wants to get this one in his head.  He wrote down  the names of all the zones and all the districts with the number of missionaries serving in each.  It was interesting to learn more about these areas.

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It’s been a year this week since the groundbreaking ceremony for the Abidjan Temple!2019-11-4 (15)

Here’s a chart of our mission culture.  We have faith in Jesus Christ and his Atonement, we teach the doctrine, we are obedient and we respect the missionary schedule.2019-11-4 (16)