Mobile Money Transfer (Venmo, African Style)

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Part of our financial training included a field trip this afternoon to a money transfer shop.  These shops are on every street in every area.  They are marked with signs with in and out arrows.  Money comes in and money goes out.

Here’s how this cash exchange works here.  If you want to send money to a friend, or pay someone for a service, you can go to any one of these little shops.  You give the money to the teller and you give him the phone number of the recipient in another place at  another pre-arranged money exchange shop.  The teller here calls the teller there and confirms the transfer.  The money is handed over to your friend in the other place and receipts are written in both places showing the transfer of funds.   There is a small handling fee attached to each transaction.  That’s how the teller makes some money.

Or you can set up an app on a smart phone to send and receive money, but our missionaries are using flip phones.

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These little shops sometimes offer other services like wifi or printing, or computer work.

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Monday Morning at the Office. No Departures Today

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We went to the office early this morning to see what needed to be done on this P-day.  All was quiet and calm.  No one had arrived yet. It felt surreal.  Empty.  Lonely.  Clean.  Calm.

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John went to work trying to make sense of the financial records so he can figure out what needs to be done. 

This will be our new work space for now.  An office tucked away in the corner of the mission office where people have to knock before entering.  That’s how it’s done here. 

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Not many missionaries came in today.  We have no one traveling today.  We are waiting to hear who will go next.

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Elder Van Duzer is trying to empty his brain into ours.

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We decided to venture out for lunch.  We went over to the Cap Sud shopping mall.  Before entering, we each had to wash our hands and sanitize them.

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We decided on Burger King and the Elders from the West Mission decided on Italian food.  It was all Delicious!

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Elder Gibbons and Elder Van Duzer are responding to questions and concerns from stake presidents anxious about their missionaries returning home.  We don’t have many answers here.

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This afternoon more missionaries with suitcases arrived.  They are weighing their cases, then leaving them here so they can be ready at a moment’s notice to depart when called.

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Elder Ilori, Mission Financial Secretary

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Meet Elder Ilori, who has been serving in the office as our Financial Secretary.  He departed today with the rest of our Nigerian missionaries.  Elder Ilori has done a great job protecting the funds of the church.  This is a big job in a society that works with constant cash flow and handwritten receipts.  He had 3 hours to explain to us all the things he does and how he does them.  We (mostly John) will try to take it from here!

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Thank you for your service, Elder Ilori!

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38 Nigerians Depart Today

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We arrived at the office early on this Sabbath morning.  Today we had 38 Nigerians with flight plans.  By 9:00 a.m. they were all loaded into vehicles and shuttled over to the airport.  But here’s what it looked like here before that exodus:

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We used the scale at the West Mission to weigh everyone’s bags.

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Ahhh, what to take??  What to leave??

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We had 5 Americans with tickets to fly out this morning in Ethiopian Air.  Elder Van Duzer and Elder Gibbons are still have no travel plans.

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Our 5 Americans are leaving.  They were turned away.  There’s a problem with their itinerary and they were not allowed to board the flight.  Here we go again.

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In the meantime, our Nigerians waited to check in.  They were tired and hungry and sad to be leaving.  We’ve been told that they’ll be picked up at the airport by Stake Presidents or helpers who will take them to Stake centers, then they’ll be transported to their new areas. We got a list this morning of all of their new assignments in Nigeria. There are several missions there now. They all have a place to go.

I lived in Nigeria long before any of these missionaries were born.  When I lived there, we had only a handful of small branches.  Now there are stakes and missions and temples and all these beautiful missionaries!  It’s a miracle to me!

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The West Mission Nigerians also left this morning.

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Back at the office, we cleaned up the aftermath of the whirlwind that blew through here this morning.  It felt like when the handcart companies were told to lighten their loads, so they left the non-essentials behind, along the trail.  The clothing was bagged and we’ve taken it home to clean, wash and sort for future needs.  The books were organized and stacked.  So much stuff.

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Then the Elders went back to work looking for more flights.  They are also corresponding with parents and stake presidents at home who are anxious about their missionaries coming home.  The truth is, we don’t have much information to share.  We are all waiting on instructions from someone else.

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New missionaries are starting to arrive from the other 2 Ivory Coast missions.  They are the ones who will be assigned to serve here.  Others are coming to pick them up and take them to their new apartments.  There is no time for fanfare here.  No grand farewells for the departing. No hugging or emotion. No final dinners or breakfasts.  Nothing extra to say Thank YOU, we’ve loved being here with you. Pres Binene was so exhausted he went out to sleep in his car in the airport parking lot while this morning’s group waited to check in.  I had to go out and search the cars to find him when it was finally their turn, so they could see him standing there as they left.  We are almost beyond emotion.  If stopped to feel, we might not be able to move.

Tonight the heavens opened and the rains fell.  The heavens are sad so many missionaries are leaving Africa.

Saturday Afternoon Preparing More to Depart

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We brought these 5 Elders home with us after they were’t allowed to board their flight–a flight that would have taken them around the world in 4 days, eventually landing in Tahiti.  No one knows when the next chance to leave will be.  This is a process that unfolds hour by hour.

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We were back at the mission home for the rest of the day, helping prepare others to depart.  When all this chaos broke loose, John and I decided to stay here if we are allowed to.  This is where we want to be and this is where we’d like to help.  In many countries, couples were given a choice about staying, then told they must return home.  We are keeping our fingers crossed that won’t be the case here.  We’ve had conversations with the Area Presidency and President Binene and they are aware of our desire.

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Sister Binene got a new hair do this afternoon!

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We spent the afternoon working with Pres Binene.  We are preparing the documents into country groups.  We have large groups of Ghanaians,  Ivorians and Congolese, and then about a dozen more missionaries from a variety of other African countries.  It’s a race between the borders to these countries closing and church travel.  We are spectators in this race, hoping to participate at some point.

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These Elders have tickets with Ethiopian Air tomorrow (Sunday) morning.

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The garage is filling with luggage and overflow items.

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Elder Ilori has been our financial clerk in the mission.  He’ll be leaving with the Nigerian group tomorrow (Sunday) morning.  He spent 3 hours today with John, teaching him how to take care of the mission finances.  It’s an interesting process.  This is a cash society with handwritten receipts.  Every request for money must be put in writing and approved by Pres Binene.  There are binders and binders full of records and receipts and a safe in the finance office for the cash supply.

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The Elders invited me to have lunch with them.  They said they were going to get some “pain chien” (bread with dog meat).  I politely declined, but when they insisted I try a bite, it was delicious grilled steak.

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Holding up pretty well:

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I wish there were a way to record the emotion filling this movement.  We are busy and there isn’t much time to sit and think about what’s actually happening here, but when we do, we feel numb, stunned and incredibly sad.  Hundreds and hundreds of missionaries are leaving Africa and those who remain are being uprooted and reassigned, not just to new areas, but to new countries.  It feels like we’re caught up in a human tidal wave that we did not anticipate.

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Departures Continue

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From my journal:

We had another crazy day. We went to the office at 7:30. Pres Binene called before we got there. “Are you coming?? I need help!!” We were there soon and spent the morning helping get about 44 Elders to the airport. Mostly all Americans. We had 5 Tahitians. Those 5 had an itinerary that went all the way around the world in 4 days with Ethiopian Air. The flight went through Japan, arriving tomorrow afternoon, then flying out again the next morning. BUT, Japan was closing her borders tomorrow night, so they wouldn’t let them get on the flight here. We had to bring them back to the office.

Yesterday and today all the Americans from the 3 Ivory Coast Missions are supposed to depart. Yesterday the other 2 missions took their largest groups. Today we took our largest group of Americans.  [Not all would be able to board.]

It was a sobering sight today at the airport to watch these valiant young men in their very dirty white shirts and wilted pants and worn shoes exiting in droves. Lines of them, pushing filthy suitcases that have seen better days, leaving. Just leaving us. I kept thinking of all the work that went into getting them here and how, just a week ago, they were a well-oiled machine of goodness, out in the towns and villages, teaching and preaching and sharing the truth of the gospel in every corner. Now they are gone. Tomorrow we are told the rest of the African missionaries will leave–all those from Ghana, Nigeria and the Congo, and a few other African countries.

Come see our wild and crazy day:

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These are the missionaries we took to the airport today.

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Our island Elders would be turned away when they tried to check in.

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These 3 and 2 others have flights scheduled for tomorrow:

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Off the the airport:

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President and Sister Lewis from the Abidjan West Mission were also here with their departing missionaries.

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Missionaries from both missions blended into the lines.

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And they kept coming, and coming.  ALL of the photos I’m taking each day can be found in albums on this facebook pages, managed by the moms:

Cote d’Ivoire Mission: ABIDJAN EAST:

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Watching loved ones leave.  It’s so sad for all of us.

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