My first sunset in Akpakpa. We're on the third floor of a real
apartment building (it's weird being in a building in stead of a
house), so we get some good views!
Hello all. With this Christmas season approaching and it being the last in my current full-time service to the Lord, I have spent a good amount of time this past week pondering on the Lord and Savior whom I serve and whose name I wear every day. With some experiences this week, I have been pushed to spend more time pondering on three specific subjects: Christmas, the Plan of Salvation, and the Second Coming. I will begin with one experience that has become dear to my heart.
In my new area/branch, there is an older gentleman by the name of Joël (pronounced like Noël but with a J). He's in his 60s, and he is quite the lively fellow! I love his enthusiasm and his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. During my first visit to his house I spotted a small keyboard piano (slightly dusty), sitting in the corner. I asked if I could pull it out, and he accepted. I played a couple Christmas hymns, and he, his sister, and his nieces were all very happy! Then Joël, in his youthfully old(er) age says, "It's a good thing that you've come Elder, but you're gonna teach me that!!!" haha he's an awesome guy.
Last Sunday at church we had a new investigator come. Immediately after sacrament meeting (the first hour), Joël was right by his side, and they engaged in giddy conversation, as if they had found each other after being separated for years. Joël also taught Sunday School and bore a powerful testimony at the end. I honestly love this guy and I've only know him for a week!
Then, this past Thursday, we visited his house again to meet with an investigator. Joël had been sitting in the front room but got up to go to his bed when we walked it, obviously lacking the strength to hold himself properly. His niece told us that he had fallen quite sick, but that it wasn't the first time. We decided to go visit him briefly to see what help we could bring. We chatted only briefly (very unusual for him and me) because he was having difficulty even talking. We suggested a Priesthood Blessing if he wanted, but he simply asked us to "come back tomorrow." So we left him and taught the lesson that we had come to teach.
The next day, Friday, we walked up at about 3:00, and as we approached their door, his younger niece was outside. When we got close enough to speak, she simply said, "my uncle just died." Slightly stupefied, we stepped into the house to see his older niece crying in the doorway and his sister showing no apparent emotion sitting on the couch. There were about 5 people crowded around the door to his bedroom. Out of respect and health precaution (Ebola), I decided it best not to approach his room. According to his younger niece, he had died just 5 minutes before our arrival. We shared a few comforting words with those in grief, left a few Plan of Salvation brochures, and were out the door for our other appointments. We only had one appointment that evening due to choir rehearsals for the missionary Christmas party on the 23rd, but the whole rest of the evening was spent pondering on the Plan of Salvation, and where Joël fit in all of it at that point.
The Plan of Salvation has been given to us, God's spirit children, through His chosen prophets to provide us guidance and hope as we traverse this mortal life. Thanks to the Plan of Salvation, we know where we were before we came to this life: in the presence of God as spirits where we learned and prepared for this life. We know why we are here: to prepare to meet God in completing certain prescribed acts and in leading a good life. And, most importantly for this situation, we know where we go after death. I spent much time thinking about what is going on in the world after this, the Spirit World. We know that it is a place of rest and paradise for the righteous and a place of lamentation for the evil. However, we know that the marvelous work which is happening among the children of men at this time is also being carried out among the disembodied spirits. Those who did not have the chance to accept the pure and living gospel of Jesus Christ on this earth have the chance to accept it there, and we know that there are many who have not even heard the name of Jesus Christ on this earth, "and there is no other way neither no other name given under heaven by which man may be saved in the kingdom of God" (2 Nephi 31:21).
In the three following days, the sorrow and tears have been turned into happiness and smiles as testimonies have been borne and strengthened concerning the Plan of Salvation. Hope and love truly are the message of Jesus Christ. The whole Akpakpa branch has come behind this already strong family. Their are so many strong and faithful people in this branch. The new converts have the blessing to be in a branch with people who have been members of this Church since it came to Benin a little over 10 years ago. But honestly, these members have shown such great faith in these past days. Many times my mind has been drawn to the world of the Savior Himself, "I have not seen so great faith, no, not in Israel" (Luke 7:9). These people, according to the world, would have no reason to believe in God. The world would say, "If there was a God, He most certainly has not blessed them with material things." And that's true. But they believe fiercely in Him. And they have been so, so blessed with the peace, comfort, and patience that the Holy Ghost brings to those who are faithful to him. Because of these faithful saints, I have been strengthened and encouraged again to go forth with even more strength, courage, and zeal to bring forth the promises of the Lord to his children.
As I have been pondering on the Plan of Salvation and this situation, I have been led to think of the hope and peace that are spoken to our soul through the Holy Ghost. This hope that was introduced to the world through the Savior, the promised Messiah, even Jesus Christ. How significant must His birth--that miraculous birth--have been for the hopeful and humble children of Israel in that day. This birth introduced hope and peace into "a fallen world." I can't imagine having been there. As I listen to the many Christmas songs and carols, I think of those who were actually there. One that dearly touches my heart is "Little Drummer Boy" by Josh Groban. I imagine myself as this "little drummer boy": I don't have much to give Him, I actually have very little, but, what I do have, I am willing to give with my all. How I long to be able to see and feel His holy presence, but as the forgotten carol goes, "the magic in the air makes it seem as if I had been there."
I had planned to share my feelings about the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but due to time and length, it seems that I must reserve that for another time.
I love you all so much. May we all enjoy this special Christmas season no matter where we are. May we remember the real reason of Christmas--this special time to remember our Savior that was born unto us to redeem us and to give us HOPE.
Just in front of the Church building in Gbèdjromédé.
Thought these clouds were pretty cool. I took this yesterday
evening at Choir rehearsal
My new study area!