Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Fish Heads, Fish Heads. . . . .

I wish I could say that I have another crazy story like last week, but I don't. I have a couple of interesting little things that can be mentioned, but to be honest this week wasn't all that exciting. Our time is spent walking, walking, teaching, walking, and trying to convince the President/mission office that we need a meeting house for our sector. Occasionally something else pops up. 

This week we had to say goodbye to Elder Kaudio. It turns out if you don't eat right and don't drink enough water while being out here you get sent home for some operation. I don't really know all the details, my French still isn't all that great.  

Anyway, onto more interesting subjects. This week had some interesting experiences that I think some of you might find amusing. One of them was experiencing the wondrous world of an air-conditioned store! It was the first time since being at Bowmans with my Mother that I bought something in a store like that. I walked in and didn't know what to do with myself. It was really nice not having to argue with people or prices... I even got a receipt! I'm now happily enjoying cheese and a large stick of salami. 

The other first for this week was eating with the members! It wasn't expected and we had to sacrifice another appointment because they didn't tell us we were eating with them until we tried to leave. Tricky little stinkers. It's horridly rude to refuse food here so we basically had no choice. It's also considered rude to not finish ALL of your food as well. If we had known what we were in for we wouldn't have ever come. 

Placed before me was a bowl of patt (basically flour cooked to the texture of play-dough) and a bowl of sauce. It wasn't half bad....until my companion nudged me and told me I needed to eat the fish. Looking around I didn't see any fish, just the four or five fish heads floating in my sauce. I kept eating the pat. He nudged me again, a bit harder, and again telling me to eat the fish "like this"; while taking a fish head of his own, breaking it in half, and then om noming the whole thing. Bones, eyes, brains, whatever else and all. I followed suit.  

Not many missionaries are going to have the same experiences that the missionaries here do, but no matter where we are we're here for the same purpose. We know we have the truth and we're here to share it. I know that's why I'm here and if I have to eat a fish head now and then so be it. That being said. Y'all are probably gonna have to wait at the airport a bit longer than expected. I'm probably going straight for Wendy's.  

I love you all and I hope you have the best of weeks! 

Love, Elder Cheston Gray

Monday, April 22, 2013

LIZARDS! ! As if Bugs weren't enough ! ! !

Another week is here and past. I can't believe I'm starting my sixth week in Benin tomorrow. We've kept ourselves super busy and can hardly keep up with all the appointments that we've had. Things at the apartment have taken on a different spin with everybody agreeing to prepare their own food, but we'll get into that later.
To start things off we only baptized 8 of the 13 candidates this week. The five that didn't get baptized were children that want to wait for their parents to get married so we can baptize their entire family together. So we've just pushed their baptismal date back a bit.
Getting the 8 candidates to the baptism on time was a challenge in and of itself. We ended up having to beg the office to let the assistants bring them in the mini bus. Driving with the assistants is awesome, because their car has air conditioning.
All and all we have two families that we're trying to plan weddings for, another family that has been progressing nicely and is pondering baptism, and other investigators that want to know more about what we have to teach. We also have received an assignment to keep our eyes open and talk to anybody that owns a building that the church could convert into a chapel for Cococodji.
One of the biggest problems we have with our investigators is getting them to commit to the 45 minute taxi ride to Menontien for church on Sundays. Having a chapel could potentially double the number of people we could bring to church and progress towards making the covenant of baptism.

With all that said I can start talking about the life of the missionaries when they're in the apartment. This week has been.... interesting. When I first arrived we were taking turns prepping and cleaning up dinner/lunch. After a couple of weeks of people not really making the best of food, doing dishes, or having much variety we decided that we are going to fend for ourselves.

I've basically just stolen a plate, a bowl, a fork, and a frying pan to hide on top of the cupboard because I know when I use them and wash them they're clean. Everything else I can't say the same thing. Almost nothing gets washed by anybody else, and by washed I mean watered down. Soap is too much work. It's only a matter of time before one of us dies from food poisoning. At least we'll die of that and not from dehydration... the water still works! Ants have taken over, bigger bugs are starting to follow, and I can only imagine we'll have rats in a matter of days. I will never ever ever complain about loading or unloading a dishwasher again.

Still no sighting of whatever that bug was, but we've started seeing spiders. Really big spiders. The lizards must eat the spiders, because we've started seeing those more often too. The other day I woke up in the wee hours of the morning to use the bathroom. I opened the door, flipped the lights on, walked in, shut the door, dropped the shorts, turned around, and that's when I saw it. Trapping me inside the bathroom with only a plunger to defend myself was Godzilla himself.

I really don't know how my girlish scream of terror didn't wake up half of Africa. I didn't really have to try to use the bathroom either. It just sort of happened. If somebody could send me any information on the lizards that have taken over this country that would be nice. I really want to try and catch one for a picture; but I'm afraid that it'll eat my fingers, or give me some flesh rotting disease, or something like that. All of these thoughts were flashing through my head as I saw Godzilla just chilling out on the bathroom door.

I was convinced I was going to die in that bathroom. After a good bit of time pondering on the thought pot I realized I had the superior intellect and I wasn't going to trapped by a giant lizard. My escape efforts started primitively. Throwing wads of toilet paper wasn't very effective. Neither was the cardboard toilet paper roll after I had exhausted my ammunition.

I thought about using the plunger as a sword, but then remembered that would require me to be within close proximity of this dinosaur, so I quickly disregarded the idea. Then I thought about throwing the plunger, but then realized I wouldn't have any reasonable defense.

It was then that I realized I was wearing flip flops! Taking aim I let loose the first shoe. When it hit the door Godzilla flinched and moved just a bit. Progress. I let fly the second shoe and he moved a bit more. The next however long it took was spent slowing using the plunger to recover my shoes to hurl at the door. Long story short. It worked and I lived to tell the tale. Really though if somebody can prove to me that these lizards aren't poisonous I'll catch one Goblin Valley style and take pictures. They're big.

So yeah. That's the crazy adventure for the week. I hope you all know why I'm here and that's because the church is true. We have the gospel of happiness and it's our job to make sure everybody knows about it. I love you all and I hope you have the best of weeks! :D


-Elder Cheston Gray



Elder’s  Gray and Milambo with Afantowodu Kodjo Pierre and Marlyse Lydie Adeime  (Elder Gray found these two converts the first Saturday he was in Benin and then had the privilege of baptizing them.


Our first photos of one of the Spiders that live in Elder Gray's apartment.  Elder Gray was pretty proud of the fact that he was brave enough to pose with this beast!

Monday, April 15, 2013


hey everybody!
first of all the shift key is broken and that's why i won't be capitolizing anything. second of all the spell checker here is in french... so if you start to think that i'm not as learned as i oughtta be by now you're right, but i can't hide it anymore.
this week was fairly uneventful and full of a lot of work. i figure that's why it feels like it's been just a couple of hours since being here last week. during the course of the week we taught hours upon hours worth of lessons and have spent who knows how long filling out baptism paperwork for our investigators this saturday. if the heavens open up and we can make everything line up just right we could very well have thirteen of our investigators be baptised this saturday.

elder milambo and i have been more than busy giving the final lessons, collecting all of the information, and preparing two families and soeur chantale for baptism. normally doing this wouldn't be hard, but finding names and birthday of parents for people that don't really keep records or birthdays of their children is very difficult. another challenge is actually getting to their house to teach. it's almost an hour of walking one way through what i would describe as a jungle to get to family boko and tossa's village. it's abosuletly beautiful and totally worth every step.
this week has been so much better than the last week because we finally have water in our appartement. i'm pretty sure i heard angels singing when i actually used the shower in our bathroom. it was glorious.
friday night was probably the must frustrating night i've had since i've been away from home. all things considered was also one of the nights i've laughed the most.
the day had wrapped up and we had just got back to the appartment to find the plumber who was repairing the pump for our water. it was my turn to make dinner that night so i was excited to actually have water from the sink to help me with prepping/cleaning. after a couple of minutes the plumber had finished and we had water for the first time in two solid weeks.
i had just starting washing the chicken that was going to be used for dinner, happy as can be, and then the power died; and with it, the water too. not the business.
with a sunken heart i grabbed my flashlight and the bucket to go get the water from the well. once the food was going on the stove i finally had a bit to just chill... until the gas ran out. it was lots of fun finding a new tank and switching it out for the old one in the dark.

after all that dinner was finally ready and we ate in the darkness. that's when we heard it. something was scurrying around in our living room. (it wasnt the bug we saw last week. if we actually see that bug again i promise to get a picture of it. ) at first we thought it was a mouse, but when we finally got a light on it long enough we found out it was a lizzard.
for those of you at home might be thinking that's bizzare, but there are lizzards just about everywhere here. a lot. they're like the squirrel of benin except less cute and not soft. normally they take off when you get anywhere near them, but this one managed to find it's way into our appartement.
fumbling through the dark we locatated broom, mops, and whatever else we could use and played a good ol' game of whack a mole africa style. elders 1; lizzard 0. poor thing didn't stand much of a chance.
anyway. i think that covers everything for this week. upon closer inspection i found out that the computer here doesn't read most of the pictures on my SD card, but they're on there. i don't know what that's all about. next week we're going to find a different interweb place, we're not too pleased with this one. i'll try super hard to get more pictures out when i can.
i'm thinking that when elder christensen goes home after christmas i'll give him the sd card with all the photos i've taken/will take on the 32 gig i've got. he lives a couple of minutes from home so it won't have to be sent through the mail.

that's all for this week!
i love you all lots and lots and hope you have the best of weeks!
Love, Elder Gray

Monday, April 8, 2013

WEEK 3 - - If Hell has a Mascot. . . .

First of all I'm just going to say that the crew here have waited an hour or so for the computers, internet, and power grid to all cooperate, so I won't have time to send any pictures this week. Sad day, but life goes on. On a happier note I remembered my planner! Which means I'll actually be able to remember just about everything that has happened this week. 

It was hot. It was humid. We walked a whole bunch. We taught a whole bunch. I got to baptize two people that we met the first day I got here on Saturday. We brought twenty investigators to church the next day. It rained more in two hours last night that I think I've ever seen in my entire life. And there are bugs. Lots and lots of scary, HUGE, creepy crawling bugs. 

Looking back over the planner it's kind of scary to see how the days mesh together and that it's already been another week. Time is flying. Elder Milambo and I have been spending a lot of time going back and forth from the mission office this week trying to figure out a way to extend his VISA his last couple of months here. I love going to the mission office. It has air conditioning.  

Along with the air conditioning we get to spend some time with Elder and Sister Semken. They're probably some of my favorite people in this mission... and that has NOTHING to do with the fact that they bought us food after going to the immigration office. They're just super friendly and fun to talk to. (I don't even know WHAT we ate. I would describe it as an African style burrito. It was amazing...) 

Also on the list of awesome things that happened this week was helping out with the Youth Conference here. Hands down the coolest youth activity ever. So much fun. There was a whole lot of dancing and game playing and dancing and gospel lessons scattered throughout. It was loud and proud. Apparently when the missionaries are asked to play in the games it's just so they can laugh at how silly we look trying things. It was worth it. 

Lastly for awesome things that happened this week was teaching the Petite Enfants. I don't really know the story behind it or how we found them, but somewhere deep in the middle of nowhere is a group of houses. Living in those houses is a number of families that collectively have fifteen to twenty children. We stop by once a week or so and then go CRAZY. It's so cool.  

The cuteness factor shot through the roof this week when we arrived to find two heavy wooden chairs and a bunch of rocks placed in a perfect circle waiting for us. We spend most of the time teaching them hymns and then the last twenty minutes or so we'll pull out the children’s book of mormon with all the pictures that I brought. They take turns reading and then we'll answer questions. I have the best mission ever.  

The only thing I would change about my mission is the bugs. I know I've ranted about that for most of this email, but that's because we discovered the most horrifying creature that has ever walked on this earth. If hell has a mascot... It's this bug. We haven't named it yet, because we can't come up with anything that suits how scary this thing is.  
It's almost the size of my thumb, which isn't the biggest thing we've seen, but that's not what makes it scary. I would describe it as a cockroach, but worse. It doesn't die. I don't think we've actually been able to kill one yet. The best we've been able to do is throw it out the window and hope it doesn't come back.

It usually likes to rest right where you want to go. It dodges the first billion times you try to hit it with something and just when you think you're going to kill it, it FLIES. That's right. It FLIES. Bugs that big shouldn't be allowed to fly! It shouldn't be possible! The scary thing is after you've made it fly it doesn't fly away it flies AT you! It's like it knows we're trying to kill it and it can smell fear! There isn't a whole lot of things that are more embarrassing than screaming like a girl, running away from something that is virtually harmless, and then begging Elder Kuadio to come get rid of it. 

Anyway. I think that's it for now. I love you all! By the way Grandma Gibson wins the competition for first letter to make it to Africa. Have the best of weeks!  

-Elder Cheston Gray


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

WEEK 2 - - Heat and Bugs!!!!

Well. I managed to make it another week. Things here are still fantastic. I really need to just bring my day planner here so I can give a quick overview of everything that happens in the week.

Basically things are as good as they could be for a missionary. We brought eleven investigators to church, have five of those scheduled for baptism on the 6th, and after we help two couples get married, we have another twelve or so that hopefully could be baptized as well. (this week not all of them came to church and some of them could only afford to send the fathers/moms to church).

When it comes to finding new investigators... we just walk from one appointment to the next. As simple as that sounds is just about as simple as it is. People stop us all the time and ask us who we are and what we're doing. We mention that we're as missionaries to invite people to come closer to Christ they're all over it. We get their phone number, give them ours with a pamphlet on the restoration, find out where they live and when they can be there with their family, and that's that. I've heard it's not that that throughout all of the mission, but at least for the people of Cococodji are ready for the evagil.

However, there is opposition in all things. I have discovered that the first week I was here was probably the easiest I'll ever have it. There is a whole slew of things that we have discovered are wrong with our apartment. The power has been all sorts of unreliable and is off more than it is on. It's the same way with the water now. This afternoon and Sunday were the only days that I was actually able to use the shower. The rest of the week we've had to use buckets. Not as much fun.

We've discovered that it's kind of hard to wash 'n prep things for dinner without any water and even harder to do dishes/clean things up afterwards. After that there is the whole it's hot and humid and we need to drink water part too. That part is kind of important.  

It's been a really big adventure leaving the apartment with a large bowl/bucket thing and drawing water from a well to do all these things. How many missionaries can say that? Not many. It's kind of awesome. OH! Ok before I forget. I've got to talk about the mosquito nets.
So when I got here and it was hot and crazy humid and really really really hot and dry and hot I didn't notice that we didn't have mosquito nets over our beds because we didn't need them. There weren't any bugs. Then it rained. Did I ever mention that the two things I probably hate more on this planet is being hot and bugs? I guess I forgot to put that in the papers because it's really hot here and after the rain there are a lot of bugs. Really BIG bugs. Scary bugs. I... HATE... bugs.

Anyway. After it rained in the morning and after getting back to the apartment that night I started finding little bugs here and there around the apartment. That's when I realized that I didn't have a mosquito net. So I asked where it was. The other missionaries made fun of me and called me pansy, baby, other words that I didn't know because I don't speak French, and yadayada. Ignoring the comments I hung up my net. .
After a good hour or so and about ten minutes before we all should have been in bed we starting find more bugs. BIG bugs. The next twenty minutes was a massacre. Armed with brooms, mops, and whatever we could get our hands on was used to kill a seemingly endless number of bugs. I'm glad nobody was able to film the ordeal. The whole bit was kind of embarrassing. Four twentyish year old young men screaming like four year old girls swinging at anything that moved would have been quite the sight.

After things somewhat calmed down was when the other Elders realized they didn't have their mosquito nets out. That was priceless. One of the best nights ever.  

This morning nearly all of missionaries in Benin gathered to play a game of football. It was legit. Everybody had uniforms and we had a referee and another team to play. The other team were members and their friends. They cheated by bringing people that actually knew what they were doing. I haven't really played much soccer for serious in my life and knew from the get go I was in way over my head. 

I tried to explain to my team that I had no idea what I was doing, I don't know how to control/pass/shoot the ball, but that I was going to run around like the silly white man that I am and try to make something happen. Whatever I did worked because I managed to score the only point for our team and tied the score at 1-1 before it ended. I kicked it in and then just of stood there thinking now what. I figured I should jog back to the line like I would after scoring in lacrosse and then I got ATTACKED. Apparently scoring is a big deal in soccer. After the game I found out that I'm the first white guy to ever score in one of the games here. Beginners luck I guess. 

So yeah. Things are great here. The work here is about to explode. It's seriously just a matter of time and a little bit of money put into chapels, books, and basic church supplies. The biggest problem that we have is getting people that can actually pay to come to church. Nearly no one here has a reasonable way to transport their families however many miles it is to church here. It's really hard to help someone take that leap of faith to spend money on going and not work for the four hours or so that they would be gone. The people that do are immediately blessed and we can only hope that spreads. 

I love you all and if you have any questions let me know. Also I've heard that missionaries are now allowed to email friends as well as family so I y'all could get me emails from anybody that wants to get this email/pictures I can put them on the list.  

Love, Elder Gray!

Elder Layton sent this picture to his mom with the new Elders.  I think it is after the big Football game in Benin on Easter Monday. 

Last of the MTC Photos

Our cute angel in the inside sent us this email it was the last time she was able to see Elder Gray and Elder Allred,  Thanks Margene we love you!!

Hi Micah and Deena:

Here's the pictures I took of the two BEST missionaries in the MTC.........(as promised). They were having so much fun visiting with other Elders that I could hardly get their attention. I finally resorted to the word "brownies" and got their immediate full attention (along with the other elders! Last I saw them they were scarfing them down as they disappeared down the stairs.
They have now officially been trained on how to avoid mosquitoes in Africa and are back in the classroom listening attentively to their teachers and doing their "personal study" time.
They both report that all is well and said they would give all the details of the last week in the next letter.

I am flying to Arizona on Friday for a wedding so will not be back at the MTC until the 26th of this month. Sorry to desert, but I'll check on them when I return.
They are adorable young men and are enthusiastically embracing their new life as a servant of the Lord. THANKS for making that possible.

Love 'ya..........Margene

These Elders were spoiled

Elder Milambo eating some sort of fish, Elder Gray said it is pretty good, however he doesn't eat bones and all.