Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Next Week :(

I talked to the President about this. He says it's okay to use this made up email to let y'all know that we lost connection to myldsmail.net

I'll write next week, but tell everybody I miss and love them!

(Tell Dad I'm sorry I don't have his email address memorized...)

This is all we got this week.  Elder Gray struggles almost weekly with his missionary email account.  It is very frustrating for us.  At least we know he is alive!!!!

Monday, July 22, 2013

bun da da duuuuuuuun!

Once again I have to start off my letter with an apology. Last week my companion wasn't feeling very well, so we didn't have the chance to do much. Not doing much has been our story for as long as we've been together. The first few days were spent nursing my new bestest friend back to health.

      To be honest I don't know what's worse. Being sick or being the companion of somebody who is sick. Neither one is very fun. There is only so much scripture reading you can do before your head wants to explode; especially when you're trying to plow through it in French. 

     Speaking of French; I finally feel like I understand it. It was a happy day when I got to translate for one of the senior missionaries that don't speak French very well during Sunday school in your new branch building. 

      Speaking of new branch building... bun da da duuuuuuuun! Cococodji is now a full blown branch! Complete with it's  very own presidency, building, and all the goods that will follow. It's been more than an awesome experience starting my mission here. I think of it like my experience as a missionary, my French, and this branch have all grown up together at the same time. 

      When I got here things were well established and ready to go. I didn't really have to do/say/understand much and was just kind of along for the ride. After not very long we became a group. Suddenly everything started developing a whole lot faster than what it was before. Then and only then did both the group and I realize we had no idea what we were doing, but with time we started to figure things out. 

      Then without really noticing it, we've both grown to the point where we've become practically independent. Granted there are going to be some ruff spots, but nothing that we don't feel like we can't handle. 

      On a less serious/boring note. Cococodji is rockin' two companionships. Gray with Lalahariniaina and Welch with Mulumba. Everybody just calls mine Lala. We all get along pretty well and have had some very interesting conversations thus far. It's also been SUPER nice living with somebody that actually speaks English.

      Anyway. That's just about all for now. I'll try to come up with more interesting stuff next week because nothing all that crazy has happened. I hope y'all know this church is true and that I love you allllll to bits. Have an awesome week!

-Elder Gray

Ramblings of Elder Semkens

21 July 2013
     I take this moment to inform you that today the Cococodji Branch was created.  A long time member and friend, Paul Dansu, is the new branch President.  He is our egg man.  He started an egg farm with the encouragement of the Southams and has done well.  His first counselor in Elvis, a young returned missionary, he and his wife recently had their first child.  
     This is the first branch that Francine and I had an opportunity to have a lot of involvement.  The missionaries were assigned to this area only in February of this year (2013).  The mission president had a tug-a-war as to where we should send two sets of missionaries because of the very limited number of missionaries in the field.  He could have sent them to Porto Novo which was the expected place to send them since their are several members there.  Another area that was a possibility was Calavi. The members out in Cococodji were being serviced very well by the Menotin Branch.  The President sent me out to explore all three areas with an office elder.  A set of Assistants to the Mission President were also sent to Porto Novo to get their opinion.  Our reports said that all three areas could support missionaries.  The President consulted with the Branch Presidency.  There input was invaluable.  They liked Calavi and Cococodji.  The President then decided after careful consideration and imploring with the Lord what he should do.  He decided to send them to Cococodji.
 As I have mentioned the first week we had 47, then 54 and today there was 103 on a rainy day.  Last week there were 110.  

These pictures were taken of the Cococdji Group on the First Meeting. 

     Getting the building we now meet in was an interesting event as well.  Today was the first day of meetings in this beautiful building.  This building can accommodate two branches at the same time.  The lot is beautifully landscaped.  I love it!  And I have some new ideas that I could incorporate in my yard.  Not that I could have the same vegetation, no palm trees grow where I live in Utah.  Nevertheless I have some new ideas.  Oh dear, says Francine.  
     The available buildings for a branch were in reality not in existence.  We us Paul Toffi to help us find apartments.  I requested his assistance.  In a day or two he was at the office explaining to us what he had found.  Now it seem that Paul knows everyone.  He found a building that was occupied some Chinese road consultants that were about to vacate the building.  He found the building because he knew someone who knew about this landlord.  So we entered negotiations.  The price was way to high which is normal. We got it down to where we could be serious about it.  The members in the area frequently could not go to the Menotin Branch building because of its cost.  So, Paul went a days journey north to visit the landlord (the wife and owner)  her husband was in Liberia.  As it turns out the village Paul went to is where Paul had lived and he knew the wife.  They agreed on a price and then he brought the proposal back to which we negotiated the final agreement.  The Lord absolutely knows and directs people to fulfill his purposes.  He is involved in the details.  I am but an instrument in his hands for I could never have known about this place, I didn't know the landlord, I didn't live in their village as a youth, I don't speak French.  Stop and think how things can turn out.  

     Yesterday, Saturday 20 July 2013, the elders and I went to prepare the building for the meeting.  We had to make five trips to take chairs, etc.  I wasn't surprised when many members just showed up to work.  Youth and adults and a couple of babies.  I had Elder Welch be the supervisor.  His companion Elder Mulumba was the chief coordinator to the members.  The work that was completed was nothing short of spectacular!  People just went to work! Willingly!  A couple of sisters swept the entire long driveway (125 yards long)  and the walkways that beautifully mark the attractive landscaped facilities.  Of course the women were their beatiful clothes to perform this service.  They do not wear "grubbies" for work done for the Lord.

     I am so touched by the respect that they have for the church grounds and that they know that the Lord is well pleased.

     Today, there was adequate room for everyone.  They were as excited as children opening presents on Christmas morning.  Though that for them is but a dream.  But, they feel and felt the need to be there to perform this task.  
     I took a lot of pictures.  After the meeting everyone wanted their picture taken.  It really started when a father requested (in French, but I understood perfectly what he wanted) that I take his picture with his family.  You see this marks a great day in the lives of these people.  And it does.  It also, makes a great day in Francine and my life as well.  They were very reverent and respectful during the services.

     Thank you for your missionaries and for your support and prayers,
               Elder Semken

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I'm still alive

We stopped by the cyber to send out a quick email.

My new companion has been dying from malaria. His name is Elder Lalahariniaina. Impossible to pronounce. We just call him Elder Lala.
Cococodji is rockin' Elders Gray, Lalahariniaina, Welch, and Mulumba. 
I wouldn't be surprised if Mom already knows Welch's Mom.
Dad. Keep sending music. It's awesome and ANYTHING you send beats any and all music here. 
I'll have a super email next week (hopefully)
I don't know how much longer I'll be in Cococodji, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was my last transfere here. We'll see how it goes.
Tell everybody I said hi and not to worry. Call up Grandma Gibson and tell her thanks for the billions of letters that keep coming :P
Also throw in a huge high-five for Aunt Dori. Her letter made it too. 
Next week I'll send the picture with the shoe for the replacements.
All goes well here. I'm sorry for not being super good at writing every week, but these last times really haven't been my fault...

I love you all! 

-Elder Gray
(This email came in late Tuesday. . . .so happy to hear from him!)

Monday, July 8, 2013

I'm not dead yet !

Hello everybody!
I guess I need to start off this letter with a big ol' apology. Round about here the internet doesn't like cooperating with the MyLDS servers. I don't know know much about the whole internet/server/connection thing; but it's all sorts of frustrating watching the interwebs cooperate with facebook, youtube, and just about every other site except for the only one you're allowed to use. Trust me. Not writing wasn't very fun. I basically stared at the spinning "loading" icon for who knows how long before we left for our evening appointment. 
I know I tend to just ship off short back and for conversations between my parents. I'm gonna try to do better with the whole "write a big email for everybody" thing. I hope y'all can forgive me. 
Anyway. There is lots and lots that've happened these past couple of weeks. I've been working with Elder Dagrou. I love him with allllllllllllll the love that my little heart can muster and then some. He's incredible. I have enjoyed every single second that we've spent together. It didn't take long before we were finishing each others sentences and knowing what each other was going to say/do before the other did. I can't believe it's already been almost four weeks with him. 
We've done WORK together. Our little group at Cococodji had a weekly attendance of about 70 when Elder Dagrou and I started working together. This past Sunday we broke the record with 112 people attending sacrament meeting. We've nearly doubled the original number in just a few months. We hope to start our very own branch this month. We're literally making church history.
I need to confess that I'm not all that great of a writer like my Dad. I've tried to adapt to his "say it how it sounds" style, but I can't ever make it sound right. I have a couple of random tidbits that I'm just going to toss in with short paragraphs. I can't really think of any fancy way to string them all together. Here goes nothing.
1. For starters I would like all nations, kindreds, tounges, and people to know that Hells Mascot has officially be slain by the oh so very courageous Elder Mary. There was much screaming, running, hiding, broom-whacking, more screaming, and finally MUCH celebrating once the horrifying beast was finally smitten. Yes. I have its picture.
2. My cooking levels have significantly improved. I knew I gained at least three or four levels allllll at the same time when Elder Gray had cut up all sorts of vegetables and other om noms in preparation for his famous "throw-whatever-is-in-the-fridge" sauce. The secret is adding a whole lot of tomato paste. This unfortunate Sunday night Elder Gray discovered the magical tomato paste was all gone. Let it be known that peanut butter makes a perfect substitute. Nobody has died of food poisoning yet. Yet. 
3. All the missionaries gathered together to play a game of basketball. I figured I wasn't going to be able to play all that much, and that I didn't like basketball much anyway, so I didn't bring shoe-shoes. I was rockin' the crockin's. I absolutely love my crocs.(Thanks Aunt Dori!!)  Anyway. All the missionaries showed up, not very many of them dressed up for the occasion. 
Long story short we started a pick-up game with some of the natives and some of the Elders. It was actually very enjoyable. Elder Kimzey and I compared it to churchball without all the arguing, fouls, and broken bodies. Everybody got a shot off, everybody shared the ball, everybody had a good laugh, and nobody took it too seriously. Elder Gray even put up a couple of points in his crocs. 
4. Last Sunday night Elder Gray was happily hiding from the heat by taking a cold shower when the bathroom door was nearly broken down by the other Elders in his apartment. Unexpected transferors mess with missionaries heads. Especially with the ones that are happy with the way that things are. 
We learned that my perfect other half is being transferred to Togo this Thursday. I've only ever felt a loss like that once before. Not the business. However, just like the first time, after praying for a small bit of comfort, and knowing that I'm not in charge, I know without a doubt that things are going to work out. He's going where he needs to go, he's going to be with who he needs to be with, and I still have lots of work to do here. 
I'm going to try to keep track of random bits like this throughout the week so I'll have something to share with y'all next week. I hope you all know that I love you so so so so so much and that I'm more than happy to be here. I know I'm where I need to be. I know everything is going to work out. 
Elder Gray :D 

Photos ! ! ! (the best thing Moms get besides phone calls and letters)

Riding to the baptismal service. . . African style !!
Elder Dagrou lost in our Sector
Again Elder Dagrou somewhere deep within our Sector
Elders Gray, Milambo, Mary (with his beloved scripture bag!), Kimzey,  Beird (I think), Dagrou, Ordango, and I have no idea who the other guy is.

Photos of the "Group" meetings they hold on Sundays

Sacrament meeting.  Originally this little group started on Mother's Day with 57 members.  It started INSIDE the building where the guy is speaking with the pulpit. . . there were 112 members there this Sunday and it now spills over outside in the courtyard.  A formal branch should be organized sometime this month. 
Mingling after Church
The Primary, (ages 3 to 12) with Elders Poll and Owusu,  Also Souer Carmel
Elder Dagrou, Cedric, Pascal, Maragrite, Christiane, Elder Gray

More Great Photos !

Elder Poll, unknown...,Kimzey..., unknown...,unknown again..., Elder Gray, Dagrou, and unknown.

Rufine, Elder Dagrou, Judgement, David
Elder Gray and Elder Owusu

Monday, July 1, 2013

Mom's Post

We haven't actually gotten a letter from Elder Gray in a couple of weeks.  Last week both his dad and I were able to "email chat" with him a couple of times.  We learned basically he is alive, has been sick with a cough, sore throat, headache. (YIKES), he thinks I jinxed him because I keep asking him to tell me details of how he's feeling.  Lesson learned...what I don't know can't hurt him or me :)

He got the watch that Elder Lynch carried to Africa for us, and he is working hard and loves his mission.

He did send pictures last week and those have been added to the blog.  Thanks for all of you who support Elder Gray with your letters, thoughts and prayers. 


Elder Mary and Elder Gray feasting upon the legendary chwarama.
I don't know what's in it.
I don't really WANT to know what's in it.
The only important this is that it's yummy. 


Elder Gray's apartment won the "clean" award for the month. 
The prize is lunch with Elder and Sister Semkens. 

Elder Milambo, Elder Gray, and Frere Leon (also known as the D.M.B. or diriger missionnaire de branche)

Pick up Soccer Game on P-Day

Elder Gray, Elder Milambo, Florimonde Tossa and Opportune Tossa.

On our way to an investigators.