Monday, January 27, 2014

More Pictures!!

 Elder Gray and Biyion
We asked Elder Gray if this little girl was afraid of white people and he told us she was BUT with a lot of candy and weeks of hard work he has finally won her over.  Now they are the best of friends.
I love how she is holding on to his finger.
The Gbegamey District

 Elder Gray and Elder Bulunga after soccer on P-Day.  Elder Gray reports that all his comments/slams/cheers at sporting events come naturally in French,  I  told him that could come in handy when he got home, because a ref wouldn't be able to call him for thing he didn't understand.  He then told me he has learned all sorts of different things to say in at least 6 different languages! 
 (Should I be excited about that?)

January 27th, 2014

We were apparently supposed to get a great email with lots of love and goodies, and true to Africa...Elder Gray lost power AND lost the email in the process.  We were lucky enough to get the pictures before the outage, tender mercies.  Here they are:

  Elder Maxwell bought me strawberries for my birthday.

Normally that wouldn't be too much of a big deal until you realise
that they were a dollar. Each!
This is Elder Maxwell and Elder Gray with the typical Elder Gray face. 
 I think this is the famous Pate

 One HUGE Pineapple

 Our 1st Monkey Picture - We are all very excited!!


Ramblings from Elder Semken - January 2014

21 January 2014

Good morning to you,
    The mission is once again very busy as always.   President Weed will finish interviewing every missionary on Thursday.   He interviews every missionary about every six weeks and has frequent contact with them throughout the month.   So he and Sister Weed are very well aware of the missionaries situation temporally and spiritually.   Every missionary will have his/her ups and downs throughout the month.   Most of the time the missionaries are pretty even.   Once in a while there are things that seem to be bigger than life.  Give a day or two and things are back to normal.  For instance, I have a landlord who is may not be as nice as our other landlords.   He lives in another village 1/2 of the time, which is not unusual.  We spend more time with him trying to solve problems.  He seems to be difficult to live deal with.  Just before a major holiday on a Friday and another holiday on Monday he has left to travel to his other home.  On Friday afternoon the missionaries water was turned off by the water company for non-payment.  The water nor electricity company are suppose to turn anything off on a holiday.  So the missionaries were without water for 4 days.   We do own our water tank on the top of the building.  And the missionaries should have been able to get water.  But the door to the roof was locked and they had no access to the tank.   Results, no water.  So the missionaries went across the road and paid for water that they put in 5 gallon containers and carried up the water three floors every day for 4 days.  When I found out about it on Friday night, I offered to pick them up and bring them to to our apartment for showers.  They thought it was a nuisance and continued to carry the water.  Now how would you like that!  I visited with the elders following their ordeal, they said it was extremely difficult and was one of the hardest things they had to do.   The stairs are uneven and a new elder tripped and fell, hurt his back.   I think on Elder Maxwell's talk on "patience" and wonder what they learned and what I learned.   All is well.  I hope it doesn't happen again.  By the way the President was at their apartment when the water was out and the electricity went off as well; which is a usual occurrence in our mission.  The president seems to be where the challenges are and is well aware of them.  The Lord knows how he is tempering each of us.  There was a book written several years ago by Elder Dyer, as I recall, called The Refiner's Fire, or something like that. 
    Another example,  last Friday we went to the Post Office.   We received about 15 Christmas packages and 25-50 letters and cards.   We go to the post office 2 or 3 times a week.  They had been stored for some time.  This is not unusual.  They told us that there had been some kind of security breach which caused the delay.  Some of the packages were mailed 19 Nov and 23 of Nov and up to 21 of December.   This is why we suggest DHL or FEDEX and not USPS.  Some of the packages, letters will be delivered to Togo today.  Some packages that the missionaries are expecting still have not arrived.  Those with letters and packages were very pleased.
     I noticed a trend this month of January.   It is only 2/3 of the way through the month and missionaries are short of money.   I wonder if they got caught up in the Holiday season spending more than they should have.   They will be fine, they do know how to manage.  
     As I have said, the missionaries have lived many more wonderful days and have many more stories to tell.   I leave the stories for them to tell and most of the details are for them as well to share in their own way and time.  This is true of the no water in the apartment for 4 days.
    The new mission president for our mission was announced recently.  He and his wife are from Quebec Canada.  Both speak French.  I understand that she is a nurse.  I don't know much about him yet.  The picture is just being put together.  The new mission presidents go to Provo for four days.  His name is Pierre-Paul Morin. He begins 1 July 2014.
      We hope that all of you are well.  Our thoughts and concerns are for your well being as well as the missionaries.
        Elder Semken

Conversation from January 20, 2014

Elder Gray didn't really send out an actual email today, but we had a nice "chat" via email.  He is doing great, even without a camera he has managed to send home some pretty great photos, which I love.  We are in the process of sending a new on with another Elder's parents who are going to pick their son up from the mission.  I asked Elder Gray if there was anything else he needed, his response..."a waffle iron! know one here knows what waffles are"  Here are the few pictures we received:

Le Mangez Vous  (Google translated: The Eat You!)
Mr. Georgous, AKA Elder Bulnga :)
Elder Maxwell and Elder Brou, these are the two Elders in the Apartment with Elder Gray
Godzilla, Elder Gray has had several encounters with this little creature, his dad asked him what he tasted like, the reply, "I don't know yet, when I managed to catch him I will let you know!"

Monday, January 13, 2014


Dearest Family!

      This week was super super fast. We were able to find a bunch of
new investigators, teach a whole bunch of new people, and do a whole
bunch of lessons with the recent converts. Lots of teaching. Lots of
learning. Lots of gospel goodness. Missionary work is definitely lives
up to its name. Work.

      It's always fun to see the changes that come to somebody that
has accepted the gospel. It's probably something that I'm going to
miss the most. Words can't really describe the process of watching
somebody becoming completely changed into a whole new person with
nothing but the knowledge and teachings of Jesus Christ.

      Anyway. I hope y'all have an awesome week!

- Elder Gray

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

We received this letter from a member in Elder Gray's mission

Hi Sister Gray,
          This is Sister Precious Kazadi (you can just call me
Precious) I am a member in one of the Branches where your son Elder
Gray served. I am a Nigerian married to a Congolese, I have 7
wonderful kids. My Branch (AkpaKpa) was the last he served in before
he was transferred to Gbegamey where he is serving now.

You have such a wonderful son, we all love him so much especially my
youngest son Destiny, because he taught him a lot of tricks. They, the
Elders usually  assist in our Family Home Evening every Monday. We
always love having them there with us.

    I want to tell you something about him. He is a strong
hardworking boy, He is usually transferred to where its not working
and he always gets it going I mean the missionary work.

I teased him the last time he came to my house and we had lunch
together, He's always willing to help, but I tell you in the name of
helping me and my kids out in the kitchen, he kept spilling everything
all over the place, and almost broke things. I teased him and said to
him ''give me your mum's email address I need to write her and tell
her how helpful and at the same time destructive you are'' so he
willingly gave me your email address.

    Sister Gray, I tell you he is one of our efficient and favorite
missionaries here in Benin and Togo. Well I know this because, I work
in the mission Home and office and I can tell you about each
missionaries, and the comments the couple missionaries make about each
and everyone of them. Elder Gray is a young man loved and cherished by

      You are so blessed to have Elder Gray as a son, and I tell you
he is making you and your family proud here in his mission.
We miss him so dearly since he's been transferred, but fortunately for
me I get to see him from time to time at the office.

      Despite the fact that he spilled things in our house we still
love and miss him in my Branch.

I will talk to you again, its so nice knowing and writing you, I'm
sure you are a wonderful lady just like your son. My greetings to your
family. Bye.


**Note** Elder Gray said what Precious doesn't know is that when he spilled that stuff he actually cut his thumb really bad and was trying to clean up all the blood before she found out, "power outages have their advantage's" There are a few pictures of Precious and her family further down in the blog**

1st email of 2014

Dearest Family,

      Well. Not a whole lot has changed in these past weeks. Lots of
people have been talked to, lots of lessons have been taught, and lots
of missionary work has been done. It's been great. This past month in
Gbegamey has flown by and has been fantastic. I feel priveliged to be
able to work with my companion Elder Bulunga. I seriously cannot
describe the awesomeness that radiates from my new big brother. He is
the shining example of what it means to be a missionary.

      Our recent convert, is growing like a sunflower on
steroids. She gave one of the best testimonies I've ever heard
yesterday and surprised us all. She's a shining example of the changes
that the gospel can bring. She's starting about the restoration with
all of her friends and is keeping us busy with contacts.

      Anyway. I hope y'all had the best of Christmas' and an awesome New Years!

Love, Elder Gray

Ramblings from Elder Semkens ~ January 2014

5 January 2014
Happy New Year,
      The missionaries were kept busy during the holiday season.   The mission has a very nice Christmas activity.   It started at 10 am and is schedule to end at 2 pm.   The activity in Togo was a week before Christmas and in Benin the day before Christmas.  They start out by playing 6 games.  The missionaries are divided into 3 groups and then depending on the game are broken into small groups.   I asked them if they enjoyed the games and all of them said yes.  Games such as pictionary and musical chairs.   There are some competitive characteristics that demonstrated.  Even the sisters are very competitive.  Following the games a there is a nice dinner and then the Christmas program.   The program is put on by the missionaries.  Each apartment or two apartments in some cases sing a song and include a scriptural reading.   The mission president gives a Christmas story presentation as well as sings.   He is a very talented musician.   The accompanied himself with his guitar while singing.
       The missionaries are then presented with a gift.   As they start to head back to their apartments they linger to visit with one another.  
       The Christmas season is also filled with many member dinners for the missionaries.
      New Year's frequently includes dinner with members as well.  Some missionaries get together and cook a pig and eat it.   This year we have a Tahitian who could help. 
     The new year has begun with Zone Conferences and Missionary interviews.  The general theme setting goals.  Later this month we will have visits by two different groups of general authorities.  These include the area presidency and other area seventies.   I think there may be one from the US.  For one of the meetings Elder Vinson is having the missionaries complete a questionnaire.  It includes questions of evaluation as to where the missionary thinks he was about 6 months ago and then where he is today.   Such as,  are you reading the Book of Mormon everyday or somedays, companion study, personal study, etc.   He is also requested that the missionaries read 3 or 4 assigned conference talks in preparation for the training.
      This past December we had very few medical issues.   The few that we had were very minor.
       Missionaries frequently lose weight as they adjust to their new diet.  The weight is generally muscle, since they don't get any real exercise.   They do a lot of walking but little lifting, nor running, etc.
      We are now experiencing the dry season.  This is the time when the high atmospheric trade winds bring the sand (microscopic dust) from the Sahara desert.   Many people wear the surgical masks to minimize the amount of dust that gets into their lungs.  As far as I can tell there isn't anything to worry about. I suppose if exposed for years it could have some negative effect.  For more than a year now we have been in what is considered a drought.  The other day when we were driving along a very sandy beach road there were tow or 3 vehicles who were stuck in the sand.  One small car was buried past his wheel hub.  Motos were having to get off and push through the bad spots. If I were driving the mission van it may have gotten stuck.  Our trucks are very good, but I have used 4 wheel drive 2 or 3 times.
     The missionary work is steady.  One great challenge that we have seen here is the inability for the members to visit one another, like home teaching and visiting teaching.  The missionaries are asked to go and re-teach their converts following their baptism.  The missionaries build very positive long-term relationships with their new friends.  All of us could put into action of fellowshipping in our own neighborhood, etc.   Developing the depth in leadership and teaching skills requires a lot of time and effort.  The members are doing well.   We have missionaries playing the keyboard for sacrament meeting.   Thank goodness for mothers who had their sons learn to play.  The African missionaries do not play musical instruments.   
    I mention that your sons are very firm in their testimony.  They have a great deal to learn and are glad they have the opportunity to learn to pray, study and testify.  We are very proud of them.
     There is always some new experience for them nearly every day.
              Elder Semken


Elder Gray's first Christmas in the Mission field was spent working hard, they had breakfast that morning at a members house.  (We got that info from Elder Hawkins. Thanks Elder Hawkins for the photo)

We were told we couldn't call Elder Gray until after 8:00 Benin time, because they had things to do in their Sector and would not be able to take time to stop and talk.  When we did call it was from Grandma and Grandpa Gibson's house in Idaho and I (mom) just sat in the van and talked to my missionary.  Other family members if they wanted to talk could come outside and sit in the van and take a very short time.  Admittedly I wasn't very good at sharing the minutes.  It was so wonderful to hear his voice and feel his spirit of excitement over the phone.  He is doing well and excited to be working hard with his new Companion Elder Bulunga.  Christmas Phone calls are a missionary moms best present. 

Brunch at Walter's apartment

Here is an excerpt from Elder Hawkin's blog:  

Wes is a member of our Branch in Gbegamey, probably the only American I have ever seen attend a branch here wasn’t a missionary.  He works for the US Embassy and has been here for a little over two years.  He’s basically been all over the world: he’s a return missionary from South Korea, he’s been to Egypt, all over Europe, South America, etc.  And now he lives in Benin!

So, last Sunday, he invited all of the missionaries of the branch to come and have brunch at his place.  Arriving there, I entered into a little slice of America.  We had to take off our shoes and I think it was because he knew we would want to feel his amazing carpet with our feet.  It has been over a freaking YEAR since I have walked on real carpet and rubbed my feet in it…oh my gosh it was so joyous and one of the best gifts ever!! Also, we sat on real furniture which was just as glorious.

Then we ate brunch that he and his girlfriend (who is visiting from London) made for us: potatoes, quiche, scrambled eggs, real thick ham, and best of all, TOAST! It has been almost a YEAR since I’ve even seen TOAST! I put REAL BUTTER on it (with fake syrup, but I’ll let that slide. I have real syrup back at the apartment.)  It was magical (though not magically delicious as there were no Lucky Charms offered).  And then we got to drink APPLE JUICE AND ORANGE JUICE, which I have not tasted in OVER A YEAR. Again, it was magical.  
Elders Gray, Bulunga, Brou, Maxwell, standing by a decorated Tree, that is about as much decorating as you will see.

Elder Bulunga and Elder Gray teaching Daniel
The Primary of Gbegamey
Elders Maxwell, Bulungs, and Gray with Lowic behind.
Random little girl that is scared of White People! !
(DUH! look what's behind her)

Hi Hi and Merry Christmas ! (December 23rd)

     This week has been fantastic. We've really been hitting our
sector hard and have been blessed with the results. One of our slowly
progressing investigators surprised us with an awesome testimony and
questions about baptism. She'd been coming to church for months and
months, living all the commandments, but just hadn't felt for sure.
She said that she'd found her answers through the Book of Mormon and
was ready to take the next step. It was an awesome experience.

      Elder Bulunga is my big brother. They told me that I was
supposed to be finishing up the training for a new missionary, but I
very quickly discovered that I a whole lot more to learn from him than
he ever will from me. He's got anything and everything that anybody
could ever hope for in a companion and then some. These past few weeks
have been filled with some of the most spiritually powerful lessons of
my life. Words cannot describe the awesomeness.

      Things here are fantastic. I hope you all have the best Christmas ever!

        -Elder Gray

P.s. Oliver is the investigator for the Office Elders