Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Dearest Family and Friends!

      Due to a minor hiccup; our companionship wasn't able to come to the cyber last week. All and all things are going well. 
      Two Saturdays ago the missionaries in our branch decided to try something a little outside of a box in hopes of finding new investigators...


      We planned an activity and told everybody that the Americans would be making lots and lots of pancakes... and then had to explain what a pancake was. We basically invited half the branch (meaning the young men's and young women's groups) but the other half of them showed up anyway. Elder Hawkins and Elder Gray locked themselves in a VERY hot and small "kitchen" and make pancake after pancake after pancake for allllllll the poor African people that have never had the chance to taste of the glorious goodness. We actually had a really decent turn-up and half a dozen investigators were there. 
      The following Sunday during church the young men's and young women's loved the pancakes so much our companionship whipped up another crazy idea. Elder Gray woke up super super duper early and whipped up a batch of pancakes; then we walked them over to the meeting house at 5:45 a.m. for early morning seminary. There weren't a whole lot of students there but we promised to bring them again during the week. Seminary attendance has been nearly perfect ever since then....
      (I got the idea from my Mother who used to make us cinnamon rolls while I was in seminary... after actually experiencing what she did I've realized she's either CRAZY or she loves me a whole lot... Thanks Mom!)
      As "chance" would have it the day we brought the pancakes to early morning seminary; the 1st conseiller show up to the meeting house with the intention of trimming all the trees, bushes, and just about everything around the church alllllll by himself. After insisting and begging to let us help him we got to work.
      When the job got ruff and we realized we bit off a bit more than we could chew the seminary students came out and started helping us. It was waaaaaay cool. It was a LOT of really really hard work, but it was totally worth it. We practically made the place look brand new and shiny; but more importantly we were able to build a stronger connection between us and the members. 
      When we had gathered up all the tree branches that had been cut off and put them in a pile; the 1st counselor told us to go home and that he would come back early the next morning to take off all the leafs, put them in bags, and then chop up the wood. He was super surprised to find us waiting for him there the next morning ready for action. Long story short; we worked super super hard again and make won the trust of the 1st counselor. 
      To put the cherry on top later that day we got a call from him. He thanked us for all of the hard work that we'd done and then told us about one of his friends he wanted us to meet. Last Friday we had one of the coolest lessons I've ever had on my mission. We were introduced to brother Wilson's friend Joel and then sat back and watched him teach the restoration. We were there to testify and answer questions. The spirit was super strong. We have another appointment next Friday and hope he progresses.
      Things are going well in the companionship, things are looking up in the branch, and all and all it's been a good couple of weeks. 

      I love you all! 

-Elder Gray

**Note from Mom: Elder Gray had early morning seminary, so baking 50 cinnamon rolls and delivering them hot to meant starting at 4:30 am.  BUT what I wouldn't give right now to bake a batch and be able to send them to him :) **

Soiree Pancakes!! Disregard the sweaty shirts...

Well, there was no room in the car for elder Gay after we filled everything up from their apartment and along with ours...sooo.,.. he just had to hang onto the side of the car to get to the Church (don't worry, it wasn't to far away!!)
American Pancake Crafters

Tellin' ya, they love musical chairs

 (Thanks Elder Hawkins for sharing!)

There's comes a point in a missionary's two years where the normal, daily routine just isn't enough. Not that knocking on random doors isn't fun... not that asking nonstop for contacts from members isn't fun either... not that walking under the burning out Beninois sun isn't fun either... but honestly, all those things get pretty old, pretty quick. 

So, as I said last week, sometimes, you just gotta get a little creative and start thinking outside the box. One of the problems (and blessings actually) is that it's really hard for missionaries to do all the work all by themselves... to be honest, though possible, it's extremely hard and the results can be minimal. However, when the branch/ward members get involved and start inviting their friends to do things that are Church-related with them, then things get a whole lot easier for us.

Elder Ritchie, our sometimes wise Assistant to the President (I say sometimes just because I like giving him a hard time), has often put it best by giving an example. Imagine if somebody comes to your door and starts trying to sell you something. Chances are, you probably don't want it because you probably are thinking to yourself that you don't need it. Now imagine that you're friend comes up to you and starts raving about a product that he just bought. Chances are, you are probably going to want to try it because you're friend recommended it to you. 

I think you can all see where I'm going with this... missionary work is so much easier when the members from a branch/ward are involved! President Weed has often said that we experience very little success in missionary work if we don't work with the members and interact with them. 

So, Elder Lala and I, the adventurers that we are, tried to think of ways to start working with members. Of course, Elder Lala, in his "infinite wisdom", offered that we do a soccer activity. Look, soccer is... well, soccer. People here seem to love it... and when I mean people, I mean boys ages 8-26 seem to love it the most. Not that I'm against meeting soccer loving guys between the ages of 8-26... but... okay, I'm not going to beat around the bush anymore. Soccer is a dumb sport, nuff said.  Gosh, I do not like soccer. 

Anyway, I had another idea... an idea that I knew would unite people of all ages, of all backgrounds, and of all continents: pancakes. Could you think of an easier and finer American delicacy to share with the people of West Africa? Because I sure couldn't! 

Now, it took a couple of weeks to finally get it all figured out (we had thought of the idea the first week of March and finally got it to hold on the 29th of March. 

Honestly, everything started coming together about 24 hours before the activity. We got to our Coordination meeting (meeting between the missionaries and the Branch Mission Leader) a bit early so that way we could go to the marché and buy everything that we would need: flour, tons of water, oil, tons of sugar, powdered milk, pineapples, mangoes, and plastic plates and forks, plus napkins. We thought it would take us forever to find all that junk, but it actually did not take long at all. It's always awkward going to marches as a white guy, but having a white buddy in Elder Gray always helps. We didn't get ripped off either! 

The next day, the 29th, the big day had finally arrived. I kept telling Elder Gray that this idea was so crazy, that it just might work. I had asked him if he had ever done an activity like this before, since he's been on his mission, and he said it was a first for him too. We decided to set up shop on the second floor because the first floor would be used for a district activity at 6:30 PM that night, so we didn't want to bother them. Thankfully we have a kitchen on the second floor so we were able to install our four burners and two gas tanks up there. There was running water at first, but then it got shut off for some reason... oh well, that's why we bought the extra bags of pure water! 

Then, as the other Elders were taking care of entertaining everybody with some games and music, Elder Gray and I set up a barricade in the hallway so that people would stop bothering us while we were making pancakes! Goodness, people are so nosey when it comes to wanting to watch white people cook. 

So, Elder Gray and I, armed with our American-ness, set out to make pancakes. At first, we just started making popcorn to hold people over as people started to trickle in (did you know: West Africans don't like salted popcorn as much as they love popcorn coated in powdered milk. It's actually pretty delicious.). I have never popped popcorn on the stove before, but Elder Gray did a masterful job of not getting the kitchen to smell like burnt popcorn! 

Then we started cutting up our mangoes and pineapples to make our syrups... they turned out to be really jelly-like but we would just add more water in order to make them a bit more syrup like. They tasted SUPER good though! I preferred the mango syrup over the pineapple one though... I think pineapples are a bit more watery so it wasn't as sweet as the mango one was. 

Finally, as it seemed like we had everybody there (I would say a good 30-50 people showed up), we fired up those pans and started pouring pancakes down. We found that the secret to making really fluffy pancakes is adding more baking soda! I know Fro is probably laughing at me right now because there has to be some faulty reasoning in that somewhere, but it's true! We were making some pretty monstrous pancakes! Elder Gray and I were getting so efficient at making the pancakes, it was like clockwork... at the end, I was even making the pancake batter without any measuring of any kind (I was using handfuls of flour, eyeballing everything). It was pretty scary how fast we were churning out those pancakes.

And then finally, the moment arrived where we would find out if our pancake factory was all done in vain. We brought out the pancakes and the syrups (we had three cups full). We put them down and told people they could start eating when they wanted too (we had already blessed the food, don't worry!)... and then nobody was coming to eat them. 

Our greatest fear was actually this: Beninois (and West Africans in general) do not like sweet things. Yeah, that's right: sweet and sugary is a no-no here. It's really weird to think but people do not have a sweet tooth like we do back home... instead of going for a nice bowl of ice cream or a cookie or two, they reach for alloco (sweet banana plantains) or beignets sprinkled with sugar.... definitely good stuff, but nothing like a nice pancake! 

However, thankfully our work was not in vain: Elder Lala and Elder Konduah (Elder Gray's comp) started dishing out the pancakes and the syrup (and they looked pret-tay, pret-tay, pret-tay good with those cool colored syrups that we made)... and people did start eating them... and they actually LIKED THEM. Then we brought out the beesap and some more waters and everybody was happy. Since it was an activity for the young adults and the youth, they were all occupied playing games, enjoying the music, and eating up the glorious pancakes. 

I was really happy as well because three of our amis came, as well as my recent convert Olivier, who brought a friend with him. I didn't get to talk to them too much because I was either busy making pancakes or busy cleaning up the pancakes, but everybody seemed to be having fun. Also, favorite youth African activity? Musical chairs. I'm pretty sure these people can be entertained for hours watching the youth play musical chairs (actually, it is pretty amusing though).  

It's amazing to see how just a little bit of energy, about $40, and some teamwork can really all come together and give people a good time together! I've always been a fan of doing non-threatening Church activities like that for people who really don't know the Church that well... I feel like a lot of people are scared to go to Church activities because they are going to be preached too, but I think Church activities are more about helping people feel welcomed into a community that is inviting to everybody! Even looking at Christ's ministry here in Earth, when he fed the multitudes TWICE with fish and bread, he never said that only the members of his Church could come and eat! He invited everybody, no matter where they came from or who they were! 

In retrospect, the pancake activity was a ton of fun, but at the end of it we were all just super tired from it. The youth absolutely loved it and want us to do it again next month (um, yeah, how about they sweat out a storm making pancakes next time!) but I don't think that's gonna happen anytime soon! Now, I think we're going to try to do a general branch activity to get everybody involved but that's gonna be a long ways out because we're still tired from the last activity that we had! 

If there is any advice I have to give out this week, it's that missionary work doesn't have to be boring! It can be really fun if you just get a little creative and are not afraid to sweat a little bit (or a lot of you're stuck in a tiny kitchen with four burners going!).

Just like Miss Frizzle says: Take Chances, Make Mistakes, Get Messy! 

And you'll end up having a whole lot of fun! And success. 

With love,

Elder Hawkins

Monday, April 7, 2014

March 24, 2014

“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven. …” (Orson F. Whitney)