We are finally able to share some very exciting news! We have received another mission call! We will be serving in the Cote d’Ivoire Abidjan East Mission which includes our dear friends in Mali! On October 14th we’ll report to the Provo MTC to begin our 2 years of adventure in West Africa!
This mission call has been in the works for a year now. We returned from Yakima the first of July 2018. Within a week or two conversations about Mali began. We had a call from the Area Presidency in West Africa asking if we really would be willing to go again and we said YES!
When Elder Nash asked how soon we could be ready to go, we told him we’d love to be here for our first missionary reunion the first week in October (conference weekend) and welcome our 2nd grandchild (also expected that week), but we’d be available after that, mid-October. He was thrilled with that news and told us he’d start the ball rolling.
Thing started happening after that. We corresponded with the Area Presidency and made appointments for our medical exams. We also learned of a container departing for Mali in August that had room in it for us to send a few things. We had 3 days to collect and gather anything we wanted to include that would be helpful when we arrived in Mali.
We bought beds, Costco tables and some chairs. We found a used sofa on KSL.com and picked it up. I packed bedding and linens and everything I could find that would make it easy to set up an apartment in Mali when we got there. I also packed much of our food storage–cases of canned meat and cases of freeze-dried food. John asked me to pack a box filled with 4 large Costco containers of peanut M&Ms for him! I included a box of books and a lot of church materials, including things like a printer and a case of paper. We packed emergency supplies, medical supplies, kitchen supplies, and toiletries. It was a great blessing to have this chance to send things over.
We were asked not to talk openly about this missionary opportunity, except to our children, until things were finalized. I did tell one dear friend, Mary Ellen, my companion in Nigeria many years ago. Here is a note I sent to her 20 Aug 2018:
Well, my dear friend, it’s been a crazy week. The doctors are packing a container for the November expedition. Last week (because of a grant/donation) they were able to get a 40’ container instead of a 20’ one. That means there is a lot of room available for us to send some things over now. I’ve been thinking about you every hour of the day these last 3-4 days as we’ve scrambled to take advantage of the free shipping. Oh my, what memories!! I’ve packed about 15-20 boxes for Mali. Just like when we packed for Nigeria. Every inch of every box is filled with treasures I know we’ll be grateful for when we get there, if everything happens so we can go. We’re waiting now for the Area Presidency to contact the Missionary Dept to request us, then they’ll screen us (health). They say only 6% of those wanting to serve in Africa are cleared. I’m hoping John’s sensitive skin won’t be a problem. Hats and sunscreen keep him safe.
We’ve bought 2 twin beds and bedding. Tonight we went to get a $75 sofa someone was selling. We’ve got some Costco lightweight tables and some folding chairs. I’ve packed old dishes from the kids’ BYU apartments. Remember our Deseret Industry runs and the trips to the Army-Navy stores? I’ve got lots of dehydrated and freeze dried foods (the food is the hardest part). We’ve got some cases of canned meat from the cannery (food storage). I’ve thinned out our kitchen stuff and utensils and spices and a bit of this and a bit of that, knowing that we’ll be SO GRATEFUL for anything safe to eat when we get there.
We’ve even packed 3 boxes of books to read! I think we’ll have time in the evenings to READ! I’m guessing we’ll be home by dark most nights. We’ll have time to read and study and relax a bit, like Sr Missionaries!
They’re calling us as Welfare Missionaries because there’s not gov’t approval for proselyting ones yet. That means we’ll be trained to do humanitarian work in SLC for a week before we go. I think we’ll have some LDS Charities funds to allocate—well drilling, school supplies, health initiatives, etc. We’ll also continue to work with the Ouelessebougou Alliance and their projects. And there is a Days for Girls sewing center in Ouelessebougou now, so I can continue to help there. It’s PERFECT.
Everything is lining up for this to happen. We told our kids Sunday. They’re good with it all. No one else knows yet. I’m so excited I can’t sleep at night. It’s going to be so wonderful and hard and good. It will be kind of nice to be in a place where no one knows us and we have some peace and quiet with our friends there. Life here gets crazy. It will be sad to miss lots of missionary coming and goings and weddings and all of that, but we’ll stay in touch online. We’ll have a reunion before we go and Adam’s wife, Heidi is having a baby in early October. After that we told them we’re available. We’ll see what happens.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about you, as I’ve packed these boxes. It’s really taken me back. Such happy good memories. You are so dear to me. You changed my life in all the right ways and I will always be eternally grateful for the chance to learn with you and from you in Africa.
I’ll keep you posted. I love you, to Africa and back.
By mid-August, we filled out a Request Form For Senior Missionaries for the Missionary Department which we sent to the Area Presidency in Ghana for them to submit to their contact in the Missionary Department in Salt Lake requesting us.
On Wed, Aug 22, 2018 at 3:11 AM Dale Robert Chamberlain wrote:
Brother and Sister Lewis,
I wanted to give you a brief update on Africa West Area Presidency Plans to senior missionaries to serve in Mali.
The Church is not yet registered with the Government of Mali. As a result there is an additional round of necessary review among the brethren in Salt Lake City. We have been asked to provide some additional information for their review. Things are moving. There is a meeting to discuss with Elder Soares today.
We have made application for registration in Mali and are hopeful that we will receive that prior to senior couples entering the country. If registration is not obtained our current plan (subject to approval from the Office of General Counsel) is to send the senior missionaries on personal visas and switch those out in-country when registration is approved.
The Area Presidency filled out the Request form which you partially completed, to the Missionary Department.
Please introduce yourselves and make an email contact with our Area doctor sister Elizabeth Blackwell. She may be asking you some health related questions. Sister Blackwell is copied on this communication.
Please contact your bishop and have him open the missionary portal for you. Please review and begin filling out the medical information. My understanding is that you have already scheduled physical examinations (possibly also dental) on September 17. Please forward the information in the missionary forms to sister Blackwell together with anything else she requests.
Do not have an interview with a stake president or submit any applications at this time. We want to get a medical clearance prior to any formal submissions.
Advise if you have any questions.
The ball was rolling, and we were so excited.
We had a humanitarian trip to Mali planned for November with the eye doctor group. We had our shots and applied for our visa for that, not knowing if we might go over and stay.
Journal entry 23 August 2018:
At 11:15 John and I had a scheduled phone call from Elder Nash, the West Africa Area President. It was wonderful to talk with him. He wanted to get to know us and started by asking each of us to introduce ourselves to him. I went first and told him briefly my history and what my Africa connections are. He was impressed and kind. Then John did the same. He was warm and kind sometimes emotional as he thanked us for being willing to go. Last night we sent our medical history to the West Africa nurse, which I’ll include here when John forwards a copy to me. This morning she replied that we are cleared to go!! Elder Nash seemed so grateful that we’d even consider going again so soon after coming home.
Then he told us the update on their end. Mali had elections a week or two ago and the gov’t has been slow to get back to work. The Church has applied for approval for missionaries to come to Mali. Elder Nash met with the religious director man last time he was there and was assured they want us to come, but nothing has been done, approved or signed yet. So we are waiting on that, as per the request of Elder Soares of the Twelve. Elder Nash spoke with him about us/missionaries going into Mali yesterday and Elder Soares asked him to wait until we have gov’t sanction. SO, Elder Nash said it may take days, weeks or months. We told him we’d be ready to go as soon as that happens. He told us to go on with our lives until we get word, and not to have the Bishop open the mission portal for us yet. That is a little bit disappointing, but it’s important that we go in with full sanction. More time with our kids will be good and happy for us.
Thing went quiet after that, as we waited for the government people in Mali to recognize the Church there. Our good member leaders in Mali were working on the papers for the Malian government. In the meantime, we prepared for our humanitarian trip in November, getting our shots and visas.
October 3rd our granddaughter, Josie Lewis was born in Kansas City, Missouri.
October 5th we had a fantastic missionary reunion.
We traveled to Mali November 9 to 24 with our Ouelessebougou Alliance friends. We distributed 100s of Days for Girls kits and did work in the villages. The eye doctor team joined us the 2nd week. It was a fantastic trip. We took a few more things over to leave in Mali, praying we would be allowed to return soon.
We attended church in the wonderful Bamako Branch one week and with the Group at the chicken farm the 2nd week.
On our last day in Mali, we had a few hours before going to the airport. We prayed for guidance as we went to look for a place to rent in Bamako. We looked at and walked through several homes and apartments. The last one we found was perfect! We felt guided to it. It was a new apartment complex, just being completed. There were 2 apartments still available. One was on the top floor. It called to us. We felt impressed this would be our home someday. When the landlord returned from the mosque, we made arrangements to rent it. We left Mali excited to return some day.
We returned home to our family and a cold snowy Utah decorated for Christmas. Throughout the holiday season we were told not much would happen on either side of the ocean, so we waited patiently for news, enjoying time with the family.
After we returned from Yakima, John returned to work at BYU. The longer he stayed, the more entrenched he became in helping prepare for a huge China trip this spring. The university was sending about 200 performers and advisers to China to celebrate our 40 year anniversary of BYU’s first performing group in China. It was a huge and spectacular event, and they needed John to travel with them to help from May 18 until June 4.
At the end of January, we learned why things were taking so long. The Area Presidency hired a new legal team to help move the paperwork through the government leaders in Mali. We learned that the previous legal team was not inclined for Christian missionaries to be sent there, so they kept slowing the process. The paper work was submitted Again. Elder Nash, the Area President planned a trip to Bamako January 22-23. He told us he was going to either thank the government leaders for signing the papers, or to see that they did!
January 18 we spoke with Elder Nash who told us he hoped everything would be finalized in the next 2-3 weeks. He said he felt an urgency and wanted us there ASAP. It’s been a year since the church was organized in Mali, and they need leadership help. The church is growing faster there than in any area in West Africa. He told us to begin filling out our mission papers, but not to hit the send button until he gave us the go ahead. He was kind and told us we are an answer to their prayers–to have someone with such church administrative experience and love for Mali, just sitting here ready to go. He said the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency had this on their prayer rolls. He said he was sure it would happen, hopefully soon.
Journal entry 21 January 2019:
Tonight we are praying for the gov’t leaders in Mali. Elder Nash arrived there today.
Tuesday 22 January 2019:
Dear Brother and Sister Lewis:
I am currently in Mali and write to let you know that January 22, 2019 is a historic and miraculous day: the Church is officially recognized in Mali! We are excited and grateful. We will communicate with you later this week or early next week as we get things moving.
May the Lord bless you and yours.
Wednesday, January 23, 2019
Church Obtains Official Recognition in Mali [Unofficial Announcement]
Church Obtains Official Government Recognition in Mali, a Nation in West Africa of 18.4 Million People that is 95% Muslim, 2% Christian
Local members in the West African nation of Mali report that the Church obtained official recognition from the Malian government today. The announcement was made to local members by President Nash of the Africa West Area. The Church has been in the process of obtaining official registration with the government for several months. The first official branch, the Bamako Branch, was organized in mid-2017. One member group also operates in Mali on the outskirts of Bamako in the village of Frako. Additionally, prospects appear favorable for the establishment of a second member group in another village nearby Frako in the immediate future. In November 2018, there were approximately 50 who attended meetings in Frako and 30 who attended meetings in the Bamako Branch. Mali is assigned to the Cote d’Ivoire Abidjan Mission. The Church reported 42 members in Mali as of April 2018. At least an additional 20 converts were baptized before the end of the year, suggesting that church membership may be as high as 60-70 as of year-end 2018. With today’s announcement, prospects appear favorable for the assignment of full-time missionaries within the near future. Full-time missionaries have previously taught investigators over the Internet from Cote d’Ivoire.
So, after that miraculous news, we waited. The decision was made for John to go ahead and travel with to China with BYU while the details for Mali were worked out. Our conversations with Elder Nash continued as we discussed lots of different options. On April 9th we met with him in Salt Lake City while he was here for General Conference. We talked about different options for our service and plans for the work in Mali. Throughout April our phone conversations continued and we tried our best to be patient as we waited! Our security there seems to be one of the biggest issues.
In May Elder Nash asked us to have our papers read to submit. We visited with our Bishop and Stake President. Our papers were completed. We waited. On May 14th we were told to proceed and our papers were submitted. We hoped the call would arrive in the next 2-3 weeks! We were so excited!
We waited. And we waited. And we waited.
This week (9 weeks later) on 16 July, we received interesting notifications in our phones and by email. We waited all day to open that little blue link that would take us to our missionary assignment. We wanted our kids to be here with us when we opened it.
At about 6:00 p.m. we gathered to open the letter. John let me read it out loud to the kids.Our hearts pounded as we read these words:This is exactly what we hoped for (nothing is ever for sure until the call comes)! The Abidjan Ivory Coast Mission includes Mali. We are so very excited!! Finally we can share our news and tell our friends what’s been happening this last year. It’s been hard to keep quiet as this plan has unfolded. We have 3 more months to wait, then we begin our next Grand Adventure!
We are a Happy family!!
Sister Ann Lewis
24 W 500 S
Orem, UT 84058
Dear Sister Lewis:
You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the Cote d’Ivoire Abidjan East Mission. Your primary assignment is to labor as a member and leader support missionary. It is anticipated that you will serve for a period of 23 months.
You should report to the Provo Missionary Training Center on Monday, October 14, 2019. Your assignment may be modified according to the needs of the mission president.
You have been recommended as one worthy to represent the Lord as a minister of the restored gospel. You will be an official representative of the Church. As such, you will be expected to maintain the highest standards of conduct and appearance by keeping the commandments, living mission rules, and following the counsel of your mission president. As you devote your time and attention to serving the Lord, leaving behind all other personal affairs, the Lord will bless you with increased knowledge and testimony of the Restoration and of the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Your purpose will be to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. As you serve with all your heart, might, and strength, the Lord will lead you to those who are prepared to be baptized.
The Lord will reward you for the goodness of your life. Greater blessings and more happiness than you have yet experienced await you as you humbly and prayerfully serve the Lord in this labor of love among His children. We place our confidence in you and pray that the Lord will help you become an effective missionary.
You will be set apart as a missionary by your stake president.
Russell M Nelson