Our Homecoming Talks

Ann Lewis Homecoming Talk
19 September 2021

We have recently returned from serving a 2 year mission in Bamako, Mali and Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, West Africa. We lived in a world very very different from our home here. Many of you know that I’ve lived in Africa many years and I love it like a second home. Most of all, I love our African friends and the lessons I’ve learned from them. How often I wish there were a way to bring my two worlds together! It will be impossible to explain much about our last 2 years in the next 12 minutes, but I would like to share with you some things I thought about every single day I was there–things that have to do with the Judgement Day and how we might be considered by a loving Father in Heaven.

Today I want to talk about 4 things:

Opportunity, Privilege, Degree of Difficulty, Execution

When we were Mission Leaders in Yakima, we taught our young missionaries to focus on what they did well and use their gifts and talents to help others come to Christ.

Many of our gifts and talents are a result of our Education, Environment and our Experiences, or in other words, our Opportunities.

Imagine living in a place without books, electricity, or wifi. Imagine having no car and being unemployed. Imagine having to grow all the food you’ll eat while living in a desert that’s horribly hot and terribly dry most of the year. Imagine never having enough food to feed your children day after day. Imagine trying to stay clean while living in a home built of mud. Imagine pulling water from a well for every need. Imagine living in desperation and fear, wondering how you will survive every day of your life with very limited health care, no insurance, no retirement benefits and no savings. Because of this environment and the opportunities available to you, your life expectancy would be 57 years.

Imagine how your life would be different if you had a different set of opportunities.

Historian David McCullough wrote about John and Abigail Adams:
After the war was over, Abigail went to Europe to be with her husband when he became our first minister to the Court of St. James’s. And John Quincy [their son] came home from Europe to prepare for Harvard. He had not been home in Massachusetts very long when Abigail received a letter from her sister saying that John Quincy was a very impressive young man—and that of course everybody was quite astonished that he could speak French—but, alas, he seemed overly enamored with himself and with his own opinions and this was not going over very well in town. So Abigail sat down and wrote a letter to her son, John Quincy. Here’s what she said:

“If you are conscious to yourself that you possess more knowledge upon some subjects than others of your standing, reflect that you have had greater opportunities of seeing the world and obtaining knowledge of mankind than any of your contemporaries. That you have never wanted a book, but it has been supplied to you. That your whole time has been spent in the company of men of literature and science. How unpardonable would it have been in you to have turned out a blockhead.”

McCullough continues, “How unpardonable it would be for us—with so much that we have been given, the advantages we have, all the continuing opportunities we have to enhance and increase our love of learning—to turn out blockheads. Or to raise blockheads.”
– McCullough, David. The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For . Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Opportunity is a Gift. Let’s be grateful for the opportunities we’ve been given.

I saw a quote posted that said: Privilege isn’t the presence of perks and benefits. It’s the absence of obstacles and barriers. That’s a lot harder to notice. If you have a hard time recognizing your privileges, focus on what you don’t have to go through. Let that fuel your empathy and action.

Focus on what you don’t have to go through to be happy and to feel peace in your life.

We live in a world of Abundance and Ease. We have the gift of being Comfortable and Clean. We have the gift of making choices about our lives and what we want to do with our lives. We have the blessing of not feeling hunger every day. We have access to health care and medications and professional help. We are surrounded by friends who have the means to step in and help if we need aid. We have So Much. Think about what you don’t have to go through and understand your privilege.

Elder Gerald N. Lund shared a wonderful principle about privilege in his book; The Second Coming of the Lord, p 375:
“Equity” conveys the idea of things being equal and fair. And this mortal life is anything but that. When we look at the differences people experience in such things as the qualities of their lives, financial status, opportunities to progress, peace, intelligence, health, disease, birth defects, safety, education, the societies into which they were born, freedom, oppression, and a hundred other things, it is clear that this life is not fair. Some of these differences are caused by our own foolish choices, but many are not caused by us nor can be fixed through our own efforts. Therefore, at the Judgement, many people can rightly say that life did not offer them a level playing field.

We know that [Jesus] Christ paid the price for our iniquities, but we often overlook that He also suffered for our inequities. Who makes all of that right if there is to be true justice in the world? The answer is found in the Savior, because in addition to our sins, “he will take upon him the pains, and the sicknesses of his people… and he will take upon him their infirmities.”

Degree of Difficulty
Many of you probably watched parts of the Olympics this summer. There are several sports that consider the Degree of Difficulty in scoring, for example diving or gymnastics. A swan dive does not have the same degree of difficulty as a back flip with a double twist. The harder something is, the more credit you get for trying to execute it.

I thought about the degree of difficulty pretty much every day while living in Africa. We had a comfortable apartment with running water most of the time and a generator that kicked on every time our power went out. We had a refrigerator. We had the means to buy all the food we needed. We slept in a comfortable bed with clean sheets. We had a bookshelf and laptops full of things to study. We had plenty of changes of clothing. We even had 2 recliners to sit in.

It was easy for us to pay for a taxi to take us to church every week or to any place we needed to go during the week. We were able to do the things we needed and wanted to do. It wasn’t always convenient, or comfortable, but it was doable. Our degree of difficulty was very different than that of our Malian friends.

Here at home, the degree of difficulty is more drastically different. Here, I can easily walk or I can drive to church before my seatbelt beeper even goes off. When attending church, my degree of difficulty here is ZERO.

Most people in the world have varying degrees of difficulty just to attend church. Imagine the process of something as simple as attending church each week when getting there is almost an insurmountable challenge.

It’s easy to keep a commandment that is easy to keep.

When I read in the scriptures about the first being last and the last being first, I always think about the degree of difficulty. I think we are often the first in line because being the first in line has been easy. Someday, I will be thrilled to watch others get to take their place at the front of the line. We’ve had our turn.

I’ve talked now about Opportunity, Privilege and Degree of Difficulty. The last part of this equation is Execution. How do we Do what we do, given our circumstances? How do we execute or perform? The scriptures are quick to remind us to do all things with a cheerful heart. We read that those who whine and murmur don’t receive high marks.

Attitude is part of execution. Do we find joy in our journey? Do we “cheerfully do all things that lie in our power” (D&C 123:17) or “submit cheerfully and with patience to the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:15)? Do we “serve the Lord with gladness” (PS 100:2)?

I love Lehi’s wife, Sariah. She lived in a world not unlike many of my Malian friends. She had to provide for her family while living in a tent in a desert. They had to search for water. It was hot and dirty. She had teenagers. She was tired. She missed having a comfortable home and clean sheets. She didn’t know what the future would hold.

In 1 Nephi 5, we catch a glimpse of her degree of difficulty when Lehi sends her sons back to Jerusalem to get the brass plates. She mourns. She supposed her sons were dead. She complained against Lehi. She said, “we perish in the wilderness.” Her “manner of language” reveals the difficulties she felt.

We all have hard times. Unfortunately for Sariah, one of her hard times was exposed and recorded in scriptures that millions would read someday. But that is not the whole of her story. Lehi comforted Sariah. He stood by her and gave her strength until the boys returned with the plates. Then her joy was full and she knew of a surety that God was protecting them. Then her “manner of language” changed. She rejoiced exceedingly, they offered sacrifices and they gave thanks to God. And Sariah carried on.

God’s hand in our lives is not always obvious in the moment, especially if we’re hot and tired and thirsty. But learning to recognize God’s hand and giving thanks for it brings joy and peace, even in hard times. Executing well, means finding that joy, even while doing hard things.

In Conclusion,
I am grateful for all I have learned from my African brothers and sisters.
I love, honor and respect them. They are my heroes. They carry burdens I will never fully understand and they do it with grace and great strength.

Let us recognize our Opportunities and Privileges and be oh, so grateful for them.
And let us recognize that every single person experiences a different Degree of Difficulty.
Let us be kind and tolerant and aware of what others are dealing with from day to day.
Let us withhold judgement, but be quick to help.
And let us remember that the one thing we really do have control over is how we Execute or live our lives.

In D&C 56:18-20, Jesus says,
“Blessed are the poor who are pure in heart, whose hearts are broken, and whose spirits are contrite, for they shall see the kingdom of God coming in power and great glory unto their deliverance; for the fatness of the earth shall be theirs.
For behold, the Lord shall come, and his recompense shall be with him, and he shall reward every man, and the poor shall rejoice;
And their generations shall inherit the earth from generation to generation, forever and ever.

I am grateful for His infinite and all-encompassing love. I am grateful He has an intimate understanding not only of our iniquities but also of the inequities in our world. I am grateful He will judge us with love, all things considered.

John’s HOMECOMING TALK • Opening the Eyes of Our Understanding
Côte d’Ivoire Abidjan East Mission
19 Sep 2021

1) Just an illustration of what Ann said about degree of difficulty. One early morning, as I was riding in a taxi to the bank to deposit the donations that had been made to the branch the day before, I asked the taxi driver why hardly any of the sea of motorcyclists were wearing helmets. I expressed how dangerous that was and that in the U.S. it was illegal not to wear a helmet. I expected him to respond by agreeing that it was dangerous. Instead, he looked over at me and said: “When you are hungry all the time, your brain goes a little crazy and you are not always able to make the best

2) One of the great things about serving a full-time mission is that we are removed from our familiar setting and placed into a new, unfamiliar environment. It’s kind of a fresh start—a rebirth of sorts.  We bring a few physical possessions with us, but they don’t define us in this new place. It’s WHO WE ARE INSIDE that matters and allows us to help and influence others. For me, it was a miraculous period of time where it was easier for me to “hearken unto God, and open my ears that I may hear, and my heart, that I may understand, and my mind, that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to my view,” in the words of King Benjamin (Mosiah 2:9).

3) When I think of God’s “mysteries,” I think of God’s “perspective” or His “view.” How He sees me and my life, my purpose and my potential. Perhaps the greatest challenge we have in this mortal sphere is to look beyond what’s immediately in front of us to see the realities of eternity. God’s view. The people who listened to King Benjamin began to catch a glimpse of “God’s view” as King Benjamin taught them about the mission and grace of Jesus Christ, his atoning sacrifice, the love of God, keeping His commandments, repentance, and serving others. Their hearts were “changed,” and the “manifestations of God’s spirit” showed them “great views of that which is to come” (Mosiah 5:3).  Like them, don’t we want to do all we can to overcome our mortal short-sightedness and allow the
Spirit to open our view to God’s view?

4) I love the words of Joseph Smith as he and Oliver Cowdery prayed in the Kirtland Temple: “The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened” (D&C 110:1). That is the vision we should all be seeking, every day. That is the eternal, eye-opening perspective that
informs our desires, opinions, and choices. It comes by obedience to God’s laws and instruction from God’s Spirit.

5) Missionary service in general and missionary service in Africa specifically have been important accelerators to my efforts to have “the eyes of my understanding opened.” Let me share just a few examples.
a) Negotiating life in Mali and Cote d’Ivoire was a daily tutorial in patience. Everything moves slowly and it’s easy to become frustrated. It’s difficult to get accurate information. What you think will take one trip takes three. With no addresses, it’s hard to find people and places. Long-term planning is not the norm. Even conversations take some getting used to. We westerners
crave efficiency and want to get right to the point. But the Africans want to first ask about you, your spouse, and your family. Cars just stop and block the road, but no one really gets upset about it. They just find a way around the car. An orderly line doesn’t form at the bank, but everyone knows who got there first. Sometimes I failed miserably. But sometimes I made
progress. As I look back over the two years, I find myself now in a much more peaceful, much more patient place spiritually. Gradually, I became better at staying calm, finding the positives, and seeing God’s view. I found new meaning in the numerous scriptural injunctions to “wait upon the Lord” and to develop “faith and patience.”
b) As the pandemic raged, there were countless issues that Ann and I confronted that could only be solved through divine intervention. I think especially of the early days of COVID testing and the cumbersome processes put in place in Cote d’Ivoire to allow people to travel beyond the border.
We prayed like we’d never prayed before—sincerely, specifically, and full of faith. Then we worked as hard as we could to do our part. And miracles happened over and over again. A COVID test result that was shouted in the white tent in the parking lot of the health institute at the last possible minute allowed us to rush the certificate to the airport just in time for Elder
Kacher’s departure. A prayerful early-morning arrival at that same institute, hoping to retrieve a test result that hadn’t arrived, only to encounter the institute director who magically found the result on her computer . . . and she was also the only one authorized to sign the certificate.  Another dash to the airport. And then there were the three Haitian missionaries who had served  many months longer than their 18 or 24 months and couldn’t get home because of COVID flight restrictions. But a way miraculously opened up as we petitioned the Lord. Those things should
not have happened, according to my mortal view. They were demonstrations to me of God’s view and His power. After each experience, our faith grew more certain that the next miracle would occur. Honestly, we came to expect them.
c) A family of eight joined the Church during our last two months in Bamako. Mother, Father, and six children, two of whom were old enough to be baptized. The four younger children were all blessed. That’s a rarity. The dad told us how things had changed in their family once he committed to keeping the Sabbath Day holy. Rather than going out all day with friends, playing sports, and resting, he went to Church and spent more time with his family. He was happier and the family was happier. Sunday became a day with special meaning rather than a day to kick back. Seeing the beauty and blessings of simply obeying the commandments of God—doing what He has asked us to do—strengthened my commitment to follow Him and opened my vision of what He makes possible in our lives.
d) With improvements in technology and our Utah understanding of how General Conference functions, we were able to offer most of the conference sessions to the Bamako Branch members this past April. This was new to most of them. It was inspiring to us to watch them take it all in. The music, the prayers, the talks . . . they loved hearing from Elder Mutombo, the new general authority Seventy from the Congo. They were especially reverent and focused as Pres. Nelson spoke and we emphasized that he is the living prophet of God. For most of them, it was the first time they had seen him and heard his voice. As they began to form their first impressions of Pres Nelson and his prophetic role, the Holy Ghost confirmed to my heart and
mind that Pres Nelson is, indeed, the Lord’s mouthpiece on the earth today. And if we will humbly follow his counsel, we will be blessed and we will see more clearly what was veiled to us before.
e) Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we gained perspective by simplifying our lives. We don’t need much to be happy. Almost all the people we associated with had very little. It was a struggle for them to afford food and shelter and transportation. Ann and I led a much simpler life in Africa and were so happy. We weren’t cumbered by “stuff” and we spent more time helping others. It was a heavenly combination. We were focusing every day on the divine things that matter most. Elder Uchtdorf gave a beautiful talk about this and shared a quote from Leonardo da Vinci that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” (Leonardo da Vinci, in John
Cook, comp., The Book of Positive Quotations, 2nd ed. (1993), 262) Elder Uchtdorf goes on to say: “Let us simplify our lives a little. Let us make the changes necessary to refocus our lives on the sublime beauty of the simple, humble path of Christian discipleship—the path that leads always toward a life of meaning, gladness, and peace” (Oct 2010 “Of Things That Matter Most”).  And I would add, a life with divine perspective.

6) I am grateful for the mission experiences that have helped to heal my mortal short-sightedness.  Missions can do that in accelerated fashion. It’s like cataract surgery. But we can gain the “great view of things to come” that was given to the people of King Benjamin in our day-to-day lives as well.  We don’t need to go to Africa. We just need to keep the commandments, listen to the Spirit, and open our eyes a little wider.

7) Elder Craig Zwick of the Seventy gave a wonderful conference talk in Oct 2017, encouraging us to “look beyond what you see” (from The Lion King). He described what a great blessing it is when the Spirit of the Lord widens our view and cited the scriptural account in 2 Kings where Elisha’s town was
surrounded by the Syrian army and Elisha’s manservant was frightened and asked what they would do. [READ 2 Kings 6:16-17].

8) I assure you, brothers and sisters, that we are surrounded by the goodness and the greatness of God who stands ready to deliver us. As we choose to follow the Savior by keeping His commandments and following His Spirit, little by little “The veil will be taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding will be opened.” It is our choice to live with our mortal short-sightedness and flounder, or to embrace the “great views of that which is to come” and gain eternal life.


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Life Lessons From My Stay in Bamako

Here are the thoughts I shared in my farewell talk Sunday in the Bamako Branch.

I have learned many important lessons while we have lived here in Bamako. I’d like to share some of these lessons with you today.

J’ai appris beaucoup de leçons importantes pendant que nous vivions ici à Bamako. J’aimerais partager certaines de ces leçons avec vous aujourd’hui.

Women are Strong. They carry heavy burdens with grace.
Heavenly Father helps us to carry our burdens. When we are weighed down, he can lift our hearts and make heavy things seem light.
(see Mosiah 24: 14-15)

J’ai appris que les femmes sont fortes. Ils portent de lourds fardeaux avec grâce.  Notre Père céleste nous aide à porter nos fardeaux. Lorsque nous sommes alourdis, il peut soulever nos cœurs et rendre les choses lourdes légères.

Balance takes practice.
If I put a bucket of water on my head, I will get wet. If I put a pan of mangos on my head, they will fall off. Balance is a talent Africans have because they practice balancing from the time they are small. Children carry their books to school on their heads. When they are older, they can carry their chairs. Mothers learn to work with babies on their backs. Vendors carry baskets of goods to and from the markets on their heads.
We need balance in our lives. But it takes practice. The scriptures say we should not run faster than we have strength. We should not lift more than we can carry. But practice makes us stronger and makes us better.

J’ai appris que l’équilibre demande de la pratique.
Si je mets un seau d’eau sur ma tête, je vais me mouiller. Si je mets une bassin de mangues sur ma tête, elles tomberont. L’équilibre est un talent que les Africains ont car ils pratiquent l’équilibre dès leur plus jeune âge. Les enfants portent leurs livres à l’école sur la tête. Quand ils seront plus grands, ils pourront porter leurs chaises. Les mères apprennent à travailler avec les bébés sur le dos. Les vendeurs trans-portent des paniers de marchandises vers et depuis les marchés sur la tête. Nous avons besoin d’équilibre dans nos vies. Mais cela demande de la pratique. Les Écritures disent que nous ne devrions pas courir plus vite que nous n’avons de force. Nous ne devrions pas soulever plus que ce que nous pouvons porter. Mais la pratique nous rend plus forts et nous rend meilleurs.

When you go out into the world, your feet get dirty.
I see men every day washing their feet to pray. We all need to wash to be clean. We call it repentance. We can be clean from sin and from the influences in the world. Just like I need to wash my feet every day when I come in, we need to repent every day to be clean. Repenting means taking the things out of our lives that make us dirty or unclean. I want my feet to be clean every night when I go to bed.

J’ai appris que quand vous sortez dans le monde, vos pieds se salissent.
Je vois des hommes tous les jours se laver les pieds pour prier. Nous avons tous besoin de nous laver pour être propres. Nous appelons cela le repentir. Nous pouvons être purifiés du péché et des influences du monde. Tout comme je dois me laver les pieds chaque jour quand j’entre, nous devons nous repentir chaque jour pour être purs. Se repentir signifie retirer de notre vie les choses qui nous rendent sales ou impurs. Je veux que mes pieds soient propres tous les soirs quand je vais au lit.

Baguettes dry out.
If I buy a baguette and leave it out, the next day it is hard and dry. I have to protect it or wrap it up to keep it soft. My testimony will also become dry and hard if I don’t take care of it every day. It stays soft when I protect it by reading the scriptures every day and praying every day. My heart stays soft when I am kind to others. And when I love others.

J’ai appris que les baguettes devenir sec et dur.
Si j’achète une baguette et si je la laisse s’asseoir dehors le lendemain elle est dure et sèche. Je dois le protéger ou l’envelopper pour le garder doux. Mon témoignage deviendra aussi sec et dur si je ne m’en occupe pas tous les jours. Il reste doux quand je le protège en lisant les Écritures tous les jours et en priant tous les jours. Mon cœur reste doux quand je suis gentil avec les autres. Et quand j’aime les autres.

Bananas get ripe fast.
I can’t buy too many bananas at one time. They get too ripe too fast and I waste them. It’s better to buy one or two each day than to buy 20 on one day and let most of them spoil. The same is true for reading my scriptures. It’s better if I read a little bit every day, so the words are fresh in my mind every day.

J’ai appris que les bananes mûrissent rapidement.
Je ne peux pas acheter trop de bananes à la fois. Ils mûrissent trop vite et je les gaspille. Il vaut mieux en acheter un ou deux par jour que d’en acheter 20 un jour et de laisser la plupart se gâter. Il en est de même pour lire mes écritures. C’est mieux si je lis un peu tous les jours, pour que les mots soient frais dans ma tête tous les jours.

Children find joy in simple things.  We can too.
I love watching children playing in the streets. They are creative. They play simple games with simple toys and sticks and wheels and balls. Things don’t have to be expensive to be fun. We can find joy in the simple things.

J’ai appris que les enfants trouvent de la joie dans les choses simples. Nous pouvons aussi.
J’aime regarder les enfants jouer dans les rues. Ils sont créatifs. Ils jouent à des jeux simples avec des jouets simples, des bâtons, des roues et des balles. Les choses n’ont pas besoin d’être chères pour être amusantes. Nous pouvons trouver de la joie dans les choses simples.

One mosquito in the room can keep you awake all night.
Sometimes the gift of the Holy Ghost is like having a mosquito in the room. It bothers you if you’ve done something wrong. It whispers in your ear and keeps you awake. It makes you uncomfortable. When the mosquito is gone, you can sleep again. When the Spirit whispers that we’ve done something wrong, we need to change. When we repent and change we can sleep well.

J’ai appris que un moustique dans la chambre peut vous tenir éveillé toute la nuit.
Parfois, le don du Saint-Esprit, c’est comme avoir un moustique dans la chambre. Cela vous dérange si vous avez fait quelque chose de mal. Il chuchote dans votre oreille et vous tient éveillé. Cela vous met mal à l’aise. Lorsque le moustique est parti, vous pouvez dormir à nouveau. Lorsque l’Esprit murmure que nous avons fait quelque chose de mal, nous devons changer. Lorsque nous nous repentons et changeons, nous pouvons bien dormir.

Power outages
Sometimes the power goes out. It happens often here. Sometimes difficult things happen in our lives and it may seem dark. When it’s dark and the light goes out, we need to have back up light–candles, flashlights, lanterns or maybe even a generator. Our spiritual light can come from many sources. We can sing a hymns. We can pray for comfort. We can borrow light from a family member or a friend. We can listen to the Holy Ghost. He will always guide us. Know where your back up light is.

J’ai appris que les pannes de courant
Parfois, le courant est coupé. Cela arrive souvent ici. Parfois, des choses difficiles se produisent dans nos vies et cela peut sembler sombre. Lorsqu’il fait noir et que la lumière s’éteint, nous devons avoir des bougies de secours, des lampes de poche, des lanternes ou peut-être même un générateur. Notre lumière spirituelle peut provenir de plusieurs sources. Nous pouvons chanter des hymnes. Nous pouvons prier pour le confort. Nous pouvons emprunter de la lumière à un membre de la famille ou à un ami. Nous pouvons écouter le Saint-Esprit. Il nous guidera toujours. Savoir où trouver la lumière de secours.

Prayer calls
We live next to a mosque. Every day, 5 times a day, we hear the loud prayer calls from the muezzin. It has been a blessing to be reminded to pray many times every day. Members of our church also pray often. We pray morning and night. We pray every time we eat to ask a blessing on our food. As missionaries, we pray when we leave our apartment. I especially pray a lot in taxis when the traffic is bad and we need extra protection.

J’ai appris les appels à la prière
Nous vivons à côté d’une mosquée. Chaque jour, 5 fois par jour, nous entendons les appels à la prière bruyants du muezzin. Cela a été une bénédiction de se rappeler de prier plusieurs fois par jour. Les membres de notre église prient aussi souvent. Nous prions matin et soir. Nous prions chaque fois que nous mangeons pour demander une bénédiction sur notre nourriture. En tant que missionnaires, nous prions lorsque nous quittons notre appartement. Je prie surtout beaucoup dans les taxis lorsque la circulation est mauvaise et que nous avons besoin d’une protection supplémentaire.

Hugs speak more than words.
I do not always know how to say the right words in French. But when I hug you, you can feel my love without words. Even when you don’t know the right thing to say to someone, just letting them feel your love can be enough. Love is a language we all understand.

J’ai appris que les câlins parlent plus que les mots.
Je ne sais pas toujours dire les bons mots en français. Mais quand je t’embrasse, tu peux sentir mon amour sans mots. Même lorsque vous ne savez pas ce qu’il faut dire à quelqu’un, le simple fait de lui laisser ressentir votre amour peut suffire. L’amour est un langage que nous comprenons tous.

Language is learned one word at a time.
Before coming to Bamako, I didn’t know many French words. I had to learn words and I had to learn grammar rules to know how to put words together.
I study French every day. It’s hard. I have memorized 100s of words, one at a time. I can’t just wish to know words, I have to study and learn them. I have to hear them and say them.
The gospel is the same. We have to study and learn about it, one principle at a time. Then the words and principles come together and make sense in our minds. But if we don’t study, the words, the thoughts and the feelings won’t be there.

J’ai appris que la langue s’apprend un mot à la fois.
Avant de venir à Bamako, je ne connaissais pas beaucoup de mots français. J’ai dû apprendre des mots et j’ai dû apprendre des règles de grammaire pour savoir comment assembler des mots.
J’étudie le français tous les jours. C’est difficile. J’ai mémorisé des centaines de mots, un à la fois. Je ne peux pas simplement souhaiter connaître les mots, je dois les étudier et les apprendre. Je dois les entendre et les dire.
L’évangile est le même. Nous devons l’étudier et l’apprendre, un principe à la fois. Ensuite, les mots et les principes se rejoignent et prennent sens dans nos esprits. Mais si nous n’étudions pas, les mots, les pensées et les sentiments ne seront pas là.

Language is also learned by immersion–the more I hear French around me, the more it goes into my heart and mind until I know and feel what sounds right and what doesn’t sound right.
Church is where we come to be immersed in the gospel. It helps us to be around other people who believe what we believe. Being together strengthens our understanding. We learn from each other and learn to help each other. We absorb goodness from each other. We learn by watching and listening to others. Being together is important.

J’ai appris que la langue s’apprend également par immersion – plus j’entends le français autour de moi, plus il pénètre dans mon cœur et mon esprit jusqu’à ce que je sache et ressente ce qui sonne bien et ce qui ne sonne pas bien.
L’église est l’endroit où nous venons pour être immergés dans l’évangile. Cela nous aide à être entourés d’autres personnes qui croient ce que nous croyons. Être ensemble renforce notre compréhension. Nous apprenons les uns des autres et apprenons à nous entraider. Nous absorbons la bonté les uns des autres. Nous apprenons en regardant et en écoutant les autres. Être ensemble est important.

Our Heavenly Father understands what’s in our hearts. He understands each child’s prayer.
The Primary children have learned to sing:
All over the world at the end of day,
Heav’nly Father’s children kneel down and pray,
Each saying thank you in his own special way,
Saying thank you, thank you in his own special way.
Our Heavenly Father hears them;
He understands each tongue.
Our Heav’nly Father knows them;
He loves them, loves them, ev’ry one.

J’ai appris que Notre Père céleste comprend ce que nous avons dans le cœur. Il comprend la prière de chaque enfant.
Les enfants de la Primaire ont appris à chanter:

Partout dans le monde, la nuit tombée,
Les enfants de Dieu sont agenouillés.
Ils disent merci chacun à sa façon,
disent merci, merci chacun à sa façon.
Du ciel notre Père entend; Tout langage Dieu comprend.
Il connaît bien ses enfants, Il chérit tant, oui, tant, chaque enfant.

The wise man and the foolish man
Another song we learned in Primary this year was le Sage et le Fou. The wise man built his house upon the rock and when the rains and wind came, it stood firm. The foolish man built his house on the sand, and when the rains came, the house fell down. Jesus Christ is our rock. If we build our lives and our homes on his gospel foundation, we will be safe when the hard times come.

L’homme sage et l’homme fou
Une autre chanson que nous avons apprise à la Primaire cette année était le Sage et le Fou. Le sage a bati sa maison sur le roc et quand les pluies et le vent sont venus, elle a tenu bon. L’homme fou a bati sa maison sur le sable, et quand les pluies sont arrivées, la maison s’est écroulée. Jésus-Christ est notre roc. Si nous bâtissons notre vie et notre foyer sur son fondement d’evangile, nous serons en sécurité lorsque les temps difficiles viendront.

We are stronger together.
When I am sad, you might be happy. When I am happy, you might be sad. When I am weak, you might be strong. When I don’t understand something, you might teach me.
We lift and help each other and we are stronger when we’re together.

J’ai appris que nous sommes plus forts ensemble.
Quand je suis triste, vous pourriez être heureux. Quand je suis heureux, vous pourriez être triste. Quand je suis faible, vous pourriez être fort. Quand je ne comprends pas quelque chose, vous pourriez m’apprendre.
Nous nous élevons et nous nous entraidons et nous sommes plus forts quand nous sommes ensemble.

Being a member of the church isn’t just something we do only on Sundays.
That would be like trying to learn French but only studying for 2 hours on one day each week. We must try every day to be better than the day before. We must pray every day, read our scriptures every day and keep the commandments every day. We must be members of Christ’s church All day, Every day. It takes practice, every day. At first that may seem hard, but it becomes easy and it is a happy way to live.

J’ai appris que Être membre de l’église n’est pas seulement quelque chose que nous faisons seulement le dimanche.
Ce serait comme essayer d’apprendre le français mais étudier seulement 2 heures par jour chaque semaine. Nous devons essayer chaque jour d’être meilleur que la veille. Nous devons prier chaque jour, lire nos Écritures chaque jour et garder les commandements chaque jour. Nous devons être membres de l’église du Christ toute la journée, tous les jours. Cela demande de la pratique, tous les jours. Au début, cela peut sembler difficile, mais cela devient facile et c’est une façon heureuse de vivre.

During Tabaski, I learned what it meant for Jesus to submit to the will of his Father.
I watched dozens of rams sacrificed during Tabaski. The rams stood quietly. They did not try to run away. They did not scream or yell. They submitted quietly. Then they were killed.
Like Abraham sacrificing Isaac or Ishmael, Jesus was willing to give his life for us.  The prophet Isaiah said Jesus was oppressed and afflicted and brought like a lamb to the slaughter, but he opened not his mouth. Then he was sacrificed as an offering for our sins.

J’ai appris le Tabaski
Pendant Tabaski, j’ai appris ce que cela signifiait pour Jésus de se soumettre à la volonté de son Père. J’ai vu beaucoup de béliers sacrifiés pendant Tabaski. Les béliers se tenaient tranquillement.
Ils n’ont pas essayé de s’enfuir. Ils n’ont pas crié. Ils se sont soumis tranquillement. Puis ils ont été tués.
Comme Abraham sacrifiant Isaac ou Ismaël, Jésus était prêt à donner sa vie pour nous.
Le prophète Isaïe a dit que Jésus était opprimé et affligé et amené comme un agneau à l’abattoir, mais il n’ouvrit pas la bouche. Puis il a été sacrifié en offrande pour nos péchés.

I have learned many important lessons as a missionary in Bamako. The most important lesson I have learned is that Jesus Christ is my Savior and he loves Everyone, including every person in Bamako. He especially loves those who follow Him. You are his special followers and Pioneers here. He is watching over you and blessing you. He knows what things are hard here and he knows how to help you return to Him.

It is my prayer that we will look for lessons every day that will help us return to Him and to our Heavenly Father who loves us.

J’ai appris beaucoup de leçons importantes en tant que missionnaire à Bamako. La leçon la plus importante que j’ai apprise est que Jésus-Christ est mon Sauveur et qu’il aime tout le monde, y compris chaque personne à Bamako. Il aime particulièrement ceux qui le suivent. Vous êtes ici ses disciples spéciaux et ses pionniers. Il veille sur vous et vous bénit. Il sait ce qui est difficile ici et il sait comment vous aider à revenir vers Lui.

C’est ma prière que nous cherchions chaque jour des leçons qui nous aideront à retourner à lui et à notre Père céleste qui nous aime.

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It’s Ramadan– A Month of Fasting and Prayer

We have entered into the month of Ramadan here in Mali.  We notice changes around us everyday in our neighborhood and among our friends.  Here are some of the things I’m learning about Ramadan.

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the Arabic name for the ninth month in the Islamic calendar.

It is considered one of the holiest Islamic months.

It’s also one of the Five Pillars of Islam. These are five principles which Muslims believe are compulsory acts ordered by God.

Muslims believe that some of the first verses of the Islamic holy book, the Qu’ran, were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during the month of Ramadan. Extra emphasis is placed on reciting the Qu’ran at this time.

Fasting is considered to be an act of worship, which enables Muslims to feel closer to God and strengthen their spiritual health and self-discipline.

All Muslims are supposed to fast all day every day for 30 days (it starts with the sliver of the new moon appearing). So yesterday was the first day of fasting, ending at sundown. They can eat all they want all night long, but during they day, they must fast from all food and water.

Here’s what a day of fasting during Ramadan is like:

Muslims have a predawn meal called the “suhoor.”
Then, they fast all day until sunset.
At sunset, Muslims break their fast with a sip of water and some dates, the way they believe Mohammad broke his fast more than a thousand years ago.
After sunset prayers, they gather at event halls, mosques or at home with family and friends in a large feast called “iftar.”

Here are some dates for sale at different vendors I’ve noticed this week:

Fasting during Ramadan

Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, self-improvement, and heightened devotion and worship. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam. The fast (sawm) begins at dawn and ends at sunset. In addition to abstaining from eating and drinking during this time, Muslims abstain from sexual relations and sinful speech and behavior during Ramadan fasting or month.

The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the soul by freeing it from harmful impurities. Muslims believe that Ramadan teaches them to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate, thus encouraging actions of generosity and compulsory charity (zakat).
Muslims also believe fasting helps instill compassion for the food-insecure poor.

Exemptions to fasting include travel, menstruation, severe illness, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. However, many Muslims with medical conditions insist on fasting to satisfy their spiritual needs, although it is not recommended by hadith. Those unable to fast are obligated make up the missed days later.

I visited with a young man today about Ramadan.  I asked if he was Muslim. He said yes.  I asked if he was celebrating Ramadan and he said he was. “Are you fasting now?” “Yes.” “Is it hard?”  (It’s been 109 degrees this week.)  He told me that fasting is a spiritual experience.  He said, “it’s a matter of faith. If you think about being hungry, you will be hungry. If you think about drinking, you will be thirsty.”  He said, “fasting is about faith and Allah, and when you think about that, there is no hunger.”

I told him it’s the same in my religion–we also fast, but we fast once a month for a 24 hour period.  We also give money to the poor after we fast.

This young man was honest and truthful and had a gentle face. I felt my water bottle with what was left of the ice in it next to me, sweating a bit of coolness through the bag at my side.   I asked, “Are you thirsty?” “Yes,” he replied,  “but I have faith, so I manage.”

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John’s Turn With COVID

On Thursday, 11 March, the day after we returned home to Bamako from Abidjan, John took a COVID test.  We learned that the Mission President and his wife had just tested positive, and we’d just spent the day before we left helping them.

John’s symptoms included headache, fatigue, fever and body aching.  For the next week, we stayed in the apartment, taking things easy, but John’s symptoms got worse, especially the fatigue.  Gratefully he had no respiratory problems.  By the next Friday, it was getting so bad, he could hardly do anything but rest.  He collapsed 3 times during the week, passing out and falling to the floor without warning.  He was weak and dizzy when he got up and so shaky and he looked like he’d aged 20 years.

By Friday evening, the 19th, he was not improving–he was sinking.  I worried about his oxygen levels.  We had no way to check them.  We also had no thermometer and his fever continued.  I’d been in contact with a couple of my book club friends at home, who alerted all of the others.  They were also in contact with our kids.  All were ready to intervene to get John to a hospital.  Private panicky messages that night flew between my phone and theirs while John slept.  I prayed through the night to know what to do.  We live 9 flights up.  We have no car.  And John did NOT want to go to a hospital.  “Tomorrow will be better,” was his standard response.

Here is the report I emailed to my friends Sunday, after that frightening Friday evening:

Hello Dear Book Club Friends!!

Several of you have asked today how John is doing and I thought I’d send Virginia an update she can forward to all of you.  I’m not sure I’ve got a current email listing for everyone since I’ve been rather out of the loop.

We have good news here—it was just yesterday our dear Bamako Branch President, Sekou helped me find a COVID doctor who does house calls.  I contacted Sekou yesterday morning after Virginia told me some of you were ready to book flights over to rescue us!!

Here’s what’s happened this week—in a medium-sized nutshell.

We were in Abidjan last week, finishing up there, working closely with the MP and his wife.  They were feeling a little sick—sore throats, fatigue—but weren’t too worried about it.  We’d taken negative Covid tests on a Saturday to fly back to Bamako on Tuesday.  We spent Monday with the sick MP and wife at the office and they invited us to a send off dinner that evening at the mission home.  We flew out the next morning for Bamako.

Tuesday John started feeling really fatigued.  Weds we learned that the Bendixsens (MP) were feeling quite sick so they took a rapid response Covid test.  Both Positive.  Thursday John took a rapid test (we got them from a German Dr in Bamako) and he was also positive.  I wasn’t too worried about getting Covid—I had it last month and had a very mild case, testing negative again after 2 weeks (which allowed us to fly from Bamako to Abidjan to Accra to take missionaries to the temple to be endowed).  I’ve had 4 negative tests since then—one for each flight we’ve had.

So we sort of expected John’s case to be as simple as mine, but instead, every day got a little worse.  I went to church without him last Sunday (Branch Conference with a visiting Authority) and came home to find John had blacked out and collapsed, here by himself.  He was shaky and dizzy when he stood up the rest of the day.  He just seemed to get more and more fatigued and he was sleeping a lot.  I thought he’d turn the corner at any minute and start gaining strength.  He passed out 2 more times this last week, crashing to the floor, sometimes hurting himself.

I guess I mentioned that to a couple of you—Virginia and Shelley, and of course to our kids, and by Friday, Adam, our medical student son, was privately messaging me to GET DAD TO A HOSPITAL NOW.  We were most worried about his oxygen levels, thinking they were low and he really needed some urgent care.  By Friday his mind was also starting to get a little fuzzy.  He was really slow to respond, and his reasoning was off.  For example, he didn’t want to eat his own leftovers from the day before because he was scared he might re-infect himself.

Well, getting him to a hospital here is easier said than done here. The main concern was that our German Dr in Bamako told that if you go to a hospital in Mali you won’t come out alive.  I won’t go into a description of 3rd world hospitals here.  The truth is you really don’t want to go there and be exposed to more than you came in with.  So John was refusing any suggestion of medical help.  We also live 9 flights up at the top of an apartment building and I could see no way of getting him down those stairs and into a dilapidated taxi to get him to a hospital.  I also thought he’d turn the corner “any day now” and be fine again.

So by Friday night, I had Virginia planning how to life flight John out of here (well, almost) and our kids privately messaging me to get Dad to a hospital immediately.  He was asleep in bed and I was praying to know what to do next.  I decided to see how he was in the morning and then get him to a hospital somehow if I didn’t feel otherwise.  I slept with an eye on him, making sure he was breathing through the night.

I woke early yesterday.  He slept like he was drugged.  Before even seeing how he was, I had a feeling to make a plan.  I messaged our dear Malian friend, Anounou, who was in town for the weekend.  He’s the field director of the Ouelessebougou Alliance (he is home in Bamako on weekends).  He is John’s dear friend here and he has a car.  I asked him if he could help me get John to a hospital.   He was ready to drop everything and come.

Then I messaged our dear Branch President, Sekou, who is a 3rd year medical student (who’s wife was delivering their first child yesterday morning as we were messaging).  I just wanted him to pray for us.  As I told him what was happening, he said he knew a Doctor at a hospital here who had someone working for him who did home visits just for COVID patients.  Wow, Perfect, I thought!  So in a matter of minutes, he was able to make some calls and then he told me a doctor was on his way over to our apartment.

Anounou came over, the doctor came (a young single fellow) and for the next 3 hours, he worked with John, setting things up.  We had to send Anounou to a pharmacy down the street to get a whole list of medications and medical stuff (syringes and IV stuff, etc.) The Dr spoke no English.  Anounou helped us get what we weren’t understanding.  By the end of his visit, we had an IV drip hanging from our light fixture.  After 5 pokes and buggered veins, he found a good one and John was hooked up to the drip.

The home visits include 7 days of twice a day visits.  The cost is about $450 USD.  The pharmacy tab was about $200.  John’s getting fluids, antibiotics, vitamins, blood thinner and something for nausea.  I didn’t mention that his oxygen level was good.  That was the first thing the Dr checked and his first words to us were, “He doesn’t have to go to the hospital!”  Vitals were good.  We could all see John was very dehydrated.  His skin looked like an 80 year old man.  (He’s also down to 150 lbs at 6’3” so he was looking really saggy.)

After day 2 now with the IV drip twice/day, he looks fully hydrated—better than BOTOX!!.  He’s looking like a 66 yr old again!  He’s also steady on his feet now.  He’s had a fever for more than a week and that’s been much better too.  He’s still really tired and he still takes a LONG nap every day and dozes off a lot in between naps and bed, but he’s already his old self, thinking clearly and I think he’s relieved that things are getting better.

I’ll tell you what came to me Friday night as I prayed after Virginia’s not-so-calm messages from all of you.  A memory came to my mind that I’ve not thought of in a long long time.  It was of our son, Aaron at 6 months in Dec 1995.  It was on another Friday afternoon, on the evening of our ward Christmas party.  John was at the church setting up.  I was at home with Aaron, after a long day of selling DK books.  Aaron was feeling sick, but he slept through the whole day in his car seat at my side.  I remember thinking what a good baby he was, not to fuss.  By Friday afternoon, I had a feeling to take him to the doctor, just to be sure, because the weekend was coming.  I’m not one to run to a doctor for any little thing, but I felt I should go.  The doctor attending that early evening was Merino Robins, Adam’s wife’s grandpa.  He took one look at Aaron and checked his blood saturation.  It was dangerously low.  He immediately dug a big needle into little Aaron’s wrist to find a vein to pump something into him because he was not just a mild-mannered baby, he was on the verge of death.  Aaron didn’t even flinch when he jabbed into his wrist (again, I’m thinking, what a good baby).  When Aaron didn’t even flinch, Dr Robins could see he was barely responsive and he called for the Life Flight helicopter to come NOW and fly him to SLC for emergency care.  Aaron had RSV.  We almost lost him.  He wasn’t getting oxygen and his body was giving out.  I raced home to get John and we drove FAST to SLC, to Primary Children’s where Aaron was put in ICU for the next week.  He pulled through it, but he wouldn’t have without medical care.

Well, that was the picture in my mind Friday night, and it was still there, strong and vivid yesterday morning when I woke and started making phone calls.  My feeling was that without medical help, John might have quietly slipped beyond a point of no return.  Every day he was weaker. He’s had no breathing trouble at all, but his body was giving out, quietly and gradually while I was thinking what a good boy he was at resting.

SO, thanks to all of you for speaking up and speaking out and pushing Virginia to urge me to take action.  She and our kids were yelling at me from afar to DO SOMETHING NOW.  I might not have otherwise because John was so dead set against it.

It’s hard to believe that that was just Yesterday.  There’s a remarkable difference today and we see nothing but improvement from here on out.  THANK YOU for your prayers and for your faith.  It’s amazing to be so far away and to feel so close.

The doctor was just here.  He’ll be back in the morning, checking on things.  We are all feeling very very relieved.

Prayers have been answered.

Thanks to each of you for chipping in with your petitions.

Love from Ann in Bamako

Our young Doctor Souleymane Traore has been here morning and night every day this week.  He calls John “Jean veiux” or “Jean, Jean américain”  (John the old, or John, John the American).  He has taken real good care of John.  He’s the same age as our medical student son, Adam.  Dr Souleymane is one of only a couple of COVID doctors who make house calls everyday.  He works from sun up until after sundown visiting patients. 

John is receiving a treatment that includes hydration solution with vitamins C and B, two different antibiotics, a blood thinner (for the IV)a steroid, and acetaminophen for the fever and pain relief.  The goal has been to restore his strength and energy.  It has worked.

Tomorrow will be Friday again, a week since the panicky messages flew into my phone late at night.  This morning the doctor told us John is no longer contagious.  He also told us there were 103 new cases of COVID in Bamako yesterday.  Like John, those who qualify to receive treatment at home are treated at home.  The numbers here are beginning to rise.

This morning we ventured out.  On the left is our apartment building.  We live on the top floor with the big deck.   Things are looking up around here.  We hope to be closer to full speed ahead in another week!

We’re grateful for the many who have prayed for John’s recovery.  We consider it the greatest of all Gifts!  

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The Temple is a House of God

From the 15th to the 19th of February we were with a group of 24 missionaries in Accra.  These were missionaries who started their missions after the COVID pandemic closed temples all around the world.  Usually young missionaries go to the temple to receive what we call “an endowment of power” before beginning their missions.  This group, and others like them all over the world, started their missions without that gift.

Some temples now are opening for special sessions.  Accra is one of those temples and John and I had the gift of accompanying these missionaries there.

We stayed at the Missionary Training Center in Accra for our 5 day visit.  The MTC is right next to the beautiful temple in a complex housing the Area Administrative Offices, the Temple and Patron Housing, a Stake Center, and a Distribution Center.  It’s a glorious place of peace and beauty and learning.

We call the temple “The House of God.”  In these sacred places we are taught about the creation of the world and our relationship to God.  We make covenants or promises with Him to be obedient, to keep His commandments, to keep ourselves morally clean and pure, and we dedicate our lives to Him.   In return we are endowed with His power, which is an incredible gift.

The blessings of the temple give us perspective and hope.  They fill our hearts with peace and calm.  We learn the true order of things and we more fully understand who we are.  I love going to the temple.  Considering the last month (in this COVID world), it was a true miracle to be here now, with our missionary friends.



I am grateful for a Heavenly Father who is mindful of me and every single person here on earth.  We are His children and He loves us.   I’ve felt that more than ever this week in this place.

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COVID testing in Abidjan

Our missionary work in the Cote d’Ivoire Mission requires us to travel back and forth between Abidjan and Bamako and each time we fly we’re required to show proof of a negative COVID test.  After only 2 weeks since testing positive, I needed a negative result to allow us to travel to Abidjan for an important trip.  I was told that sometimes it can take up to 90 days to test negative.  Miraculously, my test showed negative and we were able to fly a few days later.

Once in Abidjan, we needed to test again, here at this testing site, to allow us to travel to Accra, Ghana a few days later.  We were taking a group of missionaries to the Accra Temple to receive the gifts of the temple, an endowment of power and blessings given only there.

We arrived at this testing center early and waited in line with our missionaries.

Today after waiting 48+ hours, we received our results:  We were all negative!!  We are good to go.  I feel like a miracle has happened in my life.  We will be allowed to travel to Accra!  It’s also a miracle that I have not infected John.  We are both healthy and well and able to do our work here, grâce à Dieu.

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I have one thing to say.  I am GRATEFUL.

Last week after the expedition left us (Sunday evening) we learned that Judy was sick when she got home on Tuesday with a bad cold:  runny nose, fever, cold symptoms.  Thursday she tested positive for COVID.

For about a week, I’d also been having  symptoms of a head cold, with a mild headache and some sinus pressure and a stuffy nose.  I was taking cold meds.  By the time I learned about Judy’s positive test, my sense of taste was gone.  That’s when I started thinking twice about it.  Could it be possible that I also had COVID??

On Friday 29 January, after a week of cold symptoms, John administered a rapid-response COVID test.  We had some of these tests give to us by the expert malaria doctor at the University of Bamako.

That wand was rammed into my nostril, all the way to my brains and twirled for 15 seconds.  Then John put it in the vile with a solution and shook it vigorously for a few minutes.  Then 3 drops of that solution were put on the tester below.  The first line is the control line.  The second line is the test line.  If both lines show up, the test is Positive.

Today is day #10 since my first symptoms appeared.  I haven’t left the apartment since taking the COVID test last week.  They say after 10 days, you are no longer contagious.  I hope that’s true so we can get back to work.  John hasn’t had any symptoms–he’s feeling fine.

I’ve spent the last week feeling tired, but not uncomfortable.  My taster is still out of order, but I can smell.  The cold symptoms never got bad.  I had 2 days with a bit of a wheezy cough, but it went away.  All in all, this has not been bad at all, and I consider that a huge blessing of protection and love.  I know that many do not fare as well with this virus.   I know Heavenly Father watches over his missionaries and I am Grateful.  So Very Grateful.

Here are the stats for COVID here this week:
Ivory Coast cases: 27,096 Deaths: 146
Mali cases: 8,006 Deaths: 327

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“To leave the world a bit better. . . .”

This week we visited an IDP Camp (Internally Displaced Persons, or refugees) just not far from Ouelessebougou main town.  After our visit, John recorded our experience as follows:

Djiba, Ann, Roger and I piled into Madi’s sedan and drove to the first settlement site, not too far off the main road to Bougouni. We drove past the chicken farm owned by the Imam who generously helped these people with food and water when they first arrived. He willingly gave as much as he could but could only do so much. The refugee community was not far beyond his chicken farm.

We learned of this settlement thanks to Djiba’s keen observation as he drove along the main road one day and noticed a small settlement where there hadn’t been one before. So on the way back, he drove in and talked to this Imam chicken farmer who was his friend and he learned of their situation. Djiba told Anounou and they all came out to check things out. OA ended up donating about 30 bags of millet, enough for each family to eat for 3-4 weeks.

We were greeted by a small group of men, women, and children who were expecting us. They escorted us over to an area where the group was gathered to talk with us. Djiba introduced us, explained why we were wearing masks, and then we asked questions to better understand their situation.

• This settlement on the north side of the village of Sousounkoro was the first place occupied by refugees from the Mopti region of north-central Mali, a town called Bandiagara. They are Dogon people. The first had come down about three years ago and chose this location because there was another Dogon person who lived in the village and told them they would be welcome.

• The village chief was willing to let them stay temporarily. As in other refugee settlements we’ve encountered, the village elders observe the newcomers to see if they will be a positive addition to the community. This “testing” lasts up to five years. If they behave themselves, they may be allowed to buy the land where they have settled.

• This community now consists of 12 families, about 90 people. The vast majority have come in the last year, generally fleeing for their lives. We were told of one woman who was forced to watch the throats be slashed of her husband and two sons. She came down here but has since wandered off. They fear she has lost her mind. They fully expect that more of their people will come. They hope to stay here forever and are working hard to prove themselves. Most of the men leave early in the morning for Ouelessebougou to try and find any manual labor jobs they can to earn a little money.

• They shared with us their challenges, none of which were surprising. No clean water close at hand, no farmland to grow food, no school or clinic or mosque, no job opportunities for the men or women. We thanked them for sharing and explained that we were doing a quick visit today because we had to leave for Bamako, but another team would come tomorrow and take a more detailed look at things.

• They were happy to have us walk through the settlement to inspect their living situation. They are clearly very industrious and had built good mud-brick houses, latrines, and ovens. Things were well kept. Just off the edge of the open area where we were seated was their mosque—a plot of dirt that was outlined with 12-inch diameter rocks.

We looked at the crude well they had dug by hand that wasn’t very deep and therefore not very productive. Gratefully, a local group had come out, covered the well for safey, and poured a cement perimeter. We watched the young boys make mud bricks. We saw the bandaged mid-section of a young teenager who had had some sort of GI surgery at the Ouelessebougou hospital but couldn’t afford to stay there. Up north, he had had to hide in the bush for weeks to avoid capture like his brother and had suffered great physical trauma. His follow-up appt is tomorrow but they don’t have the money to pay for it.

• There was no pleading or begging or other histrionics. It was a serious-minded group of people trying to map out a new life for themselves in a strange new area. They wanted us to understand their situation and hoped we could find ways to help. But they seemed to understand that it would be a process that took time. They had been treated kindly by the village chief and villagers and OA had offered generous help with millet when they needed it most. They were willing to be patient. And grateful.

It took us about 10 minutes to drive to the second settlement site, on the south side of Sounsounkoro. We went back onto the main road, then turned west toward Tinkele, Neneko and Selingue. After a bit, we turned south onto a short dirt road and found our second group of Dogon friends. The situation here is much the same as the first site, except they are a smaller group: 10 families with a total of 50 people. And they were granted some farmland use about four miles away. They haven’t farmed it yet. Plus, they are very close to Sousounkoro so they have easy access to schools, the mosque, and a midwife. These refugees have all come within the last year, along with the others in the first settlement. The chief divided them up because the north site was full. They also dug a well by hand, but there was no cement perimeter or safety cover. It was also shallow and polluted. No one is very old in either of these two groups.

Before racing back to the compound, we stopped by to see the village chief. He was kind and open with us expressing his feeling that what happened to these Dogon people could happen to any of us. It wasn’t their fault and they are human beings the same as we are. He is happy to have places for them to stay but emphasized that they must prove themselves as assets to the community before they have a permanent place. He would love to share food and water with them but the villagers barely have enough for their own need. So he’s grateful if Ouelessebougou Alliance would help in those ways. He gave us his hearty approval to build wells so they could have drinking water. We thanked him for his generous offering of land to the people and expressed that we are partners in our desire to help our fellowman. He was generous in his praise of the Ouelessebougou Alliance.

The visit was sobering and important. We spent nearly three hours and came away with a great desire to do more to help. We hope to make a proposal to LDS Charities for wells and food donations. The Alliance can be the local partner organization.

Here are some of the photos I took today of these good people and the circumstances they find themselves in.

These boys have the job of bringing water to the settlement from a good distance away.

These hard-working young boys were making mud bricks to build more homes.

These are the faces that keep me awake at night.  I hope we will be able to help here.  These people are lovely and kind and trying to survive on very little.  I wish all my friends who have plenty could come visit for a day and feel inclined to share a bit more with others.

This is the kind village chief who has provided the land for the refugees to live on. He said to us, “this could have happened to any of us. Of course we must help them.”  I love people like this who give freely, without expectation of any reward or payback.  He is a hero.

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Character is Already Determined

President Ronald Reagan sums up the idea of the fundamental nature of character and what it takes to make good decisions as a leader. In a May 1993 speech to the cadets at The Citadel in South Carolina, Reagan said:

The character that takes command in moments of crucial choices has already been determined. It has been determined by a thousand other choices made earlier in seemingly unimportant moments. It has been determined by all the little choices of years past…by all those times when the voice of conscience was at war with the voice of temptation…whispering the lie that it really doesn’t matter. It has been determined by all the day-to-day decisions made when life seemed easy and crises seemed far away…the decisions that, piece by piece, bit by bit, developed habits of discipline or of laziness, habits of self-sacrifice or of self-indulgence, habits of duty and honor and integrity-or dishonor and shame.

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An Accounting of my 2020 Year

This has been one interesting year!  There has been nothing like it on record, in the history of the world.  In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic and other disasters that have swept our globe and our hearts with emotions ranging from inconvenience to fear, we have found ways to carry on and to do the things we love.  I have loved working on my family history and writing projects this year, while serving as a full-time missionary with John.  It’s amazing to see how little bits and pieces add up.  It’s turned out to be quite a productive year, in so many ways!

Here is a short accounting of some of the things I’ve completed this year, spent entirely in Africa, while serving in Bamako and Abidjan.

Blog posts written:
Mission Blog:  526 posts written, visited 31,575 times (643 posts total)
Ann’s Words Blog:  20 posts written, visited 31,700 times (908 posts total)
Ann’s Stories Blog:  26 posts, written,  visited 7,630 times (762 posts total)

Facebook pages maintained or regularly contributed to:
My personal Ann Laemmlen Lewis feed
Laemmlens Gather Here
Decendants of Charlotte and Jacob Bushman
Martin and Elizabeth Degen Bushman
Theodore Turley Family Organization

Journal entries:
1,770 pages

Memoirs and personal history stories written:
94 pages

Legacy data base:
63,788 individuals, 21,343 families

15,025 sources, memories and people added

It’s my feeling that every word recorded, every person found and documented and every photo preserved adds a bit to the good in this world.  That’s my goal, to find, to record and  make safe, and to preserve for future generations the good that I see and am experiencing, no matter where I am.  It’s been a good year, in spite of what’s happening out there.  I am happy and looking forward to 2021.

Posted in Ann Lewis, Family History | 1 Comment