2 Years in Africa

Exactly 4 years ago today, I began a journey that changed my life completely. I became a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (commonly known as Mormons).

Before I begin, let me state that I am not writing this post to preach about my religion or beliefs. I am simply writing it to share an adventure that shaped my future. wamap_web_large

After a brief 2-month training in Provo, Utah, during which I learned to speak French (I had never studied French before this) I flew to West Africa, and spent the next 22 months teaching the people of Benin and Togo about the gospel of Jesus Christ. (If you’ve never heard of Benin or Togo, don’t feel bad. They are two itty-bitty countries sandwiched between Ghana and Nigeria)

Saying that this experience changed my life is such an understatement it isn’t fair. Those two years were the hardest, most trying times of my life, and they were the times that I learned the most about who I am, what I am capable of, and how much God loves all His children.

I arrived in West Africa at a time when the Ivory Coast (two countries west of Togo) was in the midst of a political crisis. Long story short, for the first several months I was in Africa I was sleeping in a living room of a tiny apartment with 8 other missionaries, with no mosquito nets (a huge deal in the tropical climate), surrounded by a culture I didn’t understand, the only food options inedible goop (to my eyes), and trying to communicate in a language I had only spoken for 2 months. Suffice it to say I was in waaaaaaaay over my head, and I felt like the most helpless, abandoned person in the universe.

That was when I had to trust in God more than I ever had before. I couldn’t control anything: the climate, my schedule, my French ability, the people I worked with, the food I was supposed to eat, my living conditions, nothing! So, during the most difficult and painful time in my life (I won’t lie, I cried daily for the first two weeks) I had to turn to the only person who could help me: God. I found solace in the scriptures and power in prayer. I had to completely turn my will over to Him and trust that He was in control, and that He would take care of me. And He did.

IMG_0517Eventually I became fluent in French. I learned to not only eat, but enjoy the food. I acclimatized to the tropical weather. I got a mosquito net and a real bed! And although I came home every day to an apartment that frequently had no running water or electricity, flopping in exhaustion onto my bed, I was truly happy in a way I never thought I could be. I was bringing the light of Christ into people’s homes, and seeing their lives changing before my eyes. People became happy and hopeful in the worst situations imaginable. Joy replaced despair, and they cried tears of joy as they shared their newfound faith with their friends and family.

I have now been home for two years. Since then I have resumed the university studies that I had put on hold and found my way back into the “real world”. And although I love the comforts I have in my life today (like heated water, or any running water for that matter) I will always cherish those two years.

I will soon be posting more stories from my two years in Africa, so be sure to follow my blog for updates! To see the rest of my posts about my time in West Africa, click here.

***For those of you who are unfamiliar with the missionary program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or LDS for short, young men and women between the ages of 18 and 26 decide to willingly leave their homes, schools, families, and friends for eighteen-months to two-years, and live off of their own funds in order to teach the gospel. LDS Missionaries are not paid for their services, and they are required to maintain very high standards of integrity. You’ve most likely seen them riding bikes in pairs around your town, or maybe they’ve knocked on your door before! I would like to invite you to say hi to them the next time you see them. They are very friendly people and would love to meet you! If you would like to contact the missionaries in your area, click here.

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33 thoughts on “2 Years in Africa

  1. Wow! So great to read about your experience, it reminds me how mission work stirs my heart and propels me to change! I’m South African (though I just moved to California!) and have done short term mission work in Swaziland, Angola and Peru. Truly life changing and paradigm shifting! I look forward to reading more of your adventures!

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  2. WELL DONE TJ! You’ve written on my blog you wish you could experience some of my travel adventurers but it looks like you’ve already surpassed me. Although swimming with penguins is pretty cool (haha). WELL DONE!

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    1. Do you mean the book or the musical? Haha. I’ve read the book several times but havent seen the musical. You know what they say, the book is always better :)

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      1. Oh the musical was well done, I think you would really enjoy it. Great adventures you had, I look forward to hearing more about it. Not so much the religious side as just the experiances, the people, and the cultures.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. A great testimony TJ. The Love of God is something that surrounds us all and reaches into our deepest and darkest moments. It’s always there but sometimes it takes a bit of suffering and soul searching for us to realize it. When we do open ourselves to it, then we are indeed filled with joy and ready to take on the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Even though I’m not religious, I’ve been to the church on our college campus several times to learn more about the faith and its teachings. I have to say that I have paramount respect for those who sacrifice a lot to spread their love and passion. It was great reading about your experience in Africa! Hope you have many more journeys ahead!

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  5. I think Cicero said that “Gratitude is not only the most important virtue, it is the parent of all others”. Your experience reminds me to be grateful for the smallest things, like running water and lights that always turn on. As much as I love the experience of travel to foreign lands, your experience sounds a bit too foreign! Looking forward to more insights into personal growth thru serving and personal sacrifice. TT

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  6. I’m not religious and I only have a very basic understanding of what each faith entails but my understanding is that when missionaries leave their lives, they don’t get to see their families during this time and can only speak occasionally? I find this sacrifice unusual, archaic but also incredibly intriguing and for someone to do that for their faith is outstanding.

    I can’t wait to read more!

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    1. On the beach with a tie, not even loosened around your neck? :P
      Yes, I can imagine that this took a great deal of sacrifice (especially of physical comforts!) but I can also imagine that it was very rewarding for you.
      It is interesting when Americans say, “I went to Africa”. We have no Federal government, we are not a unit of states, we are sovereign countries with independent governments. I live in Africa, but visiting Benin or Togo would be just a strange experience to me, as it is to you. Although many of the Central and Western African countries do speak French, French is seldom spoken here and then only as a curiosity or by those of more distant French descent who wish to maintain a connection to their roots (or those who have dual citizenship and European passports).

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  7. I loved the content and tone of this piece and will follow you blog with interest. I can’t imagine such faith, but can really appreciate how it shapes your life. I’d not have found you had it not been for #blogging101, and I’m so pleased that I have. With best wishes, Yvonne x

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  8. (oops… accidentally reblogged the first time. i meant to just leave a comment! haha here it is) :

    I know someone who’s currently on his mission for LDS. Not sure exactly where he is, but I remember him posting a facebook status about it before he left. I can’t imagine going without social media and committing yourself so wholly to God’s work like that, but I have so much respect for people like you who do!

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    1. thank you! i’d love to know where he is! and if you want to hear more about what life is like for a missionary, you should follow me because i’ll be posting frequent experiences and entries from my journal during my mission!

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      1. followed! I’ve considered doing missions myself at some point in the future, but still not 100% sure. i feel like it’s something you truly have to be called to. either way, i think reading up on your posts about it will be pretty informative, so i’m looking forward to hearing more about it!

        And I found out! He’s in Australia. :)

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      2. I hope he is having an alright time. Us Australians aren’t very nice to missionaries. Not something im proud of but true. Apparently before they come, they are warned that we aren’t very nice.

        I always politely say “no thank you” but maybe next time I’ll offer them a cold drink before they go. :)

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  9. Reblogged this on bennakim and commented:
    I know someone who’s currently on his mission for LDS. Not sure exactly where he is, but I remember him posting a facebook status about it before he left. I can’t imagine going without social media and committing yourself so wholly to God’s work like that, but I have so much respect for people like you who do!

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