Wednesday, July 31, 2013

He's Alive

Dear everyone,
     I am still alive here in M---, and I am very sorry that I wasn't able to make contact earlier. Here is the excuse... The whole town was out of power for five days, so we never had the chance to e-mail. We even had a problem yesterday when we went to the internet cafes in town (and even when we traveled to Kumasi) but I will explain all of the troubles in due time. For now, let me move on.
     Directly after I e-mailed home two weeks ago, the week started to turn sour mostly due to the fact that my companion and I hit a little rough spot over something small and stupid, so we decided to have an emergency companion exchange. Elder R--- (the other American in the apartment) and I went out to proselyte together on Tuesday, and the day went by really quickly. We contacted 9 different people and taught 5 lessons, so everything went pretty well. I'm breezing over most of the details because I have a limited time to e-mail at the moment, but it sufficeth me to say that people were more eager to talk to mienu obronies (two white-men) than an African and an American. We had a whole drove of children following us at one time, and there was a moment when we held out our hands and they all reached for us. The children are always excited to see us, so we have to have long-suffering and patience with their chants and cries that will never die down. I have found that long-suffering is a Christ-like attribute that I really have to work on. Thankfully, my trainer and I made amends at the end of the day, and the following days only had small spots of contention that we solved during our companionship inventory on Friday. I wish I could say more about that week as there were a lot of growing experiences, but I have to move on to the most recent one.
     As I said, the whole town was out of power for five days. This means that we had to rely on our supply of water that we store in our refrigerator for just that type of scenario, and when that ran out we had to climb on top of the water tower to draw water up from it like a well. Trust me, it wasn't fun. I never thought that I would ever have to work to get water, just because it is so easily accessible in the US. Now, we had a really nice stew that was sitting in the refrigerator and would have fed us for two weeks (it was in a large pot) but it spoiled because it was not cold enough to stay fresh. The meat turned rancid and we had to throw it all away, which meant that we were literally throwing cash in the trash. That day wasn't a happy day. I started to dwell upon everything bad that was happening and I felt like going home, but then I started to pray. I prayed for strength to get through the week and I prayed that I would be able to have long-suffering, and then I started to read the scriptures. I made sure to have a constant prayer in my heart the next day and the day after, and then I started to become happy. Even though the power was out throughout the whole town, I could feel a power growing within me. There was no light around me, but a light was shining from within. I found that I was reading from the scriptures more and studying church doctrine (since I couldn't iron and do anything else at night) so I would be more prepared to teach our investigators. As I was reading, the thought came into my mind that even though the power was out, I still had the ability to read the words of God and His love for all of us on earth. I thought about how the products of men can never be relied on, but the things of God will always be there. Even though I can't rely on power here, I can always read the scriptures. Even though I can't rely on water, I can always pray. What a blessing that is, to know that God will always be there for us. This knowledge and insight that I had helped me to get through the rest of the week, and I grew in strength.
    On Sunday (I guess it was last week) we had another baptism. That means that I already have two baptisms! I can't believe that the work is going forward so well. Sometimes, it feels as if I have to be Superman to battle through the week, but when all is said and done I look back and say "Well, that was easy." Truly, if you just press forward and just focus on the time at hand, everything will start to work out. As you pray and keep a prayer in your heart, the trails that look like boulders in your path just turn to dust, and then all you have to do is blow it all away. The Lord will give you strength if only you make the first step to move forward. We can only move forward when we have faith. I have been using the following metaphor when teaching about faith. Faith is a man. When faith exercises, he grows stronger and can hold a heavier weight. If he is using the same weights each time and never changes his routine, then he stops growing. When faith stops exercising altogether, he becomes bedridden and it takes a lot of effort to get him moving again. Faith is an action, a force of power. When we read our scriptures, pray, obey the commandments, attend church, and strive to have a better outlook on life without complaining about our surrounding circumstances, we grow in faith. When we read the same scriptures each day and never try to go deeper in our studying, we stop growing. When we start to skip days and throw away these good habits altogether, then our faith becomes bedridden. I encourage everyone reading this to have the desire to grow, and then you will have the strength to carry heavier burdens.
     I used to think, "This mission is a hard thing," but I stopped thinking it after I remembered the complaints of Laman and Lemuel. Now I think, "This mission is easy with the Lord by my side." Truly, it is in our hands to make something hard or easy. If we try to rely on our own efforts and our own knowledge, we will constantly fall short and think that the task that is asked of us is impossible. However, when we pray and seek guidance from the Lord and show that we are willing to listen, we will be lifted up and He will carry us to the finish line. I am very grateful for this mission and for the trials that I have been forced to face, because it just means that I am being put through a refining fire. I love and embrace this gospel and the lessons that we learn as we hold strong to the word of God. As one of our investigators said, "Missionary work must be divine."
Elder Twede
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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Plan, Prepare, but if you have to... Just Punt!

Hey family,
     Elder A--- and I had two baptisms all set for this Sunday, but when we went to Asa---'s house and talked with him, we discovered a problem.  Asa--- (the golden investigator) has a really strong desire to join the church but is having a problem sorting out his work hours because he is a security guard, so he is always on call.  He wants his two younger sons (14 and 11) to join the church and we were going to baptize them yesterday, but apparently it wasn't the same desire that the older son had.  Two lessons ago, we asked him (J---) if we wanted to be baptized and he agreed, but I think that it was only because his father was pressuring him too.  Instead, J--- wants to be baptized in a church called D---, a church his mom is a part of.  His father has been pressuring him to join the Lord's church, but he has little desire for it. This means that his younger brother won't be baptized as well.  It is interesting because the scenario reminds me of Joseph Smith's life.  Joseph Smith's mom went to a different church than the father, and Joseph Smith wanted to join the church his mom was in.  The difference now is that the true church has actually been established on the earth.  I have been praying for J--- and we will continue to visit him, and we have been introducing the family to members so we hope that they will build friendships.  Members are really important in missionary work.
      On Friday, I had my first companion exchange! I left for a town called A--- at around 5 PM and arrived there at 6, and then we went to the church to watch a movie called The Testaments.  The event was scheduled for 6:00, but here in Ghana everyone shows up an hour later.  They have their own internal clock here, and they dance to the beat of their own drum.  Thankfully, some members showed up even though there was rain outside, and there were plenty of children who laughed whenever the main characters kissed or were flirting with each other.  I have only seen the movie once before (at the MTC), but I still felt the Spirit as strongly as I did the first time viewing it, especially when Christ healed Helam's eyes at the end.  Here in Ghana though, no one cries.  I was definitely crying on the inside though.  The next day we went around contacting people and mostly used members to bring us to their friends, and I was able to learn from Elder K--- who is going home at the beginning of next week.  He gave me a lot of insights that he has had on his mission, and I can tell that I have a lot to learn still.  I study from Preach My Gospel every day, and the lessons are going a lot smoother than in the beginning, and I can almost teach lesson 1 all by myself, so I feel pretty confident with teaching now.  The split ended at 6 PM and I returned to M---, and it is nice to be back in a familiar place.  I am thankful for the opportunity to learn from someone new, and I look forward to more exchanges to come.
      Have no fear, the cockroaches are here! Last Saturday at about 10 PM, I went into the kitchen to wash some dishes because the power had just switched back on.  As I picked up a bowl from the sink, I saw a cockroach running around in circles like a chicken with its head cut off.  It scuttled out of the sink as fast as possible and escaped into the cupboard underneath our sink, so I had no time to chase it around.  I knew that it would only be a matter of time before a new one appeared.
      I forgot to talk about the Sour Patch Kids that you sent in the last package.  I ate most of them but gave one to my companion, but he didn't really react.  I didn't think they were sour at all when I had them (they actually tasted pretty sweet) so it wasn't a surprise when he said that he enjoyed the taste.  I think that only Warheads will elicit the desired response.  Thank you for the treats though; I haven't had anything that sweet since I left.
      Yesterday, I partook of the sacrament and literally felt my spirit lighten and my senses awake.  I felt the power of the sacrament and I knew with a surety that my covenants were renewed.  I haven't searched for that feeling before, but there is no denying that I felt the influence of the Spirit.  Also, about one minute before Elder's Quorum started, I was asked to give the lesson.  Here in M---, the teachers aren't picked beforehand so usually one of us missionaries has to teach.  I felt a little nervous before I stood up, but I had faith that the Holy Ghost would guide me in what to say.  Sure enough, when I opened to Lesson 11: Sustaining General Authorities, I felt confident and started to teach.  Just as D&C 84 promises, I was given in that very hour what I should say.  During the whole lesson, I could feel the Spirit wash over me and at one point I felt as if I wouldn't be able to speak.  Instead, I pushed through and my words gained power.  It was a powerful experience for me, and I was grateful for the help that I received.  Truly, I could not have taught the lesson without the help of The Testifier.
      Over here, I have been forced to do many things that I never had to do back at home, but it is great to learn new things.  One of my knuckles is ripped up from washing clothes by hand, but it isn't that big of a problem at all.  I tried weeding with a machete last week and did a pretty miserable job, but I will get better at it over time.  Also, I never really cooked from scratch, but now I have to do that every day.  I love cooking now because it gives me something else to do other than teaching and contacting.  It is the same thing with ironing my shirts.  I just need something to change my routine by a little. 
     One of the Elders in our apartment only has one transfer left on his mission so he has been singing songs about "Going Home" for the past week, and I don't think he will be stopping anytime soon.  I just try not to think about it.  For now, Ghana is my home and the people here are all of my neighbors.  I just want to get lost in the work.
With Much Love,
Elder Twede
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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mishaps and More

Dear Everyone,
     I'll give you the sad news... The cockroach died this morning! It was hiding underneath the laces of my shoe, so when I slipped my foot in it ran from the laces to the floor and I stepped on it.  Now it's dead, and I didn't even have a chance to name it.  We will probably see another one eventually, so I'll be sure to name that one Peri (Periplaneta americana being the scientific name).  We still have the shower spider though, so I named it Creeper. 
     Time passed by irregularly last week.  Monday was quick because we were shopping, e-mailing, and mostly traveling the whole day (it takes around 2.5 hours to ride from M--- to Kumasi where we receive our money for the month), so 5 hours of our day is already taken up by that.  Thankfully, the e-mail services are working here in M--- so the travel is only about 25 minutes by foot.  My companion needs to go to market today, so I can hopefully buy the ingredients needed for the tortillas.  We have been eating pretty well in the apartment, having meals such as spaghetti and rice, and we have also been able to make "stew" here.  Chicken is only $2.50 for 5 breasts, so we get as much meat as we can and cook it with the stew.  We don't like our rice plain, so we mix everything together and have a full course meal.  My companion eats Indomei (Top-Ramen) often, but first he cooks it in a pot, cracks an egg into a frying pan, and then he fries the noodles with the egg.  I haven't tried this yet, but it smells delicious.
That is one thing that I have noticed around here.  Everything has a smell.  Walking down the street, you can smell everything whether it be sewage, fish, bread, spices, the grass and trees, sickness, or anything else.  Thankfully, my clothing smells like washing powder so I always smell fresh.  I don't have any cologne and I haven't seen any in the shops, but frankly, I don't need any for this mission.  The people would probably care less.
     Tuesday was a pretty fast day as well because we had people to teach, and Wednesday passed by REALLY quickly because the whole day was taken up by Zone Conference, but we struggled to find people to teach for the rest of it.  When we made appointments with people, they would agree to a specific time, but they were never actually at home when we trekked over to give a lesson.  The most common reason is that they "traveled," or they developed a sickness and had to visit the hospital.  I'm sure that this will be happening pretty often.  It is pretty hard convincing people to come to church as well because they usually have their own church already that they attend, or they have to work.  We have one investigator who claims that they are sick on every single Sunday, but they claim that they wish they could be there.  It is hard to get people to make commitments, but we work with it.
     We are currently teaching someone who actually contacted us last week on the street.  She said that she had seen us pass by but didn't know who we were or what we do, so she invited us to start teaching her.  The lessons are very different than the lessons we teach to our other investigators, because she only wants to speak in Twi to us.  She understands English ("Brofo") perfectly well and can speak it also, but she will never talk to us through English.  We just have to discern what she is talking to us about, repeat it back to her to confirm what we thought we understood from it, and then answer any questions and then move on. It has been a really interesting experience.
     I received the package and letters last week on Wednesday, and my roommates all said "Wow! It only took 2 weeks to arrive!" I laughed at all of the religious phrases and references on the outside of it, but everything was still inside so it looks like it worked.  I think the duct tape probably deterred them as well if it was opened.  The Propel powder that you included must have been inspired, because I haven't seen anything similar in the markets yet (but I'm probably just not looking hard enough).  It's getting easier and easier to shop each week because I'm starting to know what to look for, so by the end I will be an expert at small market shopping.  It really is a different experience than anything we have at home.
     Guess what? I'm practically bald!  Here's the story: Last week, I noticed that my hair was growing over my ears so I decided to cut it with the clippers.  I did a pretty decent job for my whole head and had it at the normal length that I usually have it at after a haircut, but I still needed to clean up the back by making a straight cut along the bottom.  I didn't trust myself to do it without being able to see, so I asked Elder R--- (the other American) to clean it up for me.  However, he wasn't anywhere me, so Elder A--- came over instead.  I told him what I wanted him to do, so he started to cut along the collar, but then I felt his hand pull all the way to the top of my head.  He said "Why don't you do it like this? It makes more sense!"  I probably should have known that I should not have trusted him to clean it up for me, but I decided that all I had to do was make the rest of my hair look the same.  I made all of the sides the same length (the smallest length you can get with no attachments) and then I went to a local barber here to cut the top so that it would blend well.  I have a couple of pictures that will be sent eventually, but I have to get to a better computer before that happens.  Next time I go to Kumasi to e-mail I will send them out. 
     It is really weird when I see another white person across the street.  You never seen them in M---, as this is a relatively small village, but you can get a glimpse of them in Kumasi if you are looking out for them.  Other than that, the missionaries are the only whites that you will see here in Ghana, but even then they already have a super dark tan.  It really is bizarre.
     In your written letter, you asked me how I was feeling.  I guess I haven't really said anything about how I feel yet because I have had so much to say about what is going around me.  I'll take time here to write about how I feel.  I am excited to serve, and each time I read about missionary service, either in D&C, study manuals, the Bible, or the Book of Mormon, I realize how much of a blessing it is to be able to bring people unto Christ through the power of the Spirit.  I think that if I had ever decided to skip out on my mission, then I truly would regret it for the rest of my life.  It would be mental hell.  I am growing so much spiritually and socially, and I am learning things of great importance every day.  Sometimes it feels as if I am moving from "grace to grace," just as Christ did, but of course there are times where this isn't the case.  Nonetheless, I keep pressing forward and can feel myself growing closer to Heavenly Father and the prophets in the scriptures.  I feel that I will be able to stand proudly in front of Moroni at the judgment bar to tell him that I used the Book of Mormon as much as possible, and that I spread its message to those who needed it.  I feel a great peace whenever I'm reading the scriptures or praying, and I feel at peace when we teach our investigators as well.  I haven't really thought about home too often, but I always look forwarded to being able to e-mail and hear from everyone.  I still feel strong and ready to teach, and I hope that I can feel this way for the rest of my mission.  I don't ever want to get tired of this work.  It will be a bittersweet experience for me when I have to go home in two years (well, 22.75 months), but I know that I don't have to think about that yet.  I just think about the people here in M--- and how I can be of help to them, and move ever onward.  There is always something to do.  You are all in my prayers, and I hope to hear from you again. 
I love you all,
Elder Twede

P.S. We will be having 2 more baptisms next week, and maybe even two more after that by the end of this month.  We have a lot of people now who are steadily progressing, so it is easy to see the fruits of our labors.  In a new area that opened up this month, there are already 25 people being baptized for the district, so they are seeing a lot of progress as well. As general authorities have stated, this is the fastest growing mission in the world right now.  It is wonderful to be a part of it.
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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Pictures from the Field

Pets, Proposals, and Proselyting

Hey everyone,
     This week really went by quickly.  Time flies by when you have a lot of work to do.  At the moment I am compressing pictures into one file, so hopefully they will be sent right after this e-mail is written.  No guarantees though, as there are so many pictures.  As of now, most of them are from the MTC and I haven't been able to take too many pictures of the local area so far, but it shouldn't be like that for much longer.  The people have to be familiar with me before I can take pictures and not look like a tourist.  As for the people in Ghana, they LOVE pictures.  If they see you with a camera, they'll say "Take a snip!" and then they'll pose until you "take the snip."  They expect you to print them out as soon as possible, and then they make sure to put the prints on their walls or in a case.  I haven't had to print any out yet, but I'm sure that that will change soon.
  For the most part, we teach people on the steps outside of their house because they all only have one tiny room that they sleep in.  However, we taught a young man on Friday and he had quite the setup for living around here.  He had a nice sound system, actual couches, and a table that he put all of his electronics on.  That was the first couch that I have sat on since I left the mission home.  They aren't very common around here.  I'll be able to live in any condition by the time I come back to America.
     About the Visas, there is nothing to worry about.  The head of local immigration in M--- stopped beside us in his car while we were walking by, and he asked us what we were doing about our visas.  We explained that everything has been sent out from Accra and that everything takes time, and he said "Okay, I just want to know what your immigration status is."  We won't be arrested or anything and it isn't a big problem, and the papers are already sent so all we have to do is wait.  Don't worry about calling the mission home or anything like that; we can handle everything on this side of the world.
     As for shrimp, I miss the taste and crave it every time we have fish with our meals.  Elder A--- uses sardines in every meal that we eat (we eat as a group in the apartment), so I'm always thinking of shrimp.  We have a local restaurant in the area called Annex where we are allowed to eat at, but the food is pretty expensive for us Elders.  It is about $5 a plate, which includes a pile of rice, a sauce called Chito, and 2 chicken pieces (either breast or wing).  We would eat there every day if we could, but cooking at home isn't too bad.  However, if the power goes out and you have a lot of dishes to clean, it's hard because we only have a limited amount of reserve water that we set aside for instances where the power is out.  Last week we were out for two days in a row, so we have to ration everything out.  Usually, the power will be off and on throughout the day, but this time it was completely gone.  While we (Elder A--- and I) were walking to appointments, we noticed that there were workers who set up ladders next to the trees overhanging the power lines and were whacking all of the limbs off with machetes.  Since then, we've had a pretty steady power flow, so life is running a little more smoothly.  If you have any recipes for making tortillas, that would be a treat to us here.  We have street vendors that sell deep fried dough balls, but other than that we just buy regular loaves of bread.  It's really cheap here, and it almost tastes homemade so it's always a treat.
     Speaking of the MTC, I forgot to talk about the day when we spent our activity time playing soccer in the rain.  We got super muddy, but everyone had a lot of fun.  If you kicked the ball, it would stop after it traveled a few inches because there were puddles everywhere and the rain weighed it down.  There was a photographer for the church at the MTC during that time and he was taking pictures every second or so.  We talked to him afterwards, and he said that the pictures might show up in the October or November edition of the New Era in a section called "Missionary Life" or something similar.  Not positive about the name of the section, but be sure to look out for it!
     We have a pet in our home.  Not a real pet, but it's a frequenter of our trash can.  We call them cockroaches.  The first time I lifted the trash can, I jumped ten feet into the air because it scuttled out from under the can and went between my feet, bee-lining for the space underneath our kitchen sink.  Ever since then, I know to prepare myself for a scare because it happens each time.  We don't know what to name him, and we haven't killed him yet.  Any suggestions?  Speaking of pets, there is also a massive spider that haunts the shower.  Sometimes, you can see it hanging down from the ceiling trying to span its way down onto your head, but if you try to shoo it away, it just rappels back up to the ceiling.  It is way too fast to catch, so we don't worry about it.  A side note about the shower: there are no water heaters, so you have to brave it and shower in cold water.  Usually it's a pretty welcome feel because of all of the sweat that accumulates during the day, but I wouldn't like it if I was back in America.  I can't complain while I'm here though, because it is all a part of the experience.
     Have I told you all about Ju-ju yet? It's the local magic practices that they have around Ghana (and apparently all of North Africa as far as I can tell).  If someone gets mad at another person, they will yell "Curse you!" in the most literal sense, and then the other person is cursed.  I saw it firsthand two days ago when a man threatened a woman, telling her that he would use a voodoo doll and wither her hand.  The woman was pleading with him for a good 5 minutes before he let up.  Yesterday, we gave a blessing to a girl who was cursed with engorgement, but all I could think of in my head was "Engorgio! Engorgio!" (Harry Potter reference)  Apparently, a fellow classmate cursed her by saying that she would swell up, and then it started to happen.  I don't know what to think about it all, but if any of it is true, then I am staying away from it as much as possible.  You don't want to mess with bad spirits.
     On an opposite note, I was able to confirm C--- as a member of the church yesterday.  The whole air was charged with the power of the Spirit, and it was a witness to me that I am doing the right thing.  It was also a witness to C---, and I know that she could feel that she had made an important step in her life.  Baptism is an essential step towards Eternal Life, and I know that she will receive many blessings for the choice she has made.
     We taught The Plan of Salvation to an investigator (Ch---) yesterday, and it looked like he wanted to jump up and down in excitement.  He couldn't contain himself and was saying "Yes! Yes yes yes!" to everything we told him.  When we came to the reason why we were sent to earth, he exclaimed "The Word of God is sweet! It is sweet!"  We told him that what we were teaching him only existed in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and all he did was smile and nod.  At the end of the lesson, he asked us when he could see us next and that he wanted to hear more of "God's word."  He is definitely excited to listen to us again, and he has been translating everything for his family so we hope to see more baptisms this month.  A--- (the first golden investigator) hasn't been to church yet, but his sons have been coming to every meeting so we hope to extend baptismal dates to them as well.  I can't wait to see what this next month has in store for us.
     That reminds me, I've already been out on my mission for a whole month!  Like I said before, time passes by so quickly here.  Last week, we taught a total of 24 lessons, and we hope to have even more this week.  Since it gets dark by 7:00 here (every day), we have to be in our apartments by 7:30 or so unless we are in a lesson.  We cannot contact new people when it is dark outside though.  This gives us time to cook, plan out the next day, and have some personal study before retiring at 10:30.  My companion always wakes up at 5 or 5:30, but that's too crazy for me.  Like I said in my last e-mail, I get up at 6:30, on the dot.
     People really blast their music here.  There is basically no silent place throughout the whole town unless you walk into its outskirts.  All of the speakers are blown out so the music sounds really tinny, but you get used to it after a while.  They say that you listen to the same music that you hear during your mission, so I guess I'll be listening to a lot of African Rap when I get back.  I haven't heard anything else besides gospel music here, but that is a lot less common.
     On Saturday (the second day the power was out) we had eight lessons planned for the day, and five of them fell through.  I was fasting by then because I wanted to make good use out of the fact that we didn't have any way to eat, and then we went out to find people to teach.  We were able to teach eight lessons that day to people who had all come back from vacation, and I know that it only happened because I was fasting.  The town is pretty empty during Saturdays due to a tradition called "Burial."  It's a tradition that the Ashanti have here, where the people of the Ashanti tribe all gather in one place in town and basically dance and sing for most of the day.  It's to celebrate people who have died in Ghana, and it takes place every single Saturday.  The only people that you find around the houses are children, so everything has a creepy feel about it.  All I can think of is Lord of the Flies.  The absence of adults makes it terrible for contacting, but if you search hard enough, the Lord will help you.
     A girl asked me to marry her last week, and she wouldn't take no for an answer.  Elder A--- and I kept on explaining to her why it could never happen, and finally I had an idea.  I had keys in my pocket which were all on a keychain (the loop), so I stuck my ring finger through the loop and hid the keys in my palm.  I said "Look, I'm already married!" and she believed me until she heard the keys jingle-jangle.  It was worth a try.  Now she doesn't like to talk to me, so it's easy to teach her husband because she isn't flirting anymore.  That's right, she has a husband. The culture is different here. 
     Another girl asked me out to a party as well, and I declined (of course).  She said "Fine, I'll just fly back with you when you leave for California."  I guess that I will be dealing with this for the rest of my mission.
     You know, I am enjoying everything here.  In the beginning I was thinking about home a lot, but now I just dream about it.  If I can live in Africa during the day and live in America during the night, then that makes it a pretty even balance.  I'm already pretty tan now, so by the end I'll be a totally different person.  Like I said, I'll be taking more pictures, so you should be seeing more of me as time goes on. 
     About the baptismal font: it is green (not too bad, but green enough) because it rains almost every day and the font is located outside.  They would have to import water in each time they drain it, so the water is pretty much the same week by week.  Thankfully, the font is only 45 minutes away, so it isn't too bad of a drive.
Much love,
Elder Twede 
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