Sunday, April 23, 2017

April 23, 2017

We get used to so many wonderful things happening in our week that it’s hard to select sometimes what to say.  Tuesday and Wednesday this week were the MTC missionary days for their own ordinances.  Four young men from Sierra Leone came in the group and it was sobering to consider what they had already survived in their young lives - civil war and the Ebola outbreak.  What a preparation for dedicating two years to serve the Lord!

During a lull in the office, Sue was studying the scriptures and commented on 3 Nephi 18:32, a verse she loves, that had been used by Elder Robert Sackley (see April 6, 2016 blog) in his teaching many years ago.  Br. Afful, who is the  former temple president and  works in the office on Thursday mornings, turned around and asked how we had known Elder Sackley.  He then commented that Elder Sackley had been his mission president in Nigeria.  For Sue, this connection [knowing Elder Sackley] will bind her to Bro.Afful forever and the first she has made with a native Ghanaian.

This week we said farewell to Stephen and Rosely Webster as they completed their mission and returned home to Australia.  He served as executive secretary to the area presidency and she as assistant, but that does not begin to describe all the good that they have done and the kind, caring people that they are.  They were responsible for managing the boundary and leadership change proposals in the area - for example, that included 99 new units (branches, wards, stakes, and districts) in the first 88 days of this year.  They oversaw the living arrangements for the senior couples assigned to the AWA (including finding new apartments to lease) , coordinated weekly sealing sessions and sister scripture classes, tours of area  spots of interest, food for FHE,  fresh egg deliveries, etc. etc.  And on top of everything else he was the driver for getting the area presidency and many others to and from the airport - over 300 trips during the 18 months.

Elder and Sr. Webster speaking at FHE

We had the delightful experience yesterday of receiving help to accomplish the sealing of about 15 deceased ancestral daughters and sons to their parents.  It was during a less-busy time in the temple and the president invited a couple who had come for the first time and three others to join us for that short session.  Tender mercies!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter!

We were privileged this week to assist the members referred to in the following comments (used with permission).  The author is Elder Renfroe, who with his wife has served in the Tamale Branch and District for the past year.  Tamale is a 12 hour drive straight north of Accra, and in some ways about 75 years straight back in time.

“Remember when Jane introduced Tarzan to New York City?  That is what it is like for these good people seeing the Accra temple and a US style grocery store for the first time.  Abraham just got back to Tamale from his village where he spent 3 months planting 2,500 yams.  He had no electricity, no phone, no internet and didn’t think anything about it.  He comes back to Tamale to the ”big city”.  He is not sorry or suffering or blaming anybody for how he lives.  It is just how it is.  Christiana and Raymond have similar backgrounds being raised in villages.  Now they are here gazing up at the temple.  Abraham exclaims, “That is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.”

They are staying in the ancillary building with air conditioning, elevators, and doors that fit and work.  Each a new experience for them.  When they come outside into the 85 degrees and 85% humidity air they exclaim how much more comfortable it is being outside.    It is hard to imagine what is going on in their heads.  Tomorrow the real fun starts in the temple.  We spent the last two days in the car teaching the temple preparation classes.

Yet, what they will see in the temple tomorrow will probably far exceed what I will see.  Their eyes are unsullied.  But our eyes are covered with the clay of this earth caked on from years of exposure to the earthen ways of life in America from which we must be cleansed in order to see clearly.  May we be careful to not soil them with things we think they need but don’t.”

It was a very busy week in the temple with Ivorian saints through Thursday and Ghanian saints who flooded the temple on Good Friday and yesterday.    We concluded the day yesterday adjudicating the Ofankor Stake choir festival (and accompanying them all).  This is our second time to do this and we saw a definite improvement in the choirs.  It was an exercise in looking for the good where at times it wasn’t obvious.

We woke up this Easter Sunday grateful for Jesus Christ; that through Him we have the power to change, to forgive and be forgiven, and to love.  “How great, how glorious, how complete, redemption’s grand design, Where justice, love, and mercy meet in harmony divine.”     Eliza R. Snow

Sunday, April 9, 2017

April 9, 2017

It’s been a quiet week.  The Ivoiriens who were scheduled to come cancelled their trip.  We were able to officiate again in ordinances and enjoyed that.  Sue has been more involved in training and recertification.  Tom did some preparations for the next 2 excursions.

Monday we attended a special family home evening with Parry Merkley, brother of one of our senior missionaries.  He was hired by Elder Ballard 7 years ago to head a committee that was to produce a campaign to make the church and its message more visible.  Despite the view from the inside, surveys at the time showed that very few people worldwide knew anything about the church.  

As was recounted to us, Elder Ballard had a dream that he died and went before the Lord for judgement, and the Lord said, “Russell, Satan learned to use the media, why couldn’t you?”  That prompted a lot of research, meetings, and creative ideas.  The results included the website, the personal profiles of members (I Am a Mormon), and the major ad blitzes in London, New York, and Melbourne that piggy-backed on the Book of Mormon Musical.  A group now also monitors and strategizes on how to keep the church sites at the top of the results when online searches are done.

He had interesting comments about the reluctance of some of the leaders to endorse the use of “Mormon” rather than the full name of the church.  They eventually did when they understood that “Mormon” was how most people look for information about us online.  He also had comments about how Elder Perry was an early and enthusiastic adopter of the use of technology to enhance missionary work in all its facets.  

We really enjoyed General Conference.  There seemed to be a theme of gentleness, kindness, focus on the Savior, loving your neighbor, and inclusion.  We were very interested in the backgrounds of the new Relief Society Presidency ( ).  Here is a stimulating talk given by Sr. Eubank at the FAIR Conference in 2014, titled “This is a woman’s church”:  We heard her speak in person about humanitarian services and principles of self-reliance several years ago and found her approach very enlightening.

It is possible that the rainy season has begun.  We’ve had two large showers in the last week that were impressive in the amount of water that fell.  The seasons are changing!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

April 2, 2017

We have officially passed the mid-point of our mission.  Hard to wrap the mind around that thought.  We are staying busy and learning much.

We had breakfast this morning with some of the most interesting people we have ever met (although we keep meeting more and more of those people).  The Findlays are finishing their 20+ years as senior missionaries, most recently with the Humanitarian Services wheelchair project, and transitioning their responsibilities to the Christensens, who started as senior missionaries 10 years ago in the Congo.  This is their third assignment.  He is known as “commando” Christensen because of their experiences in the DRC during what is politely called “civil unrest”, but which included bullets flying in the streets outside their apartment.  These two couples were accompanied by a younger woman who is a therapist and travels with the wheelchair project as a technical specialist & trainer.  

This week we also met the Daltons who just came back to Ghana to the same MLS assignment in the same branch & district, and living in the same apartment, for the 3rd time.  They were called on the phone and asked if they would consider returning to help establish a stake in that district, and they jumped at the opportunity.  They are in a difficult place, under difficult physical circumstances, but they just love the people.

A couple of weeks ago I was able to visit with Pres. Assard and Bro. AffouĂ©, who with their wives were the two founding families of the Church in Cote d’Ivoire in 1986.  Each family was inspired to return to their home country from Germany and France to build up the church.  Bro. Assard visited with Elder Joseph Wirthlin in Frankfort before returning and received a short list of people and addresses in Ivory Coast.  He wrote to them all after arriving, but only Bro.AffouĂ© replied and he thought that Bro. Assard must be French because of his last name.  What he didn’t know is that Bro. Assard’s name had been changed by the French from Assa when he was in school.  They found that they were both from the same tribe and lived in villages adjacent to each other.  They started holding meetings immediately.  Thirty years later there are 11 stakes and 10 districts, at last count.  We pray for the announced temple in Abidjan, that they can break ground soon.  Otherwise we won’t have room for them all in Accra.

We were able to watch General Conference yesterday and are waiting for the Priesthood Session to become available.  Just before the first session I received a text and photo from a cousin who is an Area Seventy and attending the conference.  They realized they were sitting next to our dear stake president from here, Anthony B. Quaisie, who was sustained as an Area Seventy in the afternoon session

 On Wednesday a small group of Saints [3 couples and 2 single sisters] came from Liberia for their endowments and sealings. Two of the couples brought children with them. It is part of my responsibility to make sure the children are dressed completely in white and then accompany them to where their parents are waiting for the ordinance. I gave the 10 year old girl a choice between two long dresses. She was very excited about one of them and I could tell it made her feel special. After the ordinance was finished, she took my hand and asked me if when she came to the temple the next time, she could wear the same dress. Knowing [because of distance and expense] that she would not get here again for years, I replied “The next time you come, you will have your own beautiful dress”. She threw her arms around my waist and gave me a big hug.

Often, on week-ends, brides come to the temple grounds for pictures. It is a public service the church allows because the grounds and the building itself are probably the most beautiful in the city. This picture was taken out of our window yesterday.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

March 26, 2017

When we were preparing to come to Ghana we were advised that this was a cash society.  A year ago it was a major event to get to the right ATM so we could get out enough cash to survive a couple of weeks.  However, we have found more and more grocery stores are accepting of credit cards and now can use them weekly on our provisioning trips. This is very convenient for record keeping.

We have commented in past blogs about the challenge of the young singles in this culture to marry, given the tradition of bride-price, etc.  Our ward conference today focused on the importance of celestial marriage, both preparing for and receiving the ordinance and also including God in the relationship.  Sacrament Meeting was longer than normal.  Our classroom was locked and by the time it was opened we were limited to 20 minutes, so my young singles explained to me the intricacies of dating and marriage in Ghana. It was fascinating to me to hear the difference in perspective between the women  and the men, both completely misunderstanding the other. It made me appreciate the necessity of honest communication even though it makes one vulnerable.

We are looking forward to General Conference next Saturday and Sunday.  We will get four sessions live (although that will be at 4pm and 8pm after working a full day at the temple). We will watch the Priesthood Session delayed because it is live at midnight. We were very moved by the talks in the Women’s Session which we listened to this afternoon. They will all be worth two or three re-readings.  Joe Junior will now have competition for his definition of “leaning”, at least in the church.

Next week-end is also when our friends from Rochester, the Redlins, arrive. They will be serving a humanitarian mission. We have become good friends with the Piersons who have been temple missionaries for a month.  They still call me Anne most of the time because they knew my older sister, but I think of it as a compliment.

We had a long day yesterday, but it was worth the effort to help the many groups and individuals who filled the temple and who also filled the temple grounds while waiting for their turn to enter.  Officially the temple closes at 3:30 pm on Saturday but the doors weren’t actually locked until almost 5 pm because of a late proxy sealing session officiated by our most elderly sealer.  He wanted to help a group who had come a long distance to do proxy work for their deceased family members and he just kept going.  

Blessings to you for the coming week!

A bus we saw recently.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

March 19, 2017

We’ve had some interesting experiences helping patrons with their ordinances.  We had a woman who came wanting to do her mother’s work.  Her mother was one of the earliest baptisms in the church in Ghana.  Record-keeping in those days was spotty so when she wanted to come to the temple the records couldn’t be found and it took some time to get that straightened out.  Eventually she had her recommend, but two days before the planned trip (they live 4 hours away), she passed away unexpectedly.  That was two months ago.  The family had requested and received permission from the 1st Presidency to have her ordinances done.  However, when the daughter came a week ago on Saturday we couldn’t figure out how to print the ordinance card.  Church headquarters being 7 hours behind GST that day, we also couldn't find anyone who knew the solution.  

I was assigned to follow up and late on Tuesday afternoon was able to connect with the right folks in Salt Lake.  They quickly printed the card there, and then emailed it to the temple president.  The daughter was back yesterday and shared her joyful, tearful, thankful smile after having completed her mother’s ordinances.

Another concern was a brother from Ivory Coast who wanted to be sealed to his new wife.  In scheduling that event, the computer reminded us that he needed a permission letter from the 1st Presidency since he had been sealed to his first wife and there was no death recorded.  In discussing that with Pres. Assard he said, “Oh, I know him.  His first wife died.”  Death is more common than divorce as a source of remarriage in the church here.

Another man with the group from Ivory Coast asked me this week if his son could be sealed to his wife and himself.  His son was to be endowed that day.  I replied that I thought they would still need a recommend for an ordinance for a living person signed by the stake president and the bishop.  I knew that the stake president was with the group but I didn’t know about the bishop.  The brother replied that getting the recommend wouldn't be a problem, since I was already looking at the bishop!   

One of our concerns is making sure, as much as possible, that people who travel long distances to receive temple ordinances qualify for and already have the appropriate recommend needed.  I have seen a couple of instances when good people who haven't yet been in the church for at least a year have come with recommends.  It’s very sad for them and for us when we can’t proceed with the ordinances because of leaders’ errors.  That is one of the challenges of rapid growth - training leaders who haven’t had much time to absorb all that they need to know and who aren’t naturally inclined to read the handbooks carefully.

With a wonderful group of saints from Ivory Coast, on the temple steps.  Happy and tired and ready to go home.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

March 12, 2017 - A Walk in the Park

Last Monday was the 60th anniversary of Ghana Independence Day.  The Grahams invited us on a short road trip to visit the Aburi Botanical Gardens and we enjoyed the outing.  About an hour north of Accra the road climbs up into some high hills, with views of the countryside.  We followed the directions of the GPS and of course ended up out in the middle of nowhere, which was Sue’s favorite part - no people, no garbage, no city.  It was very beautiful and lush.

Eventually we did find the garden, which was opened during the colonial era about 125 years ago and has mostly trees and bushes of various types.  There are also some “restaurants” in the park.  We encountered several groups of people who were dancing, singing, praying, and eating as part of their celebrations.

 Two huge roots

Note what is available at the restaurant.  I've never actually had gizzard sauce on the continent...  The women are preparing to set up food for sale.

This man is pounding cassava to make banku, a local staple.  On the right is a cocoa pod.  They grow from the little flowers that you can see on the trunk.

Monday evening while we were doing a load of laundry, the washer didn't turn off (failed solenoid) and sent a stream onto the floor and down the hall before it was discovered.  Obviously the drain was not the lowest point in the room.  These are high class sweepers and moppers:  Elder Pierson & Tom on the left and Pres. Antwi & Sr. Pierson on the right.  It only took about 15 minutes to clean up.