Sunday, November 19, 2017

Nov. 19, 2017 Before Thanksgiving

We had some disappointing news this week with our son Hugh not being accepted into medical school and my brother Jack being flown to Alberta from Oklahoma for an angiogram and possible angioplasty.  These are two of my favorite people in the world and they were hurting.  I was sympathetic enough that several at the temple the next morning asked if I were ill and the matron suggested I go home.  There was little that could be done for them from West Africa but I knew if I didn’t make an attitude adjustment and get more sleep that I would in fact be sick.  I turned to the Conference talks, typed in “Gratitude” and spent the next several hours engrossed in searching the thoughts found there.  When I finished, my perspective had changed, my hope was restored, and I could rejoice in Hugh’s eventual resilience and Jack’s love for life.  Here are some of my significant findings.

We can lift ourselves and others as we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude.  Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but is the parent of all others.      Gordon B Hinckley

Gratitude is a state of appreciation, an act of thanksgiving which causes us to be humble because we recognize an act or kindness, service, or caring which lifts us and strengthens us. Ingratitude is the attitude of being unaware or not recognizing when someone has helped us and not given thanks.       Robert D Hales

An ungrateful man is like a hog under a tree eating acorns but never looking up to see where they came from.

Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.          Aldous Huxley

Those things which provide deep and lasting happiness and gratitude are the things which money cannot buy: our families, the gospel, good friends, our health, our abilities, the love we receive from others.  Unfortunately, these are some of the things we allow ourselves to take for granted.  To express gratitude is gracious and honorable, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live with gratitude in our hearts is to touch heaven.       Thomas S Monson

D&C 78:19 And he that receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him even an hundred fold, yea more.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Nov. 12, 2017 Reflections on Acts 3

Last Sunday was our Stake Conference.  We weren’t able to attend the Saturday meetings because of our assignment, but looked forward to the Sunday session.  Elder Marcus B. Nash was the presiding general authority.  We really love Elder and Sr. Nash and have come to know them personally because we share the same home ward.  His teaching and speaking is always outstanding but this time he gave a never-to-be-forgotten general conference kind of talk.

His gospel text was Acts 3:2-9.  He established a pattern from those verses that made missionary work in my life not only possible but feasible.   When asked for an alms by the lame beggar, Peter replied “look on us”, or symbolically, look to the power of Jesus Christ. Then continued “such as I have give I thee.  In the name of Jesus Christ, rise up and walk. Then he took him by the right hand and lifted him up.  And he entered the temple walking and leaping and praising God.”  
  1. I can live so the Lord can work through me
  2. I can give what I have, my understanding of the gospel.
  3. I can reach out my hand  
  4. I can lift
Elder Nash related a personal experience when he was an area seventy. In visiting a stake conference he asked the president to take him to meet with someone who was inactive and difficult to deal with. They went by appointment to the home of a former bishop who had been out of the church for 20 years. He wanted no contact with the church. When they arrived he was not home.  His wife opened the door, was unresponsive to their greetings,  and explained that her husband was on the way from the home of their adult child who lived down the street. They were not invited in but waited on the steps. When Elder Nash saw him coming, he was filled with love for this brother and ran to him, throwing his arms around him.  He told him that God loved him and that he loved him, that he was needed in the church and that he needed the church.

The brother started to weep on Elder Nashes shoulder and responded, “I have waited for years to hear those words.  What do you want me to do?”  “I want you to come to stake conference tomorrow morning.”   He replied “I will come and bring some of my married children”.  He did.

In the evaluation meeting following the stake conference, the presidency and the high council were all amazed at what had happened.  One of the councilmen spoke.  “Not to be demeaning, but I do not think that Elder Nash is so different from the rest of us. We could have had the same result if we had gone to this man with the love of God for him in our hearts and a sincere desire of our own to help him. It was not the power of Elder Nash but the power of Jesus Christ working through him that brought this man back.”  Acts 3:12, 16   This brother is now again in full fellowship in the church.

Unfortunately, we are not always strong like Peter and John in this example.  In fact sometimes we are spiritually lame or emotionally paralyzed.  But we can do as the man who could not walk.  We can act in faith and look on those who are strong in their testimony of Jesus Christ.  God reaches out to us through them in talks and written articles.  If we will let them, they will lift us up and help us until we can stand on our own to lift others.  And in being lifted up and lifting others, we will all enter the temple together walking, leaping, and praising God.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Nov 5, 2017

Autumn is the birthday season in our family.  Neal is the only one whose birthday falls outside the last quarter of the year.  Our thoughts turn to kids. Two weeks ago, Erin, Ben, Hugh, and Tal all met in Rochester, MN for a mini-reunion.  Our favorite drive-in restaurant (Roscoe’s) was closing for good and they decided to take a nostalgic childhood tour together.  They had a great time but missed Neal, who was working in Saudi Arabia.  

L to R: Jonah with Hugh, Ben, Erin, Tal

Our children and grandchildren continue to expose us to ideas and opportunities that we never dreamed of.

Erin and Michael enjoy San Antonio.  Besides keeping up with their four kids, he teaches at UTSA and is the HP group leader and she is involved in violin teaching and performing, as well as organizing the Seattle Suzuki Institute.  She is the stake primary president and volunteers with the SA Center for Refugee Services. 

Ben and Christy are at Clairemont, CA where he is working on his PhD in Mormon Studies and she is teaching at Harvey Mudd and publishing.  Ben continues to study, write, and lecture about Old Testament, context, creation and evolution, and LDS history.  His course work and Christy’s appointment end next year. 

Neal and Candice and their three are temporarily in Lehi, UT.  The best way for us to explain Neal’s permaculture work is to say that he is a farmer.  In Saudi Arabia.  In the desert.  The project of which he has been the director for many years is splitting into a charitable arm and a development arm.  He will be paid to get his MBA next year (somewhere) and then rejoin the project.  They enjoy Utah and skiing together at the moment.

Hugh and Kristi and their four are in Madison, WI.  He still works for Apple.  This is his last go round for med school application.  If he isn’t accepted he will likely start a master’s program in Healthcare Admin.  He is the elder’s quorum president and just finished his second marathon.

Tal also lives in San Antonio and is a private music teacher.  He and Erin collaborate in playing gigs at various functions.  We like his girlfriend, and he is happier than he has been in many years.

With Hadleys and Liljenquists

We enjoyed a dinner last evening with two other wonderful couples who work in the Area Office.  It is remarkable how each couples’ mission experience can be so unique. The Hadleys, in the middle, are in charge of Public Affairs. What you see on Mormon Newsroom West Africa is written by them. Liljenquists work in the legal department and with the Area web site and go home next Friday.  We miss those who have been released and love to get to know the new senior missionaries as they come.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Oct 29, 2017 Elder Bednar's Visit

This week we were privileged to listen to Elder Bednar twice.  The first was a YSA “FHE” where he answered questions and taught.  The second was the dedicatory service for the new MTC.  He and Sr. Bednar were at the end of a two week tour of Africa and he commented on the temples in Africa - Kinshasa to be completed early next year, Durbin under construction, Nairobi announced, and Abidjan waiting the start of construction.  8 total ( see map here )

The YSA meeting was classic apostolic instruction - taking questions and then teaching, and including the other general authorities and wives in answering those questions.  One of his themes came through again: objects are acted upon; children of God are called to act.  I think my favorite comment was about time and space: The Sabbath is God’s time, not ours.  We are to remember and prepare for keeping covenants.  The temple is God’s space, for the same purpose.  We should make the Sabbath and the temple different than any other time and space.  We bring the Lord’s time and space back into our home to elevate it, because it is the most sacred space. We were greatly complimented when two of our  students from Sunday school and Institute came to us after and told us that we had taught them everything that Elder Bednar and the Area Presidency had taught that evening.

There was much about the dedication that was truly inspiring: the quiet and peace in the room as we waited in our seats for most of an hour before the meeting started, the choir director [a missionary] who had been in the MTC a total of 4 days, the prayers given in French and English by an elder and sister after only 4 weeks of language study, the power of 11 mission presidents and wives, 200 young missionaries from 21 countries, all the Area presidency, with 20 adult missionary couples, and the Temple President with his five full-time missionaries plus several Area Seventies.  All of this was a prelude to the arrival of Elder Bednar, an apostle  of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and his wife Susan.

Sister Bednar shared her experiences with her 3 missionary sons: one who needed affirmation that God would be with him [D&C 84:87,88], one who needed the gift of tongues with his call to Finland - her definition of the gift of tongues was not limited to learning another language but emphasized teaching the gospel with clarity, and another son who returned to his mission in Bolivia with his dad to find that some of his converts were bishops and their children were missionaries.  Her emphasis to him was that we are called not for 2 years but to honor God for the rest of our lives.
Elder Bednar explained to the mayor of Accra, the Police Chaplain, and other visitors the name of the church in the context of the original church, the apostasy and the restoration of that same church in simple concise phrases. He referred to the statement made by Joseph Smith in 1834 to all who held the priesthood in Kirtland Ohio.  "..You know no more concerning the destinies of this church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap.  You don’t comprehend it.  It is only a little handful of priesthood you see here tonight, but this church will fill North and South America - it will fill the world.”  Then he referred to Daniel and the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, saying that stone was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We living in Africa see this happening right before our eyes, as new stakes are being created almost weekly in West Africa.

The dedicatory prayer was beautiful, profound, and moving.  One excerpt: He likened the MTC to the school of the prophets: a house of learning, of faith, of prayer, a house of glory.  We were grateful to be part of this historical event.  

Dr.Kissi, an early Ghanaian pioneer

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Oct. 22, 2017

We had a light schedule on Friday so were able to go to the MTC to help with missionary intake, as it is called.  Currently there are 200 missionaries there with the arrival of 160 new ones on Thursday.  The others are doing language study and stay for several weeks instead of just three.  During intake, the senior missionaries serving the Area offices (and others like ourselves) staff the various stations to get the missionaries started.  We were assigned to help with immunizations.  Although Sister Pierson and Sister Jones are registered nurses and Tom a physician, only those certified in Ghana can give shots.  Sue directed traffic at the entrance to the immunization room; Tom helped to  give information in French,  both written and verbal, about the diseases, immunizations, and possible complications of both.  Sister Hill  said we were an answer to their prayers for there were no French speakers who understood anything about the medical side of things.  We processed 101 elders and sisters. Some needed 1 shot but most needed 3 plus oral polio. The 60 Americans were vaccinated before they arrived.  We enjoyed chatting with the new missionaries and the staff.  We will see many of them in the Temple this week for their own endowments.  This will be an historic week for the MTC due to the presence of Elder Bednar for the dedication of the new facility on Tuesday.

Sue was very frustrated with her French this week getting bogged down in verb tenses and conjugations.  She decided to change the emphasis to conversation and now her assignments are: talking about what she has done in the past (last week) and what she will do in the future (next few days). This has put some enthusiasm back in her studies.

It is always humbling when you realize again how the Lord is in the details of your lives. Sue was exhausted trying to keep up with her temple assignments, her 2 French classes and teaching the YSA twice each week.  Amazingly enough, the YSA rep on Friday night at Institute announced that the Stake President was starting an outreach program on Friday evenings and wanted to council with the students in the class - did they want to stay in our own class or to join with the Stake. We encouraged them to always do what their Stake Pres. advised so we are waiting to hear if we are finished.  This is a terrific group of young people but  Sue will still teach them in Sunday School even if not on Friday night.

We celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving although a week after the fact.  We were grateful to the Glanfields, from Ontario, who hosted.  They actually had a table big enough and space enough to seat nine of us: Meg and Wayne Jones, formerly of Calgary now Kelowna, Ken and Caroline Pierson formerly Calgary and Lethbridge, now Meridian Idaho, Catherine Roy formerly Montreal now Calgary, and us.  It could only have been more fun if the Tolleys were still here.  We had a great time figuring which people we had in common and strangely enough found out that Elder Jones grandmother (Luella Nilsson) and my grandmother (Mary Lovina Hicken) were sisters. We laughed about that.  Tom has been golfing with this man every week for a year and we never knew we were related.

Anyway we had a great meal of roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, canned cranberries, candied sweet potatoes, a broccoli and cauliflower casserole, fruit salad and homemade rolls, with apple, pumpkin and lemon pie. 

The Piersons warming up for a competitive game of fat-dog
We were all truly grateful and are now looking forward to American Thanksgiving.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

October 15, 2017 A Cultural Evening

We had a cultural experience last night which enlarged our perspective of the people of Ghana. We purchased tickets to a high school musical production  [The Pirates of Penzance] held at  the National Theatre. Each ticket was 70 cedis which is about $16 and more than many Ghanaians can earn in a week. We had several questions about the cost and the production itself, but were interested in the Gilbert and Sullivan play as a diversion to our weekly responsibilities. About 12 missionary couples including the Temple President and the MTC President enjoyed the evening.

The National Theater
Three musicians statue

We arrived almost an hour early and chose to sit by a Ghanaian woman who told us her name was Tamara, that she had attended this high school and had been a chorus member when Penzance had last been put on in 1985. She shared that this school was considered the best in the country and was run by the government. I did not dare ask how you were allowed or chosen to attend.  She told us that the beautiful theatre had been built with a grant from the Chinese government in the early 90’s.  She also said that Nkrumah, the first President of independent Ghana, had attended that school as well as the past president and first lady of the country.  The previous first lady then arrived and sat about 5 rows in front of us.

Inside the theater - vibrant chair covers!  The 2nd balcony is out of view.
Tamara, who sang every word in the production
Cheerful alumni

We wondered if the theatre would be filled [2000-2500seats] but by 6:30 they were mostly taken and we were the only white people there. Then a school representative announced that we were waiting for the arrival of a special guest and then the play would begin. Within a few minutes, the current president of Ghana arrived with his wife and entourage of huge body guards.  We all stood as he entered and then sang the national anthem.

The operetta was done by a cast made up of alumni, with the choruses done by current students at the school.  The live orchestra was very good, as were the principals.  It was fairly standard Gilbert and Sullivan except that in some of the songs the words were changed to fit the current situation.  For example, in “I am the very model of a modern major general”, the words were changed to reflect some of the campaign slogans of the newly elected president.  There were other insertions that made the production relevant to Ghana and the audience loved it.  Unfortunately we couldn’t get all the cultural inside jokes but it was still very fun - a parody of a parody. 

The major general's daughters

After it was all finished, the MC came onstage to introduce the cast, and then invited the president to join them onstage for a photo-op.  Again wildly received by the audience!  After all that, the national anthem was sung enthusiastically, followed by the school song, done with equal gusto.

The whole evening was like joining a multi-class school reunion, campaign rally, musical production, and patriotic event all rolled into one.  It was a unique insight into this slice of the population, which we have not seen as a group before.  These were obviously people with means, committed to raising money for the school, proud of their country and its cultural heritage.  

Sunday, October 8, 2017

October 8, 2017

We were inspired by the talks and music of General Conference last weekend and are looking forward to studying them over the next six months.  We invited a local sister to watch the sessions with us.  It was the first time she had seen a live broadcast and the first time she could watch all the sessions (except the Priesthood Session which aired here at midnight) in one weekend.  Most members here do not have the internet at home even if they are fortunate enough to have a computer.  The Saturday afternoon and Priesthood sessions were broadcast at the stake center on Sunday with some technical difficulties.

We were fortunate to watch the funeral services for Elder Robert D. Hales, of the Quorum of the Twelve, on Friday evening.  His life was an example of devotion to building the Lord’s kingdom in spite of severe health challenges.  His wise and gentle counsel will be remembered.  

While working in the temple we occasionally have some amusing experiences, mostly due to the naiveté of the new patrons and the challenge of different languages.  For example, the president of the MTC, in preparing new missionaries for their temple experience, tells them that they will be ushered into a dressing room where they will change their clothes and put on the white clothing that they bring from the MTC.  As these missionaries arrive, they are usually taken into the waiting room before being brought in groups of four to the office for verification of their membership records, prior to being taken to the dressing rooms.

One morning this week, the first small group of male missionaries arrived and were asked to wait in the waiting room next to the recommend desk until the others in their group arrived.  This is the same room where our baptismal groups wait.  A few minutes later, the MTC leader heard a commotion from the brother at the recommend desk.  One of the missionaries had emerged from the waiting room, half dressed in his white clothes, and was asking in French where he could get his white slippers.  He was promptly sent back into the waiting room by the anxious, finger-pointing desk attendant who couldn’t speak any French.  The MTC leader was about to take the rest of the group, including sister missionaries, into the waiting room but as he opened the door he found four missionaries in various states of undress getting into their white clothing.  He quickly closed the door and recruited help from someone who spoke French to have the missionaries get back into their street clothes.  The new missionaries had just assumed that the waiting room was the dressing room, and that they should start changing.

Later this week we had a group of 12 unendowed elders with their two previously endowed but inexperienced escorts who went on a session.  Toward the end of the two hour experience, a worker realized that neither of the two escorts had been given a name slip of a deceased person to represent on the session.  They pointed to their escort badge, thinking that  it was all that was needed.  We realized that the brother at the door of the session room needed more instruction in checking to see that all who entered were properly prepared for the session.  Having large groups of inexperienced patrons is a challenge because we never know what they don’t know, or what they might do when not closely attended.

One morning early this week, Tom was exiting our apartment to go exercise.  In the hallway he met a boy who was about 4 years old.  The little boy looked up at him with a smile and pointed, saying “Prophet, prophet!”  We laughed a lot about that one!

Laughing is a very healthy outlet.  Fortunately we have been blessed with a sense of humor and can laugh often at our own foibles.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!