Saturday, March 24, 2018

March 24, 2018 - Goodbye

We want to share as our last blog post, some wonderful experiences from the past two weeks travelling in South Africa. So that you have some idea of how huge this continent is, we flew for 6 hours nonstop to Johannesburg, changed planes and flew 2 hours to Cape Town.  What a beautifully clean city, with beaches of white sand so fine it was like icing sugar, dramatic Table Mountain and spectacular views of ocean on both sides of the peninsula.  This did not feel like the Africa we were familiar with but more like Europe. We stayed three nights in an adorable guest house [circa 1900]  Welgelegen, two victorian houses joined by a courtyard.  We were provided breakfast each day with hot bread out of the oven, fruits, granola, yogurt, cheeses, tomatoes eggs, crepes fresh squeezed orange juice etc.  Cape Town is in a drought so we did not indulge in a soak in an 8’ free standing bath tub. Although the wind and some rain stopped us from boating to Robbin Island and taking the cable car to the top of the mountain, we were charmed with the city.

We spent 5 days and 4 nights on Safari in or near Kruger National Park. Unbelievable! Within 15 feet, sometimes 5 feet of untamed elephants, lions, rhinos, giraffes, African buffalo, leopards, hyenas, hippos, warthogs, wildebeest, zebras, baboons, impalas, monkeys and a multitude of beautiful birds,  we observed their behavior in their native habitat. Many were training babies. We felt like we were living a National Geographic special.  For a couple who was not sure we wanted to do this, it was amazing.

Zimbabwe concluded our trip with some history and dramatic scenery. We stayed in the 1904  Victoria Falls Hotel surrounded by  acres of manicured gardens, lush grass and aromatic flowers.  We looked out over the railroad bridge across the Zambezi River.  The original plan was for a railroad to link Cairo to Cape Town.  It was never completed but the bridge is still used  today for vehicles and trains.  The falls themselves are unfathomable,  5000 cubic meters /sec falling over the mile long break in the landscape.  If you are a waterfall lover, this is one not to miss.

Statue of David Livingston, physician, missionary, explorer, and discoverer of Victoria Falls

We fly home tomorrow night.  Goodbye good and gracious Ghana!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

March 11, 2018

We have finished our last week in the Temple.   It was busy to the end.  Tom was able to give away his white suits, his shoes, and some shirts and I my sandals.  Many said sweet good byes and hoped we would come back. Some brought gifts : a bow tie, a necklace, a leather carrier for a passport,  a t-shirt, some earrings. Such generosity from people who have little in the worlds goods.

Today we spoke in church after 2 other missionaries bore their testimonies, a young single, and a visiting mission president. The bishop asked all those who were in my class to stand and sing  “You can make the pathway bright “ for the interlude hymn.  We cut our talks to bits but could still feel the spirit.  After the meetings we got together with the YSA and they presented us with a booklet of pictures of the class and each had written something we had taught them. It was very touching and we hugged and cried and sang “God be with you ‘till we meet again”.  We spent the afternoon and evening with the Redlins, sharing and comparing our experiences.  It is sweet to be with old friends.

It feels just like every other week, but it is over.  Most of our clothes are packed and we will finish tomorrow before FHE. Our space is so small that there is not much to clean. Tuesday morning at 9:00 we will fly to Cape Town, South Africa to see the sights, head up to two different safari lodges in Kruger National Park and spend a couple of days at Victoria Falls before returning to Accra for 48 hours with our Temple President.  We will have a chance to meet our replacements, the Cheneys, at that time.  

We have learned so much.  Our hearts are full.  The work will go on but for us it is time to go home.

We will arrive in Jacksonville at 7 pm on Monday, Mar. 26 and have been asked to speak in sacrament meeting in the Jacksonville Beach Ward at 10 AM on Sunday April 8th.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

March 4, 2018 Learned Helplessness

As we have been reflecting on our experiences here, a thought came that helps me understand some of the things we have struggled with during our time in Ghana.  Many years ago, I was introduced to the idea of “learned helplessness”.

Learned helplessness is behavior typical of an animal and occurs where the subject endures repeatedly painful or otherwise aversive stimuli which it is unable to escape or avoid.  The animal learns that it is helpless, accepts that it has lost control, and gives up trying even in new situations where escape or avoidance might be effective.  I was introduced to it in the domain of continuous improvement, where those who might help solve problems fail to participate because they have been put down so many times that they have given up trying to make a difference.

There are many aversive stimuli in our current situation which we are unable to avoid or control.    For example, I went to the MTC this afternoon to help the missionaries enter family names in Family Search for ordinances.  While we were working, the power went off at least 5 times.  Each time required a reboot of the computers.  We don’t control power outages; we don’t control the air conditioning going off either at home or the temple; we don’t control when the hot water goes off for 6 weeks; we don’t control whether or not what we are looking for at the grocery store will be there this week, or next; the list goes on.  Most of these are annoyances and inconveniences but they do tend to add up.

Fortunately there are many things that we do control: our scripture study, our exercise, when we get up and go to bed, how well we serve, how kind we are to others, etc. etc.  It is by focusing on those things that we maintain enough control of our lives that we don’t get depressed or give up.

One of the satisfying activities of the last couple of months has been playing golf.  Some may find that for them the game is definitely a painful stimulus, without any real control.  I have been playing every preparation day for about 18 months as soon as it is light enough to see.  No warmup, no driving range, just arrive, do 10 minutes of putting, and set out.  Some days good, other days bad, but always enough good shots to keep going back.  For some reason, I have been able to relax a lot more in the past couple of months during the game and not try to force the shots.  In doing so, the scores have come down about an average of 6-8 shots per round, and last Monday I shot a personal best!  Perhaps things are going better because to a degree I have given up trying to be “in control” and focused on basics.  

Are we really in control of what is happening in our lives?  No definitely not. God is in control, and He doesn’t often tell us what is happening next.  We can set goals, set out to accomplish good things, work hard, etc. but in the end we are not in charge and the sooner we recognize that and leave the driving to Him, the sooner we will achieve greater happiness and experience less frustration.  Our own striving should continue, but with a greater degree of faith and confidence that in the end things will turn out ok even if they don’t turn out how we thought they would.

Fun after a long week, with Sr. Graham, Piersons, Pothiers, Sr. Roy, and the Spackmans, with Pres. Graham behind the camera. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Feb. 25, 2018

In two weeks we will  finish our 23 months in the Accra Ghana Temple. It is surprising how quickly the time has passed and how hard we have worked.  It will be a bittersweet experience to leave.  It makes the possibility of not meeting until the Spirit World very real. There are members here that we love and have learned a great deal from. We will miss them. We have seen a complete turnover of senior missionaries since most return home after 18 months but have been grateful to meet their replacements and be inspired by them. Being in Africa has made us better people and hopefully those experiences which have changed us, will stay in our hearts and minds and influence all our relationships.  

I was impressed with a story from the life of Ghandi. He was running for a train and as he was jumping for the car, lost one of his shoes.  As soon as he got his balance and his bag, he bent over, removed the other shoe and threw it out the window. A fellow traveler asked why he had done that.  He responded, “ What good will it do the fellow who finds it to only have one shoe?”  How completely we must bring the Savior into our lives—to practice living the gospel  that He lived and taught.  It is not enough to wear virtue, we must assimilate virtue.  We need to practice enough that thinking of others first becomes our automatic response.  Practically, ‘Let us not be content with where we are, but neither let us be discouraged.’

I have started cleaning out the cupboards and have thrown away all the expired spices. We are only buying fresh produce for groceries. I made pumpkin bars today to use our last can of pumpkin and our last cream cheese.  We have decided what clothes, shoes and books are staying here. We have sent in our apartment inventory and informed the caretaker of all the things that need to be fixed before our replacement comes.  I have two Sunday School classes left to teach.

I signed up for the Rosetta Stone French language program.  It is really fun and although I have only completed two units [an hour each day] I am finding that I actually know something.  The program is a great motivator.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Feb. 18, 2018 The Gospel Culture

Nearly 15 years ago, Pres. Dallin Oaks gave a talk in the October, 2003 General Conference titled “Repentance and Change” which shared some of his thoughts about the gospel culture versus worldly culture, and how we all need to change.  It is a classic, and one about which I have thought a lot as we have been exposed to different cultures. 

This week we heard an interesting story that reveals another of the challenges of the church in growing areas such as West Africa, where we often have first generation members called to serve as leaders.  A group came to the temple from Ivory Coast—an eight to twelve hour trip.  One of the men showed his recommend to come in but it was scanned as being “not valid”.  On further examination it turned out that his bishop had deactivated the recommend after the brother had left Cote d’Ivoire because of a personal conflict with this brother.  He failed to tell him about it before he arrived at the temple.  The bishop had hoped that the embarrassment and expense that this caused would teach the man a lesson.

A meeting was shortly held between temple leadership, the bishop, and his stake president, who was also at the temple.  The bishop was called to repentance and was helped to understand that this was an abuse of his position, that any personal conflicts should be resolved face to face in private, and that he owed the brother an apology.  The situation was soon resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, the brother entered the temple to participate in the ordinances, and the bishop returned home a wiser leader.

This morning in a class discussion another cultural situation was retold.  One of the beloved senior local leaders, when he was a young branch president in Ghana, was invited to Accra to an event with the mission president.  In those early days of the church in Ghana, the mission president, who happened to be an American, would have been the presiding authority in the country.  As was common here at that time, and still is today in some parts of the world, a married man expected to be heard and obeyed. This was the understanding of  ‘head of the home’. This meant in part that the wife was supposed to do all the work in the home.  At the event held at the mission headquarters, the young branch president happened to wander into the kitchen after the activity and found the mission president there doing the dishes.  He was so amazed that he called his wife to come and see what was happening.  Ever since then, he recounted, he has helped his wife and treated her with greater respect.  And he has taught other Ghanaian members of the church to do the same. He was asked if he still did dishes. “I did this morning”, was his answer.  Out of small and simple acts can come great things.

Pres.Oaks: “The gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to change…and repenting means giving up all of our practices—personal, family, ethnic, and national—that are contrary to the commandments of God. The purpose of the gospel is to transform common creatures into celestial citizens, and that requires change…. The Savior invites all to come unto Him and His servants seek to persuade all—including Americans—to become Latter-day Saints. We say to all, give up your traditions and cultural practices that are contrary to the commandments of God and the culture of His gospel, and join with His people in building the kingdom of God…. Jesus commanded us to love one another, and we show that love by the way we serve one another. We are also commanded to love God, and we show that love by continually repenting and by keeping His commandments. And repentance …in its broadest meaning …requires change, giving up all of our traditions that are contrary to the commandments of God. As we become full participants in the culture of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we become "fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God”.   

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Feb. 11, 2018

This will be short today.  As predicted last week, we have been very busy.  We had our second largest group of living endowments, ever, mainly due to the large number of French-speaking missionaries from the MTC.  The temple furniture has been newly recovered during the closure and looks marvelous.  Now if only it matched the carpets as well….

We sang the following hymn to close our ward conference service this morning.  The words and music were written by Joseph H. Dean, who is my great grandfather’s half brother, and it summarizes some of the feelings we have about Africa today.

“Look up, my soul; be not cast down.
Keep not thine eyes upon the ground.
Break off the shackles of the earth.
Receive, my soul, the spirit’s birth.

And now as I go forth again
To mingle with my fellow men,
Stay thou nearby, my steps to guide,
That I may in thy love abide.”

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Feb. 4, 2018 "And I saw another angel fly..." Rev. 14:6

Monday this week we went to Tema, where the old MTC building is, to the market.  Elder Hill, who is a senior missionary serving the MTC, knew a tailor who makes pants.  The market is a sprawling chaotic collection of lanes, shanties, and huts where everything is sold.  This is where the population shops.  We followed Elder Hill through the maze until we arrived at a fabric stall, purchased our washable wool blend, and then took it 20 yards away to the tailor.  If all went well, we will have new pants ready tomorrow.

The excitement of the week was seeing the Angel Moroni statue on top of the temple be replaced.  It seems that this needs to happen every decade or so due to weathering of the gold leaf.  Six years ago an attempt was made to make the exchange but at that time the country did not have a portable crane capable of reaching that high.  Instead, a pulley system was used, but it jammed at some point in trying to raise the old statue and only after much prayer and effort were they able to free it again and lower it back into place.

Unloading the counterbalance weights for the crane 

So Moroni2 (the understudy) has been waiting in the wings, actually on the roof of the temple all wrapped up in a large box, for 6 years. Friday was his turn to shine.  He was prepared for his starring role with a new coating of gold leaf which was then burnished and sealed.  We had a nice view of the event from our staircase window and took some photos.  The crane received an award for best-supporting actor.

Sue decided to get a seat with Srs. Pierson and Hadley on the side of the Area Building to watch the event. It was a hot day but with a slight breeze, we had a great view and were very comfortable.

This week-end our visitors from SLC were the YM President and a General Sunday School councillor who did training on Saturday. They brought their wives with them and all looked very young.

Tom graciously taught my YSA Sunday School lesson today as I had a bout with nausea and vomiting  during the night.  I had a very leisurely morning sleeping and after eating some chicken soup, feel almost normal.  

In reading a talk by Elder Oaks from the 1986, Brothers Keeper, I found a quote from Joseph Smith that caught my attention. “We have no right to scare mankind to repentance. We should preach the gospel as glad tidings of great joy which shall be unto all people. ‘History of the Church1:280.

Tuesday the temple reopens to patrons from Ivory Coast and Wednesday through Friday we will have a new group from the MTC.  It will be good to be very busy again.