Sunday, August 13, 2017

13 Aug 2017 Sunday Musings

In part because of Sue’s Sunday School lesson our thoughts have turned this week to the concept of trials in our lives.  What makes something a trial, what purpose do they serve in our growth, how should we deal with them, how can we help others who are experiencing them? - all questions to ponder.

We were reminded of the Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.  “Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.  “Maybe,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.

The point well-made is that we do not have enough wisdom or foreknowledge to know whether an event, whether painful or pleasant, will turn out to be a curse or a blessing.  A similar adage is that of the bride exclaiming to her mother on her wedding day, “Oh mother, I’m so happy!  I’m at the end of all my troubles!”  Whereupon her mother agrees: “Yes dear.  You just don’t know which end!”

When afflictions come we tend to ask why this is happening to us.  Only after we start to ask what we can learn from this, or how it might turn to be a blessing, do we begin to deal with the trial effectively.

There is a tendency to see God in our lives as a transactional relationship: when we do what he asks he gives us blessings; when we disobey we are cursed.  The scriptures tell us that repeatedly.  Then we make the mistaken leap to: when good things happen it is because we (or others) are doing good; when bad things happen it is because we (or others) have done something wrong.  Worse yet are the times when we try to bargain with Him: If you will only give me X, then I will do Y.

But He isn’t a cosmic Santa (although He does know who’s been naughty or nice).  His ultimate purpose is not to develop obedient servants, but to help his children grow into celestial adulthood.  And so he proposes a covenantal relationship.  If we will learn to love Him and strive to be like Him, we will surely be blessed and ultimately receive all that He has.  As we gradually understand how to bless His children we will receive greater power to do so.  But that does not eliminate the likelihood that part of our curriculum must include suffering - both personal and vicarious.  The price of the wisdom of old age is the pain gained from our own experiences and those of our loved ones.

God is good. Life is wonderful!  But not easy.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

August 6, 2017

As we anticipated in last week’s entry, we were very busy this week in the temple - but that’s becoming a non-newsworthy thing to relate.  Our patrons from Ivory Coast left a day early to allow room for 150 youth from there and Ghana who came for Elder Renlund’s Face to Face broadcast.  The youth stayed in our building for three nights and presumably had a youth conference experience during the daytime.  They were very noisy and talkative in the halls when coming or going, but at night they quickly settled down.  When dressed in their Sunday best they were  beautiful and clean in body and spirit.

They came to our Sacrament Meeting this morning and sat in the back of the overflow area.  The first sacrament prayer was given in French by an Ivorian youth.  Sue was sitting on the same row as Pres. Assard, whom we consider as the grandfather of the church in Ivory Coast, and noticed that he was silently weeping as it was read.  She thought that surely those were tears of joy and gratitude from remembering how far the church in Ivory Coast had come from the day in 1983 when there were only two active families there.  The sacrifices made by him and his family and the other pioneers there sowed the seeds that have brought the happiness of the gospel to tens of thousands.

We met Elder Burfeind in the temple this week!  He is an outstanding young missionary from Jacksonville now here in the MTC studying French in preparation for service in RĂ©union, part of the Madagascar mission.  Who would have ever thought that we would meet again in Ghana?

Yesterday we had the opportunity to visit the Goethe Institute market, which is held once a month.  It is an eclectic collection of food, souvenirs, arts, cloth, etc. that is all for sale.  The event attracts many senior missionaries and other expats and is a fun social occasion. The Grahams gave us the day off because we had finished our office work and the patrons were few because of the broadcast. We enjoyed buying some spicy sausage which we have not enjoyed since leaving the US.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

July 31, 2017

In preparing a lesson for this Sunday, we had the opportunity to review some stories from our family histories.  The theme of the lesson was sacrifice.  What had our ancestors sacrificed to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and continue faithful?  In turn what would we be willing to sacrifice?

We remembered our visit to enchanting North Vinal Haven, a green and rocky island in Penobscot Bay, Maine.  It was there that we found in a small history library the record of Henry and Mary Pierce McMullin.  They joined the new faith in 1841, four years after Wilfred Woodruff had first come to the Fox Islands preaching the message of the restoration.  Eventually, in 1855, the McMullins decided to leave behind the persecution that affected his business as a carpenter and shipbuilder, and go to Zion.  We thought it would have been devastating to leave that beautiful place to travel to a desert, when all they had ever known was island life.

The story of Stephen Winchester, another ggparent, is typical of early Mormon pioneers who sacrificed everything to join the Church and follow the prophet.  Stephen was baptized in Erie County, PA in early 1833 and soon moved to Kirtland, OH.  In 1834 he and his son Benjamin joined the 1000 mile Zion’s Camp march to bring relief to the saints in Missouri.  In 1835 he was ordained to the First Quorum of the Seventy and in 1837 he moved from Kirtland to the prairie south of Far West, MO.  It was to his farmhouse that Apostle David W. Patten was carried and died after being wounded in the Battle of Crooked River in 1838.  Stephen himself was for a time held prisoner by a mob.  With his family he was forced to flee in the harsh weather to Illinois, where he helped in building the city of Nauvoo and the temple.  Again, in 1846 he was forced by the mobs to leave behind his home and possessions there and eventually reached the Salt Lake Valley in 1849.  He died in Salt Lake in 1873.  As children we asked our mother why his photograph as an old man showed him grim and wary.  She replied that his face simply reflected the trials he had suffered during his life to be true to his faith.

We met a wonderful young Ghanaian man this week in the temple who had recently received a mission call.  We were very surprised and excited to hear him say that he was going to serve in the Canada Calgary Mission. Tom was raised in Cardston and I in Raymond. Both towns were established  by church members in the late 1800’s. Both are within the boundaries of his mission. He will experience real cold there for the first time but we hope he will feel warmth in the stability of the saints.  It is thrillng to us that as we are building the church here he will be doing the same there.

Tom and I have been running the temple office since Sister Webster left three weeks ago. We have learned all the procedures, the schedules, and know where most everything is and where it goes next. We feel needed and are grateful to assist our exceptional Presidency while a new assistant recorder, office manager and secretary are called. This week we look forward to another large group from Cote D’Ivoire with 39 French language own endowments on Tuesday and 15 sealings on Wednesday. We will also welcome 30 new missionaries who have recently entered the Ghana MTC. They will be the last group who will come from Tema.  The next missionaries we process will be living next door in the beautiful, new Mission Training Center.  It is miraculous to witness the expansion of the Lord’s work right before our eyes.

This Saturday Elder Renlund (of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) and his wife will be in Accra to broadcast Face to Face (a Q & A with youth) from Africa. I would be satisfied to just catch a glimpse of him.  He has become one of my favorite speakers in the church.   I am inspired by not only what he says but how he says it.

Tom estimates that we have 32 weeks left in Accra. I hope it is long enough to learn what the Lord needs us to learn here.   We send our love  and may God bless you in all you do that is good.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

July 23, 2017 The Hafens: on Consecration

I have been reading a book by the Hafens called “The Contrite Spirit”.  It has some thought provoking statements about consecration:   

- One refers to the  widow’s mite in Mark 12— this is not a story about what we give; rather it’s about what part we decide to keep for ourselves.  

- A woman, after serving a mission with her husband—“I would rather live in a dug-out with our mission filled, than live in that fine house with our mission unfulfilled”. 

- The Lord cannot give us everything He has until we have consecrated all that we have on the altar of sacrifice.  

- A life of consecration will naturally take us out of our comfort zone.  If we don’t get out of our comfort zone, we won’t learn; if we don’t learn, we won’t grow and if we don’t grow, we won’t find joy.  

- Our hearts will follow what we most want and value and that may require that we learn how to discipline our desires. 

- If we haven’t really given our whole hearts to the stretching, expanding process of our own spiritual growth, we won’t - can’t - grow. 

- It is in choosing to be contrite that we bring our whole selves to God and give Him something to work with. 

- Brigham Young said “Many of the Saints are still glued to this earth and lusting and longing for the things of this world".... The covenants of the temple can help us remove that worldly glue and shift our sense of attachment to a higher purpose—to let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever [Alma 37:36]

We are waiting for more office staff, a full time secretary, and an assistant recorder. Our recorder was in a minor motorcycle accident early this week.  We have been trying hard to keep up.  Tom has added a few hours each Monday to temple scheduling.  It is an exhilarating feeling to be needed but we are grateful that this next week appears be a little easier.

Three new couples have arrived to begin their African missions: the Wakilds, the Blackwells, and the Winegardens.  The Andersons leave this week to begin their journey home to Alaska.  He has been our Area Medical Advisor.  They have been wonderful examples of hard work, charity, and cheerfulness and we will miss their companionship greatly.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

July 16, 2017

We have just returned from the MTC, helping mostly French missionaries with their family history. The elder I was working with was from Liberia [English] and had records for both sets of grandparents.  Very unusual!  He also had his deceased father’s information so we could print cards for his father and both grandfathers. He was excited to do the ordinances for them. We will go to the old MTC in Tema once more before they move to the new one adjacent to the temple.  Liberia is one of the five poorest countries in the world.

Being next to the temple has many benefits for the MTC as well as for the temple.  It will give back about 3 hours of travel time per missionary per week.  Plans for changes in the temple schedule have been made although all of the details are not yet worked out.  Those plans are made for the current capacity of about 100 missionaries and will need to be updated frequently as we gradually increase to well over 300 missionaries, probably by sometime next year.  

Our power and water have been off for most of the day and we have no internet so if you do not get this before Monday, that is why. I was very grateful to have a can of tuna to make sandwiches for lunch—otherwise we would be limited to some fresh fruit which is not ripe yet.

We heard an interesting account of the dedication of Senegal for the preaching of the gospel.  It was not easy for the missionary couple (the Parkes) to find an appropriate site —it must be a location that will not be built upon in the future — but eventually they chose a lighthouse which is on a high hill overlooking the city and the sea. It is the furthest west point on the African  continent.  As the small group gathered in the pre-dawn light, they sang the hymn “The Morning Breaks, the Shadows Flee”.  Elder Bednar gave the prayer, which was not written out ahead of time and was immediately translated into French by an interpreter.  As he began, the lighthouse beacon was still flashing.  By the time he finished, it had stopped and the sun was peeking over the horizon.  

We also heard about the organization of the church in Mali and in Gambia and were told that a branch will be organized in a fourth country shortly.  Senegal is a Muslim majority (92%) country, as are the others.  The Lord is bringing people there to be leaders and to share the message of the restoration with friends and family.  It is an exciting time to be in West Africa!

We were very busy this week in the temple.  Sr. Webster and her husband have now left - she was the mainstay in the temple office.  Also, our former recorder is now released and we don’t have an assistant recorder called yet, so we will be short-staffed for a while until replacements are called and trained.  We are trying to fill in the gap and enjoying the challenge - but we go home very tired each day!

We send our best wishes to Sr. Currit who is now serving at the Polynesian Cultural Center and also to Elder and Sr. Roti serving in the Kiev Temple.  We have no doubt that you will love the people but hope you will adapt quickly to the new environments.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

July 9, 2017 There and Back Again

We have been back in Accra for a week and are reflecting on the wonderful memories we have of the past month.  Four weeks ago today we landed in Paris and connected with Ben and Christy.  We  visited the new temple in Versailles and the Pitchers who are serving as missionaries there.  We satisfied our mountain cravings by spending a day in Annecy [it rivals Waterton] and finally parked in a little village, L’Isle sur la Sorgue, near Avignon and the lavender fields.  With that as a base, we day-tripped to hilltop villages in the region, the Gorge du Verdon, and the Calanques.  Spectacular!  We loved the food, the sights, the fields, practicing our French, and traveling with Ben and Christy. 


Cruising Lake Annecy

Lavender fields

Moustier Sainte Marie (Sue's favorite)

Parc National des Calanques

We flew to Salt Lake and spent a busy couple of days  shopping before driving to St. George with Tal and his girlfriend Alexandra. En route we hiked the Queen’s Gardens and the Navajo Loop in Bryce Canyon (something Sue has wanted to do for years).  The smoke from the forest fire at Brian Head was impressive.

Tal and Alexandra in Bryce Canyon


All our children and grandchildren gathered to a large house in Santa Clara (a western suburb of St. George) for a week.  We focused on the 11 grandkids, who are 2 to 14 years of age.  The mornings were cool and perfect for outdoor activities like exploring and climbing  on the rocks in Snow Canyon and Pioneer Park.  By mid-day the temps were  over 100F and we spent a lot of time swimming.  The house had a pool, the neighborhood had a larger pool, and we also spent time at an indoor water park.  Pure fun but exhausting!  We were grateful that the Church allowed us to be absent from our duties at the temple for the week.
Neal giving a tutorial on desert plants

Front: Jonah, Cam, Elizabeth and Ivy
Back: Asher, Simon, Tommy, Scott, and Ethan

 Pioneer Park

Eden Reading
Eden and Elizabeth crossing the alligator

Kristi and Jonah after the waterslide

Ivy, Emily, and Elizabeth - making puppets

Ethan and Scott ready to conquer Angel's Landing

Yay for family!

We are busy, back on our schedule, and are anticipating French language stakes attending the temple every week now until Thanksgiving.  Several missionary couples leave to return home in July.  We said good-bye to the Websters at lunch today.  She has worked very diligently managing the temple office. We will miss them and the Andersons and the Peines.  All came to Africa three months before we did. We do look forward to meeting the couples who will replace them. They too will be exceptional people.

Sue taught the YSA today about learning by faith, using Elder Bednar’s CES talk from 2007 (  When we act despite uncertainty, instead of being acted upon, we learn for ourselves what is true and we remember what we have learned. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Behind the Scenes

Starting next Saturday evening the temple will again be closed for two weeks.  We will travel to France for a few days and then on to St. George UT for our family reunion.  Our posts may not be regular again until July.  As we look back over the five months since we were given the assignment to coordinate the ordinances for the living, we realize  we have learned many things.

Because of his stake callings for the past 20 years, Tom was well-acquainted with the process of preparing someone to be sent to the temple for their own ordinances.  We now are involved in the details on the receiving end and the necessity to provide positive individual experiences for the large groups of people who arrive in Accra for those ordinances.

It starts with good communication with stake and district leaders, helping them to understand the requirements relating to ordinances: providing the appropriate recommends, making sure that the patrons are prepared, etc.  For example, we sometimes have patrons who arrive and want to be sealed to a deceased spouse.  Generally the spouse needs to be deceased for a year and the other ordinances need to be completed prior to the sealing.  When patrons arrive without this preparation, they can be disappointed when the sealing is deferred, something we hope to avoid.  Because the church is growing so quickly in Africa, young leaders need teaching and reminding about these details.

We  have forms that we send out to groups asking for the details of the patrons: member names, IDs, and specific ordinances.  When we have that information, we make a planned schedule on Monday for the week, while allowing for the possibility of those who arrive without appointments.  Part of the planning is deciding how many new patrons we can accommodate on any given session.  It is not unusual to receive 70 own endowment patrons over the Tuesday and Wednesday every third week when we have missionaries from the MTC and an excursion group.

When a group arrives on Monday evening, a short meeting is held between a member of the temple presidency, the group leaders, and ourselves.  We talk about the schedule in the temple, getting clothing, the entry time for new patrons, an updated list of who actually came, and the need for help with children who are brought to the temple. We also ask for designated liaisons from the group who help the new patrons get to the temple on time and with other occasional concerns. Language can be a complicating factor if the patrons only understand a tribal dialect.  When groups bring excursion workers, the plans for their training and assignments are handled by Elder and Sr. Pierson. 

Finally, after all the planning, it takes a well-trained team of workers to help the new patrons move from the front desk through verification, clothing, ordinances, instruction, and into the endowment session in a timely manner.  One of our wonderful opportunities is to present a very brief overview of the process to the small groups and individuals as they arrive.  All need the same attention and care, and we try to help them feel our Heavenly Father’s love for them, and His peace that is in His house.  The temple never turns anyone away if they arrive with the appropriate recommend.  We see examples every day day of the hand of Lord in helping the leaders, workers, and patrons to accomplish this great work.