Saturday, April 30, 2016

Realities



After we go grocery shopping, we come home and sterilize everything.  You mix 2 liters of water with 2 caps of bleach, and immerse for 2 minutes.  We bleach even the things we are going to peel because the knife can spread germs.  We have included our grocery purchases from today.  In case you can’t recognize them all, in the drying tray is a pumpkin (background), a yam (the big black bomb) and some potatoes.  So far we have roasted our vegetables in our oven that has heat settings from 1 to 6.  You have to guess the actual heat produced, but our beets and pumpkin and purple onions turned out really well.  You can’t buy everything you want at one stop, but need to visit several stores, stalls, or street vendors to find a variety.  For example, we usually buy bananas from a lady who stands on the median of a very busy intersection and displays them on her head.  We can get 2 big bunches for about 5 Cedis, or about $1.25.  We eat very little meat.

This week we tried the "cafeteria" in the Africa West Area office building next door.  We had rice, beans, chopped cabbage, and a piece of fried chicken.  There was enough on the plate that we shared.  It cost $2 total and we thought it was very good.  Last night was our first outing and we joined 10 other couples at Mama Mia’s Pizza and Tom and I split a pepperoni and Italian sausage calzone.  Our taste buds were excited!

We have met the face of malaria.  She was a middle-aged woman doing laundry.  She had just been diagnosed and was upset about the inconvenience of injections and pills.  Her boss told her to take a day off but she was back at work the next morning.  There must be many cases of malaria here that aren’t obvious to us.

We work about 40 hours per week in the temple.  We have each had experiences in the last few days that remind us to not judge people by their appearance.  Sue sat down by a worker in the women’s dressing room and was surprised to find out that she was a dual citizen of Germany and Ghana, speaks three languages fluently, and is educated as an electrical engineer.  She looked very similar to the woman sitting next to her, who could not read.  It has been surprising to Sue to meet several who aren’t literate.  It reminded her of a conversation with her sister Jane (former temple matron) about why the Lord uses symbols.

Tom officiated a session this morning (which was full) where many were obviously not experienced in the temple.  The last brother to go to the Celestial Room appeared old.  His shirt, though clean, was more yellow than white.  He appeared to have come from difficult economic circumstances.  But he carried himself with great dignity and said his part perfectly without any assistance.  It was very moving to witness his great faith.

Journal excerpt from Sue: Today I was the follower on a session with 20 young people who were in the temple for the first time - all missionaries - 5 sisters and 15 elders.  Most of them are to serve in West Africa but one young woman was going to London, England.  She was nervous about the cold.  I have never been in a session like this, but it happens here regularly.  All together that day there were 35 first-timers. Wow!  

The temple is often full with patrons and workers, yet there is a wonderful feeling of peace and reverence.  The people are remarkably sensitive to the spirit.  Their prayers are touching to hear and they sing with enthusiasm.  We are learning a great deal from them.

                                                                 Our stake choir

Leaving stake conference 

                  View of the temple,with Ancillary Building (housing) and AWA offices to the right

Friday, April 22, 2016

First Impressions

Our flight to Accra was pretty rough—-10 hours with a screaming baby behind us. We came through customs very easily and were met by Pres.and Sister Graham and Sis. Carter, a single widow who is also a temple missionary, lovely people and lots of experience. 

We are used to our little apartment with the internet not working; we love our 5 gal. water dispenser although tap water is triple-filtered.  We found a bakery with great whole wheat bread (sometimes they have samosas) and an outdoor market with superb tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, and mangoes.  The fruit is like nothing Mom has ever tasted, and the vegetables are just like those from JO's garden. She found skunk in the meat dept of the grocery store. It was a wake up call  about buying ground “meat”.

Pres. Graham, who we like a great deal, set us apart Tuesday morning and gave us very sensitive blessings. We have worked four days in the temple - lots of own endowments and live sealings, and sweet experiences.  We have a new appreciation for the burdens that these people carry.  Several American couples on other mission  assignments work one temple shift a week.  Everyone has been very friendly and helpful.

This week our patrons are  from Benin (French-speaking), where they are creating the first stake this week-end.   The members are very excited.  I spoke with a young branch president who is a junior professor in math and admin (kind of MBA-ish).  He remarked how much the Church has changed him for the better, saying before he became a member he was very "dur (hard)" and didn't care much about his students.  He seemed a very warm and caring man during our conversation.

The children come with their parents, of course.  There is a small playground with some astroturf  near our building, where they can play.   We saw a 10 or 12 year old shoeless boy sound asleep on the top step of the temple, another in the waiting room sprawled across the carpet; and the bus driver asleep on the pavement next to his bus under a mosquito net. 

Sue completed her first ordinance in French without assistance and was elated.

We tried washing a load of clothes and found the temple laundress scrubbing and bleaching Tom’s shirt.  She said, “Please leave it here.  I would be happy to finish for you.”  She was using our laundry room because the temple laundry next to the baptismal font is closed this week. That space has been turned into a recording studio to capture the African dialect Twi for the newer films. 

These first weeks are said to be the honeymoon of a seniors mission.  Maybe we can make it last 23 months.

                                                                            Bridesmaids
Ancillary Building (housing) with temple to the right out of view

                                                                                Home way from home

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Tender Mercies


 We are on the eve of our flight to Accra.  It has been a very full week since we flew from San Antonio to Salt Lake: a three day reunion with Sue’s siblings and spouses in Park City; three inspiring days of training in the Salt Lake Temple; many tender mercies and joyful connections with cousins, old friends, and mentors.  

The 14 couples in our group are going to temples around the world.  Some are on their 5th mission (and over 80 years old)!  Many are learning new languages.  Being a missionary changes the way you feel about yourself and the way others see you, as soon as you put on that name tag.  Strangers want to stop and ask where you are going or what assignment you have, and we were treated more royally than usual in the temple.

We knew that Elder and Sr. Hicken, the Church Service Missionaries in charge of arrangements for our time in SLC, were cousins of Sue, although she had never met them.  What we didn’t know is that as a young missionary in Germany, Sr. Hicken taught Philippe Assard.  His conversion story is emblematic of the growth of the Church in West Africa.

Sr. Hicken and her companion found the name of the Assards in their area book one day, but the note said, “Don’t visit.  Husband is black.”  That was in the days prior to 1978 when the priesthood was not conferred on blacks.  Despite the note, Sr. Hicken felt a strong prompting to visit them.  The Assards were receptive to the gospel message, and when Bro. Assad was told that he could not yet hold the priesthood he said, “But if the gospel is true, then I need to return to my people and share the great message with them.”   And that is what he did.

He and his wife returned to Ivory Coast to help establish the Church.  In 1993 the first mission was created in the country, and in 1997 he was called as the first stake president there.  Later he served as the first patriarch in the country, and last November he was called to serve in the temple presidency in Accra.  We look forward to meeting him!

Today there are 9 stakes in Ivory Coast and a temple has been announced there, although ground has not yet been broken.   The saints travel faithfully to the temple in Accra and usually spend a week at a time performing ordinances.  Such is the faith of the members in West Africa and the remarkable growth of the Church there. 

                                     
                                                                                                              Flowers on Temple Square

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Why A Mission?

Our motivation for serving a seniors mission began about 30 years ago when at General Conference we ran into a father of childhood friends, Elder Robert Sackley, of the Seventy (Wikipedia, Ensign eulogy).  After greeting us warmly, he said, “May I give you some advice?  Plan your life, so that when your kids are gone from home you can retire early and go on missions.”  He affirmed that life after 60 (the best years) would be most rewarding by serving together as missionaries. We believed him, plus our parents set the example by accepting calls to the Southern States, Kansas, the Philippines, and Ireland.   

In earlier years we had determined three guidelines for our family: we wanted our children to develop the love of God, the love of learning, and the love of beauty.  These ideals would influence each of our decisions.  To them we added the goal of eventual missionary service together.  And so, as Tom established his career, as we raised our daughter and four sons, as we lived more modestly than necessary (prioritizing experiences and relationships over stuff), as we saved money, and as we served in each assignment, we implemented our plan to put God’s will first. 

Our mission call to the Accra, Ghana Temple arrived on January 4, 2016. To leave with our lives in order took several weeks of sorting, scanning, cleaning, and throwing out to prepare for a suitcase existence. Thanks to a loving Father for many tender mercies and helpful friends in our preparations. We were set apart by our stake president on March 31 and given beautiful blessings. So the adventure begins!