Sunday, May 29, 2016

Road Trip

This week we were invited to join a small group going to “the river”.  This is a well-known excursion made by many of the couple missionaries in Accra.  Near the mouth of the Volta River, there is a populated island, only reachable by boat, where a unique electrical project was completed over 10 years ago by Empower Playgrounds, Inc.   The playground action generates electricity which is carried to a battery facility where individuals can recharge their LED lights so the kids can study after dark.

We were invited on the trip by the MTC president and our guide was Isaac, who has been associated with the project for many years now.  We received permission to miss our shift on Friday, then arranged to get the temple van.  Once I declared myself as the driver, two other couples and a sister joined us.

We left about 7:15 AM and after picking up those who live off-site were able to get to the MTC in Tema by 8:30,so we had a brief tour of the facility.  It holds 95 missionaries at a time and they stay for three weeks.  About half are French-speaking or assigned to a French-speaking mission but the balance varies from group to group.  It is a nice facility.

Current MTC

The new MTC is being built next to our stake center and the temple, which will make logistics for getting the missionaries to the temple much easier.  The new building will roughly triple current capacity. 

                                                                        New MTC under construction

This interesting map on the wall at the MTC shows how the USA fits nicely into the NW corner of Africa, with China, India, and most of Europe filling in the spaces.  Africa is BIG!

On the way to Ada, we passed a lot of melon fields and stands.

Motorized canoe like the one we used to get to the island.

Typical mud home in the village with thatched roof.

Clothes dryer

Children attend this Jr. HS for 1 Cedi per day ($0.26) and 40% of the kids on the island can't afford it.  Some students earn their own way and take up to 10 years to finish 8th grade.  

The merry-go-round that generates electricity

Fresh coconut

It tastes refreshing on a hot day!

A captivating smile of a student

Traveling on the Volta to its mouth on the Atlantic

Our canoe worried us a bit

The only thing about Africa that has made Sue feel at home.

Fisherman throwing his net into the Atlantic

Independent women travelers on the Volta

Back at the "dock".  Notice the sacks of mussel shells.

Woman carrying supplies and her baby

Tomato, melon, and mango stand on the way home

The drive home was hair-raising, to say the least, due to the Friday night traffic. It didn't help that it was dark as we approached Tema.  A two lane road turned into six lanes of vehicles, filling both shoulders and every space in between.   Driving became a real game of chicken, inching and merging.  The huge trucks were especially intimidating, but we made it home safely thanks to the prayers of everyone in the van and Tom's prior experience with bumper cars.  

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Moving Forward

The weather is changing.  Rains have come this week for the first time since we arrived.  It really pours.  We had thunder and lightning last night, but could walk to church this morning without getting our feet wet.  It’s also cooling off: low of 76 F tomorrow evening and the highs are only 87.  Even though we are north of the equator, July and August are the coolest months.  The hot dry winds come December through February.  But for now the flowers have really blossomed and the trees are doing their “thing” (see the photos).

We had a required exam with Dr. Kissi (the author of “Walking in the Sand, a History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ghana”) this week as part of our residency status application.  He is one of the pioneers of the Church in Ghana - a surgeon trained and converted in England who returned home and founded the Deseret Hospital.  During the “freeze” he was acting mission president and kept the Church together.   Elder Kissi has also served as an Area Seventy.  He was exceptionally personable and is the only physician who has ever thanked me for taking such good care of my body!  There is a very nice exercise room (air conditioned!) with free weights, a weight machine, treadmills, a bike, and a ping-pong table.  Outside it is about 1/4 mile to walk or jog around the complex if you don’t mind working out in a sauna.

Our sprouts were a success!  Thanks to those who provided us with this gift.  It’s fun to grow something, especially if it is this simple (just add water).  We’re getting better at hunting and gathering - learning the best places to buy different foods.

                                                                                      Our fresh tomatoes, melted cheese, & sprouts, with balsamic vinegar

                                                     This mango was indescribably delicious! And big enough for a meal!!  About $0.87.

Elder Soares, of the Seventy, was here this week and spoke in a couple of meetings.  He and Elder Bednar are assigned to watch over the work in Africa.  He told the story of obtaining the site for the temple in Recife, Brazil when he was Director of Temporal Affairs there.  The property chosen was complicated by having 30 different parcels.  The owner of the largest parcel agreed to sell after all the others had sold, and he agreed to a certain price.  However, after all the other pieces had been acquired, he wanted much more money.  The negotiating team met together before approaching him one last time, and spent 30 minutes on their knees in fervent prayer, asking how to approach him.  As they met, Elder Soares said, “We are men of God, we represent the Lord Jesus Christ, and you should keep your word.”   The man closed his eyes, lifted his head skyward for a few seconds, and then replied, “Your Lord is powerful!” and agreed to the original price.

Elder Soares sees many similarities between the rapid growth of the Church from 1990 to 2000 in Brazil when the church went from 50 stakes to 200, and what is happening here today.  From April through July, it is anticipated that 9 new stakes will be organized in the Africa West Area.  The first branch was organized in Senegal a week ago with 24 members and the first couple missionaries have been assigned.  

Our French-speaking temple patrons this week were from Togo.  Sue is feeling much more comfortable with French ordinances.   Almost everyone we meet here is a pioneer.

Full moon through the fan palms next to the temple doors.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

May 15, 2016

This week we learned about some of the disadvantages of a cash society. When you need a sizable amount of money, you cannot withdraw it all at once.  So Tuesday through Friday we had to get to the closest ATM (about 1 1/2 miles away) and withdraw cash every day. The largest bill in Ghana is the 50 Cedi, worth about $12.75. So at the moment we have a large envelope stuffed with 50C notes ready to pay to the finance office tomorrow.

We also had to contact our credit union and our credit card companies because of purchases we could not make online. It appears that if your order is coming from Ghana, credit cards are regularly refused. It makes access to our money in the US rather tricky.

Temple Thoughts

We have now been here for 4 weeks and have been reflecting on how our hearts are softening.  Working in the temple 5 days a week is a different experience from one shift a week.

We are taught that the temple is a house of learning and it has been instructive to us to ponder the teaching methods that the Lord uses there.  Among those would be: presentation, symbolism, participation, covenant making, and repetition.  

The more we serve in His house, the more we understand that repetition allows us to think and ponder the profound meaning of ordinances.  The doctrines taught there are also taught outside the temple, yet in the serenity of the temple and the context of those sacred ordinances, the doctrines become more clear and powerful.  

The plan made before the earth was created was that we would come here to learn for ourselves to deal with the physicality of a body and with the challenge of choosing right over wrong.  It was understood that with discovery and experience we would make mistakes and have need of a Savior to answer the law of justice and help us from grace to grace to follow Him. This would occur through a pattern of receiving truth, recognizing the need to change, making covenants, and being empowered by the Holy Spirit to make that change.   That enabling power brings greater love for God and our fellow men.  Despite our lowly status in comparison to God, He wants to help us grow, to become like Him, to receive His power, to put His name on us, and to reclaim us as His family.   All this is made possible through Christ.  

Every presentation, symbol, participation, and covenant in the temple fits into that plan, teaching and reinforcing its truths. Those who come for the first time can usually sense the holiness and power that is present, even if their understanding of it all is just beginning.  We learn gradually, step by step.  The more time we spend in the temple, the more that experience changes us if we are willing.

D & C 84:19-20 “And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.  Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.”  

                                                                                            Celestial Room

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy Mother's Day 2016

A sobering trip this week to Jamestown, the original British seaport from the mid 17th century. It is perhaps the poorest area of Accra.  Approximately 5,000 people, mostly of the Ga tribe, still live in the beach area where they survive by catching and selling fresh and smoked fish.  Their boats are wood, hand-carved from a single trunk, and hold 8-10 men.  The fishermen spend up to a week at a time on the ocean and use nets to bring in the catch.  They are skilled boatmen but live literally hand to mouth.  It is a life of abject poverty.  We were able to climb to the top of their lighthouse for a panoramic view.  Our little group also gave a sizable donation to our guide, the teacher of the school which accommodates 150 children - many orphaned.  

Saturday afternoon we had access to the temple minivan and went shopping by ourselves for the first time.  Accra is notorious for its aggressive drivers and crowded streets.  We found the grocery stores, made our purchases, and returned without getting lost, having an accident, or being stopped by the police.  ThIs marked our “breakout" from the compound and bolstered our sense of independence.

We experienced window-washing Ghana style when they came to our building and worked from the inside out. We are three stories from ground level.  Check out the photo.  No workers were actually hurt in the cleaning of this apartment.

This week we had a busload of patrons from Abidjan West Stake in Cote d’Ivoire. Sue had the opportunity to administer the ordinances in French that she had been preparing for three months.  She was shaking but became more confident after several repetitions.  She also tried to communicate with some of the women in the dressing room.  They would correct her but would smile at her efforts.  Several of the workers commented on Tom’s excellent French and wondered how he spoke so well.  “Ah, a mission to Paris.”  

Sue: I will conclude with my most touching experience of the week, as I wish you all a Happy Mother’s Day and send my encouragement and love to my wonderful daughter and daughters-in-law, who are learning to nurture as God would have them do.  I was asked to participate in a sealing where a young man was proxy for his grandfather and I was proxy for his grandmother.  They were sealed together and then a woman acting as proxy for his deceased mother was sealed to her parents.  I cannot imagine his feelings of joy for doing this for his immediate family, but I could feel the spirit of love in that room, and felt privileged to be involved.  Truly the Lord loves all his children and wants each to be blessed with the saving ordinances.

                                                                                 Window washers

                                                                     Jamestown beach overview

  Housing and boats

                                                                                 Fishing nets and pier

                                                                                 Cleaning crabs


                                                                                 A beautiful smile