Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Farewell

We have just returned from the farewell devotional for Elder Legrand and Sr. Jane Curtis.  He has been the Africa West Area President for the past three years and served as a counselor for two years before that.  The nearby stake center was filled to overflowing and the meeting was attended by government officials, stake presidents, mission presidents, area seventies, the temple presidency, and many others, including three choirs.

We are at the epicenter of the fastest growing area of the Church.  When the Curtises arrived in 2011 there were 29 stakes.  Today there are 69 stakes, and ten of those were created in the last 3 months.  The Church is in 7 countries of the 17 in West Africa and there are 14 missions.  Growth in membership in the past 5 years has been 57%.  They anticipate that with current progress there will be more than 27,000 convert baptisms in the area this year.

Sr. Curtis spoke of all the things she loves about the people of West Africa, but especially their faith and the way that faith is expressed publicly on the names of businesses and on the taxis and tro-tros (minibuses).  She liked the names of two businesses she saw on a recent trip: Worship God Motors, and the No Weapons Food Joint.  Tro-tro wisdom from recent travel: God’s Time Is Best, Showers of Blessings, and God Will Provide.  She also commented on her love of the way the saints sing and invited everyone to stand and sing one verse of Beautiful Zion, which she led. The Ghanaian saints sing in tune, in parts, and from the heart!  If you have ever sung in a mass choir in a moment of pure joy and inspiration, you can imagine what this sounded like.  

Elder Curtis shared several experiences and insights.  He spoke about how in visiting the many wards and branches in the area, they could always tell when they were getting close to the chapel.  Members would be walking in their Sunday best: men in white shirts and ties, women in their colorful dresses with babies tied on their backs.  And members would be arriving in taxis and minibuses.  He had seen a family of six in Nigeria who arrived on a motorcycle (I would need a picture to figure that one out).  

He talked about the importance of the temple, how it blessed the members, and how they often made great sacrifices to attend.  In one of the Liberian branches he observed a line of saints down the length of the hall and around the corner as each waited their turn for a temple recommend interview.  He was later able to greet them when they arrived in Accra from their four-day bus trip.  After traveling each day they would sleep under the bus or on the side of the road at night.  To his question, “Wasn’t that hard?” they replied, “We just thought of the pioneers.”  He asked a couple of men how they could get that much time off work. One said he had quit his job to come.  Another said, ”I don’t know.  I’ll see what the boss says when I get back.”  (These people live in our building for the five days that they are doing ordinances at the temple, sleeping in bunk rooms and cooking in the large group kitchen.)

Elder Vinson, currently a counselor, will replace Elder Curtis as Area President.  There were many other inspiring moments in the meeting, much love and gratitude shared.  It was helpful to us to gain a larger perspective of the work here in the AWA, and to see the hand of the Lord in blessing His children here. 

The meeting closed with everyone singing this Ghanaian patriotic song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnI8lYSwpWE) followed by a verse of the Star Spangled Banner.  

Translation of the song follows:

This is our own land.  That is a valuable thing to us, acquired through the blood our ancestors shed for us.  

It is now our turn to continue what our ancestors started.  Know-it-all behavior, cheating, and selfishness has scarred our character and diminished our affection for our land.

Whether or not this nation prospers clearly depends on the character of the citizens of the nation.

Bragging of educational achievements, or useless greed for material things, and bad lifestyles are destroying our nation and disgracing it.

Obedience and respect, caring for the welfare of one another everyday, and selflessness in the traditional way, ensures each person's welfare.  That is what will bring peace and prosperity to our nation.

Whether or not this nation prospers clearly depends on the character of the citizens of the nation.





Sunday, June 19, 2016

Holy Smokes!

On Tuesday morning at 2:30 am there was a loud knocking on our door. We usually ignore these because patrons who stay here often are at the wrong room, but Tom finally got up to find the manager of our building asking for the keys to the temple van to take someone to the hospital. A few hours later we learned that a baby boy had been born to a mother and father from Sierra Leone who had just arrived Monday evening to attend the temple to be sealed. She was back at the Ancillary Building before noon on Tuesday but only after her fellow travelers had pooled their food money so she could be released from the hospital in Accra.  The Area Presidency, was able to help so the group could eat for the next four days while they received their ordinances. The baby (named Moroni Temple) was sealed with his other siblings two days later.  Because he was so tiny, their were no white clothes small enough, so he was wrapped in a warm white towel from the dryer in the laundry room. After some help with citizenship and airline paper work from the area executive secretary, the baby boarded the plane for his flight home to Sierra Leone.  He was 10 days early.

We had patrons from Togo, Liberia and Ethiopia this week as well. There are four branches of the church in Ethiopia. The District Pres. and one of the Branch Presidents were here with a few other men and 4 women.  Most of them spoke English, but a couple only spoke Amharic so had brought an English translator with them. She attended all of the ordinances and translated for the patrons. This in itself was quite amazing.  The District RS President also came.  She was blind. I have been a RS Pres. twice and know how difficult that calling is even when you have eyes. She did very well with the ordinances and could put on the ceremonial clothing by herself but she gave me great pause when she came to Initiatory to participate in those blessings.  She came every day from Tuesday through Friday and her commitment was an inspiration to all of us.  

Friday night we went with three other couples to a hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant. We were seated outside around an old table on a very busy corner because the lights in the main part of the building weren’t working. It had a lattice roof canopy, through which we could see the moon and the stars as they came out.  We could see everything that was happening on the street.  This, Jane, was an adventure.  When they brought us the fried spring rolls and dipping sauce, I got really excited.  The food, on a scale of 10, was about a 7 but we were so delighted with the change of flavors that we all decided it was worth coming again.  Tom and I savored the green curry.

Today we attended two Sacrament meetings with the temple president and his wife.  It was revealing to go to church off the temple complex.  One of the bishops had been a member for less than six years.  The other looked young, but it is almost impossible to tell age because their skin is so beautiful and very few put on weight as they age.  In one congregation we met a 12 year old and a 6 year old (siblings) who had just showed up at church on their own because they wanted to come.  No parents and no previous contact. The full time missionaries sat with them.  The building was 2 stories with slat glass windows in the chapel above, essential for air flow with the fans, but you could hear a constant bass drum rhythm and car horns tooting from the street accompanying the talk on spiritual stability. The cloths on the sacrament table were also blowing in the wind, but were eventually held down by hymn books. If you are not aware, the water for the sacrament is always bottled. The members are very enthusiastic singers and Tom says he has heard some of the greatest bass voices here.  In our building you only hear the sound of the jets taking off from the airport and the honks from the road traffic. It has been a Happy Fathers’ Day.

A 2 year old with her carrot at church

Alex and Antonio in the chapel



Wood carvers at a street market near Aburi


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Anniversaries

This week we had several anniversaries.  Wednesday was our 44th wedding anniversary.  We married at age 22 and so we’ve lived together for twice as long as we were single.  It has been at least 10x as fun and that multiplies exponentially as our children, their spouses, and grandchildren grow.  When we look back and realize how little we still know, we think we were just babies then.   We enjoyed the evening at a restaurant with 2 other couples retelling our courtship.  Anne, just for your information, Sue had a hamburger.
Sue's spectacular live anniversary flowers

Yesterday marked the end of 8 weeks in Ghana.  It seems to have gone quickly but looking back over our posts, we have adapted well and are grateful for the opportunity to serve here.  There are about 15 other couples assigned to the Africa West Area with various interesting responsibilities (auditing, medical, mental health, self reliance, welfare, literacy, family history, legal, public affairs, etc. etc.).  These are all fascinating people with a wealth of experience.  Most are from the US and Australia.  Some have served multiple missions.  It makes for a community of very committed members.  We have large group family home evening gatherings twice monthly which occasionally includes mission presidents, the MTC president, and Church visitors from elsewhere.  Most of these couples live in apartments outside the temple complex and are assigned to attend other units in the area.  Our ward meets in the stake center next to the temple and includes the two sister temple missionaries, the Area Legal Counsel couple, and the Medical Advisor couple.  The temple presidency also attend when not assigned elsewhere.

Another milestone yesterday was the dubious celebration of 4 weeks without hot water.  We figured out that the cold water tap provides at least lukewarm water, and so we use it for showering.  The parts for the hot water heater are (by rumor) stuck in customs - an uncertain limbo from which some things never escape.

Sue toured a textile factory this week and saw how cotton fabric was hand-stamped and sealed.  It was a complicated process.  The fabrics are sold all over the world.  She bought one piece to make a skirt.  The trip home was delayed by heavy rains that flooded roads and knocked out traffic lights.  It took about 1 1/2 hours to go 10 miles and they could not figure out why the traffic was so congested until they were told that later.

A van full of mangos


We had a very busy 2 days Friday and Saturday in the temple.  Almost every session was more than full (40 normal seats plus 10 added chairs).  The first sessions both days were full to that capacity 15 minutes before the sessions were scheduled to begin.  Those who couldn’t be accommodated were invited to sealing and initiatory sessions.  The baptistry was bulging with participants, with a full waiting room and a line outside waiting to get in the door.  Some patrons schedule their visits, but many also come without prior notice (Friday we had double the number of first timers scheduled, due to walk-ins).  What a wonderful challenge to have!

                                                                                 Other scenes from our week:

Sue negotiating at a vegetable/fruit stand

Typical traffic 

Hoping for buyers

Requesting 2 mangos not yet ripe - determined by feel.

Street wares: sunglasses, electronics, shoes, etc.

Babies are carried like this.  Between what they carry on their heads and on their backs, the women have wonderful posture.



Sunday, June 5, 2016

June 5, 2016

I can hardly keep the days and months straight, but figured out that we have been in Ghana for 7 weeks and are feeling quite comfortable. Monday is our preparation day, then Tuesday through Saturday, we work a 7-8 hour shift at the Temple starting at 7:30 am or 1:30pm . Routine is good.

This week we had patrons  from Sierra Leone.   That country is almost 1000 miles away and driving is not feasible [lack of roads, and politics]. The Temple Patron Assistance Fund makes it possible for these members to fly into our airport and then be bussed to the temple.  One day this week, I was asked to dress some children for their sealing to their parents. The little one year old boy just wailed when he saw me—I was obviously the wrong color and he would not let me touch him unless his older brother was holding him.  I was saved by a native Ghanaian within a few minutes. Tom was a witness on that sealing and took note of his older brothers' names: William Wilberforce Collier and Wilbur Wilberforce Collier. If you do not recognize this name, William Wilberforce was the member of parliament in England who worked for years trying to stop the slave trade. The people of Sierra Leone have not forgotten him even though it was more than 170 years ago.  I would highly recommend the movie “Amazing Grace” which deals with the life of this man and happens to star one of my favorite actors, Ioan Gruffudd.

On one of the temple shifts I assisted a woman with a very unique name.  When asked about the name, she said it was a name from her country.  Which country?  Liberia.  I was so impressed that she knew her part perfectly.  She may live in one of the camps in Ghana set up for Liberian refugees during their civil war.

We had two great cooking experiences. I found some frozen haddock fish which I though was safe to buy and made fish tacos with mango, avocado, cabbage, and flat bread.  We were almost euphoric. Thursday morning a woman from our shift came to the Ancillary building and taught Sister Carter and me how to make ground nut [peanut] soup. It is a delicious combination of chicken, broth, peanut butter, onions, tomatoes, fresh ginger, bonnet peppers,  and spices. We ate it with boiled yam (a bit like cassava) and each had two bowls. It was even better the next day. 

Ground nut soup, with boiled yams (above and with some in the soup)

A snack of ground nuts, baby popcorn, and millet
                   
  A new couple arrived in West Africa this week and will be living across the hall from us until their permanent apartment is ready.  They have only been married 4 years [2nd marriage for each] and he is a new member of the legal team here. It is fun having neighbors to talk to.

Under the category of “Be Careful What You Wish For”, Tom was invited last Sunday to substitute today for our very good Sunday School teacher.  Besides our wonderful bishopric, members of the class this week included all the temple presidency and wives and a member of the area presidency with his wife.  It was mildly intimidating but the comments made it a very interesting class.  

One of the highlights each week is a 5:30 PM Friday sealing session, where missionary couples have the opportunity to perform proxy sealings.  We routinely have about 10-12 couples who attend at the end of their work day in the area offices, and the officiators are either members of the temple presidency or the area presidency.  This past Friday Elder Curtis officiated and we as a group provided enough family file names that we couldn’t get all the work done in an hour.  Elder and Sister Curtis will be leaving in July after serving in Ghana for five years. They are an exemplary couple.

Thanks for the emails and notes.  It’s nice to hear what you are doing!

Beautiful little flowers near the gate...

but watch out for the spines!