Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sept. 25, 2016

It has been a great week.  Tom started out preparation day with an early morning round of golf at the Achimota Golf Club with Elder Wayne Jones.  The course is beautiful.  Carts aren’t allowed and caddies are required.  It was actually kind of fun to have a caddy to suggest what club to use, and where to aim to get back on the right fairway….The morning was cooler than expected.  Needless to say we are going again tomorrow and might even keep score this time.

Elder Jones

John and Eric

Friday evening at the weekly sealing session for the missionary couples we had Bro. Amonoo officiating.  He is well over 80 years of age, one of he original seven sealers called for this temple, and a patriarch who has been reactivated to give blessings for the missionaries at the MTC.  The session started with him formally welcoming us to the sealing room of the Accra Ghana Temple.  He was friendly, humble, very dignified, and powerful as he repeated the ceremonies in his strong Ghanaian accent.  It was privilege for us to be there and feel the conviction that he had for the words of the ordinances.

Humility before deity is one of the exemplary character traits of the members we have met here.  In a session at which Tom was asked to officiate, a sister who was serving as witness for the first time knelt on the floor (rather than the cushion) when invited to come to the altar.  It was a touching experience.

Today we had an exceptional Sunday.  We met with three combined wards whose boundaries were being changed to produce three wards and a new branch.  We met in the La chapel.  Sue and I were singing in the combined choir and that itself was inspiring.  We could hear roosters crowing as we sang “Come, Come’ Ye Saints” for the opening hymn.  The words are just as relevant to the saints in West Africa as they were when William Clayton penned them while crossing the plains.

The bishop of the Tradefair Ward was released and spoke briefly.  The Lord does not call leaders based on their age or experience in the Church.  Rather, he qualifies those whom He calls.  He joined the Church 9 years ago as a single man.  Someone quietly suggested that he should marry, which he did several months later.  Someone else suggested that he and his wife should prepare to go to the temple and be sealed there, which they did.  Three years after baptism he was called to be the bishop and has served for six years.  The new bishop, who is 28, called on his congregation to humbly kneel before God and plead for their needs. 

As the stake president reorganized the new bishoprics and the branch presidency, he testified that we were seeing the fulfilment of Joseph Smith’s prophecy that the Church would fill the whole earth, that this was happening in West Africa, and that we should fast and pray for our new leaders that the Lord would endow them with power.  He also told the story of a man he had interviewed who had not paid his tithing in the past.  The man reported to him that he and his wife had a conversation just the night before, and that they had committed to pay tithing in October.  Pres. Quaisie was inspired to ask him how much income he had each month.  Then he asked, “If you pay your tithing, will you have enough to feed your wife and family?”   The man answered, “Yes, but we may need to fast and pray often.”  We greatly admire the faith of the saints here.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

September 18, 2016

On Tuesday we had the opportunity of meeting Elder Gary Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve, who was traveling with Elder Soares, our previous Area President in Florida, and Elder Davis of the Presiding Bishopric.  They had come to West Africa for the annual area review and Priesthood Leadership Conferences in Sierra Leone and Liberia.  They were very touched as they met with the saints in Sierra Leone, realising that many of them had been affected by the recent civil war and outbreak of Ebola, and had remained faithful under extreme circumstances.  They felt impressed at the end of a meeting there to divide the group among them and give each person a priesthood blessing.

Elders Stanfill, Nash, Davis, Soares, Stevenson, Vinson, and Ampho (our DTA)

Earlier, the Area Presidency and visiting brethren drove to Cape Coast to see the Church history sites and the historic slave castles.  The Church in Ghana was started in Cape Coast.  Monday was a national day off here, celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which commemorates the story of Abraham’s offering of Ishmael (as they believe).  As our leaders passed one of our chapels, they were thrilled to see a large group of Muslims gathered and worshipping just outside (with their cars in the parking lot).  Elder Stevenson commented that it was a great example of Muslims and Christians respecting each other, which is the norm in Ghana.

Sue agreed with a comment by Elder Vinson, our Area President: ”Your eyes change when you receive different callings.  You see differently and you feel differently.”  That is certainly the case with us in Africa.  Although we  struggle sometimes with patience, as we  identify the traditions and cultural differences of the members, we start to understand their sacrifices and admire their faith.  There is much we can learn from these people.
Sue has now mastered the oven in our apartment and has baked some really good things!  Cabbage rolls, chicken artichoke, cookies, and today tried her first pie crust. She left all her personal recipes home so is using the Internet to find what she needs.

We were grateful that a minor car accident in the family didn't injure anyone, that a replacement car was found so quickly, and that the financial impact can be handled.  We acknowledge the Lord's many blessings to our family members at home while we are here.

The east side of the Africa West Area administrative building, with the map of Africa and the flag of Ghana waving in the breeze

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sept. 11, 2016

This week marked my 67th birthday. I had heard here that on your birthday, you took treats to those you love to show that you are grateful to still be alive.  I spent the morning making zucchini chocolate chip cookies and mini banana coconut crumble muffins. I took three dozen muffins and four dozen cookies to the afternoon temple shift for the French and English workers. I left a note on them in the lunch room stating that they could help themselves in honour of the day.  I certainly received many smiles and best wishes through out the afternoon and evening. There was not a crumb left on the serving tray when I picked it up. It was an exhausting kind of birthday but a very happy one.  Tom did bring me a box of chocolate caramels from Utah and Friday night we went to a restaurant and actually ate hamburgers with onions, tomato, lettuce, pickle, mustard and bbq sauce.
I felt like I made some breakthroughs in French this week.  First, I used the phrase “Puis-je vous aider?” several times and the response was always “Oui”.  One day when I walked into the women’s changing room, two French workers came up and gave me spontaneous hugs.  Another, I came out to the name booth where 19 French women had been waiting patiently.  They were expecting me to say bonjour, but instead, I gave them a big grin and said  “Tres bien, tres bien!” They responded with huge grins.  Good feelings!  They are starting to understand that I care about them.  I am feeling very comfortable with the French ordinances.  Wendy Johnson, I wish I had learned French when you did instead of waiting forty five years . It is hard for an old dog………

The above is a link to a meeting with Elder Bednar in Rwanda in August.. His responses to the questions are quite unique. I am fascinated with the answer to the question  What church will get you to Heaven? It gives great credence to a change of heart, motive, and becoming.

In other non-news, here was one of our down time activities for the past two weeks.  Yes, we put together a difficult jigsaw puzzle that we found in the building “library”.  It was very beautiful with all the all colors and mountain scenery (Mt. Rainer), but also very difficult.  Only one piece (out of 1,000) is missing.

And here is an attempt to capture the image of the temple spire at night from the balcony of a new apartment building nearby where some of the senior missionaries now live.  It is truly a beacon!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

4 September, 2016 Adventures and Insights

As we mentioned last week, I was asked to accompany a missionary with a broken leg from Accra to Salt Lake.  Due to the injuries of others in the accident, the Area Medical Advisor and the Area Presidency were very busy communicating, managing care, and making arrangements to take care of the injured.  It made good sense that I would accompany the elder home who was in good shape other than his leg.  

We boarded a BA flight Saturday evening and traveled 1st class to London and then after a layover we caught a direct flight on Delta, business class, to Salt Lake.  The patient couldn’t have been more upbeat or positive.  He had a posterior splint on his leg from ankle to mid-thigh with lots of wrap.  The leg wasn’t quite as stable as I would have liked but we took great care in transferring and it went quite well.  He wasn’t in a lot of pain, thank goodness, although we had a supply of pain killers with us.  Airports don’t generally have the kind of wheelchair that he needed - one with a straight leg adjustment with a pad that could be placed under his lower leg.  They were able to find one that worked in London after much searching and it was very helpful because we had so far to go to change terminals.  Tip: if you need anything other than a chair on wheels, better take your own when you travel, if possible.

The airline attendants and transport staff were outstanding.  We couldn’t have had better attention and kindness.  Flying first or business class makes traveling overnight a tolerable experience, maybe even pleasant.  The food was fabulous and we both slept some.  The young missionary continued to engage everyone on the trip about the church and his mission to Sierra Leone in positive ways and it was inspiring to see.  His extended family met us in SLC and were happy to see his big smile.  We arrived Sunday evening, he had surgery on Tuesday, and I have heard he is doing well. The other missionary who suffered a depressed skull fracture had surgery here and was starting to recover. He was flown home separately this week.

The church booked a room at the Marriott for me.  I had expected to turn around the next morning but was pleasantly surprised to have an extra day in SLC.  Sue had sent me with a shopping list (canned tuna, crunchy PB, nuts, some chocolate, etc.) and after taking care of that I spent the day with my brother and his wife in Saratoga Springs.  They just returned home from their mission six weeks ago so we compared notes, ate out, and generally had a great time together.  The trip home (economy class, of course) was uneventful and as I had tried to stay on an early schedule the jet lag wasn’t bad.  

I noticed new things in Utah: it appeared generally manicured and pristine (!).  I missed the motorbikes zooming past on either side as I drove and also the vendors selling the wares from on top of their heads as they walked between the cars at intersections.  What do those people do for a living in the states?  And when it came time to return I felt like I was “going home”.  Of course, home is where Sue is but it was more than that.  I suppose we have adjusted to living in Ghana, and despite the few challenges that exist, we like it here.

We had a great conversation about expectations at a birthday celebration this weekend for one of the other seniors here.  He and his wife are both in a recent second marriage (2 years) - previous spouses passed away from cancer.  She commented that after they married she had tried to put her new husband into her old husband’s “box”, but that he kept throwing out an arm or a leg - he just wouldn’t stay in that box!  It took a while but they adjusted, as all couples must do.  I remember a couple who many years ago adopted a child.  Because they had so little information about the biological parents, they felt like their new infant was a black box and that they had no idea what the child would be like - no expectations.  Their parenting approach was to expose the child to many different things and find out what he liked, could do, natural abilities etc.  Perhaps we would be better off in most new situations to have minimal expectations, take what comes, and make the best of it.  

Just a couple of sentences from me, Sue.  A personal first— working with 17 first time patrons on one shift. Two patrons were especially memorable: their spirits were so strong. We each had tears in our eyes and hugged at the conclusion of the ordinance.  The chance of us seeing each other again in this life is pretty slim but we shared an unforgettable experience. Tom and I are trying to be Christlike in all our interactions. Sometimes it is a real challenge, but the Lord always gives us an opportunity to try again. We are grateful for His mercy, His grace, His forgiveness, and His patience.