Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Birthday Season

We have been thinking about our children — four of the five celebrate birthdays between Oct.28 and Dec. 22 and at home we referred to this as the birthday season. [We threw in Thanksgiving on the side].  Originally, Tom and I were told we would never have children. However after our daughter and first son were born, the obstetrician changed his prognosis. We were grateful that the Lord trusted us with two, and we thought our family complete. Five years later we were blessed with another son and 17 months later another.  Such delight—Erin and Ben developed their “teaching” skills, and Neal, though still a baby himself became the protector of his little brudder. To our great joy, after 5 more years and with much difficulty, we added another son, Tal. We all knew that he was  destined to be part of us and Hugh readily accepted his new role as big brother.  As we contemplate that our oldest will be 42 and our youngest 29, I am reminded of  the truthfulness of the song from the musical Fiddler On The Roof:

Where is the little girl I carried ?
Where is the little boy at play?
I don’t remember growing older
When did they?
When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he grow to be so tall ?
Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?
Sunrise, sunset, quickly go the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears.

We have had many seasons of happiness and some of struggle and disappointment but  have realized the necessity to  “Be still and know that I am God”.  From our five we have learned about agency, diligence, patience, love, humor, trust, and to hang on for the ride of our lives. Oh, the places we’ll go and the places we’ve been.  We pay tribute to them and to their extraordinary spouses, and are eternally grateful that our children continue to care for each other and share a deep mutual affection.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

October 23, 2016

This week we passed the six month milestone of our mission.  Tempus fugit!    It does’t seem like a longtime but we don’t easily relate to our former life.  We feel very comfortable here.  Lately we’ve noticed that there are anti-littering signs, less trash, and even some filling of potholes and paving of roads in the neighborhood. 

We received our absentee ballots for the US presidential election in the mail.  It has been interesting to observe this cycle from afar.  The internet is both a blessing and a curse - we have access to lots of information but much less wisdom.  And we remember the famous quote of Abraham Lincoln that you can’t believe everything that you read there.  We do have serious concerns about how the country will possibly be governed whoever wins.  Dishonesty, deceit, manipulation, and disregard for the rule of law seem to have infiltrated previously respected government institutions.  Failure of discourse has led to extreme polarization on the important issues that desperately need legislative attention.  We are becoming a culture driven by tweets and headlines instead of serious discussion.  Reading the Book of Mormon suggests that things will only get worse unless as a nation we can determine what we really want and are willing to repent to get there.  

Ghana is also holding a presidential election this year, in December.  We frequently hear prayers that this country may remain peaceful.  In stake conference this morning, our president quoted 2 Chronicles 7:14 (Jehovah to Solomon after the dedication of the temple): “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”  Ghana is not the only country that needs healing.

We are spending more time on companion language study, mostly Sue reading the Book of Mormon aloud in French and then trying to translate, verse by verse.  We have made it through two chapters of I Néphi so far.  The passé simple makes it difficult but thanks to the repetitive phrases she already has conquered “Car voici”, and “Il arriva que…”.

Sue purchased a new tablecloth for us - it’s actually a woman’s shawl - our first piece of kente cloth.  It probably came from Cote D’Ivoire.  These fabrics are hand-woven tribal patterns that are famous in West Africa for their designs and symbolism.   More here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kente_cloth .  Several missionary couples collect them to take home.  Pres. Brubaker is hoping to use them to decorate inside the new MTC.
As you can see, we eat a lot of fresh fruit.  Papaya is now in season and is great with a squeeze of fresh lime.  The pineapples here are different from Hawaiian or Central American varieties.  They are smaller, much less acidic, whiter flesh, and sweeter.

Many collect these brightly colored hand-woven baskets.



Sunday, October 16, 2016

Traditions - Oct 16, 2016

We’ve had some great experiences this week that seem to come together loosely under this title.  The missionary couple mentioned last week who are serving in Tamale wrote on their blog about bride price and how it is affecting their young singles' plans for marriage.  Bride price, in Ghana, is the money or goods that the groom pays to the bride's family to receive their permission to marry.  There are some positive things about this tradition, mostly that the negotiations bring together the two families.  There are also a lot of negatives, one being that a young couple often has to wait years to marry while saving up for the bride price.  The Church is teaching against the tradition and encouraging members to not require the young people to wait for this to marry, but change takes time.

Here are some thoughts from Elder Renfroe:  

“Consider a time and place when a man's productive ability peaks early in his twenties and is based on his physical strength to kill animals or to till the earth. He will carry the burden of supporting the elderly and fathers of girls will exact a high price for the hand of their daughters to allow them to expect a comfortable retirement. Then the modern world descends upon the third world and the new norm tears at the basis of the family upon which the very existence of this world depends.

In today's world a man's (or woman's) productivity will not peak until their mid 50's or even 60's and the early years are spent in poverty getting educated and gaining experience to allow them to exact a high price for their skill. Suddenly we exchange a strong back for a strong head in the ability to provide support without changing the culture of expectations, and the timing of productivity out of sync with demands.

Bride price, the retirement program for the village culture, is strangling the new society. While scrambling to scrape together the price exacted, the biological clock is ticking. For some they will wait so long for their ship to come in, that their pier will fall down.

If this current generation of African members of the church can survive long enough to build their own families, I am confident that they will break the chains of slavery forged from their tribal traditions. But in the mean time, things are really tough.”

Here is a link to a longer discussion on the topic: http://www.africaontheblog.com/bride-price-good-bad/

Yesterday at the temple we had a number of ordinances performed, including sealings of families, from a branch located over an hour from the temple where Elder and Sr. Clark taught the temple preparation classes.  This is the new tradition of the members, and it is always a joy to see the smiles as they experience the promise of couples and families being together in eternity.


This afternoon was our opportunity to travel to the MTC again to help the missionaries in training to prepare names of deceased family members for the temple ordinances.  They are a bright and eager group!  Out of the current group, at least three will be sealed to their deceased parents (yes, they are orphans) in the coming week.  Wars, ebola, and other circumstances have taken a toll on African families.  We often hear them offer prayers of thanks for their lives and the lives of their families.

Working on Family Tree

Missionaries

Progress on construction of the new MTC, located next door.

In our ward today, Tom was sustained as Sunday School Advisor - not a calling that is found in the Handbook.  The new president is a talented, young, returned missionary, eager to serve.  Tom will help as a mentor and trainer.  We also met two new “friends of the Church".  One is a disabled  artist who travels about West Africa raising awareness and advancing the cause of services for those who have disability, or as he terms it, “this ability”, emphasizing what they can contribute when their basic needs are met.  The other new friend is an expat from Edmonton who is here on a work assignment and hadn’t yet found a church she wanted to attend.  She decided to visit the local LDS congregation because she has friends in the Church and knows a lot about it.  We were able to welcome her and introduce her to a few others.
This week Sue had her first encounter with tribal tattoos. A woman from northern Sierra Leone had a permanent dot on her forehead and a vertical line between her bottom lip and her chin. She was very serious as she participated in the ordinances but at the end when Sue gave her a hug, she responded with a  smile. Another woman asked if we could pray for her mother who is very ill. Sue explained that she could put her mother’s name on the prayer roll and then everyone in the Temple would be praying for her.  Another asked if you could put names of people who were deceased on the prayer roll. She said most of her family was dead. Sue explained  that the prayer roll was only for the living but that she need not be concerned about her brother and her mother. If they did not have the opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ in this life, they would have that opportunity where they were now in the spirit world. The Lord includes everyone in His plan of happiness.

This is of our Primary program today.  The music conductor is the 5 year old on the far right!

Apologies for the strange formatting today.







Sunday, October 9, 2016

October 9, 2016

As we compose this weekly message, it is appropriate to point out that tomorrow is Canadian Thanksgiving.  Yes, they also have a harvest festival / thanksgiving holiday north of the 49th parallel, but the harvest (and winter) come early.  The Pilgrims weren’t actually US  citizens - rather another group of undocumented immigrants.

We are especially grateful today that hurricane Matthew stayed just far enough away from Jacksonville to keep loss of life at a minimum and the damage much less than it could have been.  Loss of (tree) limbs is another story, but those can be cleaned up and regrown.  #103 Marina San Pablo was unaffected.  The homes of some friends were spared but others had water damage.  Our  ward chapel was boarded up for the storm and everyone is out today for cleanup and service.  (Kind of gives a new meaning to “church services”.)  We send our love to those who were not so fortunate to avoid damage and wish we were there helping.   Prayers don’t seem adequate but are all we can do from Africa.

Last weekend was General Conference and we were able to watch it all live except for the Priesthood and Women’s sessions—a great spiritual feast to be digested over the next six months! Elder Nash, who gave the closing prayer Saturday morning lives 1/4 block away and is a marvelous man. We were grateful that the Africa West Area was represented by him and talked about by Elder Curtis in priesthood meeting.

Today we had dinner and a visit with the Findlays, from Kelowna. We learned last spring when we first met , that Elder Findlay  is a nephew of Sue’s dear step mother Zona They serve as Welfare Services missionaries and have been doing missions for about 22 years.  We would like to be like them when we grow up!  They coordinate the wheelchair programs in W. Africa and are here to train local providers who will distribute the chairs.    They also brought us a care package of fresh cranberries, chopped pecans, crunchy peanut butter, pepperoni and salami for our home-made pizza, and some corn & flour tortillas.  Mexican food is just not available here other than home-made.

We met another missionary couple at the temple when they came with their local church group.  They are serving in a Member/Leader Support assignment in Ghana about 15 hours away by road, in the north. Pretty isolated! It is about 10 degrees hotter there and drier than in Accra.Their experience is very different from ours - they shared photos of helping their branch sisters during a soap-making project [the soap will be sold] and making foofoo for the temple trip.  Foofoo is a staple here made mostly of cassava and plantain flour.  She reminded me a great deal of Fern [such a compliment for anyone] in her speech and cadence and looked like a mature Rhonda. It was really fun to spend the evening with them and exchange emails.

Perhaps you had the lesson on commitment from the Howard W Hunter manual today. I need to share two comments that were made during RS. A member of our ward commented that she and her family sacrifice to come to church every Sunday. They use the money that they would use to buy food to provide their transportation to the meetings. A visitor from Sierra Leone mentioned that during the civil war  they were very careful to sneak into the church to partake of the sacrament—they were afraid what the rebels would do to them if they were caught.


Our visitors at the temple this past week were from Liberia and a northern district in Sierra Leone. One woman spoke only her tribal language — the other was to be her translator. I was blessed to participate in some of their ordinances and have my own testimony of  speaking in tongues and what that might refer to. Another woman from the same district had planned for months to come last week and be sealed to her husband and her daughter. He died of a heart attack 4 weeks ago so the ordinances were done with a proxy. Some of the people in this district were told by their Branch President to buy only the necessary clothes for the temple because they would probably never have the opportunity to attend again. One of the husbands asked me if it were appropriate to wash them because they were sacred. I assured him that washing them was essential.



Sunday, October 2, 2016

October 2, 2016

Monday we had an outing to the Tema market.  The MTC is located in Tema, about an hour away (20km) - because of traffic.  The goats didn't slow us down...although they graze along Independence Avenue - the main road in Accra.


Sue went looking for fabric with Srs. Brubaker, Tibbetts, and Anderson, with Selassie - the MTC housekeeper - as the guide.  The sisters would have been completely lost without her although the market is much smaller than the one in Accra.  Sue came home with four pieces of fabric and some small, sweet pineapples that cost $0.25 each.




We enjoy the pizza and good company at Nicolino's, an open air restaurant in the Alliance Francaise.  They also have the best $3 green salad in town.

Ebenezer, our server, knows we like crispy crust on our ham and fresh pineapple pizza.

This was the last week for several months that the majority of patrons will be French.  There were three women - a grandmother, mother, and adult daughter - who came from a district in Ivory Coast to be endowed.  The grandmother only spoke a tribal language.  Sr. N’goran, another temple missionary from Ivory Coast, could speak a different tribal language that the grandmother could partly understand, so she assisted her with the ordinances.  The next day all three were in a session where Sue was the only sister worker and they needed a great deal of help.  Instead of being frustrated, she assisted them with as much compassion as she could muster.  Her reward at the end more than compensated her efforts - a big smile from the grandmother.  There are more ways to communicate than with words. 

We were made aware this week (thanks to Ben) of this interesting interview with Daniel K. Judd, former (2011-2014) mission president of the Accra Ghana Mission, published in the Winter 2016 edition of the BYU Religious Education Review.  (Here is the link:  https://rsc.byu.edu/sites/default/files/review/Review_9.1_web_0.pdf
The interview begins on p. 24.)  He describes some of the unique cultural attributes of Ghana, the Church’s cautionary approach to rapid growth, and the role of the temple and temple ordinances in  retention and real growth.  Also interesting is his description of their missionaries: they came from 24 countries and yet worked together in harmony. 

Not much has changed since his service here in terms of goals and methods, but the church has grown organizationally in a big way.  There are lots of new branches, wards, and stakes, bringing the church closer to the people. That is helping to resolve one of the big issues in activity - time and money to travel to meetings.  

We are now reaping the blessings of prior work and activity in having priesthood leaders trained from their missionary service to be able to lead.  The stake president here this week - the first SP in Benin - is 30 years old but a returned missionary and a young father with a two-year-old.   He and his wife are bilingual university graduates.  The temple and its ordinances have been crucial to the spiritual maturation of the members so we feel part of this.

The palm trees received a blunt cut this week (the pods, not the branches). Compare with the photo in Moving Forward, in May, where they hung down to the ground cover, next to Tom.