Saturday, November 26, 2016

Nov. 26, 2016 - Still Giving Thanks!

On Wednesday morning in the temple, we had very few men workers and about 25 missionaries from the MTC scheduled for their own endowments during the shift.  As we were preparing for the 8:30 session I offered a brief silent prayer asking the Lord if it were possible that he send us just one more male temple worker to help out.  15 minutes later one walked in the door and went to change into his white clothing.  I told him he was an answer to prayer.  Later, when I realized we were still stretched very thin, I thought, ”Oh ye of little faith.  You should have asked for three!”  

It is still Thanksgiving in Ghana even though the holiday doesn’t exist here.  We actually took our ward missionaries out to dine at a local establishment (burgers and fries were chosen by 3/4 of the diners).  It was very fun getting to know them better.  One has home base as Columbia, SC although he was born in China and raised mostly in China and Malaysia (father is with the state dep't.)  The other is from Lubumbashi, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  His father joined the Church in 1984 before the Church officially came to DRC so this missionary and his 7 sibs were raised in the Church.  Both missionaries were very impressive and  seemed to have a lot in common.  It was fun to chat with them about their area and the ward.  They make a lot of contacts but have trouble getting people to teach since a lot of people who work in our boundaries live elsewhere.

Thursday we slept in, did some exercise, and took it easy during the morning. It actually felt like a holiday.  Our regular shift started at 1:15 pm.  Our official Thanksgiving dinner will be on Monday at home evening with the other senior missionaries, the temple presidency, and the area presidency.  The menu is actually coordinated,  and has some of the traditional things like turkey and dressing.  The group consists of people from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and England in addition to the Americans who traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving this week in November.  We always enjoy getting together!  We hope you all had a memorable day with family and friends.

Today I had the opportunity to chat in the temple with an elderly man from Cape Coast, in western Ghana.  He was in the temple for only the second time and said he really enjoyed being there.  As we visited he told me some of his story.  His wife and daughter joined the church in the late 1970’s and were among the first to do so in the country.  He is a retired school teacher, headmaster, and preacher for another Christian denomination.  He said he would occasionally use the Book of Mormon for the basis of his sermons (without attribution) and that when he did the sermons were always well-received.  He finally decided to join the church just over a year ago and is very happy that he did.  He is 87 years old.  I wish I had been able to capture more of his life story.  He has seen a lot of change in Ghana.  

Sue has just about finished her latest read which she highly recommends.  “Planted  — Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt” Patrick Q Mason.  It was given to us by Ben before we left and is written by the chair of the Mormon Studies Dept. at Claremont Graduate University in California.  He has some fascinating insights into our age of faith crises and even if you don’t agree with all he says, it is worth reading.  Wendy Roth, sorry I forgot your birthday.  Happy almost December!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

An Interesting Visitor - Nov. 20, 2016

We were invited to a unique meeting last Sunday evening to hear Bro. Georges Bonnet speak about some of his experiences in helping with the approval and the building of the temple  here about 15 years ago.  Bro. Bonnet has worked for many years for the Presiding Bishopric and still does.  He has been involved with Africa beginning in 1990 when he was the first director of Temporal Affairs for the Africa Area of the church, living in South Africa.  At that time there were no direct flights from S. Africa to west Africa.  They had to fly to London from Johannesburg and then turnaround and fly back to west Africa.   They also had no direct telephone lines from there to here.  However, within six months of the area office being established, direct flights became a reality and the telephone communication was also improved.  In 1990 there were only five stakes in Africa, all in South Africa, all with caucasian stake presidents.

Elder Faust, the apostle assigned to Africa in 1990, shared this thought when he came that year for leadership training: “Let us not take counsel from our fears.” (It was also the theme of an article he wrote in 2002 - link here:  Remember that this would have been during the famous “freeze” in Ghana.  Shortly after the freeze was lifted, the first two stakes were created in Ghana in April of 1991.  At that time, Elder Faust said, “The Spirit of the Lord is brooding over Africa”. 

In February of ’98 Pres. Hinckley announced a temple in Ghana during a big tour of Africa.  But there were lots of issues and problems in getting the site approved by the government. The Minister of Religion was concerned that the church would “descend upon our people with your materialistic ideas”.  In early 2000 Bro. Bonnet was asked to transfer back to be the DTA here in the Africa West Area with the specific assignment of getting approval of the temple. He was concerned about how his wife and family would react to his new assignment.  Arriving home that evening, to his surprise, he found his children and his wife dancing and singing “we are going to Ghana”.  They had been told nothing by the Brethren. Later he asked his wife when she had learned they would be going back to Africa.  Her answer was - "last November".  After much fasting and prayer [including him kneeling alone, in the dirt, in the dark, on the temple site, pleading with the Lord that He would open the way] and many small miracles, the temple was approved, and eventually dedicated in January of 2004, just 12 years ago.  Just before the dedication of the temple, Pres. Eyring came on a visit to west Africa for training meetings, and said, “The Lord is in a hurry here.  He will condense what took years elsewhere.”  We now have 72 stakes in the Africa West Area, an increase of 16 this year, with 15 more districts created this year.  

Bro. Bonnet’s  involvement in getting our temple approved is all the more interesting to us because of his start in the church in France.  He joined the church as a teenager in southern France around the time that Tom was a missionary there.  Tom had heard of and met this young man, who received a mission call to serve in Tahiti.  How influential one new convert can be! 

I have been taking pictures of the beautiful flowers on the temple grounds. It is basically summer here - temperatures around 92 degrees in the daytime. It feels very much like Florida in the summer. We are glad to have air conditioning but the patrons in the temple wear sweaters because they are cold.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

November 13, 2016

Tom: besides our usual work here in Ghana, the week was dominated for us by the news of the US election results and the arrival of Remembrance Day (Veteran’s Day in the USA) - an interesting juxtaposition.  A good friend had commented to us that he was voting for the second most odious person in the country.  Probably most people in the country thought they were voting for the second most odious person, but the electorate was clearly divided almost in half about which candidate that actually was.

So about half of the country is happy that the most odious person didn’t win, and the other half are upset that the second most odious person (based on the electoral college) did.  And now we hear about demonstrations turning into riots, fears of racism, etc. etc.  It reminded me of the comment made by Rodney King, the black resident of LA who was brutally beaten by police during an arrest.  When their acquittal on charges of excessive force led to riots in LA in 1992, he said. “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while. Let’s try to work it out.”  If he could say that, can’t we?

We have started listening to one of the Great Courses, on archeology and history of the Middle East - a very interesting series of lectures.   We heard this week about Alexander Jannaeus, one of the Hasmonean kings who reigned from 103-76 BC.  He incurred the ire of his subjects when he broke Jewish law by becoming king as well as the hereditary high priest.  During the festival of Sukkot in Jerusalem, when he poured the water on the ground instead of on the altar, the pilgrims at the festival showed their displeasure by pelting him with citrons they were carrying as part of the celebration.  In his anger, the king killed 6,000 of the pilgrims.  At least things aren’t that bad.

Sue:  Two women made this week memorable for me.  I met “Eve” of Adam and Eve in the bathroom of the women’s changing room.  I had seen her in the temple every day doing ordinances and finally asked who she was.  She introduced herself as a member visiting from Nigeria. It took a while for my mind to compute that she must be one of the Nigerian team who were recording, in Igbo and Efik, the voices for the newest films to be used in the Aba Temple. There are now 39 Stakes who that temple serves. The technical recording team came from Salt Lake City  but the voices came from Nigeria.  

The second woman had come to the Accra Temple for the first time and is a member of a new Stake which was organized last Sunday.  She was the skinniest woman I had ever seen and I found myself hoping that she was not starving to death. She had a beautiful face but her bones, especially clavicles, were very prominent. It made me grateful for my lentil soup at home in the crockpot and my understanding that she was learning to know her Savior.

I put a new app on my phone this week—the Book of Mormon in French and English side by side. I have a goal to it read in French by June.  It is very hard work but I can do hard things.

I was also asked this week to lead the organization and planning of Thanskgiving dinner for 60.  That will take place at our usual Family Home Evening on Nov. 28th.  We have found 7kg Turkeys for US $60 each.  We may be having chicken instead!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

November 6, 2016

It is difficult to write about some of the experiences we have as we work in the temple.  As Tom works in the larger sessions, it is interesting to sense the variation in feelings that each group seems to generate.  He was able to participate in a session filled with the Area presidency, 16 mission presidents, and wives, which was the culmination of a three-day seminar and training meeting for them.  The sense of spiritual maturity, love of God, and desire for magnification of their service could be felt.  Two days later, he officiated in a similar session with a large group of mostly young single adults.  They were obviously less mature in age and experience, and had many more concerns about their futures: work, education, marriage, etc. but had a similar spirit of reverence and devotion.  

One of the assignments for the officiators in those meetings is, toward the end, to lead a group prayer.  While there are few specific guidelines about what should be included in those prayers, it seems that one of the responsibilities of the officiators might be to gain a sense of the needs and concerns of the group - as far as that is possible - and to include those in the prayer.  And sometimes when there are two brothers assisting in the session, both prepare spiritually for the prayer but only one can be the voice, at which point the silent assistant should be praying for the other to be led by the spirit.  It is all a wonderful experience but takes a great deal of internal energy.

The temple is a place where many languages are used.  For West Africa, as we have written before, English and French are second languages for many.  Their first language could be Twi, Ewe, Fante, Ga, or - less often - Amharic, Mande, or others.  Above all is the language of the spirit.  At times a smile or a gentle touch can communicate so much more than sounds.  And sometimes that is the only way to communicate.

Sue met a woman this week who reminded her of the actress known as “Bloody Mary”  in that classic musical, “South Pacific”.  She had the same hairdo, the same eyes, the same face shape and body shape.  She was a wonderful, delightful woman.  Externalities are generally not a good way to determine what is on the inside.  First impressions are not things that we have control over but we need to put them the shelf before we make judgments about people.

Sue has finished the Book of Mormon in English, again, and is now working with a useful app that has English scriptures on one side and French on the other. 

 We spent the afternoon at the MTC helping with Family History in French.  Sue has learned that she needs a different French vocabulary to be useful.  We did meet two missionaries from the States.  One is the grandson of an “ancien” missionary from Paris and knows many Hickens in Heber City.  The other is the youngest son of a former stake president in Iowa that we have been sailing with.  It continues to surprise us that we have so many connections, even in Africa!  

We are happy to hear from you.  Some of you have commented on the blog.  Others have sent emails or called on Skype.  Thanks for your words, support, and prayers!