Sunday, April 23, 2017

April 23, 2017

We get used to so many wonderful things happening in our week that it’s hard to select sometimes what to say.  Tuesday and Wednesday this week were the MTC missionary days for their own ordinances.  Four young men from Sierra Leone came in the group and it was sobering to consider what they had already survived in their young lives - civil war and the Ebola outbreak.  What a preparation for dedicating two years to serve the Lord!

During a lull in the office, Sue was studying the scriptures and commented on 3 Nephi 18:32, a verse she loves, that had been used by Elder Robert Sackley (see April 6, 2016 blog) in his teaching many years ago.  Br. Afful, who is the  former temple president and  works in the office on Thursday mornings, turned around and asked how we had known Elder Sackley.  He then commented that Elder Sackley had been his mission president in Nigeria.  For Sue, this connection [knowing Elder Sackley] will bind her to Bro.Afful forever and the first she has made with a native Ghanaian.

This week we said farewell to Stephen and Rosely Webster as they completed their mission and returned home to Australia.  He served as executive secretary to the area presidency and she as assistant, but that does not begin to describe all the good that they have done and the kind, caring people that they are.  They were responsible for managing the boundary and leadership change proposals in the area - for example, that included 99 new units (branches, wards, stakes, and districts) in the first 88 days of this year.  They oversaw the living arrangements for the senior couples assigned to the AWA (including finding new apartments to lease) , coordinated weekly sealing sessions and sister scripture classes, tours of area  spots of interest, food for FHE,  fresh egg deliveries, etc. etc.  And on top of everything else he was the driver for getting the area presidency and many others to and from the airport - over 300 trips during the 18 months.

Elder and Sr. Webster speaking at FHE

We had the delightful experience yesterday of receiving help to accomplish the sealing of about 15 deceased ancestral daughters and sons to their parents.  It was during a less-busy time in the temple and the president invited a couple who had come for the first time and three others to join us for that short session.  Tender mercies!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter!

We were privileged this week to assist the members referred to in the following comments (used with permission).  The author is Elder Renfroe, who with his wife has served in the Tamale Branch and District for the past year.  Tamale is a 12 hour drive straight north of Accra, and in some ways about 75 years straight back in time.

“Remember when Jane introduced Tarzan to New York City?  That is what it is like for these good people seeing the Accra temple and a US style grocery store for the first time.  Abraham just got back to Tamale from his village where he spent 3 months planting 2,500 yams.  He had no electricity, no phone, no internet and didn’t think anything about it.  He comes back to Tamale to the ”big city”.  He is not sorry or suffering or blaming anybody for how he lives.  It is just how it is.  Christiana and Raymond have similar backgrounds being raised in villages.  Now they are here gazing up at the temple.  Abraham exclaims, “That is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.”

They are staying in the ancillary building with air conditioning, elevators, and doors that fit and work.  Each a new experience for them.  When they come outside into the 85 degrees and 85% humidity air they exclaim how much more comfortable it is being outside.    It is hard to imagine what is going on in their heads.  Tomorrow the real fun starts in the temple.  We spent the last two days in the car teaching the temple preparation classes.

Yet, what they will see in the temple tomorrow will probably far exceed what I will see.  Their eyes are unsullied.  But our eyes are covered with the clay of this earth caked on from years of exposure to the earthen ways of life in America from which we must be cleansed in order to see clearly.  May we be careful to not soil them with things we think they need but don’t.”

It was a very busy week in the temple with Ivorian saints through Thursday and Ghanian saints who flooded the temple on Good Friday and yesterday.    We concluded the day yesterday adjudicating the Ofankor Stake choir festival (and accompanying them all).  This is our second time to do this and we saw a definite improvement in the choirs.  It was an exercise in looking for the good where at times it wasn’t obvious.

We woke up this Easter Sunday grateful for Jesus Christ; that through Him we have the power to change, to forgive and be forgiven, and to love.  “How great, how glorious, how complete, redemption’s grand design, Where justice, love, and mercy meet in harmony divine.”     Eliza R. Snow

Sunday, April 9, 2017

April 9, 2017

It’s been a quiet week.  The Ivoiriens who were scheduled to come cancelled their trip.  We were able to officiate again in ordinances and enjoyed that.  Sue has been more involved in training and recertification.  Tom did some preparations for the next 2 excursions.

Monday we attended a special family home evening with Parry Merkley, brother of one of our senior missionaries.  He was hired by Elder Ballard 7 years ago to head a committee that was to produce a campaign to make the church and its message more visible.  Despite the view from the inside, surveys at the time showed that very few people worldwide knew anything about the church.  

As was recounted to us, Elder Ballard had a dream that he died and went before the Lord for judgement, and the Lord said, “Russell, Satan learned to use the media, why couldn’t you?”  That prompted a lot of research, meetings, and creative ideas.  The results included the website, the personal profiles of members (I Am a Mormon), and the major ad blitzes in London, New York, and Melbourne that piggy-backed on the Book of Mormon Musical.  A group now also monitors and strategizes on how to keep the church sites at the top of the results when online searches are done.

He had interesting comments about the reluctance of some of the leaders to endorse the use of “Mormon” rather than the full name of the church.  They eventually did when they understood that “Mormon” was how most people look for information about us online.  He also had comments about how Elder Perry was an early and enthusiastic adopter of the use of technology to enhance missionary work in all its facets.  

We really enjoyed General Conference.  There seemed to be a theme of gentleness, kindness, focus on the Savior, loving your neighbor, and inclusion.  We were very interested in the backgrounds of the new Relief Society Presidency ( ).  Here is a stimulating talk given by Sr. Eubank at the FAIR Conference in 2014, titled “This is a woman’s church”:  We heard her speak in person about humanitarian services and principles of self-reliance several years ago and found her approach very enlightening.

It is possible that the rainy season has begun.  We’ve had two large showers in the last week that were impressive in the amount of water that fell.  The seasons are changing!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

April 2, 2017

We have officially passed the mid-point of our mission.  Hard to wrap the mind around that thought.  We are staying busy and learning much.

We had breakfast this morning with some of the most interesting people we have ever met (although we keep meeting more and more of those people).  The Findlays are finishing their 20+ years as senior missionaries, most recently with the Humanitarian Services wheelchair project, and transitioning their responsibilities to the Christensens, who started as senior missionaries 10 years ago in the Congo.  This is their third assignment.  He is known as “commando” Christensen because of their experiences in the DRC during what is politely called “civil unrest”, but which included bullets flying in the streets outside their apartment.  These two couples were accompanied by a younger woman who is a therapist and travels with the wheelchair project as a technical specialist & trainer.  

This week we also met the Daltons who just came back to Ghana to the same MLS assignment in the same branch & district, and living in the same apartment, for the 3rd time.  They were called on the phone and asked if they would consider returning to help establish a stake in that district, and they jumped at the opportunity.  They are in a difficult place, under difficult physical circumstances, but they just love the people.

A couple of weeks ago I was able to visit with Pres. Assard and Bro. Affoué, who with their wives were the two founding families of the Church in Cote d’Ivoire in 1986.  Each family was inspired to return to their home country from Germany and France to build up the church.  Bro. Assard visited with Elder Joseph Wirthlin in Frankfort before returning and received a short list of people and addresses in Ivory Coast.  He wrote to them all after arriving, but only Bro.Affoué replied and he thought that Bro. Assard must be French because of his last name.  What he didn’t know is that Bro. Assard’s name had been changed by the French from Assa when he was in school.  They found that they were both from the same tribe and lived in villages adjacent to each other.  They started holding meetings immediately.  Thirty years later there are 11 stakes and 10 districts, at last count.  We pray for the announced temple in Abidjan, that they can break ground soon.  Otherwise we won’t have room for them all in Accra.

We were able to watch General Conference yesterday and are waiting for the Priesthood Session to become available.  Just before the first session I received a text and photo from a cousin who is an Area Seventy and attending the conference.  They realized they were sitting next to our dear stake president from here, Anthony B. Quaisie, who was sustained as an Area Seventy in the afternoon session

 On Wednesday a small group of Saints [3 couples and 2 single sisters] came from Liberia for their endowments and sealings. Two of the couples brought children with them. It is part of my responsibility to make sure the children are dressed completely in white and then accompany them to where their parents are waiting for the ordinance. I gave the 10 year old girl a choice between two long dresses. She was very excited about one of them and I could tell it made her feel special. After the ordinance was finished, she took my hand and asked me if when she came to the temple the next time, she could wear the same dress. Knowing [because of distance and expense] that she would not get here again for years, I replied “The next time you come, you will have your own beautiful dress”. She threw her arms around my waist and gave me a big hug.

Often, on week-ends, brides come to the temple grounds for pictures. It is a public service the church allows because the grounds and the building itself are probably the most beautiful in the city. This picture was taken out of our window yesterday.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

March 26, 2017

When we were preparing to come to Ghana we were advised that this was a cash society.  A year ago it was a major event to get to the right ATM so we could get out enough cash to survive a couple of weeks.  However, we have found more and more grocery stores are accepting of credit cards and now can use them weekly on our provisioning trips. This is very convenient for record keeping.

We have commented in past blogs about the challenge of the young singles in this culture to marry, given the tradition of bride-price, etc.  Our ward conference today focused on the importance of celestial marriage, both preparing for and receiving the ordinance and also including God in the relationship.  Sacrament Meeting was longer than normal.  Our classroom was locked and by the time it was opened we were limited to 20 minutes, so my young singles explained to me the intricacies of dating and marriage in Ghana. It was fascinating to me to hear the difference in perspective between the women  and the men, both completely misunderstanding the other. It made me appreciate the necessity of honest communication even though it makes one vulnerable.

We are looking forward to General Conference next Saturday and Sunday.  We will get four sessions live (although that will be at 4pm and 8pm after working a full day at the temple). We will watch the Priesthood Session delayed because it is live at midnight. We were very moved by the talks in the Women’s Session which we listened to this afternoon. They will all be worth two or three re-readings.  Joe Junior will now have competition for his definition of “leaning”, at least in the church.

Next week-end is also when our friends from Rochester, the Redlins, arrive. They will be serving a humanitarian mission. We have become good friends with the Piersons who have been temple missionaries for a month.  They still call me Anne most of the time because they knew my older sister, but I think of it as a compliment.

We had a long day yesterday, but it was worth the effort to help the many groups and individuals who filled the temple and who also filled the temple grounds while waiting for their turn to enter.  Officially the temple closes at 3:30 pm on Saturday but the doors weren’t actually locked until almost 5 pm because of a late proxy sealing session officiated by our most elderly sealer.  He wanted to help a group who had come a long distance to do proxy work for their deceased family members and he just kept going.  

Blessings to you for the coming week!

A bus we saw recently.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

March 19, 2017

We’ve had some interesting experiences helping patrons with their ordinances.  We had a woman who came wanting to do her mother’s work.  Her mother was one of the earliest baptisms in the church in Ghana.  Record-keeping in those days was spotty so when she wanted to come to the temple the records couldn’t be found and it took some time to get that straightened out.  Eventually she had her recommend, but two days before the planned trip (they live 4 hours away), she passed away unexpectedly.  That was two months ago.  The family had requested and received permission from the 1st Presidency to have her ordinances done.  However, when the daughter came a week ago on Saturday we couldn’t figure out how to print the ordinance card.  Church headquarters being 7 hours behind GST that day, we also couldn't find anyone who knew the solution.  

I was assigned to follow up and late on Tuesday afternoon was able to connect with the right folks in Salt Lake.  They quickly printed the card there, and then emailed it to the temple president.  The daughter was back yesterday and shared her joyful, tearful, thankful smile after having completed her mother’s ordinances.

Another concern was a brother from Ivory Coast who wanted to be sealed to his new wife.  In scheduling that event, the computer reminded us that he needed a permission letter from the 1st Presidency since he had been sealed to his first wife and there was no death recorded.  In discussing that with Pres. Assard he said, “Oh, I know him.  His first wife died.”  Death is more common than divorce as a source of remarriage in the church here.

Another man with the group from Ivory Coast asked me this week if his son could be sealed to his wife and himself.  His son was to be endowed that day.  I replied that I thought they would still need a recommend for an ordinance for a living person signed by the stake president and the bishop.  I knew that the stake president was with the group but I didn’t know about the bishop.  The brother replied that getting the recommend wouldn't be a problem, since I was already looking at the bishop!   

One of our concerns is making sure, as much as possible, that people who travel long distances to receive temple ordinances qualify for and already have the appropriate recommend needed.  I have seen a couple of instances when good people who haven't yet been in the church for at least a year have come with recommends.  It’s very sad for them and for us when we can’t proceed with the ordinances because of leaders’ errors.  That is one of the challenges of rapid growth - training leaders who haven’t had much time to absorb all that they need to know and who aren’t naturally inclined to read the handbooks carefully.

With a wonderful group of saints from Ivory Coast, on the temple steps.  Happy and tired and ready to go home.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

March 12, 2017 - A Walk in the Park

Last Monday was the 60th anniversary of Ghana Independence Day.  The Grahams invited us on a short road trip to visit the Aburi Botanical Gardens and we enjoyed the outing.  About an hour north of Accra the road climbs up into some high hills, with views of the countryside.  We followed the directions of the GPS and of course ended up out in the middle of nowhere, which was Sue’s favorite part - no people, no garbage, no city.  It was very beautiful and lush.

Eventually we did find the garden, which was opened during the colonial era about 125 years ago and has mostly trees and bushes of various types.  There are also some “restaurants” in the park.  We encountered several groups of people who were dancing, singing, praying, and eating as part of their celebrations.

 Two huge roots

Note what is available at the restaurant.  I've never actually had gizzard sauce on the continent...  The women are preparing to set up food for sale.

This man is pounding cassava to make banku, a local staple.  On the right is a cocoa pod.  They grow from the little flowers that you can see on the trunk.

Monday evening while we were doing a load of laundry, the washer didn't turn off (failed solenoid) and sent a stream onto the floor and down the hall before it was discovered.  Obviously the drain was not the lowest point in the room.  These are high class sweepers and moppers:  Elder Pierson & Tom on the left and Pres. Antwi & Sr. Pierson on the right.  It only took about 15 minutes to clean up.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Welcome to March

It was a good week for our new roles in the temple. The load was light.  Nevertheless, things went smoothly.  As Pres. Assard said, “Il n’y avait pas de sable dans la boîte à vitesse”.  (Translation: there wasn’t any sand in the transmission).  He was an engineer for Mercedes-Benz in Germany before resigning to return to Ivory Coast many years ago to share the gospel message in his homeland.

Tom caught a cold and missed a day and a half in the temple trying to get better.  Since it was a head cold, the most likely pathogen was the rhinovirus.  It is among the smallest of viruses and with 99 recognized human types it has been very difficult to create a vaccine.  Given that we are in Africa, he decided that this must be an African rhinovirus, or with a bit of editing, an African Rhino virus.  That sounds much more exotic than the common cold, but it isn’t.

As we have explained in the past, one of our joys is helping young missionaries in the MTC help navigate the website to prepare names of deceased parents or siblings for proxy work in the temple.  This week, Tom was able to help one of the office workers in the temple.  Her father’s death had not been properly recorded in church records and she fussed that it had made it difficult to navigate the program and perform some of his work.  As they talked about that, he said, “Let’s take a look”, so she logged on to her account to check her father’s information.  His death date was recorded there and it said he had temple work which could be done.  With a few mouse clicks, she was able to print out the slip with his name so that she could have him sealed to his parents.  A simple bit of serendipity perhaps, but she had a big smile when she left the office.

One of the senior missionary couples who teach temple preparation classes brought 5 people with whom they had been working to the temple yesterday to receive their own ordinances. One of them was a young blind man.  It was heart-warming to see how he was carefully guided about by different people in the process. There is a blind woman who attends  the temple 2-3 times every month. She is very faithful and happy to be there. It makes one wonder if what we see in the temple has anything to do with physical eyes.

Sue had a scare this week when her CPAP machine quit blowing air. She has used it four years and during one sleepless night was panicked about oxygen getting to her heart. Elder Pierson [Mr. Fix-it] and Tom took the machine apart and figured out that the machine was fine but the plastic ribbing supporting the hose was broken, and this allowed the hose to twist and cut off the air flow. They used some medical tape from our first aid kit to fix it.  What  a great relief it was for her to sleep 8 hours last night.

Tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of Ghanaian independence from Britain. There will be many celebrations throughout the country with fireworks in the evening. We will most likely not leave the compound but have a quiet day near the pool.  Welcome to March! 1/6 of 2017 is already over.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Feb. 26, 2017

We wanted to highlight a service project done in Kumasi by a group of Young Single Adults this week, which was also spotlighted on the AWA web site.  They joined with some health professionals to do diabetes screening for 1,830 high school students.  Here is the link: .  “Though there was some hesitation to begin the process, each volunteer had been trained and prepared for the task at hand. Nephi Nortey-Annan, an 18-year-old Latter-day Saint young man from Takoradi said, ‘I am glad to give my service. I also receive blessings because I have learned about this disease and know better how to care for my own health. Service to God is never lost. You always get more than you give.’”

Volunteers practicing on each other in reparation for the students.

Screening the high school students

From Sue: Two Americans sat behind us in church last week. We struck up a conversation and learned that they were here working at the 37th Military Hospital for three weeks. One was a surgeon and the other an ER nurse. They were from San Antonio where our daughter and our son live. We invited them for dinner on Wed. and exchanged emails in case they got lost or had other complications. We discovered that the last name of one was McMullin [my grandmother on my father’s side was a McMullin] and the last  name of the other was Lamb [my mother’s maiden name was Lamb].  I just laughed.  We could connect with each of them.  Such a small world!

I have a new calling in our congregation.  On Sundays, I will be teaching Sunday School to the 18-30 year old singles. I think this will be very exciting for three reasons: I have taught this age before, these are stimulating individuals, and I will need to study hard to be effective. Today, I had 10 in my class and I hope that more will come next week. To give you some idea of the variety my students, I have one in medical school, one who who is learning to read and everything in between.  Most have been members of the church less than 3 years. I am the first teacher to be called to this age group in our congregation.

Who would believe that it will be March in 2 days?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

February 19, 2017

Our first week as Living Ordinance Coordinators went very well.  We watched and learned from the Hills, who serve at the MTC, as they helped the many missionaries receive their ordinances on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.  And we were grateful to work with dedicated leaders from the Grand Bassam Stake in Ivory Coast who had brought a large group on a bus.

One of our happy stories occurred with a woman who came for her own endowment along with two friends, a man and a woman.  After helping the woman prepare for the endowment session, Sue noticed that neither of the two friends were present, so she went to the waiting room and found them there just waiting for someone to tell them what to do.  She was able to get them all together in the session.  Had she not been there, that might well have not happened.

Tom’s favorite experience was working with the four couples from Ivory Coast who were sealed on Wednesday, all during the same sealing session.  Two of the couples were there with a child to be sealed to them, one a son age four, the other with a daughter 10 months old.  The room was full of friends from their stake as the four couples were sealed at the altar.   Then we brought in the two children, both dressed in white.  First the infant, dressed in a frilly white dress, was sealed to her parents while a worker held her close.  Then the four-year-old very solemnly stood on the altar cushion while he was sealed to his parents, their hands all joined together.  Both children were very quiet during the time there.  It is hard to capture the sweetness and joy of that event as the families were joined  for eternity in that beautiful setting, but the image will stay in our minds.

Yesterday was exceptionally busy in the temple.  It seemed like everyone who had missed being able to come during the closure in January decided it was the day to be there.  Several sessions were completely full, the baptistery was over full and busy for about 4 hours, and extra proxy sealing sessions were added for those who could not get into the endowment sessions.  It was a wonderful short day (the temple closes at 3:30 PM on Saturday) and all the workers went home exhausted.

We welcomed the arrival yesterday of a new missionary couple who will also serve in the temple.  The Piersons are from Idaho but with Alberta roots and have served previously in Russia.  We fed them dinner and plan to take them along on our visit to the MTC today to help the French-speaking missionaries prepare some proxy family names for the temple this week.  It is so interesting to see Accra again through their eyes and recognize that we have been changed so much in good ways by our time here.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

February 12, 2017

It was the last of the “quiet” weeks in the temple for several months to come.  This week we will have new missionaries from the MTC as well as members from one of the Ivory Coast stakes Tuesday through Thursday.  We have been asked to take a new role: Living Ordinance Coordinators.  That has not been done before at the Accra Temple, so we will be working it out as we go along.  Basically our responsibility will be to shepherd individuals and couples who come for their own ordinances and make sure that the process works smoothly for them.  For those who may not be LDS or familiar with our temples, or what happens in the temples, there is a wonderful website here that explains all this, with beautiful photos also.

Our temple is relatively small, with session rooms that can hold 40 participants (called patrons), plus a few more with extra chairs set up.  It is not unusual to have 8 or 10 or more patrons receiving their own endowments during a session, along with 30 or more others who are representing deceased persons.  And it is not unusual on busy days to have 35 patrons receiving their own endowment and another dozen or so couples being sealed, often with children (what does sealing mean?  Go back to the website!).  It is important for couples who are being sealed to go through the session together.  Sometimes the sealing is scheduled to take place immediately after the endowment, sometimes it is scheduled a day or two later, depending on the couple’s preferences and the schedule in the temple.

Usually everything works smoothly, especially when the ordinances are scheduled ahead of time and the individuals arrive when they are supposed to.  But life often happens.  They come late or they arrive without the staff knowing anything about them, on a day when the temple is already very busy.  Perhaps a couple is ready to be sealed as a family  but the children aren’t in the temple. Our new role is to sort out these challenges, figure out how to prevent them where possible, and generally help organize and prepare so that these new people have the best possible experience in the temple.  We’re excited to have the opportunity.

Sue was called to teach the Young Singles Sunday School class today. Her students will be ages 18-31. She loves this group because they are adults with curious minds, opinions and personal experience.  She has no idea who or how many will be in her class.

In our scripture study last week, Sue came up with a workable definition for her of the phrase “natural man” in the context of Mosiah 3:19.  It is EGO.  When we come to the realization that the goal is to do the will and the work of the Father [as Christ did] what we do is not about us - it is about Them.  When we are aligned with Them, there is no need for ego. 

We spoke with Marc and Tana Anderson [Ben, she is the Gospel Doctrine teacher in her ward and keeps up with all you publish] this week to give our condolences about the passing of his mother Missy whom we admired greatly. In the conversation we talked about mutual friends who have a son serving his mission in Benin and the adjustments he is making. It reminded us of an account given by our Area President’s wife about two young elders teaching in the Liberia mission.  The lesson was on the law of chastity, with the idea that you would remain a virgin until you were married and then be faithful to your spouse. One of the young women spoke up and said,  “If I live that law, I will not be able to eat”.  Another said “If I live that law, I won’t be able to afford to go to school.”  The Lord asks a great deal of his converts here, considering their culture, educational opportunities, experiences in war, and poverty.  These young women thought the blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ were worth it.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Feb 5, 2017

View of the entrance to the temple and Independence Ave
It has been a busy week.  On our return from Israel we were asked if we would like to move into a recently vacated apartment on the 3rd floor.  After looking it over on Monday we decided it would be an upgrade, though with “issues”.  It has the same area as our original apartment on the 2nd floor but the configuration is different - a smaller bedroom space and a larger living/dining room. The windows look out on the trees and grass in front of the temple instead of the garbage areas. We can see the sun rise instead of the sun set. The plan was to also shift some newer furniture from a smaller apartment into the new one.

Harmattan sunrise over the Area Building

We thought we would make the move Wednesday afternoon, but on Tuesday morning about 7 the manager asked if we could move in that morning.  So Tom helped move the furniture and then we moved in about 3 hours.  It does have a different feel.  The oven is newer (temperature gauge!), the bedroom closets are at a better height, and the living space is nice.  The taps do not drip and the freezer on top of the fridge is twice the size of our old one.  However, the counter space is non-existent and there is less cupboard space.  Hence the bookshelf next to the couch with very tasteful food and the microwave on top.  Besides living without a lot of stuff to move, missionaries get very creative with whatever space they have.

Living room
Tuesday evening we were working in the temple when we heard, without warning, a lot of wind , thunder, and then rain beating down.  It was a sudden and fierce storm that lasted about an hour.  When it was over, we had lost 9 of the 48 fan palms that surround the temple.  We would have had more snap off but some were young and shorter.  We heard that a lot of electric poles and billboards had been blown down and were covering roadways.  The next morning we were expecting a large group from the MTC 20 miles away but they had not only lost power in the storm but their generator was also out so they were were without electricity and water.  They came in on Thursday instead.

Sue caught a cold, laryngitis, on that same day.  Most of the week she functioned as a patron instead of a worker so she didn’t have to say a lot.  She was feeling well enough yesterday to go to the grocery store and restock our supplies and today is almost back to her verbal self.

We had a great lesson in church today about personal revelation.  One of the interesting analogies is that God is like a broadcaster whose signal is always strong, but until we are tuned in to His frequency we won’t receive the message.  There is merit in that thought.  However, as we talked about this topic in our group, the universal experience was that when seeking for an answer or direction, it rarely came at the time of asking.  Instead it often came at unexpected times or places as we were doing other things.  Answers come, but in His time and not ours.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Jan 29, 2017 Israel

We have just returned from being tour guides for our temple president in the land of Israel.  Pres. and Sr. Graham allowed us to plan the itinerary, the accommodations, and the food.  Since we only had 11 days we tried to distill the best from Ben’s three week tour.  Visiting Israel once is a life-changing experience; visiting again instills even more.  We were able to see new sites and noticed some improvements since 2014.

We were allowed this time to go onto the temple mount and were struck by the artistic beauty of the Dome of the Rock.  The pictures do not do it justice.  It isn’t a mosque but a monument which covers the Foundation Stone (see here, under Religious Significance:, which is sacred to all three monotheistic religions.  There is a mosque (Al Aqsa) on the mount for worship.  We were not permitted to enter either building and were reminded by security, after the fact, not to touch each other while having our picture taken.  We also saw a woman being escorted off the mount for overtly praying from a prayer book, which is also forbidden.

Door to Al Aqsa

Pres. Graham wanted to go to Bethlehem. We had no appropriate transportation [an Israeli rental car is not insured in the  Palestinian Territories] so had decided to hire a taxi driver and were discussing the process of how to find one who was honest and dependable. As we were walking down to the Jaffa Gate, a man on the street approached us and asked where we were from and if we were looking for a tour. I told him we were from Florida and he immediately responded Jacksonville or Miami? I thought it was a sign. Most people do not think of Jacksonville when referring to Florida. I told him we were looking for a driver to take us to the Church of the Nativity and the Shepherds Fields. He said he could do that. So we met him 3 hours later, and off we went feeling very comfortable.  We learned that Antonio was retired, is immigrating to Canada, speaks 7 languages , had 4 children who were all very well educated and that the whole family was trying to leave.  He treated us well and we were grateful.

We were disappointed with the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem because the site of the birth and the stable are all “shrined up” and difficult to imagine.  However, the Franciscan church next door, with access to the other parts of the “house” (inn) and cave, really helped us visualize the dwelling and the back area where Mary would have gone for privacy. This is the same place where Jerome first translated the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate).

Qasr El Yahud, the traditional site of Christ's baptism

We attended Sunday Evening Classics at the Jerusalem Center. We heard the K2K Duo with Gilad Karni, viola, Anna Kasserman, piano, and their guest Felix Andreas Genner, clarinet. They played Schumann, Bruch, and Mozart. The concert reminded me of one we attended in Minneapolis many years ago where a Chinese prodigy, Lang Lang, was playing the piano.  Absolutely spell binding.  How we miss quality classical music!

Galilee was beautiful and green, although a bit chilly.  We love Capernaum and the way it stimulates your imagination to visualize Christ teaching in the synagogue, calling his apostles, healing Peter’s mother-in-law, and the story of the paralytic let down through the roof of Peter’s house to be healed.  Our apartment was high on the side of the hill in Tiberias and we had a fabulous view of sunrise over the Sea of Galilee.

On our way to visit Tel Dan, we stopped at Naot shoe factory for a tour.  Our guide was a semi-retired employee originally from Canada.  It was very encouraging to hear her speak of the employees varied religious and cultural backgrounds: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and from Syria, Lebanon, and Israel and many other foreign countries.  They all get along well and attend each other’s family weddings, etc.  They produce 3500 pairs of leather shoes each day and export all over the world.

Imagining all those red leather shoes...

The mud brick gate (sealed) at Tel Dan, circa 1800 BCE.  
Abraham most likely came through here.

We were thrilled with our 11 days in the country of Israel. By the end, we all were ready to return to Africa to the temple and the people that we love. We agree with Pres. Monson who stated that it is more significant to walk as Jesus walked than where Jesus walked.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

January 15, 2017 Transitions

This was a week to say goodbye to several couples who are going home, some for other church assignments, others to hone their grand-parenting skills.  We will miss them all: Clarks, Tibbetts, & Heckles.  This is a transition time for us as well - the temple is now closed for two weeks.  We had a light week - no buses, no large groups coming.  That will change in February when the temple reopens, with large groups scheduled from Cote d’Ivoire.  We will also welcome the Piersons in mid-February as a second temple couple.  They will be living in our building and perhaps sharing a car, if that is approved. They previously served in Russia and are good friends of Anne and Dave Richards (my sister and brother in law).

The last 2 Sundays, I have been substituting for the youth Sunday school class.  There is approximately the same number of males and females between 12-18 in a group of about 25. It has been great to prepare and be with the youth again.  I do miss teaching.

I was very moved by a short welfare film that was shown in our scripture study class on Monday.  It pictured a young African earning money so he could go on a mission. He was required to pay for his passport and save $US 250. That is a major amount of money here. He figured out that he could sell bananas in a town an hour and a half away by bike. Bananas are very cheap here - 2 or 3 cents each.  On good days he could make 2 full trips - that is 6 hours by bike in one day.  Admirably,  he has already paid for his passport and has $70 saved. It made me wonder  how many young men in the US and Canada make that kind of preparation so that they can go.

The Heckels made several donations to our kitchen in their cleaning-out to move. It is amazing what I get excited about these days: some sharp cutting knives, bounce dryer sheets, coarse ground pepper, a new dustpan and mop, some orange lentils, a small frying pan, muffin tins and some small dessert bowls. Therefore I took the opportunity to rearrange the kitchen cupboard. When I leave, I will pass all these and more to whoever needs them.

I am up to chapter 15 of Mosiah in my French Book of Mormon. My real struggle is with passé simple and verbs that I do not recognize but I have made much progress when I compare where I was last January when we received our call.  I am trying to be finished in June of this year.  I hope that isn’t being too optimistic.

With the temple closed, we are traveling to Israel with the Grahams for 11 days to introduce them to the Holy Land.  We were there with Ben and Christy 3 years ago and spent three weeks exploring and learning much. We refer to it as a life-changing experience.  This time we are better prepared, having taken a Great Courses review of archeology in Israel and studied more of the historical and scriptural records.  Our first trip was transformational - perspectives and understanding were definitely changed.  The expectations this time are a bit different but we are keen to see it again, both through our own eyes and through the eyes of our friends.  We will not be posting next Sunday, because we will be in Jerusalem but should have some great adventures to write about on the 29th.