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. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

January 8, 2017

Sue: Here are two experiences that I would like to share .  There is a blind woman who attends the temple regularly. Unfortunately, in the last six weeks, her spouse died and she has not come as often. Friday, she was in a session with me and needed to go to the bathroom.  I helped her to the hallway where another worker took her to the bathroom and brought her back to the door.  I took her arm and guiding her back to her chair, whispered  “I’ve got you”.  As she sat down, she breathed out, “Thank you my dear sister”.  Immediately I could hear Christ repeating those words to me, to us, who are sometimes spiritually blind  “I’ve got you” . Hopefully our response can be one of gratitude:  “Thank you my dear brother.”

 I met an older woman in the temple whose face beamed with light and whose eyes sparkled kindness. The women here tend to be very harsh and are the disciplinarians of the children.  I asked if she had been a member of the church in Ghana a long time?  She smiled and replied, yes.  I responded “ It shows in your face”.  She humbly said  “Thank you”.  I believe the saying that as you age you get the face that you have earned.

I tried a new banana cake recipe  this week - same ingredients as banana bread but cooked in a cake pan and cooled in the freezer 45 minutes direct from the oven. It was very moist and yummy.  It was supposed to be frosted with cream cheese icing but the cake was eaten before the frosting was made.  5 stars online:  Banana Cake with Cream Cheese frosting.

Tom:  I was a substitute teacher this morning in our adult Sunday School class and couldn’t help but notice that the area presidency were all in attendance.  That is a very unusual event since they are usually assigned on weekends to stake conferences, mission tours, creating new stakes, etc. etc.  It was a lesson from the introductory section of the Doctrine and Covenants, where the Lord says that the “weak things of he world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones”, and that “the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers.”   

The presidency shared that they felt like the weak and the simple, and that they recently met with the president-elect of Ghana.  He was very gracious and interested in what the Church was doing and in maintaining contact.  Yesterday was his inauguration.  They also commented that out of the 14 countries assigned to the Africa West Area, the Church has established units in only 8 of those - but that this month they hope to organize branches in two more countries.  It speaks to the wonderful men that they are to say that they made great contributions to the class without intimidating in any way.

We also met Elder and Sr. Parke this week, former temple missionaries here and now assigned as the first missionary couple in Senegal.  The Lord has provided them with many contacts and helpers in their work to strengthen the fledgling branch there and to also gain official recognition for the church so that full-time missionaries can be sent.  It reminded me of the story of Demoine (Grandma Zona’s nephew) and Joyce Findlay (still serving as senior missionaries) who opened Togo in 1999 (see details here: ).  A stake was organized in Togo in 2016.  

We are still seeing church history unfolding before our eyes in this part of the world.

One of many pubic expressions of faith, this one covering the side of a modern building near the busiest street in the nearby Osu neighborhood.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year 2017!

As we write, many of you are just waking up to greet the first day of the New Year.  We went out to celebrate last night with a large group of missionary couples at a Chinese restaurant nearby and enjoyed visiting and sharing stories after with a smaller group.  The fireworks in the neighborhood at midnight were not visually impressive but they did go on for a long time!  Tom remembers Chinese food for New Year’s Eve long ago when his parents drove the family 50 miles to Lethbridge to eat out.  The special treat was dipping a fork in soy sauce and then in some toasted sesame seeds.  Yum!  It is interesting what we recall (and what we can’t) from our youth.  

The Harmattan has been with us for about a week (see reference here:  The weather has been noticeably cooler, with hazy skies that remind us of the late summer smoke from forest fires in the western US and Canada.  The sunsets would be beautiful if we could see them through the haze…Dust collects on the cars outside overnight and sometimes as you drive.  Running outside has been more pleasant - no negative respiratory effects so far. Sue has discovered the swimming pool next door and is doing water aerobics on the days that she is too tired to work out. Therapeutic!

The afternoon sun through the haze

We heard of new mission presidents and their assignments this week.  The Clarks, who have been here as area auditors, are leaving early to go home to Texas and prepare for their 3 year calling in Liberia.  Bret and JeaNette Smith will be going to the Dominican Republic for their assignment.  He has served as president of the YSA Branch in Jacksonville since being released from the stake presidency.  Both of these wonderful couples will be dealing with poverty, illiteracy and all the other challenges of developing countries.

We have heard of many other mission calls for friends: Charlie and Linda Redlin will be joining us here on their 2nd mission, Kathy Currit will be serving soon in the PCC in Hawaii, and Brian and Cindy Pitcher will be serving in the new Paris Temple in May.  It is a wonderful time of life when we can serve in this way.

We are hoping to learn as much in 2017 as we have in the past year.  Our Sacrament meeting this morning was a great start. The ward leaders and area leaders each took a few minutes to give a New Years message. These were the challenges: incorporating the pattern of 4 Nephi  into our individual lives, becoming more peculiar, keeping the truths we know, seeking Jesus and following Him, understanding weaknesses and becoming more humble, rejoicing in what the Lord has provided, and being one.  We love the people here and what they teach us. 

Colorful blanket that we saw in a home

We haven’t completed our year-end review yet but did find that since coming to Ghana we have completed ordinances for 145 people in our family history, with another 21 to finish and 52 more to print and start.  Our personal goals for this year are all included in the following scripture in D&C 136:  
“And this shall be our covenant, that we will walk in all the ordinances of the Lord”.   
May you have an  “ interesting” new year.

The temple lights in the Harmattan haze