Sunday, August 27, 2017

Aug 27, 2017

In the last two weeks I have started two new adventures in Africa.  I have started taking official French lessons which actually cost money and motivate me to study.  My teacher is a single young man who used to teach at the MTC and is Ivoirien.  We meet twice a week for an hour.  I am always tired from work when I get there but always inspired by the time I come home. I like him because he does not make me feel stupid, is always positive, and helps me learn phrases and put together sentences that are actually useful.  I can say the blessing on the food in French and have tried family prayer once.  When praying in another language, it makes you think about what you really need to say and how to say it.  Today I tapped Pres. and Sis. Assard on their shoulders and said "Je suis heureuse de vous voir"  [I am happy to see you].  It is the first time I have said that phrase but will add it to my orientation to the people I speak to in the temple when they are there for the first time.  It is very hard work learning a different language but I am grateful that all my children and their spouses and my husband have found it rewarding.  I am proud of them and am trying to be like them.  Don’t you think that I need to live in France for a while?

I have also started teaching an Institute class for ages 18-31 who are single.  It is part of my past life [about 20 years ago I did this for several years and loved it].  I have a small class of 8 students but they are a fascinating group and are helping me learn lots about Ghana.  This is the first class I have taught that I actually invited Tom to attend.  I always said he could not come as a Bishop or Stake President because he would inhibit what people would feel they could say.  He is a great asset and makes extremely valuable contributions.  Who knows at some point we may actually be able to team teach.  For many years I thought this would be impossible because we have very different styles but they may actually compliment each other.  We meet on Friday evenings from 6:00 -7:30 and we are having fun.  When I add prep time and my work at the temple, it does not leave much time for frivolity but I feel like I am growing.
Members of the Institute class
One of the interesting principles we have been discussing is consecration, and what that means for us.   To consecrate is, of course, to make something holy by giving it to God.  Elder Maxwell taught us many years ago that God owns everything except for our will, and thus the only thing we can truly give to God is just that.   This is shown quite clearly in the ordinance of the sacrament.  Rather than sacrificing an animal on an altar, we are asked to willingly sacrifice our agency to God.  “That they may… witness unto thee… that they are willing…”

Although the law of consecration is difficult to live completely each day, the easier aspect is being obedient to what we know, following the prophet’s counsel, striving to do our best in our relationships and our callings.  The physical aspect would include paying tithing, being generous in fast offerings, etc. A more difficult question is what does the Lord expect of us in relation to our worldly wealth? 

That is a question that each must decide individually, and for which we will each be held accountable.  The Church is clearly one of the most effective organizations at helping people rise above poverty and ignorance, but what of personal responsibility?  That answer can only come by personal revelation.  There are many heroic individuals whose stories we occasionally read - people who have started orphanages, clinics, schools, etc. to serve as best they can.  But most of us are not presently capable of being a Mother Teresa.    All we know for sure is that it is not enough to say, “If I were asked to give, I would.”  We must seek to understand how best to bless our Father’s children now, wherever we are and with whatever we have.  
Boys in Cape Coast carrying ropes from the fishing nets

Monday, August 21, 2017

Monday Aug 21, 2017 - Travels

Another tragedy hit Sierra Leone last week when there was major flooding with mudslides in the capital that killed 500+ people and left many others homeless.  We are always impressed by the members who come to the temple from there because they have lived through a civil war and the Ebola virus in the last 10 years.  The day after the flooding began we had 9 patrons from Sierra Leone in the temple for their own endowments and sealings. 

We had an opportunity to meet Elder Renlund and his wife and hear them speak to the missionaries of the Accra Ghana Mission.  He is an inspiring and humble man and concluded his talk with his testimony of Jesus Christ, where he said, “He loves to heal, to mend, and to repair.  He will lighten your burdens by making you strong.”

Saturday was the continent-wide Africa Day of Service so the temple was closed.  Pres. and Sr. Graham suggested that we and the Piersons take the weekend off and go to Cape Coast, where the church was first established in Ghana. We booked into an older resort on Elmina Bay where we sat by the pool,  walked on the beach, and listened to the crashing waves.  Our culinary treat of the weekend was hot pineapple fritters with ice cream.  Very therapeutic!  We watched a most unusual bird, about the size of a hummingbird but with tail feathers ten inches long.  His body was black and white with a red head and it looked like he was courting as he chirped merrily and chased a similar bird without the tail.  We found his picture on-line:  a pin-tailed Whydah.  What a relaxing day!
Walking past the hotel at sunrise on their way to market - 6 miles away.

Carolyn and Sue walked up the beach to a fishing village where this man was taking lobsters from his nets.

Pin-tailed Whydah


Sunday at church all four of us were invited to share our testimonies.  The ward seemed very stable and mature (Ola University Ward).   After, we visited the Cape Coast slave castle.  The museum there gave a very good history of Ghana and its people.  It is estimated that between 12 and 24 million slaves were sent through the slave castles on the African coast in the 200 years between about 1650 and 1850.  About a third went to Brazil, a third to the Caribbean, and up to 2 million into North America.  The conditions in the castle were deplorable and many died.  More died crossing the ocean.  The castle is preserved as a monument to man’s inhumanity to man.  A sobering afternoon.  Although nothing can undo those terrible events, it is gratifying to be part of the effort to bring hope for a better life to Africa.

We arrived home today to prepare for the busy week ahead with patrons from the Cocody Stake in Ivory Coast and the first intake of the new MTC.
Our favorite palm tree at the resort

Sunday, August 13, 2017

13 Aug 2017 Sunday Musings

In part because of Sue’s Sunday School lesson our thoughts have turned this week to the concept of trials in our lives.  What makes something a trial, what purpose do they serve in our growth, how should we deal with them, how can we help others who are experiencing them? - all questions to ponder.

We were reminded of the Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.  “Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.  “Maybe,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.

The point well-made is that we do not have enough wisdom or foreknowledge to know whether an event, whether painful or pleasant, will turn out to be a curse or a blessing.  A similar adage is that of the bride exclaiming to her mother on her wedding day, “Oh mother, I’m so happy!  I’m at the end of all my troubles!”  Whereupon her mother agrees: “Yes dear.  You just don’t know which end!”

When afflictions come we tend to ask why this is happening to us.  Only after we start to ask what we can learn from this, or how it might turn to be a blessing, do we begin to deal with the trial effectively.

There is a tendency to see God in our lives as a transactional relationship: when we do what he asks he gives us blessings; when we disobey we are cursed.  The scriptures tell us that repeatedly.  Then we make the mistaken leap to: when good things happen it is because we (or others) are doing good; when bad things happen it is because we (or others) have done something wrong.  Worse yet are the times when we try to bargain with Him: If you will only give me X, then I will do Y.

But He isn’t a cosmic Santa (although He does know who’s been naughty or nice).  His ultimate purpose is not to develop obedient servants, but to help his children grow into celestial adulthood.  And so he proposes a covenantal relationship.  If we will learn to love Him and strive to be like Him, we will surely be blessed and ultimately receive all that He has.  As we gradually understand how to bless His children we will receive greater power to do so.  But that does not eliminate the likelihood that part of our curriculum must include suffering - both personal and vicarious.  The price of the wisdom of old age is the pain gained from our own experiences and those of our loved ones.

God is good. Life is wonderful!  But not easy.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

August 6, 2017

As we anticipated in last week’s entry, we were very busy this week in the temple - but that’s becoming a non-newsworthy thing to relate.  Our patrons from Ivory Coast left a day early to allow room for 150 youth from there and Ghana who came for Elder Renlund’s Face to Face broadcast.  The youth stayed in our building for three nights and presumably had a youth conference experience during the daytime.  They were very noisy and talkative in the halls when coming or going, but at night they quickly settled down.  When dressed in their Sunday best they were  beautiful and clean in body and spirit.

They came to our Sacrament Meeting this morning and sat in the back of the overflow area.  The first sacrament prayer was given in French by an Ivorian youth.  Sue was sitting on the same row as Pres. Assard, whom we consider as the grandfather of the church in Ivory Coast, and noticed that he was silently weeping as it was read.  She thought that surely those were tears of joy and gratitude from remembering how far the church in Ivory Coast had come from the day in 1983 when there were only two active families there.  The sacrifices made by him and his family and the other pioneers there sowed the seeds that have brought the happiness of the gospel to tens of thousands.

We met Elder Burfeind in the temple this week!  He is an outstanding young missionary from Jacksonville now here in the MTC studying French in preparation for service in RĂ©union, part of the Madagascar mission.  Who would have ever thought that we would meet again in Ghana?

Yesterday we had the opportunity to visit the Goethe Institute market, which is held once a month.  It is an eclectic collection of food, souvenirs, arts, cloth, etc. that is all for sale.  The event attracts many senior missionaries and other expats and is a fun social occasion. The Grahams gave us the day off because we had finished our office work and the patrons were few because of the broadcast. We enjoyed buying some spicy sausage which we have not enjoyed since leaving the US.