Sunday, October 29, 2017

Oct 29, 2017 Elder Bednar's Visit

This week we were privileged to listen to Elder Bednar twice.  The first was a YSA “FHE” where he answered questions and taught.  The second was the dedicatory service for the new MTC.  He and Sr. Bednar were at the end of a two week tour of Africa and he commented on the temples in Africa - Kinshasa to be completed early next year, Durbin under construction, Nairobi announced, and Abidjan waiting the start of construction.  8 total ( see map here )

The YSA meeting was classic apostolic instruction - taking questions and then teaching, and including the other general authorities and wives in answering those questions.  One of his themes came through again: objects are acted upon; children of God are called to act.  I think my favorite comment was about time and space: The Sabbath is God’s time, not ours.  We are to remember and prepare for keeping covenants.  The temple is God’s space, for the same purpose.  We should make the Sabbath and the temple different than any other time and space.  We bring the Lord’s time and space back into our home to elevate it, because it is the most sacred space. We were greatly complimented when two of our  students from Sunday school and Institute came to us after and told us that we had taught them everything that Elder Bednar and the Area Presidency had taught that evening.

There was much about the dedication that was truly inspiring: the quiet and peace in the room as we waited in our seats for most of an hour before the meeting started, the choir director [a missionary] who had been in the MTC a total of 4 days, the prayers given in French and English by an elder and sister after only 4 weeks of language study, the power of 11 mission presidents and wives, 200 young missionaries from 21 countries, all the Area presidency, with 20 adult missionary couples, and the Temple President with his five full-time missionaries plus several Area Seventies.  All of this was a prelude to the arrival of Elder Bednar, an apostle  of the Lord, Jesus Christ, and his wife Susan.

Sister Bednar shared her experiences with her 3 missionary sons: one who needed affirmation that God would be with him [D&C 84:87,88], one who needed the gift of tongues with his call to Finland - her definition of the gift of tongues was not limited to learning another language but emphasized teaching the gospel with clarity, and another son who returned to his mission in Bolivia with his dad to find that some of his converts were bishops and their children were missionaries.  Her emphasis to him was that we are called not for 2 years but to honor God for the rest of our lives.
Elder Bednar explained to the mayor of Accra, the Police Chaplain, and other visitors the name of the church in the context of the original church, the apostasy and the restoration of that same church in simple concise phrases. He referred to the statement made by Joseph Smith in 1834 to all who held the priesthood in Kirtland Ohio.  "..You know no more concerning the destinies of this church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap.  You don’t comprehend it.  It is only a little handful of priesthood you see here tonight, but this church will fill North and South America - it will fill the world.”  Then he referred to Daniel and the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, saying that stone was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We living in Africa see this happening right before our eyes, as new stakes are being created almost weekly in West Africa.

The dedicatory prayer was beautiful, profound, and moving.  One excerpt: He likened the MTC to the school of the prophets: a house of learning, of faith, of prayer, a house of glory.  We were grateful to be part of this historical event.  

Dr.Kissi, an early Ghanaian pioneer

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Oct. 22, 2017

We had a light schedule on Friday so were able to go to the MTC to help with missionary intake, as it is called.  Currently there are 200 missionaries there with the arrival of 160 new ones on Thursday.  The others are doing language study and stay for several weeks instead of just three.  During intake, the senior missionaries serving the Area offices (and others like ourselves) staff the various stations to get the missionaries started.  We were assigned to help with immunizations.  Although Sister Pierson and Sister Jones are registered nurses and Tom a physician, only those certified in Ghana can give shots.  Sue directed traffic at the entrance to the immunization room; Tom helped to  give information in French,  both written and verbal, about the diseases, immunizations, and possible complications of both.  Sister Hill  said we were an answer to their prayers for there were no French speakers who understood anything about the medical side of things.  We processed 101 elders and sisters. Some needed 1 shot but most needed 3 plus oral polio. The 60 Americans were vaccinated before they arrived.  We enjoyed chatting with the new missionaries and the staff.  We will see many of them in the Temple this week for their own endowments.  This will be an historic week for the MTC due to the presence of Elder Bednar for the dedication of the new facility on Tuesday.

Sue was very frustrated with her French this week getting bogged down in verb tenses and conjugations.  She decided to change the emphasis to conversation and now her assignments are: talking about what she has done in the past (last week) and what she will do in the future (next few days). This has put some enthusiasm back in her studies.

It is always humbling when you realize again how the Lord is in the details of your lives. Sue was exhausted trying to keep up with her temple assignments, her 2 French classes and teaching the YSA twice each week.  Amazingly enough, the YSA rep on Friday night at Institute announced that the Stake President was starting an outreach program on Friday evenings and wanted to council with the students in the class - did they want to stay in our own class or to join with the Stake. We encouraged them to always do what their Stake Pres. advised so we are waiting to hear if we are finished.  This is a terrific group of young people but  Sue will still teach them in Sunday School even if not on Friday night.

We celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving although a week after the fact.  We were grateful to the Glanfields, from Ontario, who hosted.  They actually had a table big enough and space enough to seat nine of us: Meg and Wayne Jones, formerly of Calgary now Kelowna, Ken and Caroline Pierson formerly Calgary and Lethbridge, now Meridian Idaho, Catherine Roy formerly Montreal now Calgary, and us.  It could only have been more fun if the Tolleys were still here.  We had a great time figuring which people we had in common and strangely enough found out that Elder Jones grandmother (Luella Nilsson) and my grandmother (Mary Lovina Hicken) were sisters. We laughed about that.  Tom has been golfing with this man every week for a year and we never knew we were related.

Anyway we had a great meal of roasted chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, canned cranberries, candied sweet potatoes, a broccoli and cauliflower casserole, fruit salad and homemade rolls, with apple, pumpkin and lemon pie. 

The Piersons warming up for a competitive game of fat-dog
We were all truly grateful and are now looking forward to American Thanksgiving.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

October 15, 2017 A Cultural Evening

We had a cultural experience last night which enlarged our perspective of the people of Ghana. We purchased tickets to a high school musical production  [The Pirates of Penzance] held at  the National Theatre. Each ticket was 70 cedis which is about $16 and more than many Ghanaians can earn in a week. We had several questions about the cost and the production itself, but were interested in the Gilbert and Sullivan play as a diversion to our weekly responsibilities. About 12 missionary couples including the Temple President and the MTC President enjoyed the evening.

The National Theater
Three musicians statue

We arrived almost an hour early and chose to sit by a Ghanaian woman who told us her name was Tamara, that she had attended this high school and had been a chorus member when Penzance had last been put on in 1985. She shared that this school was considered the best in the country and was run by the government. I did not dare ask how you were allowed or chosen to attend.  She told us that the beautiful theatre had been built with a grant from the Chinese government in the early 90’s.  She also said that Nkrumah, the first President of independent Ghana, had attended that school as well as the past president and first lady of the country.  The previous first lady then arrived and sat about 5 rows in front of us.

Inside the theater - vibrant chair covers!  The 2nd balcony is out of view.
Tamara, who sang every word in the production
Cheerful alumni

We wondered if the theatre would be filled [2000-2500seats] but by 6:30 they were mostly taken and we were the only white people there. Then a school representative announced that we were waiting for the arrival of a special guest and then the play would begin. Within a few minutes, the current president of Ghana arrived with his wife and entourage of huge body guards.  We all stood as he entered and then sang the national anthem.

The operetta was done by a cast made up of alumni, with the choruses done by current students at the school.  The live orchestra was very good, as were the principals.  It was fairly standard Gilbert and Sullivan except that in some of the songs the words were changed to fit the current situation.  For example, in “I am the very model of a modern major general”, the words were changed to reflect some of the campaign slogans of the newly elected president.  There were other insertions that made the production relevant to Ghana and the audience loved it.  Unfortunately we couldn’t get all the cultural inside jokes but it was still very fun - a parody of a parody. 

The major general's daughters

After it was all finished, the MC came onstage to introduce the cast, and then invited the president to join them onstage for a photo-op.  Again wildly received by the audience!  After all that, the national anthem was sung enthusiastically, followed by the school song, done with equal gusto.

The whole evening was like joining a multi-class school reunion, campaign rally, musical production, and patriotic event all rolled into one.  It was a unique insight into this slice of the population, which we have not seen as a group before.  These were obviously people with means, committed to raising money for the school, proud of their country and its cultural heritage.  

Sunday, October 8, 2017

October 8, 2017

We were inspired by the talks and music of General Conference last weekend and are looking forward to studying them over the next six months.  We invited a local sister to watch the sessions with us.  It was the first time she had seen a live broadcast and the first time she could watch all the sessions (except the Priesthood Session which aired here at midnight) in one weekend.  Most members here do not have the internet at home even if they are fortunate enough to have a computer.  The Saturday afternoon and Priesthood sessions were broadcast at the stake center on Sunday with some technical difficulties.

We were fortunate to watch the funeral services for Elder Robert D. Hales, of the Quorum of the Twelve, on Friday evening.  His life was an example of devotion to building the Lord’s kingdom in spite of severe health challenges.  His wise and gentle counsel will be remembered.  

While working in the temple we occasionally have some amusing experiences, mostly due to the naiveté of the new patrons and the challenge of different languages.  For example, the president of the MTC, in preparing new missionaries for their temple experience, tells them that they will be ushered into a dressing room where they will change their clothes and put on the white clothing that they bring from the MTC.  As these missionaries arrive, they are usually taken into the waiting room before being brought in groups of four to the office for verification of their membership records, prior to being taken to the dressing rooms.

One morning this week, the first small group of male missionaries arrived and were asked to wait in the waiting room next to the recommend desk until the others in their group arrived.  This is the same room where our baptismal groups wait.  A few minutes later, the MTC leader heard a commotion from the brother at the recommend desk.  One of the missionaries had emerged from the waiting room, half dressed in his white clothes, and was asking in French where he could get his white slippers.  He was promptly sent back into the waiting room by the anxious, finger-pointing desk attendant who couldn’t speak any French.  The MTC leader was about to take the rest of the group, including sister missionaries, into the waiting room but as he opened the door he found four missionaries in various states of undress getting into their white clothing.  He quickly closed the door and recruited help from someone who spoke French to have the missionaries get back into their street clothes.  The new missionaries had just assumed that the waiting room was the dressing room, and that they should start changing.

Later this week we had a group of 12 unendowed elders with their two previously endowed but inexperienced escorts who went on a session.  Toward the end of the two hour experience, a worker realized that neither of the two escorts had been given a name slip of a deceased person to represent on the session.  They pointed to their escort badge, thinking that  it was all that was needed.  We realized that the brother at the door of the session room needed more instruction in checking to see that all who entered were properly prepared for the session.  Having large groups of inexperienced patrons is a challenge because we never know what they don’t know, or what they might do when not closely attended.

One morning early this week, Tom was exiting our apartment to go exercise.  In the hallway he met a boy who was about 4 years old.  The little boy looked up at him with a smile and pointed, saying “Prophet, prophet!”  We laughed a lot about that one!

Laughing is a very healthy outlet.  Fortunately we have been blessed with a sense of humor and can laugh often at our own foibles.

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Help is on the way! October 1, 2017

This past week the new full-time temple staff (the assistant reorder, and the two clerks) were being trained by the recorder from S. Africa.  We have known two of the three since our arrival in Ghana and they will be very helpful workers in the office.  One starts officially on Tuesday while the other two start November 1, so we will still be needed to assist for a while.  As many questions came up about procedure and policy, typical in training situations, it became clear that with these full-time workers the temple will make great gains in consistency and stability, and we are excited for this new era to begin.

Sue had a wonderful experience this week.  In the group from Sierra Leone there was a man whose young wife had died a couple of years ago, to whom he wished to be sealed.  Sue represented her in an endowment session and also in the sealing session.  When we have groups that come from far way, we usually hold a group sealing session, rather than doing one couple at a time.  For that group we had six families, more than normal, and there were many jubilant smiles as they exited the sealing room together.

A tragic story also came from this group.  One young returned missionary came with his parents to be sealed to them.  He had been job-sharing in a factory with his cousin who was married and with his bride was expecting a baby in a few months.  The night of the terrible rains and mid slides in Sierra Leone, his cousin and pregnant wife were killed.  When one considers the wars, disease (Ebola), and other tragedies that these good people have endured, it makes us grateful that the Lord provides a way for families to be together forever.  

Today with our normal Sunday meetings canceled due to General Conference we had a pancake breakfast for the temple president and matron and the other three temple missionaries  besides ourselves.  One of the counselors in the presidency had given the matron a fruit (unnamed) which we were advised would taste good if we cut it open and ate it.  Many of you may recognize it.  We didn’t at first.  Here are some pictures:

This is of course a coco fruit, from which chocolate is derived.  The outside looks a bit like a squash and is very tough.  The inside is full of seeds joined in a gelatinous white mass in a clove shape.  If you suck the seeds they have a sweet citrusy flavor that doesn’t last long.  If you dry the seeds and take off the hulls you have the coco bean, which can then be ground into raw coco, very bitter but the base for chocolate.  You can see all three aspects here.

We really enjoyed the first session of conference yesterday afternoon and are looking forward to the rest later today.  Happy October!