Sunday, December 31, 2017

Dec 31, 2017 Afenhyia pa!

The title of today’s post is the traditional Twi greeting for Christmas/New Year’s, pronounced “afeeshia paw”.  Literally it means “(I give you) a good meeting of the year”, meaning the year has gone full cycle.  The appropriate response means, “May the year go around and find us again”.  It is a good time to reflect on the past and look ahead to 2018.

The older we get, the more this poem/hymn by Charles Wesley seems to resonate:
   Our life as a dream, our time as a stream 
   Glide quickly away; and the fugitive moment refuses to stay.
   For the arrow is flown and the moments are gone.
   The Millennial year presses on to our view and eternity’s here.

We had a wonderful Christmas Eve devotional.  It was our own version of “Lessons and Carols from King’s College” - the Christmas story from Luke 2 interspersed with group singing of carols and musical solos, duets, and trios.  

Pres. Graham, me, and Elder Pierson singing Noel Nouvelet

We ate hors d’oeuvres before the program and dessert after.  The spirit in the meeting was very tender and sweet.  It is difficult to have a better meeting than with a group of senior missionaries - seasoned, talented, full of love, committed to making the world a better place. 

We also enjoyed a casual group brunch together Christmas Day.  Here is a photo someone took of us on the way home with a gift of a watermelon on my shoulder. 

It has been a good year for us: adventures during temple closure in January in Israel with Grahams, and in France in June with Ben and Christy, and the family reunion in St. George; challenging experiences in the temple office with the transition to a new recorder while awaiting the arrival of new office staff; the opening of the new MTC and larger groups of unendowed new missionaries; Sue’s relationship with her YSA Sunday School class; being a small part of the growth of the church in West Africa; and helping the individual patrons and families who arrive at the temple for their own ordinances.

Our family has had a good year as well.  Erin and Michael are happy in San Antonio with their growing-up family.  Ben is nearing the end of his PhD coursework at Claremont.  He and Christy have been publishing and teaching in their respective fields.  Neal and Candice and their three have had a good year in Utah.  Hugh and Kristi and their four are very busy in Madison at work, church, and school.  Tal has had a successful year of teaching music lessons and performing in San Antonio and has a significant girlfriend. Yay!

We will all experience significant changes in 2018.  Tom and Sue will return home in March and make the rounds to visit family and friends.  Ethan, our oldest grandson, will be driving.  Ben and Christy will relocate somewhere undecided as yet.  Neal and Hugh are both applying to graduate schools and will likely be living else where.  Candice plans to graduate with her BA before they move.  Tal is saying nothing.  There will most likely be some surprises next year.

We have been greatly blessed with such a wonderful family and with dear friends old and new.  May the year go around and come to find us all again!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Dec. 24, 2017 Merry Christmas!

What a beautiful Christmas Eve day it has been. We awoke this morning to a Harmattan sunrise with a definite pink cast to both the orb and the sky.  And it was almost cool outside!  

We listened to the ancient English carols as we prepared for church and the devotional tonight at Pres. and Sis. Grahams home which I am in charge of. When we got to Sacrament Mtg. we found out that Sunday School and Priesthood had been cancelled so my special lesson and dessert for my young singles will be saved for another day.  Elder Kacher was the closing speaker and talked about our willingness to give.  Interestingly, as the church expands they are finding that the poor are the most willing.  Because they have few worldly goods, what they share is themselves.  It reminded me of the statement of Peter …..silver and gold have I none but what I have, I give unto you.  He reviewed the circumstances of Christ ’s birth and upbringing and referred to Him as the one who gave all. 

I am starting to understand the statement by Hugh Nibley where he says our purpose on this earth is to learn to repent and to forgive.  It is the Savior who makes both of these possible. He saves us from ourselves. Without his perfect life and his atonement we would be chained to our ignorance, our weaknesses and our poor choices, with everlasting consequences.  He saves us from ourselves. His  love and his gospel, give me the impetus to change, to forgive myself, to try again, to move forward.  As I try to follow him, hope for a better life can become a reality.  And I can share that good news with others and afford them the same chance.  O the greatness of our God!  O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Tom picked petals off the ground Friday when he was out running and brought them to me. Such an intoxifying smell and such a tender thought. 

The office staff at the temple supplied us with the lovely flowers to make our apartment more festive. 

We shared our lunch with the temple president and his wife today.  Thank you Christy for the scrumptious recipe for Brussel sprouts, apples, onions and bacon. I surprisingly found some (sprouts) in the grocery store this week. We ate every last bit.

To you, our neighbors, our friends and family, may you feel of our love for you this Christmas Season.  But more importantly may you feel the love of our Father in Heaven and his son Jesus Christ whose birth, life and mission we celebrate this day.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Dec 17, 2017

This was a good week for Christmas activities.  We participated in the annual Christmas gift exchange for senior missionaries at our FHE on Monday evening.  Everyone brought a small gift and after drawing numbers, in turn opened a gift of their choice.  Then we took turns going around the circle again, in order.  A die was rolled.  If it came up 1, everyone passed their present to the right.  If it came up a 2, every passed their present to the left.  If it came up 3 through 6, the person could choose anyone else’s gift.  Once a gift had been “chosen” like that twice, it was frozen in place and couldn’t  be moved.  It was great fun!

On Tuesday evening we attended an outdoor Christmas concert in the garden of the home of the deputy head of mission for the Netherlands Embassy.  It was the second year we  enjoyed this beautiful venue, a clearing surrounded by mature trees and bushes, decorated with Christmas lights, and the deep night sky overhead.  

The choir sang some inspiring songs supplemented by solos and instrumental music.  Our dear friend (and almost-relative)  Mary Richards was the keyboard accompanist for the evening.  The choir has a new director and sounded greatly improved over last year.  We would suggest that you listen to two carols that were new to us: Hymn to the Virgin, by Benjamin Britten, and Sure on this Shining Night by Morten Lauridsen.  We have already added them to our favorite Christmas playlist. We are grateful for the virtual ether world that provides access to wonderful music during this Christmas season.

A  superb jazz keyboarder with cellist

Mary the amazing Richards and the choir

After the concert

On Thursday there was a woman in the temple who had had a stroke. Her right arm and hand were immobile.  I (Sue) got to dress her completely and we used left hands for all the covenants. In all my temple experience, this was my first opportunity to do this.  She made me so grateful for good health.

Interestingly, I met a grandson of one of my high school friends in the temple.  He is at the MTC here and I saw his name tag - Tollestrup - and asked who his grandparents are.  He said Tim and Linda Tollestrup. I told him that I grew up in the same town that they did,  that I was one of his grandmothers’ friends and was in the same grade as his Uncle Phil.  Elder Tollestrup is from Southern California.

One of our gifts to give this year is to do the ordinances for all the names Tom has discovered online in Family Tree.  Friday evening we did 4 couple sealings and have about 19 children who go with them and other parents. They are from late 1700’s and middle 1800s. I am working on 28 other women’s names.  It is a marvelous blessing to them and to me to do this work. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Dec. 10, 2017

Last week we talked about getting our pictures taken to renew our passports.  We had our appointment at the embassy this week.  After finding the huge building (there aren’t signs to get you there) we struggled to find a place to park.  The visitor parking lot is under construction so we were told to park on the street, and found a place far away near a construction site.  After arriving at the correct entry, we were immediately told we had to take Sue’s purse and our cellphones back to the car.  I guess we should have read somewhere that they weren’t allowed…Then after getting through security we found our way to the correct person who shortly told us our photographs could not be scanned and that we should go to one of the photo “shops” nearby.  Which we did.  Another walk in the hot sun…Actually the shop we found was in a tent by the side of the road and looked more flakey than where we got our original photos (and cost twice as much).  But they could be scanned when we took them back.  Overall, once you get past the feeling that you are trying to enter a facility that doesn’t want you to get in, the people we interacted with were very pleasant.  And we should have the passports in a couple of weeks.  No pictures on this one - of course, they are not allowed!

The Harmattan has officially arrived - the dust clouds from the Sahara - so it must be Christmas!  Red sunrises and sunsets for the foreseeable future, with red dust everywhere and occasional difficulty breathing outside.  

Our Christmas decorations are up.  We found an 18"bare tree left in the cupboard  It is decorated with buttons from the fabric store and a wooden star from the grocery store.We bought this hand carved Nativity last spring because of the facial expressions and eyebrows of the people.  It is so  African and is one of the few things that we will bring home.

We also had our annual Christmas Devotional for temple workers yesterday.  Everyone dressed up, with the women being the most colorful.  

 Elder and Sr. Pierson, Rosine, and Sue.  Rosine is a friend from Benin and a returned missionary who came to Ghana to learn English and participate in Pathway.  She supports herself as a street vendor.

The choir sang 5 traditional songs: Tsie! Abofo Ndze Deedew N' (Listen to the Voice of the Angels), Yeye Ahene Baasa (Three Wise Men), and others, ending with Afrenhyiapa, (translated as Happy New Year, but literally means "I wish you a good meeting of the year", i.e. the year has gone full cycle).  There were wonderful comments by the temple leadership couples and lots of carols, some presents (a carry bag with a kilo of rice and a liter of oil) and a meat pie and drink for the ride home in the trotro.

Tom accompanying the choir

Bro. Atto Brown, our very talented conductor.  His wife and mother were both buried last week.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Dec 3, 2017

It is already December and the wonderful Christmas Season.  We are so grateful for a computer which allows us to listen to the music which we love so dearly.  John Rutter is my favorite composer of the last 50 years.  His creations, Candlelight Carol and Wexford Carol flood me with emotion.  I remember other pieces,  Lo How a Rose Ere Blooming, In the Bleak Midwinter and O Come, O Come Emmanuel and can understand why Good Christian Men Rejoice.  Tom and I listened this morning to Messiah with the London Symphony, Sir Colin Davies conducting.  It was the most appropriate way to begin our Sabbath. We hope you all have access to the inspiring music of the season.

It is always humbling to hear what people here are grateful for. A brother this morning referred to his fear of Christmas and New Years. Many leave the city during this time to visit their childhood village homes in the bush.  He said the roads are so bad that there are always many accidents and deaths. His wish for all the congregation was the blessing of living through this time. Another said, “This is all I have to eat.  What will I eat tomorrow?” In his mind, his response was to be thankful you are still alive. He concluded with “For me and my household, we have lived through this year".  Another testified that he knew that eventually all would be well.

I am grateful that my brother Jack, has lived through quadruple bi-pass surgery and is beginning the road to recovery. As I walked around the temple one evening, I was trying to imagine my world without Jack. I could not. He has had an immense impact on my life and I am relieved that he may be with us several more years.

We need to renew our passports to have enough pages for some planned travel on our way home next year.  This was our visit to the local passport photo vendor.  He also carries a lot of textbooks and other school supplies because of the high school nearby.  On the right, you have his studio, with the bench in front of the white background for the photos, next to the motorcycle.  And just behind, next door, is the "shoemaker" who repaired my dress shoes with a couple of stitches and fixed a loose strap on one of Sue's shoes.  Their prices are very reasonable!

We were most interested in the #LighttheWorld campaign ( ) encouraging service and giving in new ways each day of the season.  We especially liked the vending machine in the JS Memorial Building in Salt Lake where one can donate to buy a goat or chickens or eyeglasses through NGOs and other charities around the world.

These are wonderful opportunities to share and serve if you are looking for ideas.  We should also remember that sometimes those in greatest need of a kind word or deed are next door or across the street.