Saturday, March 24, 2018

March 24, 2018 - Goodbye

We want to share as our last blog post, some wonderful experiences from the past two weeks travelling in South Africa. So that you have some idea of how huge this continent is, we flew for 6 hours nonstop to Johannesburg, changed planes and flew 2 hours to Cape Town.  What a beautifully clean city, with beaches of white sand so fine it was like icing sugar, dramatic Table Mountain and spectacular views of ocean on both sides of the peninsula.  This did not feel like the Africa we were familiar with but more like Europe. We stayed three nights in an adorable guest house [circa 1900]  Welgelegen, two victorian houses joined by a courtyard.  We were provided breakfast each day with hot bread out of the oven, fruits, granola, yogurt, cheeses, tomatoes eggs, crepes fresh squeezed orange juice etc.  Cape Town is in a drought so we did not indulge in a soak in an 8’ free standing bath tub. Although the wind and some rain stopped us from boating to Robbin Island and taking the cable car to the top of the mountain, we were charmed with the city.

We spent 5 days and 4 nights on Safari in or near Kruger National Park. Unbelievable! Within 15 feet, sometimes 5 feet of untamed elephants, lions, rhinos, giraffes, African buffalo, leopards, hyenas, hippos, warthogs, wildebeest, zebras, baboons, impalas, monkeys and a multitude of beautiful birds,  we observed their behavior in their native habitat. Many were training babies. We felt like we were living a National Geographic special.  For a couple who was not sure we wanted to do this, it was amazing.

Zimbabwe concluded our trip with some history and dramatic scenery. We stayed in the 1904  Victoria Falls Hotel surrounded by  acres of manicured gardens, lush grass and aromatic flowers.  We looked out over the railroad bridge across the Zambezi River.  The original plan was for a railroad to link Cairo to Cape Town.  It was never completed but the bridge is still used  today for vehicles and trains.  The falls themselves are unfathomable,  5000 cubic meters /sec falling over the mile long break in the landscape.  If you are a waterfall lover, this is one not to miss.

Statue of David Livingston, physician, missionary, explorer, and discoverer of Victoria Falls

We fly home tomorrow night.  Goodbye good and gracious Ghana!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

March 11, 2018

We have finished our last week in the Temple.   It was busy to the end.  Tom was able to give away his white suits, his shoes, and some shirts and I my sandals.  Many said sweet good byes and hoped we would come back. Some brought gifts : a bow tie, a necklace, a leather carrier for a passport,  a t-shirt, some earrings. Such generosity from people who have little in the worlds goods.

Today we spoke in church after 2 other missionaries bore their testimonies, a young single, and a visiting mission president. The bishop asked all those who were in my class to stand and sing  “You can make the pathway bright “ for the interlude hymn.  We cut our talks to bits but could still feel the spirit.  After the meetings we got together with the YSA and they presented us with a booklet of pictures of the class and each had written something we had taught them. It was very touching and we hugged and cried and sang “God be with you ‘till we meet again”.  We spent the afternoon and evening with the Redlins, sharing and comparing our experiences.  It is sweet to be with old friends.

It feels just like every other week, but it is over.  Most of our clothes are packed and we will finish tomorrow before FHE. Our space is so small that there is not much to clean. Tuesday morning at 9:00 we will fly to Cape Town, South Africa to see the sights, head up to two different safari lodges in Kruger National Park and spend a couple of days at Victoria Falls before returning to Accra for 48 hours with our Temple President.  We will have a chance to meet our replacements, the Cheneys, at that time.  

We have learned so much.  Our hearts are full.  The work will go on but for us it is time to go home.

We will arrive in Jacksonville at 7 pm on Monday, Mar. 26 and have been asked to speak in sacrament meeting in the Jacksonville Beach Ward at 10 AM on Sunday April 8th.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

March 4, 2018 Learned Helplessness

As we have been reflecting on our experiences here, a thought came that helps me understand some of the things we have struggled with during our time in Ghana.  Many years ago, I was introduced to the idea of “learned helplessness”.

Learned helplessness is behavior typical of an animal and occurs where the subject endures repeatedly painful or otherwise aversive stimuli which it is unable to escape or avoid.  The animal learns that it is helpless, accepts that it has lost control, and gives up trying even in new situations where escape or avoidance might be effective.  I was introduced to it in the domain of continuous improvement, where those who might help solve problems fail to participate because they have been put down so many times that they have given up trying to make a difference.

There are many aversive stimuli in our current situation which we are unable to avoid or control.    For example, I went to the MTC this afternoon to help the missionaries enter family names in Family Search for ordinances.  While we were working, the power went off at least 5 times.  Each time required a reboot of the computers.  We don’t control power outages; we don’t control the air conditioning going off either at home or the temple; we don’t control when the hot water goes off for 6 weeks; we don’t control whether or not what we are looking for at the grocery store will be there this week, or next; the list goes on.  Most of these are annoyances and inconveniences but they do tend to add up.

Fortunately there are many things that we do control: our scripture study, our exercise, when we get up and go to bed, how well we serve, how kind we are to others, etc. etc.  It is by focusing on those things that we maintain enough control of our lives that we don’t get depressed or give up.

One of the satisfying activities of the last couple of months has been playing golf.  Some may find that for them the game is definitely a painful stimulus, without any real control.  I have been playing every preparation day for about 18 months as soon as it is light enough to see.  No warmup, no driving range, just arrive, do 10 minutes of putting, and set out.  Some days good, other days bad, but always enough good shots to keep going back.  For some reason, I have been able to relax a lot more in the past couple of months during the game and not try to force the shots.  In doing so, the scores have come down about an average of 6-8 shots per round, and last Monday I shot a personal best!  Perhaps things are going better because to a degree I have given up trying to be “in control” and focused on basics.  

Are we really in control of what is happening in our lives?  No definitely not. God is in control, and He doesn’t often tell us what is happening next.  We can set goals, set out to accomplish good things, work hard, etc. but in the end we are not in charge and the sooner we recognize that and leave the driving to Him, the sooner we will achieve greater happiness and experience less frustration.  Our own striving should continue, but with a greater degree of faith and confidence that in the end things will turn out ok even if they don’t turn out how we thought they would.

Fun after a long week, with Sr. Graham, Piersons, Pothiers, Sr. Roy, and the Spackmans, with Pres. Graham behind the camera. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Feb. 25, 2018

In two weeks we will  finish our 23 months in the Accra Ghana Temple. It is surprising how quickly the time has passed and how hard we have worked.  It will be a bittersweet experience to leave.  It makes the possibility of not meeting until the Spirit World very real. There are members here that we love and have learned a great deal from. We will miss them. We have seen a complete turnover of senior missionaries since most return home after 18 months but have been grateful to meet their replacements and be inspired by them. Being in Africa has made us better people and hopefully those experiences which have changed us, will stay in our hearts and minds and influence all our relationships.  

I was impressed with a story from the life of Ghandi. He was running for a train and as he was jumping for the car, lost one of his shoes.  As soon as he got his balance and his bag, he bent over, removed the other shoe and threw it out the window. A fellow traveler asked why he had done that.  He responded, “ What good will it do the fellow who finds it to only have one shoe?”  How completely we must bring the Savior into our lives—to practice living the gospel  that He lived and taught.  It is not enough to wear virtue, we must assimilate virtue.  We need to practice enough that thinking of others first becomes our automatic response.  Practically, ‘Let us not be content with where we are, but neither let us be discouraged.’

I have started cleaning out the cupboards and have thrown away all the expired spices. We are only buying fresh produce for groceries. I made pumpkin bars today to use our last can of pumpkin and our last cream cheese.  We have decided what clothes, shoes and books are staying here. We have sent in our apartment inventory and informed the caretaker of all the things that need to be fixed before our replacement comes.  I have two Sunday School classes left to teach.

I signed up for the Rosetta Stone French language program.  It is really fun and although I have only completed two units [an hour each day] I am finding that I actually know something.  The program is a great motivator.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Feb. 18, 2018 The Gospel Culture

Nearly 15 years ago, Pres. Dallin Oaks gave a talk in the October, 2003 General Conference titled “Repentance and Change” which shared some of his thoughts about the gospel culture versus worldly culture, and how we all need to change.  It is a classic, and one about which I have thought a lot as we have been exposed to different cultures. 

This week we heard an interesting story that reveals another of the challenges of the church in growing areas such as West Africa, where we often have first generation members called to serve as leaders.  A group came to the temple from Ivory Coast—an eight to twelve hour trip.  One of the men showed his recommend to come in but it was scanned as being “not valid”.  On further examination it turned out that his bishop had deactivated the recommend after the brother had left Cote d’Ivoire because of a personal conflict with this brother.  He failed to tell him about it before he arrived at the temple.  The bishop had hoped that the embarrassment and expense that this caused would teach the man a lesson.

A meeting was shortly held between temple leadership, the bishop, and his stake president, who was also at the temple.  The bishop was called to repentance and was helped to understand that this was an abuse of his position, that any personal conflicts should be resolved face to face in private, and that he owed the brother an apology.  The situation was soon resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, the brother entered the temple to participate in the ordinances, and the bishop returned home a wiser leader.

This morning in a class discussion another cultural situation was retold.  One of the beloved senior local leaders, when he was a young branch president in Ghana, was invited to Accra to an event with the mission president.  In those early days of the church in Ghana, the mission president, who happened to be an American, would have been the presiding authority in the country.  As was common here at that time, and still is today in some parts of the world, a married man expected to be heard and obeyed. This was the understanding of  ‘head of the home’. This meant in part that the wife was supposed to do all the work in the home.  At the event held at the mission headquarters, the young branch president happened to wander into the kitchen after the activity and found the mission president there doing the dishes.  He was so amazed that he called his wife to come and see what was happening.  Ever since then, he recounted, he has helped his wife and treated her with greater respect.  And he has taught other Ghanaian members of the church to do the same. He was asked if he still did dishes. “I did this morning”, was his answer.  Out of small and simple acts can come great things.

Pres.Oaks: “The gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to change…and repenting means giving up all of our practices—personal, family, ethnic, and national—that are contrary to the commandments of God. The purpose of the gospel is to transform common creatures into celestial citizens, and that requires change…. The Savior invites all to come unto Him and His servants seek to persuade all—including Americans—to become Latter-day Saints. We say to all, give up your traditions and cultural practices that are contrary to the commandments of God and the culture of His gospel, and join with His people in building the kingdom of God…. Jesus commanded us to love one another, and we show that love by the way we serve one another. We are also commanded to love God, and we show that love by continually repenting and by keeping His commandments. And repentance …in its broadest meaning …requires change, giving up all of our traditions that are contrary to the commandments of God. As we become full participants in the culture of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we become "fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God”.   

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Feb. 11, 2018

This will be short today.  As predicted last week, we have been very busy.  We had our second largest group of living endowments, ever, mainly due to the large number of French-speaking missionaries from the MTC.  The temple furniture has been newly recovered during the closure and looks marvelous.  Now if only it matched the carpets as well….

We sang the following hymn to close our ward conference service this morning.  The words and music were written by Joseph H. Dean, who is my great grandfather’s half brother, and it summarizes some of the feelings we have about Africa today.

“Look up, my soul; be not cast down.
Keep not thine eyes upon the ground.
Break off the shackles of the earth.
Receive, my soul, the spirit’s birth.

And now as I go forth again
To mingle with my fellow men,
Stay thou nearby, my steps to guide,
That I may in thy love abide.”

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Feb. 4, 2018 "And I saw another angel fly..." Rev. 14:6

Monday this week we went to Tema, where the old MTC building is, to the market.  Elder Hill, who is a senior missionary serving the MTC, knew a tailor who makes pants.  The market is a sprawling chaotic collection of lanes, shanties, and huts where everything is sold.  This is where the population shops.  We followed Elder Hill through the maze until we arrived at a fabric stall, purchased our washable wool blend, and then took it 20 yards away to the tailor.  If all went well, we will have new pants ready tomorrow.

The excitement of the week was seeing the Angel Moroni statue on top of the temple be replaced.  It seems that this needs to happen every decade or so due to weathering of the gold leaf.  Six years ago an attempt was made to make the exchange but at that time the country did not have a portable crane capable of reaching that high.  Instead, a pulley system was used, but it jammed at some point in trying to raise the old statue and only after much prayer and effort were they able to free it again and lower it back into place.

Unloading the counterbalance weights for the crane 

So Moroni2 (the understudy) has been waiting in the wings, actually on the roof of the temple all wrapped up in a large box, for 6 years. Friday was his turn to shine.  He was prepared for his starring role with a new coating of gold leaf which was then burnished and sealed.  We had a nice view of the event from our staircase window and took some photos.  The crane received an award for best-supporting actor.

Sue decided to get a seat with Srs. Pierson and Hadley on the side of the Area Building to watch the event. It was a hot day but with a slight breeze, we had a great view and were very comfortable.

This week-end our visitors from SLC were the YM President and a General Sunday School councillor who did training on Saturday. They brought their wives with them and all looked very young.

Tom graciously taught my YSA Sunday School lesson today as I had a bout with nausea and vomiting  during the night.  I had a very leisurely morning sleeping and after eating some chicken soup, feel almost normal.  

In reading a talk by Elder Oaks from the 1986, Brothers Keeper, I found a quote from Joseph Smith that caught my attention. “We have no right to scare mankind to repentance. We should preach the gospel as glad tidings of great joy which shall be unto all people. ‘History of the Church1:280.

Tuesday the temple reopens to patrons from Ivory Coast and Wednesday through Friday we will have a new group from the MTC.  It will be good to be very busy again.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

January 28, 2018 First Week, Temple Closure

This week we were invited to spend a couple of days visiting Elder and Sr. Haglund, a senior couple serving in member & leader support (MLS) in Koforidua.  They live about 2 hours away in a large home on the edge of the town of about 130K people.  We were impressed that the streets are kept more tidy and clean than those of the capital.  The Haglunds have been there for 14 months and have seen the district become a stake recently.  Many of the local population speak Twi, but the Haglunds do not, so much of their communication is non-verbal.  They had a lot of practice doing that on their previous mission in Armenia.

They are very interesting people, wonderful hosts, and took us to see some of the local sights.

Boti Falls in the dry season
Umbrella Rock

Sue on a branch swing at the falls

The canopy walk through the treetops 60 M up

We were also introduced to some of their friends in the area.  

This is Comfort, who joined the church a few months ago.  She is 79 years old and lives in a compound with other family members.  She was a long-standing member of a local Christian church but didn't feel any love in attending there so she quit going.  After some time, she felt quite guilty that she wasn't going to church and decided she really wanted to find somewhere to worship God.  One Sunday she dressed in her best clothes and prayed to God that He would help her find a place to worship.  Then she called a taxi and rode into town.  Eventually she stopped at the local LDS branch and went to the meetings.  At the end, the branch president introduced himself and asked if she had come with someone.  When she said that she had come alone he invited her to learn more about the church, to which she readily consented.  She recently was able to attend the temple to do proxy baptism and confirmation for her mother, who died in 2016 at the age of 103.

As we visited with her (us in English, she in Twi) she asked us to wait while she got some things from her house.  She brought back a ziplock bag and proudly showed us her certificate of baptism and confirmation, her temple recommend, the family name slip of her mother, and her record of donations which she received at tithing settlement.

It was eye-opening for us to see first hand both the challenges and also the sweet side of Haglunds’ experiences.  We have great admiration for MLS missionaries.

Yesterday we went on an excursion to see the bead factory of Cedi Beads in Odumase-Krobo, also about 2 hours away near the town of Kpong (pronounced “pong”).  Cedi is the nickname of Nomoda Ebinezer Djaba, who has been making glass beads about 50 years, since the age of 7.  

About 1/4 mile off the highway on a rough dirt road, he has a peaceful compound where he manufactures and sells the beautiful beads.  He is known internationally and makes annual trips to the US to show his products in different cities.  We were fortunate to have him personally show us the process of making different kinds of beads.  

Sue’s favorite was the chevron bead, which has interesting designs that are not painted on, but pigments poured into the mold along with the sand.  Here are a couple of examples:

A friendly Ent

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Jan 21, 2018

Two things to share on our first day of temple closure.  I really enjoy teaching the Young Single Adults in our ward. They are receptive and responsive and it gives me great joy to see them thinking about new ideas.  Today our lesson was on the Creation mostly from the book of Moses. Many thanks must go to our son Ben for his studies and his insights ( ).  I was grateful that our class could have a good scriptural discussion on the who, why and a bit of the how [ex nihilo versus Abraham 3:24 plus the verb ‘organized’ in Abr 4:1 versus created].  After class, a woman approached and asked a question about God and his color and wondered if in the eternal worlds we would all be white?  I asked her if she new what color God was?  I assured her that I did not. I explained that God radiates light and truth or glory because of his holiness  and as we become more like him, we too will reflect light and truth. This response seemed to satisfy her.

We spent several hours this afternoon with a church film crew from SLC and LA.  It was a hot humid day, about 90 degrees with humidity and fortunately a slight breeze—not great for keeping dry or keeping the hair curled. The filmers were drinking lots of water so they could avoid dehydration.  Interestingly, the camera man served a mission in Rochester MN in 1987 when Tom was a bishop there and now teaches in the film dept. at USC.  Our son-in-law received his PhD from USC in linguistics.  Such connections you can make in Africa! 

They are in Accra working on content for a church web site which will be a portal to consolidate the opportunities for potential senior missionaries and encourage them to serve, using videos of currently serving couples.  Through some self-screening tools they will be able to see specific opportunities where they might want to serve.  We previewed some of what they have done and it looked very good.  There are also crews filming at the Washington DC Temple and the Sapporo Japan Temple.  We and the Piersons may be seen in about 40 seconds of a two minute  segment about temple missions.  Pres. Assard took a few pictures while we were waiting to start.  We look forward to using the new web site by the time we apply for #2!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Jan. 14, 2018 What's in a Name?

We were very busy helping the office staff this week.  The records of all the ordinances are of course transmitted electronically to Church headquarters every day or two.  In addition, the paper copies of the ordinances for the living are kept for a year and then sent to the Church.  So we have been busy making sure that the electronic and paper records are the same and that the paper records are alphabetized in the same order as the electronic version, to prepare to send off the paper records from last year.

Thats sounds very simple, but in reality it is not.  In large part that is because African names are so different from those in N. America.  At home we are used to having the same father’s family name passed on from one generation to the next, with parents naming their children one or two additional “given names”.  And the order is always the same: first given name, second given name, and then family name.  In some parts of English-speaking Africa that is the same, but in other parts, especially French-speaking, it can be very different and not consistent from one region to another.

For example, in many parts of West Africa, the family name is given first, with other given names following.  Not too difficult.  Sometimes the family name is the second name, with a grandparents name given first and the “given name” last.  In that case, the “family name” changes from generation to generation, much like the patronymic system in Scandinavia.  Another variant is that the child is given the father’s “family” name first, followed by their “given name”, followed by another name given by the parents, which could be that of an uncle, or friend, etc.  With large numbers of orphans in West Africa it is also common for children to be raised by uncles, aunts, grandparents, or kind strangers, and the children often bear their names.  (If you aren’t confused yet you haven’t been paying attention!) So if you ask the question, “What is your family name?”, there may not be a straightforward answer.  

Unfortunately for us, the electronic forms require first given name, followed by second given name, followed by family name.  The order is the same on the recommend forms that come with the patrons, but the bishops don’t always follow the instructions correctly.  That means that sometimes the patrons are confused by the questions we ask to try to ascertain what name to put in which slot.  And sometimes the office workers are confused about what answers they give.  Then throw in the language barriers, add in the clerical errors of changing the forms in the computer to match what the patrons have said, and the filing errors, and you have an interesting mix.  

Over time we have improved a lot in understanding these issues and getting it correct, but it has been a year of transition from one recorder to another, and from volunteer staff to full-time staff.   So, this week we have been very busy with forms and the alphabet.  

Fortunately we’ve also had time to recuperate each day and a couple of gatherings in the evening.  We went to the 2nd Annual MTC Cultural Awareness Day and potluck lunch, where they showed us how to wear a chief’s Kinte cloth, how to tie the headgear, and how to wrap a baby to carry on the back.  It was fun and a celebration for MTC Pres. and Sr. Brubaker, who will be released next week.

Lunch at the MTC

A real chief wouldn't wear a shirt!
Pres.and Sr.Brubaker

Sr. Simpson (mission president's wife) and Sue
Showing off headgear

Sunday, January 7, 2018

January 7, 2018 Happy New Year!

In the last week we have celebrated a New Year.  On the 31st we and a few couples had our own dinner with meat loaf, scalloped potatoes, squash, green beans, and salad, homemade bread and apple crisp.[this is not a typical African dinner] Then we played cards and all went home by 8:30.  Jan1 was a pool party and BBQ, with greetings by Elder Kacher. He encouraged each of us to support our spouses in our missionary callings and ended with the idea that sometimes that takes us our of our comfort zones. Then he proceeded to do a dance and sing ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside” with his wife.  She was a dancer and choreographer in her pre-mission life and this was definitely to please her.  I was the first in the pool but 5 others eventually joined me.  it was a lovely day to float around. 

We taught the temple missionaries how to play ‘The Great Dalmuti’.  In the picture you see Bro. Pothier as the dalmuti and Sr Pierson as the peon.  Neither one of them ended up in those positions at the end but we laughed as we regularly exchanged places according to our ranking in the game.

The temple was quiet enough this week that we took Thursday off and did much need activities around the house and went grocery shopping.  I think this is the first day we have taken off since we got here. We have attended the last two senior missionary sealing sessions and were able to complete 5 couples and 19 of their children.  We are hoping to finish all the ordinances of the family members that Tom has found here before we get home.  It will be a tough adjustment not being in the temple  almost every day. 

We were not surprised but saddened to hear of Pres. Monson’s passing.  He is probably with Frances visiting all the widows from the ward when he was bishop to see how they are getting on in the spirit world.  That will ever be his legacy to the world: service to the one in need.

We know Elder Nelson and Elder Oaks have been well-prepared for their next callings  They are wonderful men, like all the general authorities ; mortals still, with imperfections, but acting with inspired guidance because of the responsibilities they carry.  It will make April Conference another historic event in the Church.