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.