This week began with the arrival of 4 missionaries from the field to the mission home. They had been selected and called by an apostle, to end their service in the Ghana Accra Mission and become missionaries of the Sierra Leone Mission. The Sierra Leone Mission was closed due to the Ebola outbreak and is now reopening, so several missions in Africa are sending some missionaries to help staff their mission. I thought about these four Americans a lot and wondered how they were doing with this change to their mission experience. I remember how it was serving as an “Austrian Missionary.” Over a short period of time, you develop a deep commitment to the country and your fellow missionaries. I thought how I would feel if I had received a call to serve in Germany half way through my mission experience. I think it would be very difficult for me. I loved my mission and everything about it, and especially the people. Leaving that prematurely would have been hard for me. And so, I wondered if they might be having some difficulty.
They arrived Sunday afternoon and evening from various locations in the mission. We had only a few minutes to meet them and learn about them. All had been away from home 7-8 months. They had endured much and worked through their challenges. I was a little surprised that they had no real concerns about entering a new country and beginning a new mission experience. This was reinforced Monday evening during a “departure devotional” held in the mission home. The president spoke first to them and shared some about the reasons they were chosen. He said that the Lord had made it very clear who should be the four missionaries going to Sierra Leone. He expressed his confidence in them and praised them for their faithfulness and diligence. Sister Heid also shared the confidence she had in them that she was sending them forth as a mother sends forth her sons.
Each missionary also shared a few thoughts and their testimony. It was clear to me, also, why they were chosen for this special assignment. For being young nineteen year-old missionaries, they demonstrated a surprising level of spiritual maturity. I could only wipe away the tears thinking of 4 sets of parents who were not able to hear them share their feelings about Jesus Christ and representing Him to the people of Ghana. The personal growth and progress evident in their words would create a confidence for their parents that their sons were becoming the kind of men and servants they would hope and desire them to become. I felt it to be a privilege to associate with them even for only a few hours.
We have included a few pictures of our “special” Sierra Leone missionaries.
Elder Grant, Elder Saunders, Elder O'Very and Elder Smith with President and Sister Heid.
In only a few minutes, Elder Saunders and I discovered that we had common ancestry. My Grandmother, Mom’s side, was a Saunders. Our common grandfather (great, great, great or great, great) was William Gimbert Saunders, who joined the church in England and then immigrated to Utah. Below is a photo of Elder Saunders and Elder Pace – Cousin missionaries.
The Sierra Leone Mission President sent a special welcome letter to those four missionaries. He explained how excited the church members were to again have missionaries to help them teach the gospel. In spite of the fact that Ebola had caused the closure of the mission for over a year, 1,000 people were baptized during that time because the members “stepped up” and shared their feelings about the gospel with their friends.
Driving in Ghana and Accra is a “real” experience. Our predecessors explained it this way. “It is basically a game of chicken.” Although it is an anxiety-laden activity, we are starting to understand the “order” within the chaos and finding how we can fit into it.
As we are driving, our main focus is on the TRO TRO drivers. They weave in and out, stop at any time and at any place and don’t seem to abide by any common sense driving practices. Most of the TRO TROs are beat up and barely together. They spew dark clouds of smoke and don’t have any working head lights OR taillights. But, they reign supreme when you talk about public transportation. Tonight we were driving home from a social with some other senior missionary couples. There was a Tro Tro being pushed along the four lane highway….in the inside lane. A policeman passed the group and never offered any assistance.
In Ghana and neighboring countries Tro Tros are privately owned minibus “shared” taxis that travel fixed routes, leaving when filled to capacity. While there are tTo Tro stations, these vehicles for hire can also be boarded anywhere along the route. Operated by a driver and a conductor (who collects money, shouts out the destination, and can also be called a "mate"), many are decorated with slogans and sayings, often religious. Few operate on Sundays. Used by 70% of Ghanaian commuters, Tro Tros are the most popular form of transport for work and shopping in the country as of 2010. Large buses also provide public transport in Accra, Ghana, as of 2008 but may be used by fewer people.
This TroTro actually looks a lot better than most. It still has hubcaps and isn't smoking.
As already mentioned, most Tro Tros have religious statements or phrases on the back. Others you might see..."Christ is King," "Give Jesus your Heart," etc.
We thought this right of way sign was interesting. We don't know if Ghanaians understand what it means. Then again, we are not sure we know what it means. One thing we do know, the sign does NOT alter behavior.
Nancy attended a District missionary meeting with Zone Leaders (young missionaries who supervise a certain number of missionaries in their area). They conduct the meeting, share spiritual messages, etc. This week they were sharing the news that President Heid has gotten permission to increase the missionary monthly “allowance” or “subsistence” payment by $10 US!! Food and other items have gone up in the last few months….utility rates have doubled!! Even though most US missionaries and their parents pay $400 per month into church headquarters for their “support”, the church takes an average of what is needed for housing, utilities, etc. in each mission and any excess is used for missions that are more expensive. Most Africans could not afford to pay anything like the $400 US so they contribute what they can.
The other announcement was trying to help the missionaries be responsible when something breaks….a phone goes through the wash, etc. They will now have to contribute some money for replacement. They also are getting some additional money each month to help purchase cleaning supplies. The mission nurse is concerned that too many missionaries are having some stomach issues because they are not cleaning their dishes and fruits and veggies properly, especially using some bleach.
Stan had another banking experience this week. Stan went to the bank on Tuesday, after a national holiday on Monday. He knew it would be busy, but when you have to replenish the cash, you have to go. Most vendors at our office want to be paid in cash!! When he arrived at the bank, there were twenty people and one teller!! He found out that once you give the teller your transaction, you have to get back in “que” to receive the money!! When he moved up seats in the “que”, he remarked to the gentleman next to him, that he really didn’t understand the 'system." The group around him laughed and said they didn’t understand it either!!!
Then we had surges of power and outages on Friday. (Again, we have a generator at the office). We decided to head for the grocery store and purchase some supplies for the mission office. The store was having electrical issues and was not open. So, we went to the bank. They said they were not operating either, although we saw employees using computers and the lights were on. Just as we were leaving, an employee came rushing to us and said they could help us. Even though we were the only customers in the bank, it still took at 15 minutes to cash two checks, but we were very grateful that we did not have to return for a few days!! We just wish we understood the entire banking process here!!
The store was back open on Saturday and Stan was pleased to find a large assortment of cheese. That was a rare find in China, so we are grateful that it is available here in Africa.
Saturday night we had the Heids to dinner at our apartment. Poor President had been dealing with an African missionary who was having extreme mental anxiety. (We are so grateful a mental health profession is now here for the next 18 months). Anyway, we now know that it is likely that he will return home, at least until he get some help and is healthy enough to return. We were thankful that President and Sister Heid could spare a few hours to eat with us, play a game and have a few laughs.
Sunday we were invited to attend church where the temple is located, just a few blocks from our apartment. When church starts, the person conducting always welcomes everyone and the congregation verbally responds, “Good Morning”. If you meet someone new, they say, “You’re welcome”, meaning that they are glad to meet you.
This building is the Stake Center just across from the Temple. It really is a nice setting.
One of our office missionaries spoke in Sacrament meeting this Sunday. (Elder Morris is usually featured in our blog eating something!!) It was great to see him in this role, as most of the time he is helping us get out of computer difficulties!! He talked about the contrast between David in the Old Testament and Paul in the New Testament. David was a “chosen vessel of the Lord”, but allowed lust and pride to get in his way. (Remember the story of Bathsheba and then murdering her husband?) Paul, originally called Saul, persecuted Christians until he received a vision and changed his ways to preach the gospel. Elder Morris suggested we all have the potential to be like Paul and do much good in the world.
One other young man in church spoke about the desire to share the gospel. He shared an example to illustrate motivation. A person sought an elderly man’s advice about choosing a career. The elderly gentleman had him go underwater and hold his breath. When he came up gasping for air, the elderly gentleman explained that when you desire something as much as air, then you have motivation!
After Sacrament meeting, this is what you see as you exit the Stake building.
We decided we needed a "selfie" in front of the Temple. You can't tell that it feels like a 150 degrees standing there, even with a warm breeze!!.
Friday evening we spent in the temple with other senior missionaries. It was great doing some work and enjoying the peace found in the House of the Lord at the same time.
We have been communicated with some friends, the Worthens, from our days in Arizona. They are currently serving a mission in Guatemala. They sent an email this week asking about Dr. Anderson, who is from a small town in Alaska, was in the MTC with us and is the West Africa Area medical doctor for several missions. Apparently the Worthern’s daughter, Kaye, has a very good friend, Pepper, in that same town in Alaska. Dr. Anderson helped Pepper and her husband have three test tube babies!! When we asked Dr. Anderson about Pepper, he knew her immediately. Another small world connection!! We also found out that Dr. Anderson has run the Iditarod several times. The last time was 1993 and at that time it cost about $40-50K personally to do the race and care and train the dogs. He promised us that he will do a presentation for the senior couples about his experience.
On Monday, March 14, we were invited to attend a special Missionary meeting. Elder Ronald A. Rasband , (member of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles), was in town for Africa West Area meetings and a Mission President's Seminar. He also wanted to meet with all the missionaries in the Accra area. It was a wonderful 2-hour meeting.
If you enlarge this picture, you will see Elder Rasband addressing all the missionaries. We loved his positive and encouraging remarks. His wife also spoke. They were so "down-to-earth" and personable. They both greeted and shook hands with everyone.