It’s been a good week here, with the first half being very busy and the second half slowing down to manageable standards. We are so appreciative of the work of so many this week to make it all come together. We have had a few hiccups along the way, but in the end it all worked out, thanks to the flexibility of missionaries, mission staff and Ghana Church Travel.
On Monday we received Sister Yula and Sister Yenga from the DR Congo. Neither one of them can understand much English at this point, but we know that will change quickly as they begin to apply themselves in their language learning and the Spirit of the Lord blesses them with the gift of tongues. It is an amazing thing to see these missionaries come here knowing only French or Portuguese and by the time they go home they are proficient enough in English to begin BYU Pathway. It can only be explained by heavenly help.
I was especially grateful for Elder Binene, one of our Assistants. He is a native French speaker from DR Congo and he was incredibly helpful in making these new sisters feel at least a little bit at home. He translated for me during our interviews, and during the training and welcome fireside, he translated every concept into French for them. We would have been lost without him!
As soon as I had interviewed the sisters, the three elders going home (Elder Sani, Elder Updike and Elder Sturgis) arrived. We had dinner with them and then a farewell fireside where they had a chance to bear their testimonies. These are three excellent young men who served the Lord faithfully and well. We know they will be successful in their lives because of the habits they have formed here on their mission. We will miss them.
The next morning, our mission driver, Bishop Cobbina, took these three elders to get their covid test so that they could fly out on Thursday. The schedule is covid test on Tuesday morning, pick up the test Wednesday morning and they fly out on Thursday morning. We sent these three elders off to stay with missionaries in the area so that they could continue to work. Before leaving on Thursday, they reported having collected 12 referrals of people they spoke to during the two days. We want to make sure missionaries have every opportunity to share the good news of the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Tuesday afternoon, we received 7 new elders and 2 sisters. Two hours later, another elder arrived, this one had already been serving in his native Zimbabwe awaiting his visa to Ghana. We are grateful to have him here with us. After interviewing each of these new missionaries we had dinner together and then held a welcome fireside. We talked about our three main themes: 1) Always Facing the Savior 2) Living in the Miracle Quadrant and 3) Planting the Word of God deep into our hearts. We also discuss practical logistical things like subsistence cards and health and safety practices and protocols. We also share with the new missionaries the Top Ten expectations of mission life in the Ghana Kumasi Mission.
The next morning, we brought in the trainers who would be paired with each of these new missionaries, and I spent about 75 minutes with them, teaching them the expectations of being a Trainer. For us, it is the most important calling in the mission. Our plan is to only have the very best, most obedient and spiritually strong missionaries train new missionaries. We know that goodness begats goodness. While I was training the Trainers, the Assistants were having “companionship” study with all 14 of the missionaries who had arrived. We have found that companionship study is often difficult for missionaries to consistently hold. Our hope is by allowing them to experience the power of talking together about gospel concepts and application, it will open their eyes to greater possibilities of gospel learning.
By 10:45, we were off to the Bantama Stake Center with the new missionaries and their trainers. The practice has been to have all the zone leaders come in, gather their new missionaries, and help them to get back into their respective areas. While this makes it very easy to get everyone to where they need to be, it takes a terrible toll on the work. Our goal is to begin finding ways to get missionaries to their area without bringing their companions and the zone leaders into Kumasi. For those in the farthest reaches of the mission, it can be a 10-hour trip one way, and even for those close in, nearly a day of proselyting is lost. If 30 missionaries move, it is inevitable that 30 days of missionary proselyting is lost. We are seeking for inspired ways to reduce the lost time and keep all our missionaries safe.
By 12:30 pm, all the missionaries were on their way back to their areas, except for those in Tamale. There are two buses to Tamale. One leaves early in the morning and arrives later afternoon. The other leaves in the afternoon and arrives early in the morning. We do not want missionaries traveling late at night, so our options are limited. With 5 missionaries headed back to Tamale all of the bus tickets were sold out already, so we decided to send our mission driver with the van to take them back the next morning.
On Thursday, we were at the mission office at 5:45 am to travel with the three returning elders to the airport where we made sure they were safely through security. The process for checking luggage is a bit messy. First the bags are weighed, and then the office elders must take the weigh tickets to the African World Airways office across the terminal and pay for the bags. Once they return with paid receipts, the boarding passes are issued. Since Elder Sani was headed to Nigeria, his bag was checked all the way through. This was a new procedure that the office elders were unfamiliar with. It took a bit of time to work through and understand the implications of all of that, but in the end it all worked out.
With all of the activity of the week, it was nice to get enough time Thursday afternoon to go to the grocery story. Food has been pretty thin at our place since arriving. LaDawn is disciplined about having a grocery list, but we knew this was no time to put together a list. We thought we should take advantage of a couple of free hours to stock up. So we went to the store and just bought a bunch of things that we knew we could make good food out of. We have a large freezer that is empty and we wanted to see if we could at least put something into it. One of the things we are very happy about is the ability to buy frozen strawberries and frozen raspberries. Buying fresh pineapple, mango and bananas is also easy. So you can kind of get the picture of the fruit protein smoothies we enjoy for breakfast most days.
Later that afternoon, I released my first returning missionary from a branch in one of our districts. His name is Nicolas Atanga and he is an impressive young man. He served in the Nigeria Benin Mission. After speaking together for some time about his testimony and his plans, I asked him to share a miracle with me he experienced on his mission; and he told me this story.
When he arrived in a new area, they decided to visit a Muslim family that the missionaries had visited in the past. They were friendly and kind but had never expressed any real interest in learning about the Church. There were 15 in the family. While polygamy is not uncommon here, and especially among the Muslims, this was an intact family of one man and one woman and their children. There were some parental siblings and their children that lived there as well, which is why the family was so big. As Elder Atanga sat with them, the spirit whispered to him that what they really needed was help with their farm. They grow cassava and then mill it into gari, a starchy cassava flour that can be eaten with some water. It is popular in Africa because it stays with you and in a land where food is often scarce, it is considered better than rice for nourishment. Elder Atanga, realizing they needed physical help that was keeping them from being interested in spiritual things, agreed that he and his companion would come and help them. And that is what they did, devoting 3 days of every week to the hard work of peeling, cleaning and grinding the cassava. I think he told me this went on for several weeks. As they were nearing the end of the work, the head of the family told Elder Atanga, “You have been helping us to do this farming work and not once have you mentioned your church. I am now ready to listen to your message.” And listen they did. When asked if they would come to church, he said he could not speak for the rest of the family, but he would come. As it turns out, all 15 of them came. The branch president was shocked, for even he himself had been to their home with previous missionaries to encourage attendance. The branch attendance that day was 23…and then the 15 members of this family arrived nearly doubling the size of the branch that day. In a short time, all 15 of them were baptized and the father now serves as the Elders Quorum president in that branch. This is the miracle of love and of listening to the spirit of the Lord. One more thing about Elder Atanga. While he was on his mission, his father, who had his own struggles, when he saw what was happening with his son and how he was changing, decided he wanted it for himself. He decided to change, become the man he knew he needed to be and was baptized. It was obvious to us both that his father was his most important convert.
On Friday we were to receive four more missionaries, all from America. Elder Lawson, Elder Heaton, Elder Ison and Elder Hale. We found out on our way to the airport to pick them up that their plane tickets had erroneously been scheduled for the day before and they could not get on a flight from Accra to Kumasi that day. While they were never in any danger, it was a moment of concern for them as they learned they would not be able to get on a flight that night from the airport and they were in a strange place and knew no one. Through the kindness of an airport employee, the elders were able to connect with our mission office who in turn contacted Accra Church Travel. They sent a van to go get them and bring them back to the hotel to stay the night. Looking at travel for the next day, all the flights were booked and so we had to make a decision. Do we send the mission driver to get them on Saturday (a 5 hour trip one way) or do we fly them on Sunday? As we considered the decision, it was clear to us we needed to plan on a Sunday flight. Because their arrival coincided with their Trainers coming in for training, and to take them back to their areas, the associated logistics of the change had to be considered. Losing proselyting days is the hardest part for us, but there was nothing more we could do but wait to confirm when they might come on Sunday. Our Church Travel person called me when they arrived at the hotel, and I had a chance to speak to them. It was then that for the first time we learned that Elder Hale had not been able to leave the MTC because his Passport and Visa had been lost in the mail. That would mean additional logistical issues as we now had a Trainer without a companion.
The next morning early, Sister Coombs, our office secretary received a call from Church Travel indicating they had procured three seats on the Saturday 1:40 pm flight. That would put them here around 2:20 pm. With the change in our schedule for Saturday, we decided to have the Bantama Zone missionaries come to the mission office for interviews. Their entire zone is relatively close to the office, so it makes it a bit easier. How I love speaking with these amazing and talented young elders and sisters. They have such amazing stories of faith and perseverance. We decided to have 3 of the Trainers come for dinner at 5pm and then wait until we finished the welcome devotional so that they could be trained. We feel strongly about getting our new missionaries off on the right foot, so this is training that LaDawn and I will always do ourselves. While we train the Trainers, the assistants do a companion study with the new missionaries to model how that should work. We do role playing in the Training meeting focusing on the same thing. As this was the second time this week that we had done this training, it went much better, with some of the rough spots completely avoided. I love the nature of learning through repetition.
On Sunday morning, Elder and Sister Coombs (our office couple) took the van very early in the morning with 4 elders and headed out to Konongo. They dropped of Elder Sorbley and Elder Lawson at their apartment near Konongo and then drove another hour or so to Mpraeso where they dropped off Elder Deggenbeck and Elder Ison. They stayed and attended church there. They loved their experience and shared a few pictures with us that they took.
LaDawn and I headed northeast out of Kumasi to a place called Asamang. This is an area that has been closed due to a lack of having enough missionaries. As we are beginning to receive a few more missionaries (we are now up to 134 excluding our senior couple), we are opening up a some of these areas. We arrived in Asamang about 8:10 am and found the missionary apartment and got the elders settled. We then all jumped back in the car and drove to the church building where people were beginning to gather. As we told the branch president that we brought him missionaries and they would stay, he gave his own version of the Toyota jump, except he never left the ground. He was very happy. In the meeting both Elders were asked to say a few words and then LaDawn and I were invited to do the same. The rest of the meeting was in Twi. Since Asamang is part of the Dichemso Stake, it was nice to be able to sit together in the congregation. Unfortunately, the church next door loved loud singing and drums more than we did and it was a bit distracting. But we managed to have a wonderful sacrament meeting. For Sunday School, they asked Elder Bampoe to teach the lesson in Twi. He did a terrific job for having zero prep time. I loved the way that he and Elder Heaton were working together to make the lesson worthwhile. They will be a great companionship.
From there we drove back another way home, this time going through Agona where Elder Ikpeti and Elder Noryan are serving. I had interviewed Elder Noryan while in Sunyani, but had not yet spoken with Elder Ikpeti, except to say hello at our first zone conference. Fortunately the church was easy to find and they were there teaching a lesson after church. We had a wonderful interview and then we left and drove home.
In the evening, the Assistants came to the mission home and we discussed the week. It will be another busy one as we will start over with Mission Leadership Council on Thursday. Our goal is to move the rhythm of the mission to a “MLC-Zone Conferences-Interviews-Transfer” cycle. We will see how it goes.
This morning (Monday) we met with the Area Auditing Staff. Brother Brown, Brother Mobio and Elder Youngberg. They were a great help to us in understanding all of our responsibilities regarding audits. President Thomas Tabi and our auditor Brother Dwomoh were also able to join us. But I forgot to snap a picture!
How we love this work! How grateful we are to serve Together in Ghana, with nothing but desire in our hearts to bless these missionaries and the great people of this country.