On Tuesday we attended the Atonsu District Meeting at University Stake Center. The University Stake Center has been identified as a YSA gathering center. There were quite a few of them there engaged in an activity of football, exercise, photography and probably a few other things. It was a holiday here in Ghana so they began the activity early in the day. The only unfortunate thing was the loudness and the beat of the music they were playing outside. It made it a bit difficult inside the building for our District Council. However, it is wonderful to see these young people gathering and having fun together.

The Atonsu District in the University Zone (Elder Yeboah, Elder Lawson, Elder Ekpengyong, Elder Bai, Sister Varpilah, Elder Adu and Sister Mawunya)

At the District Council, Elder Yeboah (who is the District Leader – and a fine young man) led a well-planned and well-executed meeting. One of the missionaries in the district who were knew from Kenema in Sierra Leone has been struggling with a runny tummy for the past few days. He had been feeling better the day before, but on Tuesday was not doing so well. That caused us to end the district council a little early so that we could take him and his two companions (they are together in a three-some since a new missionary was delayed due to a visa issue). We drove the 30 minutes to the Asafo-Boakye Specialist Hospital, which is actually a very nice medical facility. The good news is that they take the Church insurance, which is Aetna, meaning we could have dropped them off and gone back to the office, but we decided to stay so that we could understand the entire process.

They prescribed some medication and when I checked with him on Friday, he was feeling much better. We are grateful for access to this level of medical care. That evening, I spoke with a new missionary who is working through getting adjusted to missionary life. He shared with me his own miracle of wanting so badly to place a Book of Mormon. He told me how he had pled with Heavenly Father that he might just be able to place one Book of Mormon that day. Not surprisingly, his prayer was answered. The elder explained when they went out he noticed a woman that he thought he should approach. As he did so, she was receptive. He gave her the Book of Mormon and they taught her a discussion. This was absolutely the highlight of the week for this new missionary.

On Wednesday, we drove to the Asuoyeboa chapel and met with 6 missionaries from that zone for interviews.  We are trying hard to minimize the amount of time the missionaries are away from their areas, so we are driving to them instead of having them come to us.  These are some outstanding missionaries, and we loved the time we were able to be together with them.  One of the sisters who was born in Ghana asked me a question that came from her gospel study of the book of Ether in the Book of Mormon.  She asked me what is baptism by fire?  I was extremely impressed with the depth of her question.  That afternoon I worked with the Assistants on our plans for the Mission Leadership Council held the next day.  That night I did my own deep dive on the statistics that the Church provides each month on our key indicators.  It took a phone call with an Area Book specialist in Salt Lake and then another call with the Area Mission Specialist before I felt like I understood how the numbers all come together and what they represent.  In the days leading up to this preparation we discovered that the number of baptisms reported by the missionaries is significantly different than what is being recorded in the Membership rolls on Leader and Clerk Resources.  While we had just over a total of 300 baptisms in April, May and June, 41 of them have never been recorded.  So, we made a list of the “lost sheep” and asked the Zone Leaders to find the paperwork and get the names recorded by the end of August.  Needless to say, Wednesday was a very short night but the good news was I learned a lot!

On Thursday, we started the MLC at 10:00 instead of 9:00 am.  We asked the zone leaders to find an apartment in Kumasi with other missionaries where they could stay the night before and then come in the rest of the way on Thursday morning.  For many, it was still a 2 hour commute.  For the last couple of months, they would come in on Wednesday afternoon and have an MLC activity.  The problem for us was that significant proselyting time was lost coupled with being uncomfortable when leaders are enjoying themselves while the rest of the mission is working.  The schedule change was our attempt to stay focused on our purpose as missionaries.

The meeting started with a beautiful opening hymn.  We sang “I Need Thee Every Hour”, it was an amazing moment as the spirit bore witness to each of us that we were engaged in the cause of Christ.  We then talked about our upcoming zone conference schedule, a new course on the Edify App titled, “Safeguards for Using Technology”, and the baptismal record problem mentioned above.  We also talked about the process for getting medical care.  We have first aid kits in all the apartments that are only to be used with the approval of the mission nurse (that’s LaDawn right now).  We have had some trouble with missionaries always following that particular guideline, so we were going over the process for getting medical care spelled out in the relatively new Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ handbook. We were surprised at some of the pushback we received, but we pressed on, next talking about Accountability.  Accountability is the term we use to discuss how well we are doing against our goals (and thus the late night on Wednesday learning about the numbers).  Following that discussion, the Assistants did a brainstorm session on “The Perfect Exchange”.  

We are trying to get our exchanges up and running again and wanted to talk about how to make them as good as possible.  One big change we are asking for is having the Assistants bring the Zone Leaders to their areas and the Zone Leaders to bring the District Leaders to their area and the Sister Training Leaders to bring the sisters they are responsible for to their area – all for exchanges. This arrangement is what is recommended by the Missionary Department in Salt Lake.  The idea being that this will keep our leaders in their area more so they can have model areas.  By bringing missionaries to them, they can show by example what a well-planned and well-executed day looks like.  

We followed that with two role plays.  The first was by the Bantama Zone Leaders.  They explained their new process of setting baptismal goals. Their first goal they set under this new process was to have 5 baptisms in 5 weeks.  They didn’t know who the people might be but had faith that the Savior would help them to know.  They focused on the goal and the people.  They did not allow themselves to be distracted from making these 5 people a priority in terms of contact, invitations, and teaching.  At the end of the transfer, all 5 were baptized.  And this in an area with a traditionally low number of convert baptisms.  It was nothing less than a miracle and we thought it should be shared with the rest of the leadership council.  But the response by some was more about why that wouldn’t work in their areas as opposed to considering how it might help them.  From there we had two of our sister training leaders do a role play about how they worked together on a menu and shopping and then cooked food for two weeks on their preparation day and placed it in their freezer.  The result was their subsistence stretched further and less time was spent for cooking each day. This too, resulted in a lot of pushbacks.  I tried to explain that this was only a best practice we wanted to share, not something that we were saying everyone had to go and do.  But at this point, the wheels were coming off the wagon and so we stopped the meeting, sang a hymn, said a prayer and ended early.

What did we learn?  First of all, we are trying to bring some changes to the mission to build upon what was done by the Websters.  We call it, “Coming out of Covid”.  The missionaries were in their apartments for a number of months, and some are still recovering from that reality to the reality that we can go out and proselyte in a nearly normal matter.  “Coming out of Covid” means more work outside and less time inside the apartment.  In a way, we are creating a new team, with the same wonderful missionaries, but with a few boundary changes and with new Mission Leaders (us).  For those familiar with team development, there is always a process new teams go through.  Maybe you are familiar with it.  FORMING – STORMING – NORMING – PERFORMING.  I won’t go into the science but will say that we were definitely in the STORMING phase last Thursday.  The good news is that it was inevitable and now that we are there, we can work through it and move to the NORMING phase.  Just Google “phases of team development” if you want to know more. Part of this STORMING was brought on by the changes to the MLC itself in regard to the timing and eliminating the activity the afternoon before the meeting.  This meant missionaries spent less time at the mission office and more time back in their areas.  For some, this was an important time of comradery and renewing of friendships with other leaders.  The problem is that on Elder Andersen’s “High Love, High Expectations” chart, Friendship and Fraternity is in the High Love, Low Expectation Quadrant.  We have to desire the pure love of Christ above the fraternity.  We are working through it and with the amazing missionaries we have, we know we will together successfully navigate the choppy waters.  After the meeting, I did a few interviews.  One of the Elders mentioned that he was clear about the High Expectations, but he wasn’t sure how the High Love was being manifested.  That comment sent me to the Book of Matthew in the New Testament where I studied the ways that Jesus showed love to the people as my scripture study topic for a few days.  More on that next week as it will be a theme of my comments at zone conference.

On Friday, I spent much of the day reading letters from missionaries.  This week 100 of the 132 missionaries wrote letters.  How I love these letters and reading them is a special and sacred time for me.  Many are short and sweet (which is okay), and a few are long.  But within the short, medium and long letters are often snippets of miraculous events that the missionaries are experiencing as they go about the work.  I also spent a considerable amount time studying in the book of Matthew how Christ showed High Love to the people.  

In the late morning, we decided to run a few errands.  We started by going to the bank to get some cash.  The way we fund many of the mission activities is to pull cash from the ATM on the mission credit card.  Since Ghana is mostly a cash-based society, we always need to have some with us as needs arise. As the machine disbursed the cash, it didn’t push all of it out.  I was able to stick my fingers in and pull out some of the stuck bills, but before I could finish the door closed and retracted the cash.  Bummer.  The line to speak to someone was long and I had scheduled an appointment with our Mission Facilities Manager (Cooper) back at the office, so I left, knowing I would need to come back.  The meeting with Cooper was focused on opening a few new apartments as we increase the number of missionaries in August by 5 companionships.  I am always impressed how well Cooper is able to know such details about 60 apartments!  After the meeting, I went back to the bank.  About 300 yards from the bank, I saw a man writhing in pain on the other side of the road.  I wasn’t sure what had happened.  Because of where I was and the traffic, I hurried to the bank, explained what happened and received a promise they would check the logs on Monday and get back with me.  As I started back to the office, I looked for the man and he was still in the same place, in obvious pain, half on and half off the street. I was shocked that no one had tried to help him in the few minutes I was in the bank.  

So I immediately pulled to the right hand side of the road near a fruit stand, got out and asked the women if they knew what had happened.  They said they didn’t know.  My biggest concern was getting him out of the road.  Now imagine what this must have looked like to the people on both sides of the road as well as the people passing in cars, as this tall white guy gets out of his car and is trying to get this poor man out of the street.  As I approached him, the woman at the fruit stand said, “don’t touch him!”.  The poor man was nearly foaming at the mouth and was clearly in pain.  My first thought was perhaps he was on drugs, but he looked respectable and had been carrying a bag.  Nope, I thought.  Not a drug addict.  I reached down and touched his hand and the instant I did, he stopped his contortions and just sat there, looking confused.  

Andy and Me. I asked him if I could take a snap because I did not want to forget him. He taught me a valuable lesson that day.

After what seemed like an eternity (I sure it was only a minute or two), he snapped out of it and let me help him off the road to a block of cement where he could sit.  He told me he was having a seizure and that as soon as I touched him, he came out of it.  He had bitten his tongue badly and was dirty and thirsty.  I asked the fruit stand lady if she had water, she said no and pointed me across the street to a man.  A woman, who had been watching, walked across the street with me to show me where to get the water.  As the man opened his cooler to get me a bag, I reached for my pocket to pay him, he immediately refused it and said take it.  He too had been watching.  I went back, gave the man the water.  He first washed his hands, and then drank a small amount.  I asked him his name, he told me it was Andy.  He said he was epileptic and needed to get medication.  I asked him where he lived and he told me.  I asked him if he knew our church and he said he was familiar with it.  I told him next time he sees missionaries to stop and ask them about why a tall white guy would stop and create a spectacle to help him.  I helped him with resources to buy the prescription and get a taxi back home and sent him on his way.  People who had now edged closer came thanking me for helping him.  Something they could have done themselves but were afraid.  It was just one more evidence to me that people want to be good and do good, but often are afraid to get started.  And that is why we are here “Together in Ghana”.

In a less important vein, we continue to have some issues with water pressure and leaks. Richard, the area handyman (returned missionary) was working to repair a leaking pipe from a worn out filter. He removed the filter and was doing a bypass, but need to repurpose a fitting. He was trying to loosen the glue and remove the fitting. It didn’t work and he came back the next day and replace the entire pipe and fitting. But I love his ingenuity!

On Saturday afternoon the Allred’s finally were able to get a flight from Accra to Kumasi.  The day delay was unnecessary, but due to the lack of a good process for receiving senior missionary couples that are not staying in Accra, it happened.  Since we are the only mission where the senior couple flies out of Accra, the process is non-existent.  With help from a member of the area presidency (Thank you Elder Klebingat), the problem was solved in a day so that it will not happen again.  How grateful we were to receive the Allred’s after 2 days in Accra.  We had planned to take them to Techiman on Saturday and stay with them for a couple of nights so they could get acclimated, but the delayed arrival caused us to change our plans.  For dinner on Friday we went to the Noble House restaurant and had some delicious Chinese food.  Might be our new favorite place!  After getting home, the Assistants came over and we finalized the agenda for this week’s zone conferences.

Sunday came early.  We left the house just before 6 am with LaDawn and Me in our car and Elder and Sister Allred in their mission assigned Mitsubishi Truck.  Being out so early, there was very little traffic, so we made it to Sunyani in 2 hours and 15 minutes.  We attended the Penkwase Branch and then ate a sack lunch LaDawn had made prior to a two hour meeting with the District Presidency and Branch Presidents on a mid year review of progress towards their goals.  

It was a good meeting, led by the 2nd counselor in the mission presidency, Edmund Obeng.  We specifically talked about how to get started on the children and youth program and how to get started on ministering.  They are making good progress on goals, and like many stakes and districts are struggling with advancing prospective elders, finding family names to take names to the temple and increasing the number of members with current temple recommends.  We talked about each and gave them some ideas about how to progress.  I asked Elder Allred to bear a brief testimony which he did beautifully.  I then closed by talking about unwearingness as found in Helaman 10:3-5.

The Sunyani District Presidency and Branch Presidents from the District

From there we headed to Techiman and the Allred’s new apartment.  They got settled pretty quickly and LaDawn and Sister Allred made us some delicious spaghetti.  The rest of the evening I spent on phone calls with leaders and a member and then worked on this weeks blog post.  Tomorrow we will pick up Sister Natal at 8:00 am (her mission has come to an end) and take her back to Kumasi where she will prepare to fly home this week.

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