After a busy travel schedule last week, we appreciated having some home time this past week. It didn’t mean we weren’t busy; we just did most of the work from the Mission Home and Mission Office. We really appreciated the change in pace.
On Monday I went and played basketball again with Elder Yancey and Elder Latapu. Elder Yancey came to win this week and did so handily in two consecutive games of 21. I am not sure who scored the most points over the two games, but those foul shots and tip backs really killed me. It was fun to play and get my blood pumping again from pure exercise.
For me the day was filled with missionary letters and district conference planning. I am grateful for all those years in the Klein Stake Presidency, where I was taught so well from President Oscarson and President Rawson about how to plan a great conference. I am hoping I will get better at it with time, but I have felt confident in the foundation that I know. Both the Obuasi and the Bibiani Districts have upcoming conferences and that meant some additional planning. For the Bibiani District Conference in November, Elder Anthony Quaisie of the Seventy will preside. For the Obuasi conference, it is my responsibility. I have really loved getting to know these good men who lead these districts and I have even loved more the counseling together with them about how we can further improve. There is much opportunity and many good talents in the districts to make the improvements possible. I am also continuing to work on the transfer coming up the week of August 23rd. It is now only 10 days away and it will be our largest yet with 10 going home and 20 coming. And because of the Covid testing we must do for departing missionaries, we will have departing and arriving missionaries at the Mission Office the same week. We will do the best we can.
We had the mission office kitchen sprayed for roaches (and it needed two doses back-to-back) and that meant pulling everything out of the kitchen. LaDawn and Sister Coombs both worked tirelessly to make that happen. On Monday, LaDawn washed dishes for 4 hours and began to return them to their rightful place with help from Sister Coombs. On Tuesday, they finished the task. There were also several “spare parts” that needed to move on to another sphere as their time in the Mission Office was over. Lids, bowls, spare parts of blenders, old cutting boards, and other miscellaneous items now live a new life (or no life at all) elsewhere.
Without having had an MTC for a year, missionaries coming to the mission need their mandatory vaccines. The problem is especially with the Hepatitis B series. These are three shots over a period of months that must be taken. It is impossible to place all the missionaries that need them close to the clinic in Kumasi, so getting them their shots often requires significant travel to get them, bring them to Kumasi and then take them back home. We are grateful for Bishop Cobbina who is our contract mission driver. We would be in big trouble without him. On Monday, LaDawn worked with Bishop Cobbina on planning and arranging the next batch of missionaries needing the immunizations. It is such a distraction to the work, but absolutely necessary, so we just plan it out and make it happen.
On Tuesday we traveled to the Dichemso Stake Center here in Kumasi. Fortunately, it was only a 30-minute drive and traffic was light. Each week, both the Dichemso and the Asokwa districts gather at the stake center for District Council meeting. On Tuesday we opted to attend the Asokwa district with Elder Bampoo, Elder Heaton, Sister Shingrilai, Sister Ebitimi, Sister Mainoo, Sister Bundor, Sister Annan and Sister Yenga. What a wonderful group of disciples of Jesus Christ. Again, we found the district council well organized and well planned.
Elder Bampoe led a discussion on “Little foxes that destroy the vine”. The focus was on the things that we do (or don’t do) that often causes the work to suffer. Here are some of the items brought up by the missionaries: Unrighteous dominion, pride/ego, anger, our mindset, impatience, giving up, laziness, ignorance, lack of testimony, temptations of the world, doubt, unbelief, and lack of faith. I have to say, that a discussion like this requires a mature set of missionaries to be able to look at themselves and ask how might they be the “fox” that is destroying their own vine.
While at Dichemso, I was able to hold the last 5 interviews with missionaries I had not yet had a chance to meet with. I will now start over the week of the 23rd as missionaries both come and go. These interviews are inspiring to me, and it is one small way that I can minister to the missionaries one on one. And the same is true for LaDawn, while I am interviewing, she is talking to their companions and other missionaries and ministering to them in the same manner. It is a glorious process.
We also held our monthly medical council with the Area Medical Specialist and Mental Health Advisors, both in Accra. We are so grateful for Elder Gibb and Elder Kittelson for their work with our missionaries. We love them and would be lost without them.
Tuesday evening, I met with Andy Rytting, one of the IT development managers in Salt Lake City at Church Headquarters. Andy invited me to a discussion about what a Mission President Area Book might look like. I was grateful for the question and even more grateful for the discussion. Area Book already is a powerful tool (although we are still working across the mission to fully implement it) and to think there are opportunities to make it even more powerful for the mission presidents is something for which I am grateful. With Area Book on an Android phone, I can sync directly into each missionary area to see how they are using it and whether it is helping them be more effective. The time to sync is a bit of an annoyance here in Africa, but I am grateful for the capability and looking forward to further improvements.
Wednesday was more letters and finishing up the planning of the conference for Bibiani. In the evening I had a zoom presidency meeting with President Tabi and President Obeng. These are two wonderful men that bless my life with their insight and wisdom. Right now we are working on how to progress the districts. There is much work to do.
On Thursday we discovered that our shower was leaking (again). While we were in Tamale and Techiman last week, the FM over the mission home had the large shower insert from the old mission home moved to our new mission home. We were very grateful as the old shower was quite small. For first couple of days, it was wonderful. But on Thursday when I finished showering there was water all over the floor when I finished. I could see it was coming out beneath the baseboard, just as it had with the old one. I called the FM and he sent over the plumber, Mr. Otoo. Mr Otoo is a very sweet man and is obviously a hard worker, but some of his proposed solutions are very different from mine. When he came he said he thought it was a blockage in the line. I told him, “No, the connection between the shower drain and the floor drain has become disconnected”. He said, “No, it is plugged”. So, he went and bought a plunger and then realized that it did not fix the problem. He said they would need to dig up the drain line and find out where it was plugged. I told him he was not going to dig up the line and that the problem was the drain line connection. After being at our apartment for more than 2 hours, he realized he couldn’t fix it and called the FM who agreed they needed to look at the drain connection. Something they agreed to do when we go to Accra next week for a meeting for new mission leaders. With that shower out of order, we started using the one in the spare bedroom. After one day of the hot water heater being on, LaDawn discovered water all over the floor, so we turned the water off there. We then went to the third bedroom, affectionally called the General Authority room. This is the room where a General Authority stays when they come to Kumasi for a mission tour. But in that bathroom, there is a tub. A shower rod was hung from one wall to the other with a slow 90-degree bend in it because the tub is not enclosed by three walls. Because of the placement of the window, the curtain rod is very high, meaning that the shower curtain ends, 6” above the edges of the tub. And because the rod is so very long, one shower curtain covers about 1/3 of the length of the rod. I think you get the picture. There is only a hand sprayer in the tub and not a shower head, so at least we can direct the water towards the tile wall instead of the curtain, but it still makes a mess of water on the floor. Hopefully our master shower can be fixed by the time we return. They will also repair the hot water heater under the sink in the kitchen which appears to have given up the ghost entirely.
We also picked up a new case of doxycycline from a medical supply store. This is the preventative malaria medication we ask all of the missionaries to take each day. We had to wait about 30 minutes for it to arrive from the warehouse, but we finally got it. While we were there, some low-key excitement ensued as one of the employees was marched out of the building and handcuffed outside. He may have had his own medical supply business working….
That evening, we were invited over to the Coombs apartment for dinner. Sister Coombs made delicious meatballs and mashed potatoes with a beautiful green salad. So delicious! It also gave us an opportunity to see their apartment, which we feel is better suited for missionaries rather than a couple. We will work on that one as well.
When we got back home, we had a call with Elder and Sister Webb. They are a YSA Senior Missionary Couple working from home in the USA, helping stakes and districts to put together gathering places for YSA’s. They have been working with stake presidents, and are now interested in seeing if there are district presidents who would like to have one in their district. With these upcoming district conferences, we will have opportunities to discuss these gathering places with each of the district presidencies.
About 8:30 pm, Bishop Cobbina, our mission driver and vaccine expert, called and said that the hospital where we get the vaccines have the Johnson & Johnson vaccine available and that they would be willing to help our missionaries receive it. He needed to know how many missionaries would want to get it. So we put together a WhatsApp group of all of the companionships and sent out a message inquiring if they wanted to receive the vaccine and how to respond. More on that in a moment.
Every other Friday we hold a mission office council (MOC) where the office couple, the mission Facilities Manager (FM), the Kumasi FM over the mission home and church buildings on the south end of the mission, the assistants and the office elders attend. We talk about a variety of things ranging from apartments that need repairs, to missionary transfer schedules, to mission home issues, to meetinghouse concerns, referrals, exchanges and what the calendar looks like for the next two weeks. We find the meeting extraordinarily helpful as we navigate the myriad of activities associated with running a mission. After the meeting, we continued working at the Mission Office until about 3:00 pm and then drove over to Aboude’s and had some chicken and chips. We made sure we ordered enough to have leftovers Sunday evening when we would get home. Their food is sooo good and so reasonable.
I had planned on spending Friday evening working on talks and training for the Sunyani Zone Conference which was planned for Saturday and Sunday. But just as I sat down to do so, Bishop Cobbina called and said that the nurses from the hospital wanted to start with the vaccines the next morning at 7:00 am at the Dichemso Stake Center. Since they were coming to us to make it easy, they were hoping we would be willing to pay them something for their trouble. Seemed like a fair thing to do considering it would save our missionaries significant time. So much for earlier plans. For the next four hours LaDawn and I worked through the zone leaders to find 20-24 missionaries who could be at the stake center the next morning. We then went on to arrange the dates and names for the rest of the mission. We agreed to do the Bantama Stake Center on Monday, the University Stake Center on Tuesday and then one of the branches in Techiman on Wednesday. LaDawn quickly identified all the missionaries who had said they wanted the vaccine, which we then provided to the zone leaders who contacted each one of them. Part of that was ensuring the missionaries would bring a photo ID. It took us about 4 hours to arrange all of that. Problem was that missionary messages kept trickling in indicating a desire to take the vaccine. At 10:00 am Friday morning, we had 33 missionaries. By Friday night we had 92 and by Sunday night we had 100. In the end it turned out to be 102. Despite the disruption, we are very pleased with the number who have chosen to take the vaccine and gladly give the time to arrange for it to occur. Because the statement by the First Presidency about the vaccine had just come out during the week, that helped many of the missionaries who were still unsure about whether they should take it. Knowing we would be in Sunyani all day Saturday and Sunday also motivated us to arrange all of the vaccines that night.
On Saturday morning we were up at 4:30 am and on the road to Sunyani before 6 am. The traffic was heavy getting out of Kumasi and we ended up arriving about 8:35 am. My meeting with the District Presidency was to start at 8:30 am, so I was a few minutes late, but since we were still waiting on one of the counselors I did not delay the start which happened about 8:40 am. Edmund Obeng, my second counselor (who lives in Tamale about 5.5 hours away) was already there.
Both days of the conference were wonderful. LaDawn and I both experienced so much help in delivering talks that were different than what we thought we would deliver. In the Saturday adult session (which we held from 10 am to 12 noon), I had asked for 20 minutes and LaDawn was just going to take 5 minutes and bear her testimony. Because we had so much available time, LaDawn talked about the prophet Mormon (which she had just done at zone conference) and his commitment to always face the Savior despite very difficult circumstances. She ended by inviting the members of the district to pick up the sword of righteousness and be a warrior in this final battle against evil. She did a magnificent job! Even after she spoke for 10 minutes, I still had an hour left. I ended up using 45 minutes of it. I had planned to talk about the scriptures and their importance, but when I stood at the pulpit, the spirit prompted me to talk about the Light of Christ, the Holy Ghost and personal revelation. Having just studied the early verses of Doctrine and Covenants in section 88 verses 6-13, I felted prompted to talk about them. I had memorized verses 6-7 as part of my mission preparation, but realizing during the week that the rest of those verses are even more powerful, I felt constrained to share and then talk about them. It was such a wonderful experience. It caused me to talk about Andy, the man with the epileptic seizure, who the spirit would not allow me to pass by without helping. It all wove together so well, including LaDawn’s invitation to pick up the sword of righteousness. It was obvious to both of us that we received heaven’s help.
In the leadership session, I talked about Lehi’s dream and posed the question, “Where am I in his dream?”. I ended up spending more time than I had planned talking about the people in the great and spacious building who were mocking those who partook of the fruit of the tree. We can all find ourselves in that building if we are not careful, and I felt prompted to reiterate examples of when we might find ourselves there.
Saturday night we stayed at the Tyco Hotel, which is a bit closer to the District Center than the Eusbett where we stayed last time. The bed was equally hard as the Eusbett’s. LaDawn took a shower Saturday night and had hot water, but when I took one Sunday morning, the water was cold. Such a bummer. Working showers seem to be at a premium right now!
On Sunday we had 382 people out of a district of 1051 members. Three of the branches are 45 minutes away and it makes it hard for the members to come in. We tried to stream the conference, but the internet was not stable, so we only managed about half of it. We will get better at this, I think. The spirit was rich, and the talks were well prepared and well delivered. After the meeting, I met with the District Presidency and talked about their take-aways from the conference. The district president said he needed to meet with his counselors and figure out how to do things differently, because they could now see that what they were doing was not working. He was especially touched by the “High Love” “High Expectations” chart from Elder Andersen that I had shared on Saturday morning with them. The two counselors concluded that they needed to do more on ministering and preparing prospective elders. Both President Obeng and I were extremely pleased with their plans and desire to figure this out.
Following that meeting, I did 8 more temple recommend interviews (7 the day before). President Obeng did a total of 11 over the two days, for a total of 26. That was really needed. The good news is that 7 of them were for first time temple goers and one couple received their recommends to be sealed.
By 2:00 pm we were in the car and headed back to Kumasi. We arrived around 4:30 pm, warmed up some leftovers we had purchased at Aboude’s the day before and enjoyed being home. We especially enjoyed sleeping in our own (softer) bed.
We never cease to be amazed at the hand of the Lord in our work here. When we do everything we can do, the Lord simply makes up for our deficit by helping us speak, teach and train far beyond our own capacities. We love being Together in Ghana.