Our Happy Place
On Monday morning, I again went and played some basketball. This time Elder Muhlestein came and we played 2 on 2. Elder Latapu and I lost 2 of the 3 games, but we had great exercise and fun. Elder Yancey was unstoppable.
I returned home around 8:30 am, got cleaned up, finished packing, finished some email and by 11:00 am we were off to Accra for our training with the Area Presidency. There are four new companionships of Mission Leaders this year in the Africa West Area. President and Sister Bodhaine from North Carolina and serving in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast; President and Sister Akinbo from Nigeria (he has served 8 years as an Area Authority) serving in Nigeria Ibadan; President and Sister Abeo from Accra serving in Uyo Nigeria; and the Kunz’s in Kumasi. We have met these wonderful leaders many times on zoom calls, but this is the first time we have all been face to face. It was wonderful to get to know them and rub shoulders with these amazing men and women.
Just a word about the drive to Accra. It took us just over 4 ½ hours to make the drive. We had good weather and the roads were decent most of the way. The problem is the many, many, many, big, long, overloaded, heavy trucks. Most of the road is two lanes and these trucks can bunch up and really slow down the flow of traffic. There are too many drivers who are simply too impatient and take the oncoming lane as their own. If there is a car coming from the other direction, they will expect them to move to the shoulder so they can continue passing. The only time they will squeeze back into the line of trucks and cars is when a vehicle bigger than themselves is coming towards them. It is frightful to watch this careless, reckless driving and even more intimidating to be a part of it. Because we still did not have the registration sticker for the Pajero, we drove the new Hilux pickup and even though it is a diesel, it has lots of “get up and go” (unlike the Pajero). That did make the drive better for us given all the passing that takes place on that road. Despite the craziness of the driving, we made it safely around 3:45 pm and checked into the Accra City Hotel.
We started the new mission leader meetings at 8:30 am on Tuesday at the hotel and on Wednesday we started at 8:00 am at the area office. I will only give a brief overview to give you a flavor of the meetings. Elder Hugo Martinez, the Area President, started with D&C 82:14 “For Zion must increase in beauty, and in holiness; her borders must be enlarged; her stakes must be strengthened; yea, verily I say unto you, Zion must arise and put on her beautiful garments.” This was the foundation of everything we talked about over the next two days. With the announced of a temple in Kumasi, the temple overtones in this scripture are even more meaningful for us. Elder Martinez made a comment that I really loved, “Between knowing and doing there is becoming”.
Elder Klebingat talked about how we can minister to missionaries through our day-to-day interaction with them as well as our interviews. Holding one 15-minute interview with each elder every six weeks over 2 years equates to less than 4 hours of 1:1 time. For a sister missionary, it is less than 3 hours. We need to make these opportunities count for the missionaries. He encouraged us to hold interviews in their apartments on occasion as this is a place where we can really understand how they are doing. He mentioned that changes in a mission culture come one missionary at a time. Such brilliant counsel! He also encouraged us to teach missionaries doctrine in our weekly letter to them as this will raise the culture of the mission. He closed by telling us that one of the things that unites high performing missions is that mission leaders are out in the mission with the missionaries.
Elder Kacher talked about establishing the Church by helping each member receive the next ordinance for which they are in need. He explained that there are three ways that missionaries can help a bishop or branch president: 1) baptize the parents of the youth. In the Africa West Area over 75% of our youth have at least one non-member parent. 2) Help the Primary unite families by reaching out to unbaptized children. In our mission alone, we have 60 unbaptized 9 year-olds and 30 unbaptized 10 year-olds. 3) Support the quorums and Relief Societies by finding new investigators while searching for the lost sheep. There are 29,000 individuals in the Africa West Area with no known address. Having the missionaries go to the area where these families last lived and ask neighbors about them gives an opportunity for them to find other people who may be interested in the Gospel. We have much work to do!
Elder Martinez then talked about establishing a purpose centered missionary culture. He encouraged us to take every opportunity to teach the doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He gave us a definition of mission culture that was powerful: “Missionaries, Beliefs, Expectations and Behaviors which create results.” He further elaborated that a mission culture is a growing, living thing that must be nourished. As he spoke, we realized just how much effort we have been putting into our mission culture. While the first two discussions left us feeling like we have so much more to do, this discussion left us feeling much better.
Elder and Sister Kacher then came back later in the day and talked about the ladder of faith with 5 rungs. The bottom rung: Nothing will happen, it doesn’t matter. Second rung: Nothing will happen, but I’ve made a commitment. Third rung: I can do this; I can work harder. Fourth rung: I can do this; I can listen to the Spirit. Fifth rung: God can do this; I will be His instrument.
This is a wonderful way to help our missionaries get a perspective about where they are on this ladder and how much faith they have.
On Wednesday, we had an opportunity to spend most of the day with the different department heads of the Area Office. We immediately began benefiting from knowing the various leaders and ways that they can help us fulfill our responsibilities. From Facilities Maintenance and Construction to Self-Reliance and Finance to Legal and Communication to Medical and Information Systems. We really began to understand the structure in the Area and who to contact when we have a problem that we cannot solve ourselves.
Also on Wednesday, President and Sister Sanders of the Accra Mission came and spoke to us about online finding and media referrals. The highlight for us was Sister Sanders work on the auditing of missionary phones. She taught us much in the short time we had together.
Before closing there was a statement made that we really loved. I don’t remember who said it, but it was a member of the Area Presidency. “Don’t be Mission Leaders who provides the sixteen stones to your missionaries. Be Mission Leaders that touch the stones.”
Wednesday night, the Area Presidency took us all out to an amazing restaurant called Bistro 22. The food was excellent and because we had preordered it came fast. We enjoyed sitting next to the Klebingat’s and getting to know them just a little bit better. What amazing leaders they are! Good food and good friends.
On our way back to Kumasi, we stopped in Nkawkaw (pronounced ncoco) and Mpraeso (mprize-o). Such a beautiful area! We visited and interviewed Elder Sam and Elder Morris and the we took them to Mpraeso for an exchange with Elder Degelbeck and Elder Ison. While we were there, we interviewed and visited with them in their apartments. We then drove to the Zone Leaders in a different part of Nkawkaw and went to their apartment and interviewed them.
When we got back to our home it was 3:15 pm. Waiting for us was our shipment from the US of household goods. And thus the title of this week’s blog. We were so happy to have the things that we had shipped over. Pictures, a recliner, kitchen gadgets, bedding, clothes, shoes, weights, and many more things that we have been missing. We were told it would be a 5-week process door to door, but it ended up being over 9 weeks. The wait made it all so much sweeter for us.
We spent much of the rest of the day and about half a day on Saturday unpacking, arranging, and storing our “stuff”. It made us smile to look around and feel like the Mission Home was becoming “our home”.
Friday was a tough day. I won’t say much about it other than it ended with a request to the missionary department to send a disobedient missionary home. The whole process required a thorough review of the missionary’s phone, interviews, phone calls, submission of a form and then more interviews and more phone calls. By the time we went to bed that night we were spent both emotionally and physically.
Saturday was the All Africa West Service project. We had hoped to participate, but after the events of the previous day, we were far behind with all that we needed to get done for the upcoming transfer week. The day required more interviews of missionaries impacted by the prior day’s event. We did manage to finally make our way to the University Stake where we visited with President Prosper Mensah.
He is an amazing and powerful leader. He had just arrived back from their stake service project where he had 300 members of his stake travel almost an hour away to the far reaches of his stake to help a small community where a small group of Saints meet each week. It was wonderful to be with him and feel of his love for missionary work and for the gospel.
On Sunday, we traveled about an hour to the East to the Konongo District. This time we visited the Ahenbronum Branch where President Boateng presides. LaDawn bore her testimony and I was able to talk about how Jesus Christ takes on our pains, infirmities and sicknesses in addition to our sins thru his atonement. After the meeting, I interviewed 6 members for temple recommend renewals.
We then drove over to the Low Cost branch and did one more temple recommend interview. In addition, while I interviewed Sister Donkon and Sister Da-Wariboko, LaDawn audited their phone. These are wonderful and faithful sisters. In fact, Sister Donkon will be transferred about being there for 30 weeks and will become one of our Sister Training Leaders.
On the way home from Konongo, we drove to the Dichemso Stake center and visited with President Obeng, the stake president there. He is the older brother to my counselor, Edmund Obeng. He is a wonderful man. We stopped to add our approval to a new YSA gathering place approval form for the young single adults in their stake.
Later in the day we were able to watch our son-in-law Brian Conley (serving as a bishop in the Magnolia 3rd Ward) give a powerful talk in his Ward’s sacrament meeting.
Shortly thereafter we had a meeting with our Area Mission Specialist, Lane Steinagel from Salt Lake. The meeting was a zoom meeting with the 4 mission leaders mentioned at the beginning of this post. We talked about several things: mission culture, high love high expectations, promoting the missionary purpose and doctrine of Christ, and how to use numbers to move the work forward with an understanding that behind every number is a name.
It has been a week filled with disappointments, miracles, and gratitude. As we serve Together in Ghana we have realized we have many happy places. Our mission home, the Area Offices in Accra with the Area Presidency and amazing mission leaders from other countries, interviewing missionaries in their apartments, meeting with stake presidents, and visiting the branches of the Church. How grateful we are that we get to do this full-time, every single day of every single week for three years. We have seen the hand of the Lord in this past week, and we testify that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Kingdom of God on earth. And that makes us happy!