This week has been the largest transfer for the mission this year: 20 missionaries in and 9 going out. In addition, we did a reconfiguration of the zones along with a few districts, and called and trained new leaders and trainers. Couple that with a Covid scare that delayed two of our American missionaries from returning home on time, which then resulted in an expired visa and extended questioning at the airport in Accra and we ended with a very busy but rewarding week.
On Monday morning I again went and played some basketball with Elder Yancey, Elder Latapu and Elder Muhlestein. The results were worse than last week. Elder Latapu and I lost all three games. Somewhere during the middle of the second game my right calf muscle began to hurt, but I kept playing. After the third game I was done. I don’t really know what happened, but I am guessing I pulled a muscle although I have no recollection of when. It has been sore all week, but did not slow down the work. Thank goodness for some Ibuprofen to help relieve the muscle tension.
With an elder returning home early, we spent some time on Monday working on flights and a permit that the home country requires. We had sent him for his covid test Monday morning, which meant he needed to fly by Wednesday. Because of connecting flights, we needed to send him on Tuesday and have him stay overnight in Accra and then leave early the next morning for his flight to his home country. We are very grateful to President and Sister Young of the Ghana Accra West mission who picked him up from the airport Tuesday night, provided him food and a bed in which to sleep, and then delivered him to the airport early on Wednesday for his flight home. I loved President Young’s attitude when I asked him for his help, “We are here to serve the missionaries aren’t we?”. Thank you President and Sister Young!
On Monday afternoon, the 9 returning missionaries came to the mission office with their luggage. We decided to host them in our home that evening. We were eager to get the pictures of our grandchildren up on our wall, so we spent about an hour in the afternoon getting that done. After returning to the mission home, I interviewed all but three of the departing missionaries (which I finished on Tuesday). We then loaded up the returning missionaries in the van and brought them to our home. We had such a delightful evening together. LaDawn had ordered roasted chicken with rice or French fries (each missionary was allowed to select for themselves) from Aboude’s. It was such a delicious meal. I realized that mixing the cole slaw with the rice and then adding the peppe sauce, makes for a delicious plate of rice!
After dinner we spent some time talking about personal revelation and how the Holy Ghost and the Light of Christ interact to make that possible for us. We gave each of them a small pocket journal, which we referred to as their “small plates”, where they can record their promptings and their responses to them.
Following the discussion, we played a game of Preach My Gospel Jeopardy. We had prepared three games of Jeopardy based on Preach My Gospel before leaving home. We had a great experience together. Elder Josie, Elder Shaw and Elder Mears pulled it out at the end after starting significantly in the hole with a couple of wrong answers worth 500 points each.
Tuesday morning, we sent the departing missionaries who would be flying internationally to receive their covid tests. Sister Mawunya and Sister Adams are both Ghanaians and so they did not need one. They were able to depart and go directly home. Sister Adams actually lives in Obuasi which is part of our mission. Her father is the district president. She was originally assigned to Uganda, but because of Covid served her entire mission in Kumasi. Sister Adams had to remind me that it was me who was to release her since she lives in a district in our mission. That was unusual to release my own missionary, gratefully she reminded me before she left.
I finished the interviews with the remaining 3 missionaries and then went back and interviewed all of them to ensure they had a three-month temple recommend. How we will miss these powerful and dedicated missionaries!
By early afternoon we were headed back to the airport to pick up three new elders and two new sisters who were coming directly from the MTC in Accra. Sister Opare, Sister Ofosua, Elder Toe, Elder Bangura and Elder Amoah are some of the most prepared missionaries we have met. The MTC has been a great blessing to them and they come fully worthy and fully ready and willing to work hard as they serve others.
President Appiah, the stake president of the Bantama Stake was also at the airport receiving a missionary from his stake who has completed his mission. It was wonderful to spend some time together while we waited with this powerful leader as we were able to get to know each other. After returning to the Mission Office and interviewing each of these missionaries, we caught the back end of a meeting of all the mission presidents in the Africa West Area with the Area Presidency. The timing of this video call was very difficult for us given the activities around a big transfer week. We caught the last 30 minutes and were sorry we could not be a bigger part of the call. After the call (around 5 pm) we had dinner with the new missionaries and then held our orientation and devotional where we emphasized the three themes of our mission (Facing the Savior, Planting the word of God deep in our hearts, Living in the miracle quadrant) as well as provide them with all of the important information they needed to get a strong start.
Sometime in the afternoon, our Facilities Manager responsible for the mission home and the southern part of the mission (Andrews Karikari) came by with his replacement. Andrews will be returning to Accra and Aaron Allotey will take over. Andrews has been extremely helpful to us and we will miss him.
On Wednesday morning, the trainers for these missionaries came into the Mission Office and I trained them while the Assistants modeled a companionship study with new missionaries. I really love this time with the new trainers. Helping these missionaries reflect on their own training and then talking about replicating the best part of these experiences and discarding the methods that their trainer may have used that was hard for them. It is one of the most important things to us that these new missionaries have valiant trainers who model discipleship. Our hope is that this training helps them in some small way be better prepared for the responsibilities awaiting them.
Before noon, Elder Adade arrived. He too is a Ghanaian who has been called to Ethiopia, but temporarily placed in our mission while he awaits his visa. He is equally qualified and prepared as the other 5. We are grateful to have him in our mission for as long as he is here.
As soon as we finished the training and took some pictures we gave them a sack lunch and sent them to their areas.
Wednesday evenings, every other week, is our mission presidency meeting. I am grateful for Thomas Tabi, Edmund Obeng and Eugene Ghorman (clerk) for their tireless and inspired work in the member districts on behalf of the mission. We could not do this without them.
On Thursday morning, we decided to train the new district, zone and sister training leaders. We had always planned on doing this remotely, but we realized we had a gap in our schedule that would allow us to this Thursday morning. We had some issues with figuring out the phone numbers in some of the new areas with the transfer movement of the previous days. (There is a link between the transfer board and the missionary directory. The phones are only aligned with the missionaries and their respective areas once I submit the final transfer scenario. The problem was that because we were still waiting on the American missionaries, I had not yet been able to submit the transfer board. It is a great system, but when the transfer is spread out over several days, there are always a few days where the organization of the mission has to be figured out manually.) We have started using a document titled “13 points on leadership” that was put together by Rod Hillam. Rod and Melanie Hillam are our assigned mentors and have been such a help to us. The first time, I did most of the training with some help from the Assistants. This time they did half, and I did half. In the future, they will do it all. I have to say, it went remarkably well and we were grateful for the technology that saved so much time, travel and effort.
The 14 American elders came into the Accra Airport at 2 pm and after going through the Covid protocols, were put on a flight to Kumasi that arrived at 7:10 pm. Because of the size of the plane and the amount of luggage the elders had, there were 6 bags belonging to missionaries that came the next morning. LaDawn and I easily retrieved them the next day. We were grateful that most of the luggage made it that night. It was a wonderful scene at the airport. LaDawn mentioned that it was like the Son’s of Helaman arriving for their assignment. This is a valiant group of missionaries. It was our first nighttime pickup as the sun had already set, but such a joyous meeting. It took the Assistants, the Office Elders and the Coombs’ with their trucks and us with the mission van to get everyone and all their luggage back to the mission office.
The Assistants had ordered pizza and picked it up shortly after we arrived. I was able to interview half of them that evening and the other half on Friday morning. All but two or three of these elders are 18 years old. You would never know they are so young because of their spiritual maturity, worthiness, testimony of the restored gospel, and eagerness to just go to work. Very impressive to me. The comparison to the Son’s of Helaman is not far off.
On Friday, the office elders took the American elders to get their non-resident cards. We had worried that it would be a long, time-consuming process, but it ended up taking less than 4 hours for all 14. Those I had not yet interviewed went first so when they returned I was able to complete the interviews. There was one particular trainer that I was trying to figure out who he should train. As I was praying with one of the elders at the end of our interview, the Lord revealed to me that this elder should be with that particular trainer. I was so grateful to have such a direct witness of both of their assignments.
Following the interviews, we ate lunch and then began the orientation and devotional. That took us about 90 minutes. Afterwards, I did a train the trainers meeting for the trainers while the Assistants did companionship study with new missionaries. In the middle of all that, Elder Daniel Monigan from the Konongo District returned home from his mission in Nigeria. The Office Elders picked him up from the airport and brought him to the mission office so that I could interview and release him and send him on his way home. This delayed the train the trainers meeting for about 20 minutes.
We managed to finish about 5 pm, enjoy a delicious meal and a four of the companionships whose assignment is close to, or in Kumasi, left to go to their areas. The remainder of the new missionaries and the trainers spent the night and were then on their way early the next morning.
I should probably just say a word or two about all the meals. Shortly after we arrived, the mission attendant/cook resigned, leaving us without any help to prepare the meals and wash the bedding. Sister Coombs, our mission secretary stepped in big time and with LaDawn’s help they pulled it all off. I am personally so grateful to both for making the week easier than it may otherwise have been.
What we haven’t yet mentioned, is that two of our American elders who were going home received positive Covid tests on Tuesday evening. This meant that when the rest of the missionaries left on Wednesday afternoon, they stayed behind. We quarantined them in a room in the mission office and the rest of us masked up inside the office, something we normally do not do. Both needed to get home to start school. It was a concern to us, to their families, and to themselves. The covid testing place said they could come back in 14 days for another test. Since neither of them had any symptoms and both had taken the J&J vaccine the previous week, we were suspicious that perhaps the tests were false positives, but we took all of the prescribed precautions to be safe. With help from our mission driver, Alexander Cobbina, we were able to find another place where the elders could take a test and get the results in 24 hours. It would cost us a bit more, but we really needed to know if they could fly home or if they really had covid. So, on Friday morning we sent them for testing. Then, with help from Missionary Travel, we put their flights in place anticipating they would be able to fly Saturday evening. And then we prayed. Their families sent their names to the temple and joined in a continual prayer that they could come home. At about 6:00 pm that evening, Sister Coombs handed me their results. NEGATIVE! There was some whooping and a hollering that night by many, including their families in the USA. We could hear them all the way here in Kumasi! The drama wasn’t quite over yet. One of the Elders, because of the delay, had his Ghana visa expire. It was caught in Accra, and the elder was interrogated for 90 minutes by authorties, before agreeing to let him pay $15 and extend the visa one more day so he could leave the country. We were very concerned when we thought it would cause a significant delay, but with some help from heaven, he was on his way.
Saturday mid-morning I made my way to the Bantama stake center (kind of scary without my navigator). LaDawn stayed home and caught up on some housework and mission tasks. I had a coordinating council meeting in the afternoon and left early so I could attend a YSA Gathering Place kickoff for the stake. These gathering places provide a place for the young single adults to come and do family history work, learn new skills, participate in BYU Pathway, study the gospel of Jesus Christ through institute classes and sharpen their job skills. As a gathering place for YSA, it will bring them together and allow them opportunities to invite their like-minded friends to join them. This is just one way that the Church is trying to help these young returned missionaries as well as other Young Single Adults find their way in a difficult and often unfriendly economic environment.
At 1:00 pm the Coordinating Council convened with Elder Appianti (pronounced Appian-see). The Stake Presidents from the four Kumasi stakes as well as me and my mission presidency counselors were in attendance. Our agenda was focused on four questions: 1) What is the most important thing for you to accomplish this year? 2) How can we make our councils more effective? 3) How can we increase the emphasis on the youth, especially as it relates to bishopric interviews? 4) How can we help our Relief Society and Elders Quorum presidents get more involved with counseling members of the ward rather than always expect the bishop to carry the entire load? We finished shortly after 5 pm and I made my way back home. This time Google Maps took me a way that simply did not work and I got a bit lost, even though I was close to home. I really missed my navigator!
After arriving home and having a quick meal, Brother Tandoh from the Area Self Reliance Services and his coworker Charles came by and gave us a bit more of an introduction to the welfare services offered by the Africa West Area of the Church. We discussed Member Welfare Projects, Perpetual Education Fund, English Connect, Business Council, and Self Reliance Classes. It was good to get a bit more insight and understanding on these programs.
On Sunday morning we arose at 5 am, leaving an hour later for Bibiani. With early morning Sunday traffic being light, we made it to the only chapel in Bibiani in just under 2 hours. We found the building and the sister that lives close by and keeps the keys saw us and came over and opened the building. Unfortunately, it was raining which often stops many members from coming to church. While there are two branches that meet there, they met together and there were still only 50 in attendance, out of possible 300. We have much work to do! In sacrament meeting, LaDawn bore her testimony and I spoke for about 10 minutes on recognizing when we have sinned so that we can repent. Sometimes our members break the sabbath day or maybe they tell a white lie and they never really understand that it is wrong. Some of the traditions here are deeply engrained and establishing a culture of Christ will take time.
After the meetings, the District President, his first counselor, LaDawn and I drove out to the land where the Church is considering building a district center. It is a few kilometers outside of town, mostly because land is hard to find in Bibiani. It is a gold mining town and is growing quite rapidly. The man who owns the land was there in his makeshift office when we arrived. His name is Adongo Assidi. I couldn’t help but invite him to learn more about the Church. He said he would love to come and visit the church. He is an intelligent, educated man, and I felt his sincerity. I am hopeful this will be the land we buy. It is right on the Kumasi-Bibiani hiway and is easily accessible.
At 1:30 pm we began the mid-year review of the District Goals. Like many of the other districts in the mission, there is much work to do. My first counselor, Thomas Tabi, was on his way and was turning into the driveway when a “tricycle” (a motorized three-seater taxi) hit him. He spent the next three hours at the hospital with the passengers in the tricycle as well as at the police station. He did this because he is an honorable man. Even though the accident was not his fault, he did what he could to help the driver and the passengers. It was fortunate for him that a senior police officer in Bibiani is a faithful member of the church.
We finished the review just after 3:30 pm and we were getting ready to go when the Estates Branch President indicated he had two members who needed temple recommend interviews. Well, you know how that goes. Six interviews later I finished, and we were on our way home. I am more than happy to do these interviews, as it is difficult for many to get to me or one of my counselors. I don’t ever want to be the reason that someone is without a recommend.
We arrived back home at 6:30 pm and the Assistants arrived at 7:00 pm for our weekly meeting. They brought with them an elder who had to return home 3 months early from his mission because of a problem that he had with the phone. They had retrieved him from the airport earlier in the day while we were in Bibiani. The mistake this elder made was not all that different from the trouble the missionary from our mission found himself in. So, it was interesting that in the same week, we sent one home, and we received one back to a member district for a very similar problem. These are hard lessons to learn. I only hope they will learn them.
The meeting with the Assistants went well. Our primarily topic was the Mission Leadership Council Meeting coming up this week. The most important part of that meeting will be a presentation by these very elders on the topic of Charity. I am looking forward to it because I know it will be great.
That is what a transfer week looks like in the Ghana Kumasi Mission. We love the sustaining hand of the Lord that we feel when have more that needs to be done than we can possibly do. We feel His guidance, His help, His strength, and His love. It is wonderful to be working under His direction Together in Ghana.