The highlight of this week was our third Mission Leadership Council. It was spirit filled from the opening hymn to the closing prayer. What a tremendous group of leaders.
There were three main purposes of the meeting. 1) Build a shared vision as to where the MLC wants to take the mission. 2) Advance the concept of becoming “Finders of the Elect” using the “5 in 5” method inspired by the work of Elder Mbuyi and Elder Morgan and 3) Having the MLC “own” the culture of the mission.
We all had great joy as we saw these purposes fulfilled. In addition, we evaluated the last transfer and agreed on a way forward, we also discussed how best to handle transport monies and we discussed the importance of the key indicators and baptismal records and the people they represent.
Near the start of the meeting, Elder Binene and Elder Yancey led a beautiful discussion on Charity. They had selected three key ideas from their study of the topic and then invited comments and further insights. I especially liked the quote from Mother Teresa, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” It set such a wonderful tone for the rest of the meeting.
Next we discussed the mission accountability for the key indicators. Rather than have each set of zone leaders and sister training leaders report on their own progress in their zones and areas, we talked about the indicators at the mission level. If the MLC is going to own the culture, then we all need to own the numbers as well. As we put the names of those who were baptized on the screen, I asked some of the companionships to tell us about “their” convert. It was wonderful as we all connected the names to the numbers. It makes the number so much more meaningful when we understand that they are real people behind them.
Following the discussion on the key indicators, we discussed what Elder Morgan and Elder Mbyui have come to call “5 in 5”. This is where they set a goal and then let the Lord direct them as to who the 5 people will be that they will bring to the waters of baptism in the next 5 weeks. We tried to show this last time in MLC but did it through a role play. It didn’t go over so well. On Wednesday, Elder Morgan and Elder Mbuyi called to talk about how they might present this. Because they had had 10 baptisms over the last two transfers in an area considered “hard”, I knew we had to keep working on sharing what they were doing. I had previously asked them to talk about it again at this MLC, but they were worried about how to present it in a way that would be helpful.
For the next 45 minutes, I peppered them with questions about what they had done, when they had done it, why they had done it and the results they were seeing. My eyes were opened to just how much faith in Jesus Christ they were exercising in the work. I immediately knew that what we needed to do at MLC was to replicate that discussion. That is what we did. I asked them questions and they answered them. It was marvelous. Where before there was pushback and “that won’t work in my area”, it was now, “I understand it so much better now” and “we will try that in our area”. At the end of the discussion I asked them if they thought we should take Elder Morgan and Elder Mbuyi with us to all of the zone conferences and replicate the discussion and the answer was overwhelmingly “Yes”!
Next we talked about the vision that the MLC has for the mission. At the very first MLC after we arrived, we began the discussion, but last time did not get that far in the meeting before we had to stop. This time, the discussion was brilliant. I put the original vision statements up on a slide and then showed them the categorization that a friend back home had come up with. There were two categories: 1) Missionaries as Disciples and 2) Establishing Zion. I asked them to look over the statements and tell me if there was anything they would change. I think we ended up changing or deleting 3 items. My favorite was the suggestion to move away from “#1 priority is proselyting” to “#1 priority is bringing people to Christ”.
Once we had agreed on the “vision points”, I shared with them what they affectionately referred to as a “sticker”. It was simply my take at an image to represent the vision of the mission leadership council. Overall, they liked it, but they also agreed we needed a slogan that would encapsulate the vision.
At the bottom of the circle I had written, “FIND – TEACH – BAPTIZE”. Within 5 minutes, inspired comments from a number of missionaries around the room led us to this phrase: “We are disciples of Jesus Christ • We Love • We Find •We Teach • We Baptize”. It was a glorious moment as we all felt the significance of the new words. However, rather than rush it into “production”, we decided to wait for a few weeks and see whether it sticks or whether there are new ideas and thoughts that emerge that need to be considered. We agreed to have a mid-transfer MLC video call on September 21st at 1:00 pm to finalize it. As we then talked about the culture and the importance of the MLC “owning” it, it was as though the discussion did not even need to be held. Of course they owned it!
After lunch we came back and discussed transportation allowances and how to manage them better. We also evaluated the transfer process. I had hoped that by changing the way we were doing transfers that we could free up more time to be missionaries, but it had had the opposite impact. The MLC overwhelming agreed to go back to having a central meeting place inside Kumasi, but not having those missionaries who are furthest away come in for it. We will continue to work on this so that we can be as efficient as possible. Overall it was a productive and spirit filled leadership council and I was so proud of these young leaders for their commitment to helping the mission be the very best it can be.
Here are a few other highlights of the week.
On Monday it rained like crazy. LaDawn was not feeling particularly great (she bounced back later in the week) so I went into the mission office without her. A few hours later she called and reported that we had two bathrooms full of water. What we discovered was that the gutters were all connected into one line and that same line includes the gray water from the showers and tubs. The connection point for all these pipes coming together is right outside our master bathroom window, which is also right next to the bathroom in the spare bedroom. When the deluge came, the water took the path of least resistance, which ended up being our tubs and showers. It took me about 90 minutes to get it all scooped up (using a dustpan).
The fix was to cut the gutters and let them run on the cement courtyard rather than back into our bathrooms! Unfortunately, we discovered on Saturday that our shower drain is still leaking. That means removing the shower one more time and fixing the drain. For some reason we appear to have an affinity for water issues no matter where we live!
Speaking of water issues, the foundation on which our large water tank sits began to crack the last few weeks. It finally got bad enough that the landlord agreed to fix it. When they built the original foundation, they formed a pile of dirt and sand and then put a 4 inch cement casing around all of it before sitting a 5000 liter tank weighing 11,000 pounds on top of it. I guess it is no small wonder that he couldn’t bear the weight. I am happy to report they are building the new foundation to a much higher standard. Sort of reminds us of the wise man and the foolish man and their foundation construction methods.
Last week the process changed for recording baptisms. We used to have to fill out the baptismal form and give it to the clerk in each of the branches / wards and they would enter it online and submit it. We found that we had a number of baptisms that were never recorded using this method. And because some were old, it was difficult to track them down and correct them. We are now part of a new pilot program where the missionaries enter the baptismal information directly into area book on the phone. Once they submit the record it sends an email and the record to the clerk and the bishop / branch president. They receive the record in, print the certificate of baptism and the process is finished. With the change, there are some old records that must be matched in the system, and we are trying to learn how to do that. Just about every missionary district has had records to match and we have been a bit in the dark about how to do that. By the end of the week, we received the instructions and have been continuing to clean up these old records across the mission. There is always pain with a new process, but we think this one will be worth the implementation effort.
This week we also had two missionaries arrive and one leave. Elder Lima is our first ever missionary to come from Brazil. He has been out for 17 months and is an experienced and faithful missionary. We are so pleased to have him with us. He came in on Wednesday and became the companion of Elder Muvungu who was serving with Elder Sandoval who went home mid-transfer so he could attend his sister’s wedding. Elder Barrowes is an American elder who returned home with Covid and decided to be released and then return a year later. He served here previously for 7 months and has now come back with an even greater desire to faithfully complete his mission. He arrived on Saturday but came without his luggage. He was supposed to be here on Thursday but got delayed when his flight was rerouted to Syracuse due to Hurricane IDA as it tracked up through the Northeast. His luggage became lost in the reroute.
While he managed to get to Ghana on Friday, no one knew for sure when he was coming and by the time he arrived, there were no flights to Kumasi the same day, so he had to stay an extra day and then fly to Kumasi on Saturday. We picked him up from the airport, met his companion at the Dichemso stake center, interviewed him and sent him to work with two snickers bars to tide him over until he could get some food. Since his area is by the airport, it made little sense to bring him to the Mission home and then drive all the way back to where we already were. We found out today (Monday) that his luggage has finally made it to Accra, so now we just need to get it to Kumasi. With the irregular schedule of missionaries coming and going we have just learned to be flexible.
One of our struggles as mission leaders has been to understand how to effectively use Facebook to find those who are interested in the gospel. As all of you know who are reading this, it is really easy to get lost once you go to Facebook and start going down all sorts of “rabbit trails”. An experience that one of our sister missionaries had this week gave us new hope about the value of Facebook. Sister Godwin had posted a “story” to her Facebook page of a short video with snippets from the apostles and prophets as they bore testimony of Jesus Christ and the restoration.
Elders in Nigeria befriended a Ghanaian man on Facebook and had been discussing the gospel with them. When they found out he was Ghanaian, they said they knew a sister missionary from Nigeria who was serving in Ghana and encouraged him to get in touch with her. They gave him her name and he found her on Facebook and saw the video she had posted. He was moved by the post and messaged her about learning more. The interesting thing about this story is that it turns out that the man lives in the very area where Sister Godwin is currently serving with her companion. What is the chance of that? The following Sunday they met with him, his wife and daughter and are now teaching him the restored gospel. One more interesting tidbit: Sister Godwin’s real first name is Miracle!
We were so enthused by this experience, that I again turned to a good friend back home who quickly went through the April conference and made an updated video with each of the apostles and prophets bearing their testimony. Within 90 minutes he sent it back to me and I sent it to all of the missionaries and asked them to post it to their own individual Facebook accounts if they felt so inspired. Here is that video:
On Saturday and Sunday, we attended the Suame Stake Conference under the direction of Elder Tony Kaku of the Seventy. He invited us to speak at all three sessions. It was wonderful to be with him and with the members of the Suame Stake, as well as a number of our missionaries. It was from the Saturday afternoon session of their conference that we drove to the airport to pick up Elder Barrowes.
With every good week, there needs to be challenges and this week was no exception. We had to move a new missionary being trained out of his apartment because his trainer and the other missionaries in the apartment were not being good examples. It was the effort of two good zone leaders who surprised them with an early morning visit that revealed much of the problem. On Friday morning and again on Monday morning I had companionship study with the three them where we read and discussed scriptures relating to obedience. I was so impressed with these elders and their desire to change. I can testify that Elder Packer’s statement is true, that teaching doctrine is more powerful in changing behavior than just talking about the behavior. We had another situation where a missionary companionship was making bad choices associated with their transport allowance. An experienced zone leader just moving into the leadership role of that zone, immediately recognized the problem and he and his companion traveled three hours to these missionaries’ apartment to question them. Turns out the zone leader was right. We are so grateful to these powerful and inspired zone leaders for their willingness to move the mission culture out of covid and back towards the missionary purpose. When the Mission Leadership Council takes ownership of the mission culture and acts in accordance their own vision of what the mission should be, miracles begin to happen.
One last thing. We are searching for a new mission office attendant. Someone that can cook and clean and help us as the missionaries come and go. The woman who was here when we arrived resigned and the Area HR department has been searching for a replacement since her resignation. They have narrowed it down to three and on Friday night, our first candidate came and cooked a meal for us. We had already planned to enjoy an evening meal with Tom and Becky Rogers and Elder and Sister Coombs, so we used the event as an opportunity to test the potential new attendant. We had a great evening just talking and enjoying each other company. Tom & Becky have an NGO here called, “Families Mentoring Families” where they do some great work for children, unwed mothers, and others in need of a hand up. Many of you know that AmazonSmile will donate a portion of their proceeds to any approved NGO. “Families Mentoring Families” is one that is on their list and we would encourage you to consider selecting them as your charity. They do great work here.
Serving Together in Ghana is such a huge blessing for us. How we love these young men and young women who lay everything on the altar to come and share the message of the restored gospel for 18-24 months. None of us are perfect and we all need the saving grace that is available to us through the atonement of Jesus Christ. We are just grateful to be here in this place at this time.