On Sunday we drove out to the Patriensa Branch to attend Church. Patriensa Branch is part of the Konongo District. It will become a stake next week which will be a great thing to have the 5th stake in our mission. It will join Bantama, University, Suame and Dichemso. The reason we went to Patriensa was to get to know a few men that the District President had recommended to become the branch president. I had an interesting experience while sitting on the stand where the spirit told me to interview a man that I did not know. As it turned out, he was the man the Lord wanted in the position. He was called and set apart last week by the district president. His name is Jones Asiedu. I so appreciate these types of experiences that reinforce that this is the Lord’s work.
From Patriensa, we headed to Techiman. We met Elder Mbuyi and Elder Morgan in Suame on the side of the road to take them with us to the zone conferences in Tamale and Sunyani. We also stopped along the way and dropped off an ankle brace for Elder Lima who has been suffering from tendinitis. Our son-in-law Brian Conley helped us out with the diagnosis and prescription for recovery. It was nice for Elder Lima to talk to him because Brian served in Brazil and Elder Lima is our first Brazilian missionary. There are no coincidences.
In Techiman we stayed the night with the Allred’s. It is always so wonderful to see them and be with them. They are so kind and loving and are really making a difference with the people there in Techiman. On Monday morning, I interviewed the elders and sisters who live and work in Techiman and then we departed and headed to Tamale.
It took us a little over 4 hours to make the 257 km journey. Once in Tamale, we dropped Elder Mbuyi and Elder Morgan off at the zone leaders’ apartment and we went over and checked into Ma’s hotel where we stayed last time. It is not the greatest hotel we have stayed in, but they are so very kind to us. We went over to Luxury Restaurant for dinner. Had a hamburger. Waited an hour and it was definitely over cooked and more cool than warm. But we had a beautiful view of the sunset and stereophonic sound from the Call to Prayers coming from the innumerable mosques in the city. We even talked to Wisdom, one of the waiters and invited him to “come and see” at the church across the street from the restaurant.
On Tuesday we had a wonderful zone conference. Obedience, integrity, and becoming a Finder of the Elect were the themes. It was great to now have 16 elders in the zone whereas before we had only 8. Following lunch from KFC, I started interviews with those I had not yet seen. At 2:00 pm I had a meeting with Elder Klebingat and Elder Quaisie about the next weekend’s conference where Konongo will become a stake. At 3:00 pm, I continued the interviews and finished up around 5 pm. I drove LaDawn back to the hotel and then came back for a meeting with the District Presidency. We met from 5:30 pm to about 6:50 pm. It was a good meeting but we are still moving too slowly in the district. We helped them with some new action items and will see where they take us.
Wednesday morning we picked up Elder Morgan and Elder Mbuyi and drove to Sunyani. It took us close to 6 hours. We decided to do a 4-person companionship study on the way. Elder Mbuyi selected Jesus Christ – Creator as the topic, and for the next 2 hours we read scriptures and then talked about them, including understanding the context, historical figures and pertinent connections. It was delightful! We did the same thing when we left Sunyani on Thursday and headed for home. The topic that day was repentance. Who knew scripture study could be so fun? (we did!)
Once in Sunyani, we dropped the elders off at the Abesim apartment with Elder Penrose and Elder Walker where they were able to do a “mini-exchange” with them. They had a great experience showing them how to go out and just serve the people near their apartment.
LaDawn and I drove over to the district center and for the next two hours I conducted interviews and LaDawn conducted phone audits. I found that having the interviews after the zone conference are so much more effective than before (given the subject of the conference). For each missionary I have or will interview, I ask them three questions: 1) Have you used your subsistence for an expenditure that is not authorized in the Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ booklet? 2) Do you have a personal phone? 3) Do you have inappropriate music? We have been asked by the Area Presidency to eliminate personal SIM cards but because so much data is being used on Facebook and Messenger, missionaries have been supplementing the mission data with their own. It is difficult to untangle what is missionary based use and what is time not well spent. Just one of the many challenges we are working to understand.
I have been proud of many missionaries who have decided to be 100% completely honest and have turned in things they have purchased with subsistence that they should not have. A number have phones that they purchased with their own money, but are not authorized in the mission, and they have turned them into me as well. I will keep them safe until they are ready to return home. The other items will either be sold and the money put back into the mission money or it will be given to someone with a need.
This last week was especially hard as two missionaries made some very bad decisions in their roles as trainers. I am grateful for the young missionaries who have such respect for their trainers but when they see things that are amiss, they will not back down and accept disobedience. I saw an elder this last week really help his trainer soften his heart and repent and change for the better. What joy I had as I finished my conversation with these two elders to see them embrace and commit to help each other in furthering the work of salvation and staying true to their missionary purpose. In another case, I had an elder take full advantage of the newness of his companion to make bad choices regarding transportation monies as he would fabricate what he was spending. This elder has also expressed deep regret and a desire to change. I understand so much more the parable of the shepherd going after the 1 lost sheep.
Anyway, back to Wednesday evening after the interviews, again I drove LaDawn to the hotel (this time the Tyco Hotel in Sunyani) and returned to the District Center for a meeting with the District Presidency. I have to say I was taken back by the earnestness with which they are pursuing improvement. When we met at their district conference in early August, the district was nearly lifeless in terms of progress, but the district presidency has come alive and are doing the things we discussed. I was so very happy at their renewed enthusiasm and efforts. The key item we talked about was let’s not try to do everything at once. Instead, I asked them to focus on one or two items at a time and drive their improvement before moving to the next item. I left feeling so much joy and hope that the district is moving again.
Thursday, we had our last zone conference in Sunyani with the missionaries from Sunyani, Techiman and Wa. It was wonderful from beginning to end. By the time we get to the last one we are pretty good at delivering the messages. It is unfortunate that we can’t be as good with the first one as we are with the last one. After the conference, I did a few more interviews and then around 4 pm we left for home. As it turns out the Assistants had just picked up Elder Belnap from the airport and were on their way to the mission office. We decided just to go directly there and meet and interview him. I also provided a short orientation to the mission.
Sister Coombs had prepared dinner for all of us for which we were really grateful. By the time we got home it was after 9 pm. I was pretty tired and fell asleep on top of the covers, not having slept well the night before. During the night I got chilled and the next morning I could tell I was coming down with a cold. It would probably have been worse had LaDawn not put the covers over me during the night. I have not had a cold for the past 2.5 years – I think the covid protocols really worked in that regard!
The weekend was filled with the Obuasi District Conference where the area presidency had asked me to preside. We had pulled the program together a month ago, so at least that was done. We arrived in Obuasi Saturday morning at 8:15 am and returned home around 5:30 pm. President Tabi, my first counselor in the mission presidency, attended the conference as well since he lives in Obuasi.
We met with the District Presidency at 8:30 am and talked about what progress had been made since the mid-years goal review. To be honest, it felt like very little had been done. In fact, we went into the first meeting (for all Adults) a bit flat. There was a good spirit there, but it felt like all of us in attendance were going through the motions, but nothing was changing. At the start of the leadership meeting at 12:30 pm, the same feeling prevailed. I had planned to talk about Lehi’s dream and ask “Where do we see ourselves in that dream?” But I just couldn’t feel good about it. As we started the meeting, I had no idea what I was going to speak on. As the session progressed, there were four topics covered by leaders in the branches. 1) The making of ministering assignments. 2) How we are helping our prospective elders to advance. 3) How a YW president is helping her young women set goals. 4) How the members and missionaries are working together to share the restored gospel and retain converts. The first counselor in the district presidency was not in attendance so I asked President Tabi to take that slot. When I asked whether he would rather speak first or right before me, he deferred back to me. As I considered it for a moment it was clear he should go right before me. When his turn came, he talked about the temple. Because the district has a low percentage of current recommend holders, he mentioned this as well. It was during his talk that the spirit confirmed what I needed to do. We got out the mobile microphones and we walked out onto the floor and asked, “how can we help you progress?”. While I expected to discuss many facets, the members stayed on the topic of temple recommends and we spent the whole time talking about how to get back to the pre-covid levels of temple recommends. The questions were good and helpful in terms of just things like, “How can we help those who do not know how to read the expiration date on their recommends” or “What should I do if I have lost my recommend?”. “How do we even make an appointment at the temple now?” “How old do I need to be to go to the temple?” “How long do I have to be a member before I can go?” It was an inspiring session for all of us. I also spoke about agency and accountability and that while we would sometimes like to choose our consequences, we cannot. Along with agency comes accountability. Sometimes we think it is the Church that is going to save us, but that is our responsibility, not that of the Church. The Church administers ordinances and helps us learn the gospel, but ultimately, we are the ones accountable for our salvation.
That night the District President went home and called his boss and told him he needed to have Sunday as his day off. After some moments of silence, his boss told him he would give him 3 of the 4 Sundays in a month. This was a huge blessing to the district president and will be blessing for the entire district as he will now have more time to focus on his Church responsibilities.
The next day the Sunday Session was completely different from the day before. The district president delivered a powerful talk on ministering and the people felt it. Talk after talk seemed to strengthen and unify the district. 40% of the district showed up to the conference, which is actually higher than the recent sacrament meeting attendance. The meeting with the District Presidency following the conference was equally inspiring as they set some goals for themselves including focusing on temple recommends and prospective elders as well as regular presidency meetings and monthly interviews with the branch presidents. It was so exciting to see this unfold before our eyes. I joy in the knowledge that this is HIS work and not ours. I saw how the Spirit of the Lord descended upon one man who had the courage to make a sacrifice to the Lord and how that sacrifice, though unspoken to the congregation, was felt and responded to. It was amazing to behold.
Getting through that conference while fighting a cold and having a voice worthy of the deepest bass voice in the choir was not fun (thank goodness for masks), but despite the hardship it was such a rewarding and testimony building weekend.
One other thing I will mention. Elder and Sister Despain and Elder and Sister Derr, both who have area assignments came to Kumasi. We were able to go to dinner with them on Saturday night along with Elder and Sister Coombs to Noble House. The food there is very good, albeit the atmosphere is a bit loud. In any case, it was good to have a night out after a very hectic but rewarding week.
If I were to sum up the week in one word, it would be “Progress”. Progress in the Member Districts, Progress in the Mission and Progress in establishing Zion. How we love being engaged in this work, Together in Ghana.