After a couple of very busy and chaotic weeks leading up to Christmas and then transfers the week after, this week was much more peaceful. We appreciate these calm valleys among the tempestuous mountains that often accompany the work of mission leaders. This week has been wonderful as our main focus has been on starting the next round of interviews. At the start of the week we had 175 missionaries, and our interviews this week covered 22% or 39 missionaries.
So what does a missionary interview look like? Because the buildings here are almost exclusively tile and cement, with very little sound deadening in the ceilings, every room is very “echo-y”. Couple that with the noise of a ceiling fan or noise from outside that comes through the open windows and bounces around the room – and for a person like me with hearing aids it makes having an interview quite a challenge. A couple of months ago, I decided to sit outside to hold the interviews at the Suame stake center and I found it so much easier to hear, that I decided I would replicate that whenever possible. I use an app on my iPad called “CRAFT”. It is a note taking app, that is extremely user friendly and powerful. Each time I meet with a missionary, I note the date and then take a few notes. We always start with the missionary offering an opening prayer. From there I ask the missionary to share with me their scripture about Christ that they have memorized. Many of you will know about the invitation President Nelson extended to the members of the Church in April 2017, when he was the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, regarding studying the scriptures in the Topical Guide under “Jesus Christ”. Here is a link to the talk and here is the quote from that talk that we love. “I read and underlined every verse cited about Jesus Christ, as listed under the main heading and the 57 subtitles in the Topical Guide. When I finished that exciting exercise, my wife asked me what impact it had on me. I told her, “I am a different man!”
Our thinking as mission leaders has been that if we could have the missionaries memorize one of these scriptures every six weeks it would transform the mission. So that is our objective! In three years, there will be a total of 26 transfers. If we average 175 missionaries during those three years, and each one memorizes a scripture on Christ each transfer, that would be 4,550 scriptures about Christ that have been memorized and shared. We are not sure exactly how many scriptures there are in these 58 categories in the topical guide, but a quick review would indicate the mission could memorize every single one of them in a three year period, even allowing for significant duplication.
After the missionary shares his/her memorized scripture, then I share mine. Before leaving on our mission, our mentors, Rod and Melanie Hillam encouraged us to each memorize 10 of these scriptures, which we did. They get a little foggy at times, but it is pretty easy to brush back up on them. My scripture for this round of interviews is found in Alma 33:21-22. It is only verse 22 that is officially a scripture on Christ from the Topical Guide, but when I memorized it, I realized I needed verse 21 to make it complete. “O my brethren, if ye could be healed by merely casting about your eyes that ye might be healed, would ye not behold quickly, or would ye rather harden your hearts in unbelief, and be slothful, that ye would not cast about your eyes, that ye might perish? If so, wo shall come upon you; but if not so, then cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works.” Each time I share this verse, the spirit teaches me just a little bit more about having sufficient faith to look to our Savior, Jesus Christ. I love this opportunity to share and discuss these scriptures about Christ.
After we finish discussing the scriptures, I then ask them how things are going for them. How are things with their companion? What is their baptismal goal for the transfer and how many of “the elect” have they already identified associated with their goal? Sometimes I ask various questions based on what I feel the Spirit is prompting me to ask. “What is the most difficult thing they are facing right now”? “What is bringing them the greatest joy?” What time do they leave the apartment in the morning?” “What time do they return?” Sometimes we talk about their personal study habits and how things are going with companionship study. I love these short 1:1 opportunities to teach them about the gospel, to answer questions they might have, and encourage them in areas where I can see they can be better. At the end of the interview I always ask them what I can do for them. I am gratified at the humility of these missionaries. The most common answer is, “Pray for us”. Sometimes there are issues with their departure date, or their apartments, or a desire they have for an assignment in a particular area. I try to keep these interviews to 15 minutes each. Sometimes they are shorter and sometimes they are longer, but for me, they always lift me and make me grateful for the opportunity to serve as a mission president.
While I am doing the interviews, LaDawn does phone checks. She has become quite an expert at navigating the Samsung Android phones that the mission uses. Our biggest issue right now is the use of Facebook during the week. We have authorized 30 minutes for each companion to go out and make a post on Facebook about something spiritual. We want them to be Facebook contributors and not Facebook consumers. But Facebook has gotten very good as “sucking people in” with their notifications, their endless strings of videos, their “stories” and the incessant draw for selfies to collect as many “likes” as possible. It is a constant battle. The missionaries often have no idea how much time they are wasting on Facebook, but LaDawn has a system down that allows her to track the daily usage of these apps. Some mission leaders give up the fight and just restrict all of the phones so Facebook is not an option, but we know the General Authorities want us to teach the missionaries how to control their social media appetite and so we continue to encourage them, teach them and yes, sometimes even restrict them for a time. We know this is a life skill that if they can learn it now, will bless them the rest of their mortal sojourn. As LaDawn checks the phones, she will counsel with the companionships about areas where they need to improve. We give them every opportunity to figure this out for themselves before we take more drastic action. While Facebook is not the only issue we are dealing with, it is the one we are most focused on. Communications between missionaries outside of their zones is another problem we are working on and we still have issues with elders texting sisters, but this one is improving. This last one especially is the one that could end up in a missionary going home early.
On Tuesday, we attended the Atonsu District Council meeting where Elder Kunzler is the District Leader. It was a great meeting, well prepared and well delivered and ended exactly on time. We were grateful to be with them. After the meeting, we interviewed Elder Kunzler, Elder Thompson, Elder Webster and Elder Crane. We then came back to the Mission Home and participated in our mid-transfer Virtual MLC. The assistants provided some excellent instruction on faith and we agreed collectively that the zone leaders and Sister Training Leaders will provide similar instruction at the upcoming zone conferences. After the meeting ended, the Assistants and I sat down and drafted what we believe are three inspired questions that we would like the leaders to address.
- How is faith a principle of power in relation to finding the Elect?
- What is required to have great faith as we become Finders of the Elect?
- Why does faith always lead to Finding the Elect through miracles?
We then added 5 more we would like them to consider as they prepare for the discussion:
- How do I know if I have enough faith?
- How much faith is required to become a Finder of the Elect?
- How can I increase my faith?
- Why is it impossible to please God without faith?
- How does my faith manifest itself in my missionary work?
We are looking forward to hearing from these leaders as they lead these discussions in their respective zones.
On Wednesday, we traveled to Nkawkaw and interviewed the 6 missionaries who are serving there. They are a great group of young men who are really working hard to make a difference in Nkawkaw and Mpraeso. The drive out is a little over two hours, but it saves the missionaries time so we love going out there. On the way back, we stopped at Juaso and interviewed the two elders there (Elder Kabongo and Elder Mansaray and then came to the Low Cost chapel and interviewed the 4 sisters and 4 elders who serve in Konongo and Domeabra.
I missed taking pictures of Elder Kabongo and Elder Mansaray as well as Sister Freeman and Sister Kamara. It was really great being able to interview the entire zone in one day as it really gave us a good feel for the work they are doing. We are grateful for each and every one of them.
On Thursday evening, we had a dinner and short sendoff for Elder Acheampong. While he only served with us for 3 months, we are so grateful for this stalwart and faithful servant of the Lord. We managed to play a little bit of Preach My Gospel Jeopardy after dinner. This time around, Elder Morgan won and Elder Acheampong took a solid second place. We have a lot of fun playing this game with our missionaries as they are about to go home. No sooner had we finished the evening with Elder Acheampong then we got in the car and drove to the airport to pick up Elder Fitzpatrick. He had been in quarantine for a week in Accra because he tested positive for Covid upon his arrival at the airport last week. He was the last of 20 missionaries that were part of the December transfer. We were grateful to receive him and he was grateful to finally arrive.
On Friday morning we were at the office at 7:30 am so that we could provide a mission orientation and devotional to Elder Fitzpatrick before our monthly Mission Office Council (MOC) began at 10:30 am. It was a holiday, so not everyone was in attendance, but we did get through a pretty heady agenda and laid out the schedule for the month of January. Things are going to get really busy again next week! After the MOC, we had Alex Cobbinah take Elder Fitzpatrick to his companion along with the luggage of Elder Riggs which had been delayed in Amsterdam. Alex also took Elder Hale’s luggage to him in Alfrancho which had also been delayed. I then interviewed the office elders and the assistants and then we ran a few errands to pick up items that we need for the upcoming zone conferences.
On Saturday, we drove back out to the University Stake center and did 14 more interviews. These are great missionaries and we so enjoyed being with them. Clockwise starting in the top left hand corner: Sister Koomson, Sister Chikayenda, Sister Apana and Sister De-Heer; Sister Nabwire and Sister Ebitimi; Sister Ehigie and Sister Achioke; Elder Komba and Elder Driscoll; Elder Fuller and Elder Nelson; Elder Sam and Elder Awortwi.
On Saturday evening, we had dinner with the Garrison’s and the Moomey’s as we celebrated Elder Garrison’s birthday. We are do grateful for the Garrison’s, the Moomey’s and the Allreds. These couples make a huge difference in the mission. Soon they will be joined by the Steinmetz’ and the Lowe’s. We consider ourselves so fortunate to have such an experienced army of Senior Couples!
On Sunday, we drove down to Obuasi and attended the Obuasi 2nd Branch. I had a chance to say a few things in sacrament meeting about faith in Jesus Christ. For the second hour, LaDawn ran the entire primary as their teacher did not show up (and according to the children, rarely does). LaDawn had 14 children by the time the meeting ended and had a good time singing primary songs and teaching them about keeping the Sabbath Day Holy, being obedient to the commandments of God and about the Creation (not an easy thing to do without any pictures!).
We made it back home in the early afternoon and I took the opportunity to spend some time preparing for the upcoming zone conferences this week. My topic is the condescension of God and I am still trying to get the message just right. This is in support of helping to build the faith of the missionaries so that we can be more effective Finders of the Elect.
We are grateful for the new year and the desire that we all have here in the Kumasi Mission to be just a little bit better. To work a little harder, to be more obedient and be a lot more more inspired with a lot more love! We are grateful to be engaged in this great cause, Together in Ghana!