Bolga!

The title of this blog post is a representation of our final destination of the week. Bolgatanga is a city of almost 70,000 people and is known locally as simply Bolga. The name Bolgatanga is derived from the Frafra words bolga “rock” and tẽŋa “city.”(Frafra is the tribal language of the region, but most people also speak English). Historically Bolgatanga was at the southern end of the ancient Trans-Sararan trade route. Near Bolgatonga this route merged with another major route called the Sahelia route. It was along this road that handicrafts—especially straw baskets, hats and fans, leather goods, metal jewelry and indigenous clothing were exchanged for kola nuts and salt. Today, Bolga is a thriving city with more stop lights than any other city other than Accra and Kumasi. The city we think is closest to it in terms of “feel” is Sunyani. But wait, we have gotten ahead of ourselves…..

On Monday we spent much of the day shopping for groceries with Elder and Sister Steinmetz. We would be leaving for Sunyani on Tuesday morning to begin our journey northward to Tamale where the Steinmetz’s would be serving. We wanted to make sure they had an opportunity to pick up whatever food they wanted while in Kumasi, realizing the food selection will be different in Tamale. On Monday night, LaDawn made some delicious lasagne and Elder & Sister Moomey brought green salad and Elder and Sister Garrison brought some homemade bread, and we enjoyed a wonderful “Welcome to the Mission” dinner for the Steinmetz’s.

As mentioned above, we left Tuesday morning (about 7:30 am) and traveled to Sunyani for the Techiman and Sunyani combined zone conference which was held on Wednesday. On Tuesday, I interviewed 14 missionaries starting at 10:00 am and ending around 2:30 pm. Later that evening (around 8 pm), I was able to interview the 4 elders who serve in Wa, as they finally made it to Sunyani after a long day of travel.

Below clockwise starting top left are missionaries from the Sunyani zone: Elder Mutatshi and Elder Walker; Elder Oduro and Elder Jant; Sister Walker and Sister Codjoe; Elder Toe and Elder Belnap (zone leaders); Elder Lawson and Elder Dossia; Sister Gbeku and Sister Ita

Evening at the Abesim Chapel in Sunyani

The Wa elders thought they could buy bus tickets Tuesday morning, but by the time they arrived at 5:30 am, the bus was full and they had to wait another 5 hours to catch a bus that would eventually get them Wenchi and then they took a taxi to Sunyani. It was a very long day for them but they were in great spirits. Rather than have them travel to the district center for the interviews, we met at the Abesim building where there was already a midweek activity in progress. Unfortunately I forgot to snap pictures of these 4 great elders.

Wednesday morning we started zone conference at 9:00 am. The zone leaders and sister training leaders for both zones decided to just do one instruction on the principle of faith rather than breaking out into zones. The instruction was excellent and I thought it would be worthwhile to add the notes that Elder Yeboah took for them while they were presenting. So many excellent concepts were shared and discussed.

Following their instruction, I talked a bit more about faith and its importance in our work as missionaries. My question to them was this, “What evidences do Sister Kunz and I have as mission leaders about the level of faith in the mission?”. Some of their answers, “number of baptisms”, “unity in companionships”, “obedience of the missionaries”, “proper use of social media”, “weekly letters”, “memorization of the scriptures on Jesus Christ”, and “proper use of subsistence”. Our take is that as a mission we are improving but we are not where we need to be. We have talked about collective obedience in the past and that is still very much a goal. We now add “collective faith” as an additional goal. We then read Mark 2:5 where the man with the palsy was healed both spiritually and physically because of “their faith”. Who is “their”? It is the faith of the men that opened the roof and let him down to be in front of the Savior. We really want the districts and the zones to know the baptismal goals and to collectively exhibit their faith by praying for their accomplishment.

Next up was LaDawn. She spoke about becoming Highly Favored of the Lord. Using Nephi (son of Lehi), the Brother of Jared, and Mary the mother of Jesus, she invited the missionaries to discuss their insights as to the attributes that each of these individuals possessed. She asked them what did they have in common and then encouraged the missionaries to also become highly favored of the Lord.

To close out the conference I spoke about the Condescension of God. I used two videos to help reinforce the significance of what Jesus Christ did for each of us. The first is a short 3:41 clip taken from Tyler and Taylor’s Come Follow Me video focused on the Creation. The second is 6:18 long and taken from a talk Elder Holland gave in 2000 to new Mission Presidents. It talks about missionary work being hard because salvation is not easy. It is inspiring to say the least. You can watch it here. The spirit of this discussion was inspiring to all of us. It is not surprising that when Jesus Christ is the focus of a zone conference, that the Spirit is unrestrained. That is what we experienced across the mission the last two weeks. At the end, I asked the missionaries, how can we apply Christ’s condescension in our work as missionaries. The answers were profound. Here is a sampling:

  • Bear with patience our afflictions
  • Be faith-filled
  • Have charity for the people
  • Focus more on our missionary purpose
  • Increase our desire for His children to receive eternal life
  • Abide in Him by taking on His attributes
  • Perseverance
  • Humble ourselves
  • Follow the mission rules
  • Rise up to Him
  • Have hope that being obedient will bring miracles
  • Holding tightly to the good cause we have started
  • Allow our Father’s will to be done in our own life
  • Remember that Salvation is not cheap!
  • Put the Lord’s will above our own
  • Place our feet upon the Rock
  • Descend below our pride and selfish desires
  • Be filled with courage
  • Stretch more than we ever have
  • Understand more about Jesus Christ
  • Become like Christ
The Sunyani and Techiman zones

Missionaries in the Sunyani zone interviewed after the conference. Left to right: Elder Archibong and Elder Nsungi, Elder Musamukiana and Elder Franklin, Elder Nuwagaba and Elder Adu and Elder Niando and Elder Frehner

The amazing Sister and Elder Allred!

After the zone conference, I completed 8 more interviews (see above) and we then packed up and drove to Techiman where we enjoyed a nice evening with the Allred’s, Moomey’s and Steinmetz’s and then stayed the night in the Encom Hotel. Sister Allred was kind enough to make some delicious chicken noodle soup for dinner which we greatly appreciated. We decided it made the most sense for the Moomey’s to stay with them since they would be coming back through on Friday night and it would require no change of sheets on the bed. While we were away from Kumasi, a young man named Emmanuel Akomsi returned from his mission to Nigeria that needed to be released. I had made arrangements with one of my counselors to release him while I was gone, but the days got confused and that didn’t happen. Fortunately he was returning to the Dwomoh branch in Techiman, so I called the Branch President (Tony Adu) and arranged to have him bring Elder Akomsi to the Allred’s so I could release him before we left for Tamale. While speaking to me, he asked about Jessica Ampiah, a young woman from his branch that was to enter the MTC the very next day. I had completely spaced the timing on her departure and with a few phone calls, we managed to setup a time at 7:00 am the next morning to set her apart and sign her temple recommend. Now that was a tender mercy! Had the mixup not occurred with Elder Akomsi, I would completely failed in getting Jessica set apart. The fact both missionaries were from the same branch just made it all easier. After setting all of that up, we drove over to the Encom and spent the night, along with the Steinmetz’s. Our night in the Encom though left much to be desired. With a bed as hard as a rock and only a queen size top sheet as cover (on a king sized bed), it was not a particularly restful night, but we managed and were ready to get back to work the next morning.

Jessica Ampiah

I arose early and met President Adu and Jessica at the Dwomoh branch building where I had a temple recommend interview and then set her apart. She will be a great missionary. She is hard working and a devoted member of the Church. She had come over earlier that morning to have her temple recommend interview first with her branch president. She still had to go home, change and catch a bus to Kumasi and then fly to Accra. It would be a long day for her, but her faith was firm and she said she was not nervous at all about going to the MTC by herself. An impressive young woman for sure.

Emmanuel Akomsi

I then returned to the Allred’s, had a quick breakfast and then began interviews with the 10 remaining missionaries of the Techiman Zone. Somewhere in there, Elder Akomsi showed up and I took the time to interview and release him. When I asked him what he learned about leadership while on his mission, he said something I had never heard before, but is profound. “Leadership is not about position, leadership is about behavior!”. Truer words have never been spoken. He will bring great strength to the Dwumoh Branch.

Unfortunately, we forgot to take a snap of Elder Adebayo and Elder Malombo as they came early and then left. But the rest are below: Sister Opare and Sister Pitlagano, Elder Musungo and Elder Simpson, Sister Kamara and Sister Yenga, Sister Mainoo and Sister Annan.

We were able to get away from Techiman just before noon and made our way to Tamale, arriving at 4:20 pm in time to start interviews with the Bolgatanga Elders. I was also able to interview the 4 sisters serving in the Kanvilli branch that same evening. After interviews, the Moomey’s, the Steinmetz’s and us drove over to Wooden Cafe and Bakery and had a nice dinner. Elder Steinmetz and I shared a delicious Hawaiian pizza.

The next morning, we completed the last of our 5 zone conferences. When we first arrived in Kumasi, the Tamale zone only had 8 missionaries. Today there are 18 missionaries and we will add another 6 next transfer. We are fully committed to helping the Tamale District grow and these missionaries are actively doing just that. Elder Barrowes and Elder Donkor gave very good instruction on what it is we need to do to have greater faith in our missionary work. The discussion was good and the spirit was even better.

Above, left to right, Elder Donkor and Elder Barrows, Sister Gurure and Sister Damsa, LaDawn

The Tamale Zone plus the Assistants
President Gabriel Gakpo, Sister Steinmetz, Elder Steinmetz

After the conference I finished the interviews and then we had some time to go back to the hotel and rest for an hour. We were back at the district center at 5 pm where I had the opportunity to meet with President Gakpo (district president) in a 1:1 interview and at 5:45 pm invited the Steinmetz’s to join us so he could get to know them. We discussed the expectations that we both have in terms of the work that needs to be done and answered any questions that Elder and Sister Steinmetz had. It was an important and timely meeting. We don’t know who is more excited about having a couple in Tamale: President Gakpo, The Steinmetz’s or us!

Normally at this point we would begin to wind down and head back to Kumasi the next morning. But this time, we decided to drive the remaining 3 hours on Saturday morning to the northernmost part of the mission to the city of Bolgatanga. We arrived about 12:30 pm and immediately met the missionaries in their apartment. Because of the heat in Bolga, we decided to install air conditioning in their bedrooms so they can sleep at night. It just so happened that was occurring on Saturday afternoon. So we left Elder Harnois and Elder Griffen at the apartment and we went with Elder Barton and Elder Tano to make some visits. We first drove to the branch building and there met President Elijah Ying-Urah, the branch president of the 2nd Branch. We then drove out to Zuarungu where we are planning to start a group in the coming weeks and met a few of the people. It was wonderful to meet these humble, salt of the earth people who love the church but cannot afford to make the journey each week into Bolgatanga.

We spoke to Damian for a while, trying to answer his questions, but he needed to get back to work helping the men build a house with cement blocks, so we left with a promise for the missionaries to return at some point and talk more.

After leaving Zuarungu, we made our way back to Bolga, dropped off Elder Barton and Elder Tano and picked up Elder Harnois and Elder Griffen. We went with them to a 15 year old named Bless. Generally they teach both Bless and his mom, but she was in the market, so they asked if they could just talk to him for a few moments. We were so impressed with the way that Elder Harnois and Elder Griffen taught this young man. After an opening prayer, they asked him about the scriptures they had given him to read. They opened the Book of Mormon, read two of the verses and then asked him some questions and responded to his answers. It was amazing to see how well they were teaching Bless as a person, rather than just teaching one of the missionary lessons. This young man is very special and says he already knows the Church is true. I couldn’t help but take a couple of snaps while they were teaching. It was such a marvelous, albeit brief discussion.

From there we traveled to our hotel. We stayed at the Akayet hotel which is a bit outside of the main city, but boy is it a nice hotel! Definitely the best hotel we have been in outside of Accra. It was clean, well maintained, good services, and the restaurant was probably the best at which we have eaten. Definitely a place we will go back to. It is definitely a 4 star hotel as advertised.

On Sunday, we attended the sacrament meetings of both branches. It gave us a good feel for the people and the leadership. Between the two sacrament meetings, I interviewed Peter Agoswin from the First Branch for his mission. This is a fine young man who will do well as a missionary. We had a little trouble with his temple recommend, as he did not get the two part recommend the first time. However, we had his branch president, Martin Ayane, find the right book and get it filled out and all three of us signed it. Immediately after the First Branch’s sacrament meeting we jumped in the car and drove all the way to Techiman, a 7 hour drive. We arrived about 6:45 pm. We had a good nights sleep and then arose at 4:30 am Monday morning and 40 minutes later were back on the road headed to Kumasi. We hit rush hour traffic around 7:00 am and it took us over 90 minutes to get home once we entered Kumasi. We were pretty eager to get back to our own place after being gone for more than 6 days. We stayed in 5 different beds over the 6 nights and we were ready to come back to the comforts of our own home.

It has been a rewarding and inspiring week for us. We love these missionaries with whom we serve. We love their efforts, their testimonies, their growing faith and their desire to become like Jesus Christ. Don’t get us wrong, things are far from perfect, but we express our joy to be engaged in this great cause as we gather Israel one last time, Together in Ghana.

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