You might wonder why we have titled the post this week “The Army of Helaman” and then have a picture of 5 young single adults. It has never happened to me, and I believe it is quite unusual to experience what I experienced this week while in Tamale for a District Conference over the weekend. The 5 young single adults pictured in the photo are all from Bolgatanga 2nd Branch. Maxwell, Emmanuel, Godwin, Godwin, and Catherine are all prepared to go out and serve missions. All 5 of them were baptized in 2016. Catherine was responsible for inviting the tall Godwin and Maxwell to learn about the Church. All are valiant Latter-day Saints. From this small branch, these 5 amazing future missionaries have been taught and prepared. Kudos to President Elijah, the branch president, and President Martey, First counselor in the District Presidency for their work and efforts to prepare them and have them in Tamale to be interviewed so that their dream of serving a mission could become one step closer. Doing these interviews after a long day of conference sessions was a labor of love. The energy and testimony of these young warriors was inspiring and sustaining. They will all be great missionaries!
Speaking of the district conference in Tamale, we usually only make the drive once each 6 weeks, but because of the scheduling of the conference by the Area Presidency, it landed between zone conferences and thus necessitated a second visit to Tamale. We left Friday morning shortly after 7:00 am and made the 7 hour drive to Tamale with a short rest stop in Techiman at the Allred’s. We arrived in Tamale shortly after 2 pm and were able to go directly to the hotel and get checked in. At 3:00 pm we drove over to the Steinmetz and visited with them briefly before interviewing the four sisters who work in Tamale and live next door to the Steinmetz’s. These are impressive sisters. Sister Damsa, Sister Moyo, Sister Ofosua, and Sister Mundrua. The Steinmetz’s joined us for dinner that night at Oasis. I had chicken stroganoff with rice and it was just excellent. We are rarely disappointed with the food there.
Saturday was a day filled with meetings, starting at 8:30 am, President Edmund Obeng (my second counselor) and I met with the district presidency for a little over an hour. We talked about what is going well and where they need additional focus. It was a very productive meeting. At 10 am we held the general session, the attendance was small but the meeting was good. We had 63 people in attendance but only 40 were adults. Still this was an improvement over the prior conference. LaDawn spoke about personal revelation and I spoke about discovering the joy of daily repentance and how that very act will fill our bodies with light “and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.” (see D&C 88:67-68.) Both of these topics are prophetic priorities and we reinforce them as often as we have opportunity – and the Spirit gives utterance.
In the afternoon we had the leadership meeting. This will be the last meeting that includes organizational leaders as the new handbook has now reverted us back to Priesthood leadership meetings. We had 36 in attenance, including 7 from Bolgatanga that made the 2.5 hour trip down and 6 more that were listening over streaming. In this meeting I had a bit more time and talked about the 4 points in the work of salvation (Living the gospel of Jesus Christ, Caring for those in Need, Inviting all to receive the gospel, and Uniting families for eternity) and how we can use these 4 divinely appointed responsibilities in our branch councils. Branch councils struggle here in Ghana, and as a result it is an area of emphasis for us in the member districts. We are now asking branch presidencies to begin to hold these councils every week (with a few exceptions).
Following the conference, Elder Steinmetz and I gave a blessing to a returned missionary who has had some challenges with her family and it is beginning to impact her. I then interviewed these 5 valiant young single adults mentioned above for their missions. Missionary interviews are not short. They require going through a set of questions with a lot of interaction and discussion. Since I knew it would take a while, the Steinmetz’s were kind enough to take LaDawn down to the cultural center where she bought some baskets, a hand fan, and some cloth for a tablecloth. Since I was only half way done when they returned, they drove over to Wooden Bakery and picked up some pizza for dinner. It was delicious!
On Sunday, we returned to the same venue where we had the conference last time. The Radach hotel and conference center. This time the attendance at the center was almost double what we had last time. We had 188 members and investigators in attendance. We had an additional 120 in Bolgatanga. It was good to see the increase in attendance and it is evidence that more communication always results in better attendance!
I had been thinking about what I needed to say on Sunday the week preceding the conference. On our way to Tamale, I had some idea about what I wanted to talk about, but there was nothing new or different that came to mind. So on Friday night, I asked Heavenly Father what was the message he wanted me to deliver? Immediately, as fast as I could write, he gave me 4, two word answers. Bow Down, Rise Up, Let Go, Press Forward. They came so forcefully that I knew it was the answer I sought. What I didn’t know was what I was to say about each item. Saturday was incredibly busy and we ended late. That night I had a dream that I was back in my hometown, running around in my underwear down main street because I was supposed to give a presentation on a topic of which I knew a lot about, but for which had not prepared or organized my thoughts. In my dream, I thought about running into a store (Brown and Gesas) to get some clothes on, but I didn’t have time. I had to hurry to my assigned presentation. Fortunately for me, I woke up when I came to the podium and didn’t know what I was going to say. It was a most uncomfortable situation to be in front of a group of people in my underwear with no words! When I got up Sunday morning, I sat down and began to identify scriptures and quotes for each of the 4 areas. The thoughts came quickly and I was able to jot enough down that when we left the hotel, I was feeling “fully clothed” and prepared. The conference session was wonderful, and I had just enough time to deliver the message Heavenly Father revealed to me. I could feel the spirit confirming to me that it was exactly the right message. I was amazed how I was able to link the four points to every other talk given that day. It was an inspiring experience and was evidence of just how much the Lord is engaged in this great work. We need only to ask for His help.
After the conference I gathered the district presidency and branch presidents together and gave them 3 simple things I wanted them to work on. We stayed standing so it would be short. 1) Weekly, one-hour branch councils focused on the 4 accountabilities associated with the work of salvation. 2) Put together an accountability chart for their presidency, showing the responsibility of each member of the presidency, clerk and executive secretary. 3) I gave them each a copy of the scriptures on Christ from the Topical Guide that LaDawn had typed up for the missionaries. I asked them to make it their course of study. And with that, LaDawn and I left Tamale, drove to Techiman where we stayed the night and then arose at 4:30 am the next morning and returned home to Kumasi. Such a great weekend!
Back to the other highlight of the week. On Tuesday, we left around 8:15 am and made our way to the Agric chapel where I did interviews of 6 missionaries and then attended district council. I noticed that the power in the building was off so I went to the meter, hit a couple of buttons and the power came on. The only problem was the fire alarm also came on completely rendering the building useless due to the screeching noise. We tried everything we could to find a way to shut it off, but to no avail. Fortunately for us, the wards that meet there have a pavillion of sorts where we were able to at least get far enough away from the noise that we could start district council. Elder Penrose did a nice job as he had members of his district role play daily planning as we had discussed it at our recent zone conference.
Following the council, I interviewed four more elders and then we hurried home where the Assistants were waiting for us in anticipation of our 1:00pm Virtual Mission Leadership Council (VLMC).
The focus of what we now call our VMLC was how to work through the most difficult aspect of being a young mission leader. The prior week, I did a quick survey of the members of the MLC and from their responses we identified three key areas we wanted to discuss.
- Fear of rejection
- Lack of respect
- Motivating the missionaries
Fear of rejection: When a missionary is called into the MLC, they are often approached by missionaries that they have worked with or came to the mission with. Often these missionaries expect that the newly called missionary will be their representative to change things they do not like. Others might also cause these new leaders to feel they will be rejected by their “friends” if they do not favor them or act as though keeping the mission rules in “uncool”. Of course this is a small number of missionaries, but it does create the need to have “steel resolve” to only face the Savior rather than the missionaries. Lack of Respect: The lack of respect is often an issue when a younger missionary is called to preside over missionaries who are much “older” on their mission. Motivating the missionaries: This is something we focus on as Mission Leaders, and something we look to the young mission leaders to help us with. The need to motivate is often associated with one of the items already mentioned. So what was our answer to all three of these concerns?
Elder Morgan was studying the scriptures on Christ found in the topical guide. He selected Jesus Christ, Exemplar. While studying those scriptures, he came across 1 John 4:17 “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is so are we in this world.” And from that we crafted a meeting focused around love. For Fear of Rejection, the Assistants talked about a quote from Elder Rasband. “As we come to know the Savior we will love the Savior. As we come to love the Savior, we will better know how to serve the Savior,” This is why we are focusing on these topical guide scriptures about Jesus Christ. For Lack of Respect, we focused on Love Notes and Quick Powerful Calls. Love notes is about recognizing the things the missionaries in their zone are doing well and send them a written note of appreciation. Quick Powerful Calls are phone calls to companionships 3 – 4 times a week that are love filled, appreciation giving, and miracle sharing. For Motivating our Missionaries it is all about being a stellar example of what it means to be filled with love. It is also about sharing spiritual experiences (the Spirit always motivates) and doing companionship study either in person or over the phone. It turned out to be a wonderful meeting and I think we all came away with more to think about in terms of how we can be filled with this love of God and impart it to our missionaries.
To top the day off, we were invited to attend a baptism for a woman affectionately known as Momma Jannet. Janet is 69 years old and paralyzed from the waste down. She, her daughter, and granddaughter live as squatters in an unfinished home in a place the missionaries would never have gone (off the beaten path). With his permission, I will use a portion of a letter that Elder Riggs sent to me three weeks ago.
“We’ve been teaching the friend of a newly baptized convert. Her name is Lillian. One day she asked us to come teach her at her house. When we got there we walked in and there was an older woman laying on this couch/bench. And she sees me and says “I know you”. I was very thrown off, but I asked how she knew me. And she proceeded to say in Twi that she had met me before a while back and that I gave her a book. She had her granddaughter get “The Book” and it was a well used copy of the Book of Mormon. So I now knew that she had met the missionaries before. On the front cover of the Book of Mormon were the names of Elder Westfall and Elser Faulu. These two missionaries planted a seed in this woman’s heart and soul, because she told us that she has had her granddaughter read and translate the book to her ever since she got it, and she wants us to teach her. This was really crazy how we met her, and definitely not a coincidence. In one of our visits while we were teaching her she asked a question that really hit me hard. She asked “I think I’m going to die soon, and I’m scared that I will die before I’m able to be baptized and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost. What will happen to me if I die before I’m baptized?” Wow, this hit me so hard. But it showed her desires, and with the help of the spirit I was able to teach her the plan of Salvation and touch on baptisms for the dead. During our meetings with her I have felt the spirit more than I have with any other investigator yet on my mission. And during one of our visits/teachings with her she asked us if we can help her get baptized. So we told her we can, but there are some complications with her condition. She is very frail and fragile and she has no use of her legs. So she can’t really move. She has not been to church in a long time, let alone able to leave their house. The only movement she gets is when her daughter and granddaughter move her from the bed to the couch/bench. President, my testimony has grown tremendously in this short time of teaching her. And for the first time on my mission I feel I really have a need to help this lady receive salvation. I don’t feel like I just want to help her become a member of our church, or baptize her to hit our goal. But I really want to help this sweet old woman in receiving the salvation she desires. I don’t know if I have felt the spirit stronger with anyone than I have teaching this woman. And it truly is a miracle in how we found her, and that Elder Westfall and Elder Faulu were prompted to give her a Book of Mormon so she could be prepared for my companionship now. “Elder Cavan Riggs
It was this last Tuesday that Mamma Jannet was baptized. Because she cannot walk, we drove the elders to where she stays, the elders put her in a chair and then carried her out to our car. We also brought her daughter Augustina. Jannet is such a lovely woman! The baptismal font at Kokoben (her assigned ward) wouldn’t hold water so the baptism was moved down the road to Nkoransa. Once we arrived, the elders carried her into the chapel where they put her in a rolling chair. The ward Relief Society President helped her get dressed in her whites and then Bishop Rockson Appiah conducted the service. Elder Riggs helped prepare his companion, a new missionary from DR Congo, so he could do the baptism. Elder Kampagna is still learning English but did a great job. Elder Riggs also got in the water since Jannet cannot stand on her own. They were able to successfully baptize her on the first try. Such a spirit filled event! After the service, we returned her and Augustina back to their home (it was dark by then) and we drove home feeling such a spirit of joy and jubilation. The part I love about this story is that the bishop and Relief Society President know that Jannet cannot come to Church. In fact, Tuesday was the first time she has been out the house in 6 years! And yet, they lovingly minister to her in a way that makes the Savior proud. Bishop Appiah will arrange for priesthood brethren to bring her the sacrament each week. She will have ministering brothers and a sister. It is inspiring to see this ward rally around this incredible woman! (click on each picture below to read the captions)
Those are the key highlights of the week. On Wednesday we drove to Obuasi and did interviews. Because of unrest in Dunkwa due the burial of a chief that died 7 years ago (yes, it is true), everyone had to wear black in the town for 3 weeks and so it was not “safe” (harassment, possible fines, bad reputation for the church, etc). The good news, if there is any, is that I was able to interview the 4 Dunkwa elders who are staying the couples apartment for 3 weeks. (click on pictures for captions)
On Thursday, we drove to Suame and did interviews there. Unfortunately the gate was locked and we had to climb over the wall. I couldn’t help myself when I snapped a picture of LaDawn coming over. During the interviews, I ran into some concerns that caused me to need to spend additional time than previously planned. I was grateful we had some flexibility in the schedule as we didn’t finish until after 3 pm. (click on pics for captions)
We always love the weeks we are able to spend with missionaries in interviews and conferences. Being able to go back to Tamale, despite the distance, was also such a great opportunity to be with the missionaries in Tamale, including the Steinmetz’s. Being with the leaders of the Tamale District and then with the increased attendance of members at the conference was a double blessing. We also enjoyed spending some time with the Allred’s in Techiman. These are the kinds of weeks that bring us joy, grateful that we can be here, Together in Ghana.