This weekend we held the Tamale District Conference. Elder Patrick Appianti, our Kumasi Coordinating Council Area Seventy and a man we have grown to love and admire presided at the conference. The “More Change” part comes from the calling of a new District Presidency. For the past three years, Gabriel Gakpo has served as the District President with Isaac Martey and Gideon Owusu as his counselors. I met with President Gakpo on Friday night in his home and released him. It was wonderful to be in his home and meet his wife (again) and also 4 of the children. He received the release with grace and perhaps a bit of joy. 😊
We had arrived in Tamale from Techiman around 2:00 pm on Thursday, stopped at the cultural center and picked up some beautiful baskets for our daughters and daughters-in-law and then made our way to Ma’s Hotel and got checked in. We then made our way over to the Steinmetz’s and visited with them for about 30 minutes before driving nearby to the Martey’s home where I met with President Isaac Martey, his wife Edema and their four little girls. They are a wonderful family. Elder Steinmetz accompanied me (to show me the house) and then entertained the girls outside while I called President Martey to be the new district president. Because he had been serving as the first counselor for three years, he already knows all of the leaders, what needs attention, and what the priorities should be. I love the humility of President Martey. It was clear he was not looking to become the District President, but gratefully accepted the call when it came. The Lord can work with a man like that! We then returned to the Steinmetz’s apartment and I interviewed the 8 elders who had arrived from Bolga. We finished up around 7 pm and enjoyed some pizza that Elder Steinmetz had ordered from Wooden. We added some leftover Lasagna Soup that LaDawn had brought from home. It was delicious. The Moomey’s had arrived from Kumasi around 5:30 pm so they also joined for dinner.
On Friday before traveling to release President Gakpo, President Martey came by the Steinmetz’s apartment (I was there interviewing missionaries) and gave me names for his counselors. They felt so right. Peter Amoah-Ohenakwa serves as the Northern Facilities Manager for the Church, and I work with him constantly on buildings needs and issues. I am always impressed with his attention to detail. He was recommended as the first counselor and Emmanual Fiagbedzi was recommended as the second counselor. President Fiagbedzi is currently the branch president of the Education Ridge Branch, our strongest branch in Tamale. These three men will do great things together. All three are returned missionaries having served in Nigeria – and that foundation alone will help the district significantly.
On Friday, we held the Tamale Zone Conference, having also invited the four Wa elders to join us since the journey from Wa to Tamale is considerably shorter than the trip from Wa to Sunyani. It was again a spirit filled conference. The one thing that was different from the report we gave last week, was Sister Lenga (a former Sister Training Leader) and Sister Eme provided instruction for 30 minutes. They chose for their theme, “Now is the Time”. They talked about the importance of time itself and how as missionaries, this is our time to prepare to meet God. They talked about the importance of growing our testimonies through powerful personal study and putting off our “natural man selves”. They also discussed how “now is the time” to develop Christlike attributes and learn how to be submissive to the Lord’s will. They did such a great job. We were all edified.
Following the conference, I interviewed the four Wa elders and two of the Tamale elders. Elder Steinmetz and I then went over to visit with the Gakpo’s to release him and then joined our wives, the Moomey’s and Elder Appianti at the Wooden Bakery and Café for dinner. Elder Appianti had arrived at 4:30 pm via a direct flight from Accra. Elder Steinmetz was kind enough to pick him up at the airport and take him to the hotel were we were staying. The Moomey’s brought him to dinner.
Saturday morning started with a meeting at 8:00 am (we were a few minutes late) with President Gakpo. Elder Appianti did a masterful job of leading a discussion about President Gakpo’s family and how family scripture study has blessed both himself and his family. At 8:45 am we invited in the counselors and the executive secretary. His first asked someone to share a scripture that they had studied that morning. We then heard from each member of the presidency about the strengths of the district (the active YSA and Youth make up more than half of the overall active membership). We also talked about the opportunities in the District (ministering, current temple recommends, prospective elders, elders quorum leadership, and implementing the children’s and youth program). So much work still to be done! The new presidency will pickup these opportunities and run with them.
Rather than go through each of the meetings, I will just list the talk topic highlights of the conference over the two days.
- Unrighteous communication (gossip, dishonesty, rumors)
- What we need to do to have the spirit to always be with us
- Sharing the gospel with friends
- Staying within the safety of our covenants
- Building a firm foundation
- The importance of our desires in building our own “district center” in our lives (the Tamale district center is still under construction when it should have been done because the contractor did not stay focused)
- The importance of living and studying the gospel in the home
- Developing strong marital relationships
- Helping all young men and desirous young women serve a mission
- Keeping all the covenants and commandments (invitation to the Sisters to study the priesthood)
- Tithes and Offerings and the associated blessings
- This is a Church of doing and not just knowing
- The ministry of Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon
- Elder Appianti promised the members of the district if they will read and study the Book of Mormon each day, the district will grow.
On Saturday we had the adult meeting from 10:00 – 12:00 noon and then started the Leadership session at 1:00 pm and finished at 3:00 pm. After the second session, I interviewed 6 more missionaries. Prior to the first session I was able to call Peter Amoah-Ohenakwa as the first counselor and between the sessions I was able to call Emmanuel Fiagbedzi as the second counselor. We conducted the business of releasing the old presidency and sustaining the new presidency the next morning in the general session. We again met at the Radach Hotel and conference center and this time we managed to get the sound right. Those in Bolga could hear all the speakers over the Zoom call and those in the hall were able to hear as well. Third time in that place really was the charm!
One other highlight of the conference I need to mention. We had a primary children’s choir sing and “sign” the words to “I Am a Child of God”. This is something the Steinmetz’s worked with them on, but it was local primary leaders who led the choirs. Sister Martey did an excellent job with the children in Tamale and this was replicated in the two branches in Bolga.
Following the conference, I interviewed two more missionaries (they live closest to the Radach) and then we traveled back to the Kanvilli branch building (doubles as a tiny district center) where we set the new presidency apart and spent about an hour training them. My 2nd counselor, Joseph Asante joined us and set apart President Fiagbedzi. I set apart the other two. Here is the list of topics we covered, with Elder Appianti covering most of them
- How to be a United Presidency
- The importance of testifying of Christ and emphasizing prophetic priorities
- Emphasizing personal righteousness
- Making family responsibilities a priority
- Using all of the resources available to help
- The need to teach principles of presidency (keys, counsels). Need to focus on branch councils
- Establishing the Church through real growth.
After the training, Elder Steinmetz took Elder Appianti to the airport to catch his 3:50 pm flight and I interviewed the last 6 missionaries in the zone (4 sisters and the 2 zone leaders). We finished about 4:30 pm and then ate a delicious spaghetti meal provided by the Steinmetz’s. We returned to the hotel, and I managed to get through and respond to just over 50 of the missionary letters from the prior Monday. I was able to finish the other 34 the next morning. When we travel and have a busy weekend, it is difficult to get through all of the letters, but somehow it all worked out.
Now let’s back up to earlier in the week. On Tuesday, we had two new missionaries arrive from the MTC. Elder Courissaka (Madagascar) and Elder Ndala (DR Congo) as well our new senior missionary couple, Elder Doug Thompson and his wife Sister Michele Thompson from Mesa, AZ. The English level of both of these new African missionaries was extremely small. Elder Ndala is a French speaker and Elder Courissaka speaks Malagasy (and some French). We invited one of our zone leaders, Elder Tano to come in and help translate (he brought his companion Elder Bayles). We used the time up until about 4:30 pm for orientation and training. With the interpretation, things went rather slowly, but both missionaries were able to get a feel for what it will be like for them in the Ghana Kumasi Mission. By the time 4:30 came around they were both exhausted, and especially Elder Courissaka who was trying to understand some things in French and some things in English – neither language which is strong for him.
Tuesday evening, we took the Moomey’s, the Garrison’s, and the Thompson’s out to Noble House for a wonderful Chinese / Indian dinner.
On Wednesday morning, we were over to the Mission office at 7:30 pm to get breakfast for the new missionaries. Their trainers arrived just before 8:00 am and we started talking mostly to the trainers, since we no longer had Elder Tano with us and the new missionaries struggled to understand all that was being said. The assistants went over “Finders of the Elect” and I spoke about helping each other and having unity in their companionships. We managed to send them back to their areas by 10:00 am. This allowed us time to go home and get packed for our 8 day journey to the North for the Tamale and Sunyani zone conferences as well as the Tamale District Conference.
We left around 1 pm with the Thompson’s following us in their mission truck (Mitsubishi pickup). It was an uneventful drive to Techiman and upon arrival at the couples apartment we found everything just as we had expected it to be. I say that because we had recently had the master bedroom bathroom remodeled, replacing the tub with a nice shower. The Thompson’s were thrilled to finally be in the home where they will live for the next year. LaDawn had made some Lasagna Soup before we left and brought it along with a nice green salad and some french bread. It made for a delicious dinner. We stayed overnight in the second bedroom where we stayed with the Allred’s and then left the next morning at 10:00 am to head to Tamale.
There are 3-4 places between Techiman and Buipe (just over half way to Tamale from Techiman) where there are “speed traps”. And I mean that in the most literal sense you can think of. We know where they are, and although they move around a bit, LaDawn has them all pinned, so we are especially careful when we drive thru those areas. On the way up on Thursday, we were stopped by a police officer with a radar gun. After exchanging niceties, he showed me the gun indicating that I was going 58 kph in a 50 kph zone. I assured him that we knew he was there and when I passed the 50 kph sign, I was going 50 kph. He had no way of knowing where i was relative to the sign when he clocked me, because it about a kilometer or more from where he was stationed. He thought about it for a minute, realizing he had no evidence based on my insistence, and told us to go on our way. Now the truth is, I really had hit 50 kph before I passed that sign. We knew they were up ahead and I made sure I slowed down to the “speed limit”. Anyway, we had a good laugh about it and enjoyed the rest of the journey without any further allegations along the way.
With the completion of the Tamale conference and the interviews, it will be time to head south on Monday back towards Kumasi. We will stop in Techiman to interview the missionaries in that zone and then travel on to Sunyani to hold the Techiman/Sunyani zone conference and interview all of the Sunyani missionaries. These 9 days may be the longest we have been away from the mission home since our arrival, but they have also been very rewarding. We are excited about the future of the Tamale Branch and we see missionaries doing better than they have ever done with focusing on their missionary purpose. We love the people, we love the members and leaders we work with, we love the missionaries, we love our senior couples, and we love this work and its author. Jesus Christ. We testify that Jesus Christ is at the head of this work. We see miracles every day as this final gathering of Israel continues in Ghana with increased pace and intensity. We are grateful to be here, Together in Ghana, participating in a small way in this final great effort.