The Return of Harmattan or The Kingdom Rolls Forth

The title of the blog is indicative of two major storylines this week. The most important is the Kingdom rolling forth. On Sunday, we attended the Nkoransa Ward in the Bantama Stake where our mission driver, Alex Cobbina, is the Bishop and has been for 9 years. It was at this meeting that the Pakyi (pronunced “Petchy”) Branch was created. There were a number of other changes in the Nkoransa Ward leadership to accommodate the change and then the Pakyi Branch leadership was also called and sustained. We wish we had a perfect picture of the meeting and the leaders to post, but we do not. I took a couple of snaps after the meeting to memorialize the event, but they weren’t good enough to make the banner picture for the post.

Perhaps to make up for a great picture, I will share an insight that I had during the sacrament service. When LaDawn and I came into the building, two little girls migrated immediately to LaDawn. Angela and Ruth (we had just learned their names). Later, LaDawn was volunteered (by me) to play the keyboard during the service and the two little girls stayed seated by me. During the passing of the sacramental bread, Ruth got up and went to the washroom. When the bread was passed to us, I noticed Angela took more than one piece of bread. I noticed the same from the children sitting in front of me. When Ruth came back, the sacrament was ending and a sister on my right across the aisle caught the attention of a young man passing the bread and asked him to come and allow Ruth to partake. Ruth also took more than one piece, in fact, I think it could qualify as a “handful’. There was plenty of bread, and she was the last to partake so it probably wasn’t that big of a deal. However, I initially thought to myself, “we need to teach these children proper sacrament etiquette”. And while that may be true, the spirit chastised me ever so gently and then affirmed to me that the children were there that day to teach me. These children were not yet baptized and didn’t understand the sacrament the way I thought I understood it, but what they did understand was that we should take and consume as much of the Bread of Life as possible. Lesson learned.

After Sunday School, we stayed around for the baptism of a father (Kojo) and his twin sons, Eric and Evans. It was wonderful from beginning to end. There were a lot of members who had stayed so Bishop Cobbina asked that the new converts be confirmed in the meeting following their baptisms. Initially they were going to do the confirmations without the missionaries, but I stood and reminded the bishopric member conducting that the elders who taught them (Elder Baldwin and Elder Andabo) should be invited to stand in the circle. I was so happy to see them participate and Elder Baldwin ended up confirming Eric. It was a glorious day for this little family. The mother is no longer with them, although I don’t understand the details. Kojo says he now wants to marry and do it properly.

Elder Andabo, Evans, Kwadwo, Eric, Elder Baldwin (left to right)

After church, we came home and I finished responding to the missionary letters, recorded the weekly letter (we send both an audio and written version in English and French) with LaDawn and then met with the Assistants later in the evening as we planned the upcoming MLC and Zone Conferences.

Now for the other headline of the week. Harmattan has definitely returned. During the dry season, the Harmattan winds blow from the Sahara Desert picking up extremely fine particles of sand from the desert floor and depositing them across West Africa. This usually starts around the end of November and goes to March. This year, we had rains late into December, so it was only the last week or so the effect of Harmattan could be seen. What is the evidence? Dust everywhere and a very hazy sky. During the dry season, many fires are also lit alongside of roads to eradicate the weeds. Fields are also burned in anticipating of planting when the rainy season returns in April. The result is a very hazy sky but some pretty good views of the sun prior to its setting. The other evidence is any drop of water spilled on the kitchen floor is like a magnet to the dust and keeping the floor clean means keeping anything moist, even if only a drop, off of the floor.

Harmattan sunset looking west from our back door.

The rest of the week was mostly focused on interviews. On Monday, the Steinmetz’s were still here as their plane back to Tamale was cancelled. They rebooked a flight for Tuesday morning, but when Alex took them to the airport, they found it was also cancelled. Rather than keep playing this game each day, we just had Alex load them up and drive them the 7 hours to Tamale. Not quite as comfortable as a flight, but at least they were able to get home that day. We really loved having all of the couples here with us for Christmas. It was a treat for us just to be with them.

On Tuesday, while the Steinmetz’s were figuring out how to get home, we drove over to the Agric building (10 minutes from the Mission Home) and I interviewed three sisters before the district council and then the other sister and 6 elders after the meeting. I managed to snap a picture during the District Council (it was excellent) and then a picture of the last four missionaries that I interviewed.

On Wednesday, we made the trip out to Konongo Zone, which includes Nkawkaw, Juaso, and Konongo. Through the day we interviewed 18 missionaries, leaving the Mission Home around 6:45 am. We managed to get pictures of everyone except Elder Alger and Elder Mukuna in Juaso. We made it back to Kumasi about 4:45 pm and stopped at Starbites and had a nice dinner. The day before was our 44th Wedding Anniversary so we figured a dinner at Starbites would be a good celebration. I had a spicy, chicken, avocado wrap with french fries and LaDawn had a chicken Caesar salad, but she reported it was her least favorite salad she has had there. Mine was a bit spicy, but very good. We arrived home before 6 pm and starting at 6:30 pm, enjoyed about an hour on Zoom with Rod and Melanie Hillam, our assigned mentors who helped prepare us to come and be mission leaders. We stay in contact with them and love so much every opportunity we have to visit with them. We try to get together about once a quarter and talk about what is going on in the mission, and ask for their advice and counsel on perplexing issues.

After the long day on Wednesday, we stayed home on Thursday and did the interviews for the office elders and Assistants. I spent a couple of hours responding to missionary emails and about 2 hours working on the convert baptism exception report. I have been trying to get all of the December baptisms submitted and recorded before the 7th of January, at which time the “books” for 2022 close. We just want to get the baptisms properly recorded. Unfortunately, the report has been having some trouble either because we are doing something wrong or the report is doing something wrong. I have been working with the programmer in Salt Lake to figure it out and spending time every day to get the missionaries and the clerks to get everything submitted. We started with 42 unrecorded baptisms and as of yesterday we were down to 15. More work to do. On Thursday we also had an issue arise with a missionary who exercised bad judgment regarding the purchase of a personal phone. I won’t go into details, but the as of the time of this writing (Tuesday, January 3, 2023), the missionary is waiting for a flight back home at the airport in Accra. Dealing with these types of issues and concerns take time and involve the Area Presidency, the In-Field Representative (IFR), the Missionary Department in Salt Lake, the missionary, and the Mission President. Accountability can be a hard thing to learn and often the consequences are not pleasant.

On Friday, we traveled to the Obuasi Zone and interviewed 16 missionaries. We started in Dunkwa, drove to Obuasi, then to Asonkore and finally to Adansi Asokwa. Nearly every one of these interviews was excellent. We had one bump in the road but managed to resolve it the next day. Unfortunately we only managed to get pictures of 10 of the 16, missing Sister Ngabola and Sister Mujinga, Sister Forkpah and Sister Maphalala, and Elder Kabonzo and Elder Nuwagaba.

Friday night we made it back just in time to meet the Moomey’s and Garrison’s at Piri Piri for a Friday night date night dinner. After dinner we came back home and I worked on the baptism exception report again and LaDawn continued her efforts on recording the information from the week’s phone checks. She has done some amazing work to capture the usages of the phone that are outside of the missionary purpose. If a missionary cannot get control of their usage, then I get the stake president involved. We are working hard to “inoculate” these missionaries against the traps of social media as President Nelson has asked.

Saturday morning I played pickleball with the Garrison’s and Moomey’s. LaDawn is still nursing a sore Achilles tendon so she stayed home as part of the plan to recovery. It doesn’t slow her down, except when it comes to exercise – and that is one thing she is really craving right now. Much of the day was spent responding to missionary letters (there were about 120 for the week), and more work on the baptism exception report, I wrote and finalized the weekly letter to the missionaries and sent it off to be translated into French by Sister Kakou, one of our Sister Training Leaders. I also spent some time writing down the 10 things we wish we had known 18 months ago. It is unfortunate it has taken us so long to get where we are, but we are grateful for every challenge that resulted in us learning how to be better Mission Leaders. This is a document we will share with our successors a year from now in hopes it might be helpful to them as they prepare to come to Africa.

Overall, it was a relatively quiet week. We have one more day of interviews (Bibiani) which we will do on January 4th. The old year slipped away quietly while we slumbered and the New Year came in with a bang as firecrackers (yes even in Kumasi) awoke us from our blissful dreams. We are so grateful for all that 2022 brought to our family. Above all, the birth of 4 healthy grandchildren (3 boys and 1 girl). We are looking forward to the birth of one more grandson in the next few weeks, as Heidi and Chase begin their family. We are grateful for our 44 years together as husband and wife and the eternity we will yet spend together. We are grateful for the many missionaries who have come to the mission and for those who have gone home at the end of their assignment. And we are even more grateful for those 195 missionaries who currently labor diligently with us to gather Israel one last time, Together in Ghana.

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