Pure Testimony

This post covers the two week period of April 24th – May 7th 2023. These two weeks cover the zone conferences for April and May. The title of the post is the focus of the zone conferences that we held.

On Monday April 24th, I played basketball again with the missionaries in the Daban District. Tom Rogers joined us as well. It is really great exercise and I cannot think of a better game on the face of the earth. I spent much of Monday getting through the rest of the missionary letters from the prior week. It seems to be getting more and more difficult to get through all of them each week, but I remain committed to doing so and responding to as many as possible. With the changes in our Facilities Manager and both our office couple and medical couple, I find myself spending more time on issues that previously required less of my time. No complaints from me. We are grateful for the changes which always bring new perspectives and opportunities for others to learn and grow. And that includes both LaDawn and me.

On Tuesday, we began our Kumasi Zone Conferences, starting with Dichemso and Suame. On Wednesday, we held the Konongo and University Conference, and on Thursday we held our Bantama, Bibiani, and Obuasi Conference. The following week we drove to the north and held the Sunyani and Techiman conference in Sunyani on May 2 and the Tamale conference in Tamale on May 5th. All of the conferences followed essentially the same schedule and format.

  • Opening and recitation of Doctrine and Covenants 4
  • Birthday wishes for those with April and May birthdays
  • Introduction to Elder and Sister Loveland as our new medical couple
  • Vision Refresh – President Kunz
  • Instruction by the Sister Training Leaders (except Tamale where the zone leaders taught since we do not have sister training leaders there)
  • Testimonies of departing missionaries
  • Instruction by Sister Kunz
  • One Minute Drills
  • Role-plays
  • Instruction by Assistants
  • Instruction by President Kunz
  • Closing and group photo

Here are the photos from of the zones from the conferences

The vision refresh at these conferences focused on consecrated obedience. While I had selected 12 scriptures that we drew from, the most we managed to get through were 6. Here are some of my favorite questions that elicited wonderful discussions with the missionaries.

  • What are the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom? (D&C 105:5-6)
  • Why must we learn obedience? (D&C 105:5-6)
  • What does it mean that we shall never cease to prevail? (D&C 103:7)
  • What is a multiplicity of blessings? (D&C 124:13-14)
  • What does it mean to be great in the Lord’s eyes? (D&C 124:13-14)
  • What does it mean to become a law unto ourselves? D&C 88:35)
  • Why cannot those who abide in sin be sanctified? (D&C 88:35)

In the April 2017 General Conference, President Nelson spoke about “Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into our Lives”. Here is a quote from that talk that I shared: “There is nothing easy or automatic about becoming such powerful disciples. Our focus must be riveted on the Savior and His gospel. It is mentally rigorous to strive to look unto Him in every thought. But when we do, our doubts and fears flee.”

The other thing we discussed during the refresh came to be known simply as “The Box”. Below is one of the pictures I drew on the whiteboard (ignore the 2 to the 20th power in the upper right corner – that had to do with a “multiplicity of blessings”). The idea of the box came from a quote from President Nelson that LaDawn uses in our orientation of new missionaries. “Facing God first lets us decide firmly what we shall not do; then we are free to pursue what we ought to do.” This concept is powerful and it led me to think about how to depict this visually. For our missionaries, I draw the box with sides being the commandments, the 17 points of consecrated obedience (a close cousin to the commandments) our covenants, and the promptings we receive from the Spirit. When we live inside the lines of these four things, then we are free to pursue what we ought to do. In fact, inside the box there are no penalties for sin, because there is no sin inside the box. Let me clarify. While there are people inside the box who sin from time to time, it is primarily out of weakness and never rebellion. Those inside the box seek only to the live in the light, so daily repentance is a way of life. It is what keeps them inside the box. At one of the zone conferences as I was explaining the box, the story of Lachoneous and Giggidoni from 3 Nephi chapters 3 and 4 came to mind. The Gadianton robbers had been terrorizing the Nephites and now righteous Lamanites and promised to destroy them if they refused to join them. Lachoneous was the governor of the land, and to save his people from the impending attack, he gathered them into the center of the land, away from the borders, and there built fortifications and subsisted for a period of 7 years. Ultimately there were battles that resulted in deaths on both sides, but in the end the robbers were destroyed or cast into prison. It is a great story about the importance of “staying between the lines”. There is safety in the center of the box. Two other insights came as I taught this. For some, the box may seem small and restraining, however, as Elder Harnois pointed out, the box is infinite in size. While the world is just a flat plane and is limited in what it offers, the box extends infinitely up, making it infinitely bigger than the offerings of the world. I also came to understand that the box is constantly moving. If someone is born in the box and then becomes complacent, the box will move away from them. Think of the changes in the church over the last 5 years. It seems the speed at which the box is moving is increasing as we come ever closer to the return of our Savior. The small box down on the right, is for those who want to be a law unto themselves. They want to create their own box, without any restraints. They want to make the rules. Unfortunately, that is not a long term proposition that works due to the consequences of the choices one makes inside their own box. The last thing I will mention is that the closer a person who is in the box moves to the boundary lines, the more apt they are to be attacked by the adversary. The x’s in the right hand bottom corner depicts the person that just slowly gets led away from the box and when they finally decide they want to return, they discover the way back is not as easy as they thought it would be. Plus, the box has moved. Every discussion on the box went well and seemed to resonate with the missionaries. I learned something new each time we discussed it.

In each of the conferences, we had the Sister Training Leaders (and Tamale Zone Leaders) then present instruction on the topic of their choice. Here are the topics covered followed by some pictures.

  • Dichemso/Suame – Sister Mundrua and Sister Clarke – Topic: Effective Daily Planning
  • Konongo/University – Sister Maphalala and Sister Asantewaa. Topic: Now is the Time
  • Bantama/Bibiani/Obuasi – Sister Mukwaira and Sister Eme. Topic: Agency of Becoming Peacemakers
  • Sunyani/Techiman – Sister Kekula and Sister Johnson. Topic: Oh, Not So Lord!
  • Tamale – Elder Clegg and Elder Niacadie’. Topic: The Joy of the Work
Elder Clegg and Elder Niacadie’

I somehow managed to miss taking a picture of Sister Asantewaa and Sister Maphalala. Each of these instructions were based on the needs that the members of the Mission Leadership Council felt were needed by the missionaries under their stewardship. I enjoyed each one and felt they were extremely helpful to the missionaries they lead.

Following the Sister Training Leaders and the testimonies of those missionaries going home at the end of the transfer, LaDawn led a discussion called, “Do I Love God”. She did a great job of asking the right questions, reading the right scriptures, and sharing the best quotes. For each of her instructions, I kept the whiteboard up to date with the things she was teaching. It is good for missionaries to be able to see a visual representation of what they are learning, so we try to do this as much as we can knowing that it helps them to take notes that they can refer back to at a later time.

Following LaDawn’s instruction we moved into the 1-minute drills. We are so pleased with the progress the missionaries are making in learning these doctrines. Over the two weeks of these zone conferences, we covered 6 principles. We are thrilled with the way the missionaries are working to know these doctrines. We are already seeing the effect of more obedient, more consecrated, and more competent missionaries. It is exciting to see the changes in the mission.

  • God Is Our Loving Heavenly Father
  • The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith
  • Repentance through the Atonement of Jesus Christ
  • Pray to Know the Truth through the Holy Ghost
  • Our Life on Earth
  • The Atonement of Jesus Christ

Following lunch, we returned to the role-play portion of our conferences. This time, we discussed and practiced “The Nature of God and Man”. At the first three conferences we tried to do a role play with how to teach this principle. I soon learned that was a mistake. The Assistant’s were way ahead of me on this one. After having a “train wreck” at the Bantama/Bibiani/Obuasi conference, we stopped trying to role-play it as though there was only one way to teach it, and the Assistant’s shared the information (see link above on the topic title) and then we allowed the missionaries to practice teaching it. This doctrine is so foreign to the churches here that most people have never heard it. For those who are honest in heart, when they do hear it – and understand it, it gets them very excited about the message of the restoration.

After the role-plays, the Assistants gave a beautiful instruction on Pure Testimony. The highlight of their discussion was the showing of the updated video of the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 Apostles each bearing their individual witnesses of Jesus Christ. You can watch the video here. Following their discussion, I shared with them a discussion titled, “Converted to the Lord“. It fit in so well with the earlier discussions including “The Box”, “Do I Love God”, and “Pure Testimony”. I think my favorite part of this discussion was based on two questions. First, “What is the difference between transactional missionary work and transformational missionary work?”. That generated a lot of wonderful and amazing comments. To summarize, a transaction is exchanging things of equal value. Transformational means whatever we give, we get back so much more. This is evidenced by becoming “a new creature in Christ” (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). Second, “What scripture stories come to mind where conversion to Jesus Christ is manifest?” It was amazing to hear the missionaries name story after story where this was the case, especially from the Book of Mormon.

There were so many other wonderful things that happened over the two week period. On Saturday and Sunday, April 29th-30th, we attended the Suame Stake Conference. Elder Nielsen, our area president came to Kumasi to select and call a new stake president. He was accompanied by Elder Victor Bassey, a new Area Seventy who is currently serving as the President of the Nigeria Port Harcourt Mission. President Kofi Sosu was being released as the stake president as he had also accepted a call to serve as an Area Seventy and be responsible for the Kumasi Coordinating Council.

Suame Stake Conference

On Saturday morning, LaDawn and I attended and spoke in the adult session. LaDawn spoke on the importance of gaining our own testimonies. She shared some of the experiences of her third great grandfather, Sanford Porter, who was baptized in 1831. Although she is a 6th generation member, she has had to put in the hard work to gain her own testimony and conversion. She then encouraged all of the members of the stake to do likewise, regardless of their time in the Church. I then spoke about keeping the Sabbath Day holy and how doing so will open the windows of heaven in regards to blessings. I referenced Exodus 31:13 and Ezekiel 20:20 about showing the Lord a “sign” by the way we keep the Sabbath Day holy. I also spoke briefly about the “traditions of the elders” mentioned in Matthew 15 and how sometimes we are more eager to follow the cultural traditions than we are the culture of Christ. On Sunday, the new Stake Presidency was called. Isaac A. Nkrumah, the previous First Counselor was called as the new president, with the former second counselor, Nana A. Asamoah, called as the new First Counselor. Emmanuel Abrokwah, a seminaries and institute director, was called as the new Second Counselor.

LtoR: Elder Kofi Sosu (former Suame Stake President), Elder Victor Bassey (new Area Seventy), President Nana Asamoah, President Isaac Nkrumah, President Emmanuel Abrokwa, Elder S. Gifford Nielsen

Following the conference, while Elder Nielsen, Elder Bassey, and Elder Sosu were meeting with the new presidency and setting them apart, we were able to participate in the baptisms of 6 new converts. Such a treat to see this wonderful event following a spirit filled conference.

Elder Niando and Elder Ross (not companions) with the 6 converts baptized that day. Elder Negone is on the far right (Elder Ross’s companion).

On both Saturday and Sunday, Elder Nielsen mentioned that the location of the Ghana Kumasi Temple would soon be announced. Little did we realize that it would happen on the Monday following the conference (May 1st). It is wonderful to finally have the location announced as it has been two years since the temple itself was announced in conference. It will be located at the Bantama Stake Center where we have one of our zone conferences and where we meet each transfer to facilitate logistics of getting missionaries to their new areas. We are hoping that a ground breaking will soon follow and the building of the temple itself will commence. Stay tuned for more news on this exciting development.

On the next weekend, May 6th and 7th, we held the Tamale District Conference. The new district center was supposed to have been completed before now, but the contractor ran out of money. The Area Managers in Accra met with the contractor and they agreed to provide the materials, and the contractor will provide the funding labor to complete the work. Sadly, there is still a lot of work to do and my guess is that we will be lucky to have the building completed before the next district conference in November. It is difficult to find good reputable contractors who can manage a big project and bring it in on budget. I hope they can get the right people to help build the temple so that it does not meet a similar fate. Elder and Sister Steinmetz made a visit to the unfinished building and provided me with a few pictures which I have included below. As you can see, there is a lot of work remaining.

Not having the district center completed, meant meeting again in the Kanvilli Branch Building for the Saturday meetings and the Radach Hotel and Conference Center for the Sunday session. We also streamed the conference sessions to the three branches in Bolgatanga.

At the Saturday adult session, there were some excellent talks given on the subjects of repentance and change given by President Emmanuel Fiagbedzi (2C in District Presidency) and Elder Steinmetz. Michael and Dora Adwundama Ayade from Bolgatanga, both converts within the last year, spoke on home centered, church supported gospel learning. They did a great job! LaDawn again spoke on owning our own testimony and conversion. I decided to bring in a whiteboard and have a similar discussion with the adult members that we were having with the missionaries about living inside “The Box” of our covenants and God’s commandments. I think the visual nature of the discussion helped everyone to understand how important it is to stay inside the boundaries of our covenants, which include the keeping of all of God’s commandments.

In the Priesthood Leadership Session, President Martey (District President) spoke about the importance of the Children and Youth Program. Elder Steinmetz continued the theme by talking about the three rules for teaching children: Be An Example, Be An Example, Be An Example. I spent almost an hour with the leaders, testing them on 3 things. 1) How many youth do you have in your branch? 2) What is the name of your Teacher Quorum’s President? 3) What is the name of your Deacon’s Quorum President? We did not do so well. There was only one branch with a Teacher’s Quorum President and another branch with a Deacon’s Quorum President. The rest did not, although all but one (there are 7 branches in total), had both teachers and deacons that could fill these callings. The rising generation continue to be a neglected demographic in our member Districts. Seminary and Institute are beginning to get a foothold, but there is more there we need to do. Truly we are still living in the early days of the Church here in the Kumasi Mission Districts and we are constantly seeking for ways to move the work forward faster. Having dedicated and consecrated leaders is the key to the success of any organization and our member Districts are no exception. Training these leaders and then following up with them and then training them some more is just one of the reasons seasoned senior couples with leadership experience are needed so badly. Anyone out there interested?

In the Sunday session of conference, President Martey spoke about Integrity of heart and the importance of honesty. We had a young woman talk about the law of chastity (Zakia Ibrahim), a young man talked more about honesty and integrity (Francis Ayamsa) and a Young Single Adult Sister spoke about Tithes and Offerings (Ruth Dogbatse). All four did a great job. We then had Elder and Sister Steinmetz bear their powerful testimonies about their mission call and the joy they have found in serving the saints in the Tamale District. LaDawn talked about the importance of keeping our buildings clean and then I spoke on how we show God that we love him, and how He shows us that He loves us (by sending His Son). I talked about the culture of Christ and included in that a discussion on keeping the Sabbath Day holy and what that means to God. I posed a problem to the district, and that is that once the district center is complete, it will be bigger than the district itself, and so we need everyone to share the gospel so we can fill that building. I had a strong impression which I shared that the day will come when everyone in Tamale will desire to be a part of what that building represents. When the Savior returns, truly every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ and that this is His Church. At the beginning of my remarks, I asked everyone whose life had been blessed by Elder and Sister Steinmetz to stand. Almost every single person stood up. Perhaps only those who were visiting and had not yet met them remain seated. It was a testimony to the work they have done in Tamale.

Three great men serving as the Tamale District Presidency: Emmanuel Fiagbedzi, 2nd counselor; Isaac Martey, President; Peter Amoah-Ohenakwa, 1st counselor

Following the meeting, I met with a young man who had made some mistakes 6 years ago. I was able to put my arm around his shoulders and invite him to wait no longer to come back. He was gracious in accepting the invitation to begin to do what he needs to do to return. I am grateful for President Martey’s help in inviting him to the conference session so he could meet with me. It was obvious he too wants to come back. These private one on one moments are some of my favorite experiences with both members and missionaries alike.

We finished up by 12:30 pm and decided to get in the car and drive all the way back to Kumasi. We stopped for a quick break in Techiman at the Thompson’s and Sister Thompson made us some delicious hot chicken fillets to eat on the rest of the way home. They were such a treat! We made it back home at 7 pm and were grateful to again sleep in our own bed after being gone for 6 nights.

Also on that same day, Sunday the 7th of May, the new Akrofuom Group which is a part of the Obuasi District met for the first time while we were in the Tamale District Conference. The meeting place will be getting some paint this week, but it was an historic day as we will now find an apartment for missionaries and begin to proselyte the area. We believe we can have a branch there within the year. Obuasi is growing!

The two week period would not be complete without mentioning the comings and goings of missionaries. On Wednesday, April 26th after the Konongo/University Zone Conference, I set apart Desmond Osei Tutu as a missionary going to the Ethiopia Addis Ababa Mission. His entire family came to the setting apart. On May 1st, before leaving for Sunyani at 1 pm, we welcomed Sister Abornyuie who is here on a temporary basis while she awaits her visa to Madagascar. We received word on Saturday that she had been assigned to our mission temporarily and were grateful for Sister Aruna who moved to Asouyeboa so Sister Abornyuie could be trained by Sister Ganjiri in Obuasi. Somehow it all just worked!

I will mention just one other item, and that is a personal family event: The blessing of our newest grandchild, Nolan Wyatt Kunz. We were able to participate via zoom as did most of the rest of the family. Mauren and Justin and their kids made the drive to Fort Worth to be there in person. How grateful we are for our 26 grandchildren and the joy and love of a faithful, close-knit, and supportive family.

Having a Pure Testimony of Jesus Christ and the restored gospel is the ultimate goal of every faithful member of the Lord’s Church. To do as He did, to love Him with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength; to truly be converted to keeping His commandments and the covenants we have made. This is what it means to have a Pure Testimony. We testify that Jesus Christ lives as the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. We testify that Joseph Smith, a young 14 year old boy saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in the grove of trees that day in 1830 in upstate New York. How do we know? Because we are putting in the effort to come to know Him in ways we have never done before in our lives. We see His hand in all things. We understand spiritual things we have come to know that previously were mysteries to us. We are so grateful for His love, His kindness, His guidance, and His sustaining Spirit which gives us the strength and the ability to gather Israel, one last time, Together in Ghana.

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