Sunday, February 22, 2015

There was Eden...

"At Eve's Grave

ADAM: Wheresoever she was, THERE was Eden."

(From The Diaries of Adam and Eve by Mark Twain)

I love this picture of my parents.  Dad looks so happy and content.  They have a great love and Dad has missed Mom terribly these last several years.  Very early on Thursday morning (GMT) we received a call from my brother, Jim, that Dad had passed away.  It is difficult to be so far away from loved ones at a time like this, but we take great comfort that Dad rejoiced in his life and in his family -- and that he and Mom have been reunited.  We miss them both.

Luckily, our work here in Ghana has kept us very busy in a cause that Dad loved and has not given much opportunity for the sadness to creep in.

This was transfer week.  On Tuesday, we welcomed three new missionaries.  Just in case you thought I would have this calling all figured out by now, you should know that I assigned our missionary couple, the Ivies, to go and pick up the new missionaries from the MTC.  But I forgot that and assigned my Assistants to go to Accra and pick up the new missionaries.  We ended up with four people and two trucks at the MTC to pick up three missionaries.  Everyone was very surprised.  I'm sure President Robison thinks I'm mental, but the missionaries felt very welcomed.

The two sisters are from Zimbabwe and the elder is from Ghana.

On Wednesday, our returning missionaries started to gather at the Mission Home.  Sister Stevenson commented that it is getting harder to say goodbye each transfer because we have known them longer.

Elder and Sister Ivie will complete their mission on March 1, so we honored their service as well.

Elder Guymon lost about 70 lbs on his mission.  Can you guess which one he is?

We were also joined by two missionaries from the Cape Coast Mission area who are beginning their missions in Nigeria. 

It was my privilege to set apart Sister Sumunah as a full-time missionary and to serve as the escort in the temple for Elder Twum as he attended for the first time on Thursday.  That was very nice because I was thinking of my Dad, who served as my escort my first time in the Temple.  It was wonderful to be there with all of these missionaries.

We had planned to have all of the senior couples stay in Accra to celebrate the completion of the Ivie's mission and see a few sights.  So, once the missionaries were settled at the airport, we all checked into a bed and breakfast and headed to the buffet at the Movenpick Hotel.


We were satisfied.

The next morning, we drove two hours north of Accra to the Boti Falls.  It was pretty, but it was hard for an Oregon boy to get too excited about a waterfall.

250 steps down means 250 steps up.

This reminded me of the waterfall signs at Yosemite -- and as always, there has to be that one who says, "That doesn't apply to me!"

To be honest, I would have been more afraid of what was in the water than of drowning.  I have heard scary stories about swimming in fresh water here that I will never test out.

It was a very pretty spot.

Sister Stevenson and I returned to Cape Coast on Friday so that I could conduct some branch training on Saturday morning.  The rest of the group stayed an extra day and visited a bead factory on Saturday. They said it was very cool.

At 3 a.m. on Saturday morning, a trotro arrived at the Mission Home from Hemang.  There was a group of people going to the Temple in Accra, some of them for the first time.  Three of the group had not been able to see me when I was in Hemang last week and needed to be interviewed for their recommend to enter the Temple.

They were pretty happy for a group that still had a long way to go in a crowded car.  I'm sure they had a wonderful day and they sure started mine off well.

After another couple of hours sleep, I conducted training for the leadership of the four mission branches surrounding Cape Coast.  Again, we had great attendance by the leadership and I enjoyed the time with them very much.  

This was taken before the last tro arrived with an additional 17 people.  We filled the room and had ENTHUSIASTIC TRAINING.

Some of this will look familiar to many of you.

I think one of my favorite experiences so far on mission occurred last week.  I had interviewed a wonderful woman for baptism a couple of months ago, but had to tell her we would have to delay the ordinance for a little while.  She was devastated and went home and cried and cried. I felt terrible, but it was the right decision.   Happily, I was able to meet with her again last week and found her completely prepared.  During the interview, she told me that she had just spoken to her adult son who lives in Accra.  He had called her and timidly told her that he had been attending the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for about two years and was going to be baptized on Sunday.  She gasped and said, "I am going to be baptized on Sunday too!"  He had not told her of his desire because they had been active in another church and he didn't want to offend her.  As we concluded the interview, she literally ran down the hall, leaping and whooping for joy.  It was so awesome.  

On Sunday, we had the Branch Conference for the Mankessim 2nd Branch.  This made four Sundays in a row in Mankessim.  I was asked the other day what the biggest challenge I was facing in the mission and I said I hadn't figured out how to minister to 200 missionaries and, at the same time, lead 11 member branches and a district flung across the mission.  I have two wonderful counselors who are doing great work with the branches and our senior couples are helping so much. But, I wish I could clone myself on Sundays and get around to everyone.  I'm still hoping to get it figured out.

Since the theme of the conference was Strengthening Families, I took the opportunity to share some of the things that I had learned from my Dad.

Mankessim 2nd Branch Missionaries

After the Branch Conference, we continued east to Swedru, where I had an interview to conduct.  We almost made it to Winneba when citizens began directing traffic off the highway and into the bush.  We have done that before and it took two hours to get back to the highway, so we decided to see for ourselves if we could find someone with a little authority.  However, we soon saw that everyone was turning around, so we went with the flow.  (The citizens took it personally and chastised us for not believing them.)  We drove north on dirt roads until we finally hit a cut-off to Swedru.  We made it in time for the interview, so it ended up just being a little dirt on the car -- no major adventure.

Since we were in Swedru, we took the opportunity to stop at the Ivies and were invited for dinner. Elder Omokoh and Elder Brown scored too.

Because we didn't know if the highway would be open, we took the back loop home.  It was a good day.


Bats and Butterflies


The base of the trunk flares out in these fins that sound hollow when you pound them.  But be careful, because the trunk is riddled with thorns.  Its a tough world.

Monday, February 16, 2015

I will go before your face...

The blog is a little late this week.  Sister Stevenson and I were invited to speak at a fireside at the Bakano Ward on Sunday evening.  This was the view of the lagoon at sunset as we left the meeting.  It was a fun fireside (remember, they are called firesides because in the early days of the Church, people would gather around the fireplace in their homes to discuss the Gospel.  The name stuck, but there is no fire).  I thought it was going to be just Sister Stevenson and me speaking, but after Sister Stevenson shared her remarks (she did great!), they opened up the floor for questions.  There were many very interesting questions and the meeting had gone on an hour before I got up to speak.  The topic was how members of the Church can help in sharing the Gospel.  I told of the conversion of Sister Stevenson's family in Brazil and how a member of the Church prepared the way for that wonderful event.

 Sister Stevenson's family came into the Church in a wonderful way.  Her parents are Dutch-Indonesian, but they were living in Brazil when Marion was born.  Her father worked in the automotive industry and was required to travel to the United States for three months of training when Marion was 7 years old.  The training was taking place in Rochester, New York and his assigned roommate happened to be a member of the Church.  After getting to know each other a little, the roommate (whose name we do not know) said, "You seem to enjoy history and philosophy. Some of the most important historical sites relating to my faith are within an hour drive of here and I would like to see them. I wonder if you would like to spend your Saturdays with me visiting these landmarks."  Marion's father agreed, and for the next several weekends, they walked the Sacred Grove, climbed the Hill Cumorah and discussed the restoration of the Gospel.  Meanwhile, back in Brazil, two missionaries knocked on the door of the Spier home.  As they introduced themselves, Marion's mother said that she thought her husband would like to talk to them and that they should return when he was back from his training.   When Brother Spier returned home, it didn't take long for the missionaries to begin teaching the family. After a few months of investigating, her mom and dad and two older brothers were baptized.  Marion had to wait an extra month until she turned 8 before she was baptized.  The family later moved back to Holland and were sealed in the London temple before eventually immigrating to the United States.

I like to believe that while the Lord was putting all of this in place, He also thought to Himself, "This will work out really well for My (future) servant, Scott."

The members of the Bakano Ward left pretty excited.  It will be fun to see if we made a difference.

We finished up the last of the missionary interviews for this quarter (except for Tarkwa, who we will see at the end of the month).   This week was Swedru, Odoben / Asikuma, Bakano and Elmina districts.

Sister Ivie sliced open a cocoa pod while we were staying with them.  I like cocoa in its natural state (brownies), so I passed on the taste test, but Sister Stevenson sucked the goo off the beans and said it tasted like cherry lifesavers.  (Important safety tip:  Don't chew the beans!).

Since next week is Transfer Week, we will be receiving a few new missionaries.  So on Friday, we invited their Trainers to come in to the mission home for orientation.  We are only getting two sisters and one elder this time, so it was a small group.

The trainer for the new elder had already attended the orientation recently, so we let him stay in his area.

I was able to do some baptismal interviews in Cape Coast and also drove out to Hemang one evening to do some temple recommend interviews.  One of the people I was to meet for a temple recommend was ill and couldn't see me, so next Saturday when the group is on the way to the temple, they will stop at the mission home at 3 a.m. and I will interview her (not in my pajamas).  That will be a first for me.

On Saturday, we had training for the branch leaders in 5 of my 11 mission branches.  They told us to expect 80 people.  I am afraid I was skeptical and almost didn't have enough faith to order that much food.  All of these people traveled between one to three hours (each way) to attend.  Their dedication continues to amaze me.  It was awesome meeting with them.

Elder Adams and Elder Halversen set the room up for us.  They serve in Chapel Hill, a very nice community in Takoradi.

Saturday evening, the six zone leaders from the Cape Coast area met with the Assistants to plan out transportation for transfers.  They always make a party of it and recently have invited Sister Stevenson and I to join them for dinner.  This time, Elder Gqweta made a wonderful South African stew (chicken, potatoes, pineapple, etc. with a sweet, homemade bread.  You eat it with your hands from common bowls.  It was very delicious.

On Sunday, we took the Cape Coast Stake Presidency to visit the two branches in Mankessim.  The Cape Coast Stake will likely be divided this year, and several of my mission branches will become part of the new stakes (YEAH!).  The application will take some coordination between the stake and the branches, so we are putting the parties in touch with each other.

This was our third week in a row in Mankessim and we will also be there again next week.  The two branches share a beautiful new building.  The only problem is that we are across the "street" from another church under construction.  They began holding Sunday meetings in their building a few weeks ago and they are much louder than we are (drums, instruments and BIG LOUD SPEAKERS).  It's like our members get two worship services for the price of one.  Everything is so communal here that they are experts in tuning out the distractions.  I'm still working on it.
There were eight convert baptisms in Mankessim this weekend, so it was fun to see the Confirmations in Church on Sunday.


Sister Stevenson made brownies for Valentines Day.  I'm afraid I'll need to do better next week.



Still not entirely sure what is going on here...