Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas in Africa

By Greg


We have had a wonderful week here in Accra, Ghana.  This is a Christian country so we felt at home with Christmas. 

There are 50 little people on this boat, it is 4 feet long!
Last week we went to a restaurant called Captain Hooks (in our last blog I posted some pictures, including my Red Snapper dinner with head attached).  Debi saw a couple of wood carved boats in the waiting area that she really liked.  We posted a picture of them last week as well. 


I was trying to find something nice to give Debi for Christmas so we went to “The Pit” and I found this boat.  It is really cool and even bigger and better than the one we saw at the restaurant.  It was hard to bargain with the wood carvers at The Pit, but I made a very good deal.  So it was Merry Christmas Debi!


A few months ago we had a painting made of the first baptisms in Africa that a local member of the Church painted from the famous photo.  This was in Nigeria and has been written about in the Church News several times.  The Church placed a monument there a few years ago.  The painting is even better than the photo of it appears.  We will try to get it home and then have it framed.  We are not sure how we will get the boat and rowers home, however.


Yesterday we returned to the village school that we visited on the way to Abomosu.  This is the school that has the Empower Playground merry-go-round.  When we were there we asked them what was their greatest need and they said, “Water!” Well, due to the generosity of some dear friends at home we were able to purchase a large poly tank and construct a platform and install taps and gutters and now when it rains the school will be able to catch the rain water.


We were so pleased that the village “Elders” (leaders not missionaries) came to receive the gift.  They asked me to make the presentation, and then the Head Master accepted it in behalf of the children.  Even though school is out for Christmas break, there were a lot of children present.  It was a wonderful day.  This school has no connection with our Church.


My I-phone has a “mirror” feature and so I held it in front of the children and it was so fun to see the expressions on their faces as they saw themselves in my phone.  I also told them some stories and said the alphabet with them and then I did it backwards.  We counted with them, had them name the major body parts as we pointed to them, and also did some math problems.  They thought I was funny when I shook my head really fast and my lips and cheeks went wild.


In anticipation of the tank, the children brought water in buckets.  Here some of the girls (the oldest was just 12) carried five gallons of water to the school to put in the tank.  Five gallons of water on your head is very heavy, and several of them did it!


We are excited to be able to facilitate this gift and are planning on adding tanks to 9 or 10 more Empower Playground schools in the next few months.  Of course, what the schools really needs is a bore hole and pump, but that will come in time.  They also need electricity.  The building is wired for lights and power, but there is no power in the area.  The younger teachers want computers, and they will come sooner than later. 



Our new friend Isaac, who is 30 years old, said the biggest change in Ghana in the last 10 years is that introduction of technology, especially cell phones and computers.  He served a mission and so did his wife.  They both went to college and he studied engineering and she studied project management.  We rode with them to the school along with their 2 year old and infant baby, both boys.  He is the field coordinator for this wonderful charity, Empower Playgrounds.  We talked about what the next 10 years will bring.


We hope all at home had as wonderful a Christmas week as we did.  Now Debi can tell more.




By Debi


Christmas Eve is my favorite day of the Holidays.  This year turned out to be a very memorable day.  Elder and Sister Dickson (the Area President) invited all the couples that are here in the Area Office over to their home for a social of games and singing of carols.  We were a little late because the traffic was worse than we had ever seen it!  This is a picture of a “Tow-mator” truck that turned in front of us. There was an ambulance trying to come up the road but that didn’t detour the driver. Tow-mator pulled right out in the way of the ambulance and just sat there.  I hope I never, ever need any medical help here in Ghana.  I think I will just shoot myself and forget trying to get help.


We had a great time at the Dickson’s.  Sister Scott (wife of the Area medical advisor/doctor) was a kindergarten teacher in pre-mission life.  She brought her bells and music and taught us several Christmas songs.  We were laughing and not doing a very good job.  She told us that her “kids” do a lot better job.  We then went to a Chinese restaurant.  We felt like we were living the “Christmas Story’.  We just didn’t have Ralphy with us.  The food was great and the waiters were so nice even though there were about 20 of us. They were Africans so they did not sing to us like in the movie.


After dinner the Taylor’s (legal missionaries) invited us to go to the midnight mass at the Holy Spirit Cathedral here in Accra.  Sister Taylor was formerly a Catholic before marrying Elder Taylor and then coming on this mission.  We were excited about going because every other midnight on Christmas Eve we have been very busy getting Christmas ready for our family.  I have always wanted to go and see what a Christmas mass was like.


We first listened to some youth choirs that were very good and then the Arch Bishop came down the aisle with altar boys carrying very long candle sticks with candles glowing and other priest swinging incense and the adult choir in their uniforms following.  They were singing Christmas Carols and the organ was playing full blast.  We were so interested in everything but we didn’t feel like we could take pictures.  We were obviously a little out of place.  Everyone in the cathedral was Catholic, and they all were Africans.  I think we stuck out a little and especially with our missionary tags on.


During the sermon the Arch Bishop welcomed “our guest from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”  He nodded his head towards us and gave a big smile.  He said that a few years ago our church invited him to our cathedral and he was so grateful for us coming to his cathedral.  We were very surprised but very pleased that he was happy we were there and didn’t feel like we were intruding.


Needless to say, we had a very wonderful time.  As we got up to leave after midnight the Arch Bishop saw us and while on the stand waved a big goodbye to us.  We waved back.  We felt so much friendship and peace.  I wished the entire world could treat each other with peace and good will.  Hey, I think that is what the angel said to the shepherds.  Hmmm, that is a great lesson for Christmas Eve.


Then on Christmas day we all went to Elder and Sister Curtis’ (2nd Counselor in Area Presidency) house for a Christmas brunch.  We all brought potluck style dishes and it was wonderful.  I took a breakfast quiche and several sisters brought some yummy cinnamon rolls and breakfast breads.  We had lots of fresh fruit and fruit juices.  We did a fun “white elephant” gift exchange.  Everyone had to bring a gift that they had bought from a street hawker.  We had some very funny gifts and some that everyone was trying to get during the game to exchange gifts. 


We then had a wonderful Christmas day with all of our children and their families.  We talked to every one of our daughters and son and their spouses.  We also were able to talk to all of our grandchildren.  It was a wonderful day but it took us about 6 hours to call everyone.  We were tired but happy when we finished all of the calls.  I have to say that it didn’t make me homesick like I was worried about, but I did have a hard time going back to work the next day.  We just wanted to keep having a good time with the other couple missionaries and visiting with our family. Actually the day after Christmas is a holiday here so we did not go right back to work.

I really enjoyed going to the school and helping with the tank project.  It is amazing how much can be done here for just a relatively small amount.  This water project is greatly appreciated!


New Year’s Eve is fast approaching.  We will see how they celebrate it here.  One young man told us that most people go to church and count down to the New Year.  Wow! If that is true, Ghana has their act together.  Ring in the New Year at Church!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

We are dreaming of a white Christmas

By Debi:

We were "Dreaming of a White Christmas"on the beach in Sierra Leone
Merry Christmas to all!  This is my first Christmas here in Africa.  There definitely isn’t any snow (sounds like Utah) and we don’t even have a Christmas tree in our apartment.  But we do have the spirit of Christmas and it is everywhere here in Africa.

Yesterday we spent a wonderful afternoon and evening with the Taylors.  We both go to wards in the Tesano Stake. So we went together to a very nice Christmas concert put on by the Stake.  Choirs from each ward prepared a couple of songs and then High Councilmen read a thought or scripture inbetween the choirs.  It was a very nice program.  The thing I loved the most was how each choir came into the cultural hall of the Stake center.  They would start out in the hall and they would begin singing one of their Christmas songs.  As they came in they didn’t just walk in single file or march in, they would dance in.  It was fantastic.  They would do a little jive and click their fingers or wave a white handkerchief as they came into the room. It was so fun and it made the concert so interesting.  There were several youth groups.  One was from our Ofankor ward.  A Young Woman sang a solo and she had a great voice.  Then the other girls would join in with her in the chorus. I am so grateful that we took the time to go. 

After the program the Taylor’s took us to a restaurant called Captain Hook’s.  It was so very nice and they had a huge Christmas tree in the middle of the room.  Our waiter was such a nice young man and he told us that he is going to the University.  He was a lot of fun and he did a very excellent job.  We had very delicious food.  Greg had the Red Snapper, head and all. 
Then after we were finished our waiter, Phillip, told Greg that the next time we come he would really like a Book of Mormon.  Well, being the kind of missionaries that we are we had several in our car.  Greg went and got a Book of Mormon for him and also the pamphlet about Joseph Smith and the one about the Plan of Salvation.  Phillip knew about Joseph Smith. He said that he had read a lot about him and how he saw an angel and God and Jesus. We gave Phillip our card with our phone numbers on it and he said he would call us.  Wow, who would know that you can do missionary work while eating very delicious food!
They had these really cool boat and rower carvings in the waiting area, I just had to take a picture.

On the way home from the restaurant we discovered that there was a lizard in our car.  It was crawling across the windshield and then it came right onto the dashboard while Greg was driving.  Luckily Greg didn’t panic (I would probably have wrecked the car) and Elder Taylor even got a picture of him.

This last week we were in Sierra Leone.  We left on Tuesday and returned on Thursday.  We went over there for training for one of the Area Auditors.  It was quite an experience.  Greg is going to tell you about our trip and the country of Sierra Leone.

These are two Sierra Leone Sister Missionaries.  We thought they were so cute.  We noted that all of these missionaries wear hats.  We all should wear hats, but these were great.
We hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a wonderful holiday week with your families.  We are going to be very busy.  We are going to try and Skype with each of our 8 children and 29 grandchildren.  What could be better than being with family on Christmas.

This is a nativity scene we bought when we first arrived.  We have had it set up the entire time.  After all, every day is CHRIST-day for us!


By Greg:

Just when you think you have seen everything, you see something else.  We are learning that all of the countries of West Africa have some things in common, but many things different.
This is a picture out our hotel in Sierra Leone at night.  Down from us was houses and roads and buildings then the beach and the Atlantic Ocean.  We could almost see the Statue of Liberty-very small!
As we said, we went to Freetown, Sierra Leone this week.  Both Freetown and Monrovia, Liberia have ties to freed slaves.  Freetown was originally settled by a combination of freed loyalist American slaves who were loyal to Britain in the American Revolution, as well as some from England and English islands in the Caribbean.  Liberia, on the other hand was settled by a group of Americans who sought a homeland for freed American Slaves prior to the Civil War.

Freetown has been compared to San Francisco.  The airport would be in Oakland.  So once you land you have to get across the bay.  The bay here is bigger, however.  The city of Freetown is very hilly; much like S.F. but the comparison might be more to S.F. right after the big earthquake.

We took a hoover craft across the water.  It was pretty cool, but did not feel like it was very well maintained.  I don’t know if they have Coast Guard inspectors here.
I am not sure the origin of this craft, but I am pretty sure they did not buy it new.  It rose up like a giant beast on a bed of air and then tore across the water propelled by those big fans at the back.

We thought there Zebra decor was fitting.
We were met by our brother and taken to the County Lodge Hotel, which is one of the finest in the country.  All of the roads were terrible and crowded.  Up and down we went as I put my arm around Sister Haws and held onto her to keep her from wrenching her head and neck and back as we bounced.

We had a very good meeting with our new friend Brother Bunduka.

We also became friends with the Mission President and his wife, President and Sister Roggia from Montana and the office couple, Elder and Sister Randall from Fairview, Utah, pictured here.
 We also met Elder and Sister Burns and Elder and Sister Lauretzin (who is a cousin to our cousin Dixie Dawson Lauretzin's husband Keith). 
Sierra Leone just received its first Stake a few weeks ago.  It was the 3,000th Stake in the Church.  It is only about 10 years out of its last civil war, and is still pretty rough. We went by a UN prison that had armed guards every 20 feet or so with machine guns with bayonet’s attached.

As we were waiting to take the hover craft back, and we were with President and Sister Roggia, the Randalls and the Assistants, we saw a group of people walking along the beach.  Of a sudden it seemed like all of them began to attack a women who also had a baby on her back.  She was carrying a pan on her head with cloth, which the group took and it appeared that they divided it among themselves.  This was in broad daylight.  The woman began to scream “bloody-murder” as the group started to unwrap her baby.  I looked at the President for a clue as to what we should do.
 To be continued...
This fishing boat came floating by...maybe floating is a bit of a stretch.  It was slowly sinking.
They were right in the path of the hover craft.  It was a bit of a circus watching these men try and save their sinking boat.  Fortuantely it was made of wood and it would not really sink, but it was not really floating either.
Now I have to tell you that I have been given strict instructions not to become engaged in local conflicts. My instructions have come from both officaial sources (the brethren) and unoffical (Sister Haws) sources.  So far I have been in the middle of several confrontations, such as the election riot we wrote about, and another one in the restroom of the mall where several men were fighting because one of them crowded.  One man ripped open the toilet stall door and grabbed the sitting man’s belt and pants and dragged him out and threw him on the floor.  Several others joined in the fight, but I stood back and did not get involved.

Anyway, I think if they had taken off with the woman's baby I would have broken the rules.  She was still screaming as they dragged her out into the ocean and threw her into the water. This occured at the same place the above boat was trying to sink.  Then they walked off.  What the heck was that all about?  She came out of the water, retrieved her child, tried to regain her composure, and also walked off.  We were shocked. I think she lost her stuff, however.
Welcome to Africa is all anyone can say to things like this.

Today we had a nice Christmas program by the Primary. 

I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas.  It is not feeling at all like Christmas here, but we are trying.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Trip to Obomoso

By Debi:


We asked the children to show us how their merry-go-round worked!
Have you ever felt like a Rock Star!  Well, on Thursday morning Greg and I went to visit an Elementary and Secondary School out in the “bush”.  We traveled about 2 hours from Accra toward a city called Koforidua.  A man working for Empower Playgrounds, Isaac Mensah, agreed to take us to one of the schools that are using the Merry-Go-Round generator system to help light the school.  Also, the children can take home the lanterns to study at night.  The lanterns can be used for adult classes in the evening too.  It gets dark here every day at 6:00. So the opportunities for the adults after work are very limited if there is no electricity. These playgrounds are so amazing and Greg and I were so impressed.
Every school has a moto--they are all optimistic

Debi teahing a simple hand game, they loved it!
As we pulled up to the school on a very narrow dirt road (I am using the term “road”very loosely) we were so happy to see about 150 school children running out to meet us.  As we got out of the car the children were all giggling and smiling at us with such an air of awe.  I reached out my hand to the nearest little girl and she touched my hand and then looked right into my eyes and gave me the biggest smile.  Of course, now every child wanted to touch my hand.  I looked into every face.  How can anyone not love a child?  Every time I touch a child and see the light in their eyes I think of the Savior, “Suffer the little children to come unto me”, “Unless you become as a little child you cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.”  For just a minute I felt like a celebrity but I knew that is was nothing of my doing so I am sure it will not go to my head.

Greg and I watched them play on the merry-go-round and Isaac explained how the generator worked and how the electricity produced went through a cable into the school house and charged the batteries of the lanterns.  We were excited to see the lanterns and how well they light up the room.  The program is very structured.  First the school has to qualify for the program.  The parents have to be very involved and the children have to sign a contract to take care of the lantern and bring it back to school.


We then went into the principal’s office and met with him and his teachers.  They were all very grateful to have us come to the school and visit.  As we asked them what their concerns were the principle said that his greatest wish is that they could have water for the children at the school.  I almost started to cry. I asked how the children get water in the day.  They are to bring their own but many cannot.  They have a small barrel that they try to catch rain water but that was very insufficient.   The teachers also said that they would love to have a couple of computers to teach the children how to use them.  They do not have the power they would need.  Isaac said that they are working on a program to get solar panels into the schools and maybe they will be able to power the computers.


You can imagine the feelings I had inside as I looked at these precious little ones and realized that many go all day in the heat without water.  They are also supposed to bring their own food. But Water first, food later.


As we tried to leave the children sang to us and came all the way back to our car with us.  We wished them a Merry Christmas and waved goodbye.  My heart was so full of love for those beautiful little souls.

By Greg:
OK.  I served for 11 years on the Utah State School Board.  I know how to conduct a school visit.  First you take a tour of the physical facitities.  Here, that meant the classrooms and the campus.  I have to admit, I never saw anything like this, except when I went out to the "Basin"or down to San Juan County and visited reservation schools.  But here the children are so happy.
Next, we usually talked about curriculium.  Here they teach reading, writing, arithmatic and science.  Just with a little different teaching tools.  Also they are not afraid to teach values from the Bible.
We ususally asked about the safety of the students.  So I did here.  The second school we visited is not accessable by a road.  One can not drive to this school.  It was like hiking back to a lake in the Unitias to fish, or a jungle hike on an island.
Finally, we always asked the principal and the facility what they needed to do their job better.
The first response was water.  Then school supplies and finally computers.
These playgrounds are amazing.  They generate power to charge these batteries that run lights that the students can take home.  They also provide something for the students to play on.
At both schools we gave them a new soccor ball.  It was not inflated, but you might have thought we had given the students an all expense paid trip to Disney World.  They were so excited for one soccor ball. These balls were donated by friends of another missionary coupler.
All the kids wanted to touch Sister Haws' hands, but they also wanted to touch my hair.  So I had all these little African hands touching my head.  I tried not to think what else they might have been touching that day.
Sister Haws and I told the Principal that we would find him help for his water problem.  A big poly-tank that could catch the rain water, fully installed will cost about $500 USD.  What they really need is a bore hole well that would provide them fresh water.  These cost closer to $5,000 USD.  We understand that the complete package of the playground/generator/batteries cost around $10,000 USD.
We are going to start small with the water tanks, and then see if we can do anything to get bore holes, then how to get each student a fully functioning I-pad! (why not reach for the stars!)

The purpost of the trip was to traing the Priesthood leaders in this District.  We were amazed that this is one of the oldest places in Ghana that the Church has been established in.  A brother to one of the original Pioneers (Ghana pre-freeze and even pre-church people) established several branches up there in the early years.  These are some of the earliest Church-built buildings in Ghana.  They are trying very hard to become a Stake.
We are having such a variety of experiences on this mission.  We never would have thought that we would be able to go and do so many different things.  Each day, we say a prayer in the morning and ask our Father-in-Heaven what he wants us to do that day.  Some days we need to focus on auditing matters, but on others we are amazed at what we are led to do. 


Baptism of Paul Udeh

Paul’s baptism, December 15, 2012


15 December 2012-Paul Udeh's Baptism
By Greg


Today was a wonderful day.  We baptized our friend Paul Udeh.  We arrived at the church at 8:30 am for the 9:00 am meeting.  Paul did not get there until after 9:00.  It is so nice to have cell phones so we could call and see if he was coming and if everything was OK.


For the benefit of anyone coming in later, or those who are not following our every move, or anyone that may have forgotten the details, we met Paul on Saturday 17 November 2012.  We were down in the center of Accra and he was at his office.  We were dealing with a few men who wanted us to buy things from them and I decided to give them a first discussion instead.  The Spirit whispered to Paul to get up and go out on the street.  He did and started just walking along.  Then he saw us and the Spirit again whispered to him to go over and talk to us.  We began our association with him that has led to his baptism today.

Elder John, Debi, Elizabeth Jessey, Paule Udeh, Greg, Elder Bills

There were two others getting baptized from the other ward that meets in that building.  They were taught by the other Elders.  In the end they asked me to baptize all of the candidates.  So, here we are, three months into our mission and I have already baptized 6 people.    Another couple of events and I will exceed my entire mission in Alabama-Florida.


Paul was so excited. He was sad that his friends did not come, but they had problems with their phones and could not contact each other.  He is so excited to be confirmed tomorrow and receive the Holy Ghost.  I think this will be done either by the Bishop or under the Bishop’s direction.  This is a good program as it bridges the missionaries and the local leaders and helps build a bond between them and the new member.

This is sister Elizabeth Jessey right before her baptism by Elder Haws.

Debi and I are so overcome with joy at being able to participate in this conversion and baptism.  Right from the start it has been a miracle.  Paul reminded us of his dream that he told us about the first day we met him.  He is truly being guided and blessed.


He is from Sierra Leone.  Elder Holland came last week and created the first Stake in Sierra Leone.  It is the 3,000th Stake in the Church.  We feel very strongly that Paul should go back to his home and family (and girlfriend) and build his life there and help strengthen the Church in his home country.  His job here is not working out so well.  We will have to see what happens.
Elder Haws and 13 year old Evans Oppong.

In any event, there are three new members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!


By Debi:


What a glorious day we had today.  As I watched Greg help Paul down into the font and show him how to hold his hands my mind went back to when Greg was a 20 year old missionary in Florida.  I am so thankful that I have been able to witness the great missionary Greg is.  He teaches with love and great knowledge and he is a very strong Priesthood holder.  After Greg said the Baptismal Prayer he laid Paul down into the water and then brought him up.  Greg and Paul had a very tender moment together.  Paul is so excited to be baptized and I think that he truly felt the spirit and the importance of this day.
Evans Oppong and Elder Haws practiced how to hold hands and bend over before the actual baptism.


Last Wednesday night after we met with the missionaries Paul told us that all he can think about is his baptism.  He said that it would be his greatest day.  He also told me that all he wants to do all day is read the word of God and study all of the Church books.  He said that every night he prays that God will open his brain and pour in all of the knowledge.  I told him that he has to learn line upon line and precept upon precept.  Paul is so hungry for the knowledge and he can hardly wait to receive it all.


It has been only four weeks and yet Paul is ready to go and preach the gospel. The missionaries told him that he could go with them to teach and he was so excited.  Everything about the Church he accepts without question.  Today I said something about something new and he just said “Yes, Yes, I already know that”.  It is like when we tell him something he already feels that and accepts it.


These are the missionaries that taught Paul and the District leader who interviewed.  They are the four Elders from the two wards that meet in the building where the baptism was held.
They had a hardy meal of chicken, rice , fries and bottle mineral water.
We took Paul and the missionaries out to lunch after the baptism.  Paul said that this is the greatest day of his life.  He was so excited he could hardly contain himself.  He is right.  This is one of the greatest days of Paul’s life.