Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter in Africa


By Debi:


Happy Easter Morning!  Even though it is hot here every day, I am envisioning a beautiful spring morning back in Utah. I love Easter morning and I hope you are all enjoying this day.


Greg and I have been reading Jesus the Christ the last couple of weeks building up to this Resurrection morning.  What a disheartening time and what a glorious time.  Our hearts have been so touched by the last week of the Savior’s life here on the earth.  I am so thankful for our Savior and I pray that I will always be true to Him.


Last week we saw a little school having a Palm Sunday parade.  We could hear the drums and the trumpets and wondered what all the noise was about.  We ran out to the street to be greeted by these beautiful little children all carrying palm branches and marching down the street.  They were singing a song and waving their branches.  They were so happy to have me take their pictures.  We later found out that this is a tradition for the schools and churches here in Ghana to celebrate Palm Sunday with parades and carrying palm branches.  I loved it.  I have thought a lot about that.  I should be more in tune to the events of the Easter Season.


I have had a couple of skirts made with African material.  I also had a dress made and I am wearing it for my Easter Dress.  It is very fun to have a new dress.  Thanks to Greg for insisting that I get some new clothes.


Greg and I had to go to a training in a little village about two hours away yesterday.  I wanted to practice the songs that I am playing in Sacrament meeting today (I am becoming the Ward Organist).  As I began playing the keyboard all of the young women that were cleaning the building came into the chapel and gathered around the keyboard.  For the next hour and a half I played while they sang.  They would call out their favorite hymn and then I would play it while they all sang.  I finally had to tell them that my hands where too tired.  I didn’t really get to practice the hymns I needed to practice but I am so thankful to have this special experience with these young women.  They are so sweet and love the gospel.  They asked me when I would come back.  Sadly, I told them that I probably would not be back.  That made them and me very sad.


My heart is full this morning and I pray that we will all keep the Savior’s sacrifice and love for us foremost in our hearts and minds.  Have a beautiful Easter!


By Greg:


Easter is a big deal here.  Both Friday and Monday are national holidays and the offices and businesses are closed.  The Church Office Building was also closed.  We took Friday as our P-day as we were going to Asamankese on Saturday.  This was quite the drive on very bad roads.

Dying is a big business in Africa.  This is a typical cemetery.  It is very expensive to have a loved one die, but it will all be ok in the ressurection.  I hope they know that.


Last weekend we also drove to Kumasi to meet with our Assistant Area Auditor.  This is the second time we have been there.  We stayed at a nice hotel again, called the Golden Tulip.  As we were checking in we saw the Mission President and his wife, President and Sister Holmes.  We invited ourselves to have dinner with them.  They are a delightful couple from South Africa.  Sister Holmes was quick to point out to us that coming to West Africa was for them as different as it was for us, coming from the US.  They did not have much contact with this type of Africa in their home area.  He wanted a steak and ordered one off the menu.  We have been reluctant to eat “meat” but he said his was wonderful.  We eat a lot of chicken and some pork.

We took a different route to Kumasi this time.  We found a real rest stop with a store, a resturant and even more important, real bathrooms.  We had to pay to use them, but it was a pleasure.  Also, we had to pass throught New York.

The couples here get together from time to time and the favorite activity seems to be going out to dinner. We try to find places.  We have found a restaurant called El Paso.  It is a Mexican Restaurant and the chef is actually from Mexico.  The rice was African, but the other food was pretty Mexican.


We moved back to the Temple compound. We did not move back into our same apartment, however.  The Church completed a condo building on the compound with 6 condos.  They house the Area Presidency, the Area DTA (Director for Temporal Affairs-a Church employee but the manager of all things Temporal-he is like the Presiding Bishop for the Area and is the employer of all employees-his name is Gregory Dunn and he is a wonderful man—he was formerly the head of all Church security so he knows all the top Church leaders—but his is also very concerned about our safety—he is one of our best friends), the Temple President and wife and the Executive Secretary to the Area Presidency and wife (Elder and Sister Fitzgerald—a missionary couple).  So we got the larger apartment that the Executive Secretary had before.  The kitchen is bigger and we are very comfortable here.


One of the really nice things is they built a swimming pool with the Temple View Villas and we are allowed to use it.  We will take pictures of it but the other couples at the other sight have a pool and now we have one too.  Debi and I have swam every morning this week.  We walk for a hour around the grounds from 6-7 and then swim laps from 7-8.  We get to the office at 9. This is going to make us feel better.  The young missionaries cannot swim, but we have this blessing.  Debi brought a pool chemical test kit, so we can monitor the water.


On the road to Kumasi we saw these boys selling something.  We stopped and looked and they were selling snails.  These snails were huge and they cook them in soup and eat it with Fufu which is a doughy substance made from the root of a certain tree like plant called casava.  The women pound the heck out of it with a big long stick, and them they soak it in the soup and eat it with their hands.  It is sort of like bread dough, and it sticks to your insides and has lots of calories, so it is a mainstay of their diet.  These snails were alive!


We continue to have our open houses.  Our friend Paul brought his friend Sunday.  Sunday has been baptized.  Sunday brought his friend, Knumase and he was baptized last Sunday.  We have others coming that are meeting with the Elders.  The baptism rate here in this area is about 2.5 people per missionary per month!  They have a baptism in our Ward every Sunday after Church.  In Liberia, where Elder Widdison (and Elder and Sister Miles) from our home ward are serving, the baptism rate is even higher.  The wonderful thing is that they stay active at a very high rate.


I have said this before, but in the first six months that we were here they added over 50 new units, mostly branches.  There are a lot of new leaders and they all need training.  We are pleased that the submission of our audits for the year end 2012 (which the deadline is today) exceeds the rate of the mid-year 2012.  In fact, we may actually have close to 100% received on time.  This is a direct reflection of the training we have been doing and the efforts of our 13 Assistant Area Auditors. We love these men and they are working so hard in their respective areas.


One more thing I want to say this week.  We feel so blessed in so many ways.  When we started to think about going on a mission we identified 27 major obstacles that stood in our way.  One by one these issues were resolved, but a few of them remained.  In fact, the first on our list was a major business loan that we had.  Also we were named in a major lawsuit that was a result of my position on a board of directors at a bank that was seized by the FDIC.  We prayed and fasted many days that these issues would be resolved. The year I was teaching at BYU we spent a lot of time fasting and praying and attending the Provo Temple seeking guidance and blessings from Heaven.


This is a case of the first shall be last, I guess, because just this week we received a full and complete release from all deficiencies on our loan, which included a forgiveness of interest and penalties that could have been assessed (we paid 100% of the principal).  The law suit was finally resolved while we were in the MTC, but not until we had made a leap of faith.  We acknowledge the hand of the Lord in our lives, and are witnesses of his love and mercy.  We could give more details, but needless to say, these 27 issues have all been resolved in a miraculous manner.

Monday, March 18, 2013

What are we doing in Africa?

By Greg:

Elder Haws giving a tour to our new friend Mohommed

We often wonder what those of you that are reading our blog think about what we are doing here and is it clear what we are spending most of our time on and what it is that we are trying to accomplish.  Well, we have identified several things that we are doing, and we will try to comment on each of them. 


This is the are of our new ward
Today we were transferred.  For the last nearly 7 months we have been attending the Ofankor Ward which meets in a rental building rather far from the Temple Square.  We have really enjoyed this and have learned to love the members.  Debi has been especially active with the children.  But today we said our farewells and now we are going to attend the James Town Branch of the Christiansborg Stake.  This branch is struggling and most of the members are poor.  It is expensive for them to travel to the church, so most do not attend.  They are looking for a building to rent that would be closer to them.  This branch area is around the lighthouse that we have visited several times.


Anyone who has been on a mission knows the feeling of being transferred.  The problem for Sister Haws is that she does not get a new companion.

Our other assignments include:

1.     Member and leader support
2.     Missionary work
3.     Area Auditing
4.     Humanitarian-water tank projects
5.     Piano lessons
6.     Genealogy and family history
7.     Temple Work
8.     MSR assignments
9.     Specific assignments
10.  Locating meeting houses


Member and leader support by Debi 

Each senior missionary couple is assigned to a ward or branch to help strengthen and encourage the leadership in that ward and branch.  We support the Bishop by doing whatever he asks us to do.  We bear our testimonies and show support for the members of the ward. We also build friendships and show love for those investigating the Church and those who are new members.  It is amazing how close we feel to the ward members.  We feel like we are coming home when we walk into the Church on Sunday.



Missionary work by Debi 

We have posted earlier about our friend Paul.  He was baptized December 15th.  Paul has continued his activity in the Church and is a fantastic missionary.  Just a few weeks after Paul’s baptism he brought Sunday (that is his name) to Temple Square and wanted to show him the “Church”.   We introduced Sunday to the young Elders and just last Sunday (the day of the week) Sunday (the investigator) was baptized!  Now Sunday has brought a friend, Nkrumah, with him and he has been meeting with the missionaries and he is getting baptized next Sunday. Almost two or three times
a week Paul calls and asks us to meet him at the Temple to show some of his friends the Church.  Sometimes it has been difficult to meet with them because of our schedule of other missionary duties. 

Sunday was unusual because the first day he came to Church he wanted to pay his tithing.  We wondered if Paul had taught him that principle because we had just taught it to Paul.  It is not usual for an investigator to pay tithing, but it is a very good sign.

We decided that if we set a definite time each week that Paul could bring his friends to Temple Square it would work better for us.  We set the time for Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8 pm.  This decision has worked into something that we are so excited about.



This last week some investigators that the Young Elders have been teaching came to the Open House.  They have been meeting with the Elders for some time.  Suzie, her husband and son and a friend are all from mainland China. They are here running a business.  Suzie was baptized yesterday and confirmed today. As we met with them on Wednesday evening we felt a very special spirit with the whole family. At Suzie’s baptism I was asked to bear my testimony.  I felt a very special bond with this beautiful new sister in the gospel.


With the support of the Priesthood leaders and the excitement from the Mission President and the young missionaries we hope this open house project will move forward and become a great missionary tool.

More Missionary work By Greg

I want to tell you about another friend named Richard.  He showed up here one Sunday and said he wanted to see what was here.  It turns out that he is a fantasitc piano player.  He came to our second open house and afterwards gave us a mini-concert.  Today he was made the James Town organist.  He is playing songs he has never heard before, but he is so touched by the gospel.  I spent the Priesthood meeting time giving him a private lesson on the Book of Mormon, the restoration, the law of chasity and priesthood authority.  I believe he too will be baptized.

Area Auditing-by Greg

This is our primary assignment.  Each unit is audited by local Stake or District auditors twice each year.  Stakes and Districts are joined together in Coordinating Councils and an Assistant Area Auditor is called to oversee the audits in that Council.  We are the assistants to the Area Auditor, Brother William Sowah.  We have 13 Assistant Area Auditors in 7 countries.  We have spent much of our time traveling and teaching and training them on their duties.  One of the purposes is so that they can train the Stake and Districts.  Two of them are French speakers.

Last audit cycle there were 611 units that needed to be audited.  In just 6 months that number has grown to 664.  They have created several new stakes from existing districts in that same period.  We achieved 100% submission last cycle, but it took a long time to get the last few in.  When we arrived the Mid-year 2012 cycle was underway, and on September 18th we had received only 47.3% of the audits.  Today, at the same point in the next cycle, March 18th, we are at 77.4%.  We are excited about this progress.  It reflects the training we have been doing.


These Assistant Area Auditors are all seasoned men in the Church.  They have amazing stories to tell.  A lot of them are pioneers in the Church in Africa.  We love them.

 This is me training one of our French speaking brethren in Cote dÍvorie on how to enter the audit results onto the computer.  My laptop was on the same screen as his, but mine was in English and his in French,


Humanitarian-water tank projects by Greg:

When we were new here we met the people with the Empower Playground and we were so impressed that we took a field trip to see a couple of their systems.  This is where we saw a crying need for water storage tanks at these same remote schools.  With the support of friends at home we have begun a program to install large poly tanks that will collect rain water for the use of the schools.  This is a wonderful project that does not take much of our time, but we are happy to participate in.



Piano lessons By Greg

 Debi has three sisters (they are Nina, LaDina, and Faustina--we call them the Nina Girls) that she is teaching piano lessons to on Tuesday afternoon.  We drive to their church building and use the church electric piano.  It is a challenge because some times there is not power.  The first time we did this we found one of the main keys, a middle G was broken.  This made it hard to play. I determined to fix it, so I took the thing apart and found the plastic key was really broken.  I took one from the high G and traded them.  At first they said, "Now the high G is broken too!"  But the middle G is OK.  If I had some tools and a few screws and some other stuff, I would go all through the building and fix all the little things, like the doors to the sacrament table, that are broken and falling apart.  These people do not focus on maintenance.


Genealogy and family history by Greg

The Church has recently introduced a newer version of its family search efforts called Family Tree.  I have been working on this in my spare time.  There are so many duplications and repetitions that need to be consolidated and merged or deleted.  I am not sure how much genealogy and family history I have really done.  I feel like I am auditing our family tree, but maybe my efforts will benefit others who will not have to wade through this and wonder which James and Isobel of the twelve listed is our ancestor.


In the process, we have identified several real life (actually they are dead) people who need temple work done.  We are sending these names home so that James and Brynn and Parley (our oldest grandchildren) can go to the St. George Temple and do this work.


Temple Work by Debi

We try to attend the temple at least once a week.  I have been going again in the middle of the week.  I am ususally the only white woman (and the only white person) in the session.  It is a wonderful opportunity to go to the House of the Lord. We also participate in a weekly sealing session that is conducted by a member of the Area Presidency.

MSR assignments by Greg

You can imagine the challenge of recording and updating membership records when families do not have accurate information and no one has an address.  Often one member of the household (which could include a lot of people-some of which are actually related) joins the church.  Later another one joins.  Now the challenge is to link them together.  They have asked Debi to help in the effort in her "spare time".  So she is doing for the living what I am doing for the dead--cleaning up records.  She has the hard job, however, because of the names and dates.  Family members do not have the same names and most of the time the dates are estimates.

Specific assignments by Greg

With so much of the efforts of the Church directed to supporting the increase in the missionary force (some say it could grow to 90,000-there are 3 new missions in our area that will begin in July) some of the other departments have been cut back or restricted from growing.  I have been asked to consult on some issues that are a concern to the brethren.  I am happy to do what I can.


Locating meeting houses by Greg

When we first arrived we felt totally lost.  We set out to locate and map all the buildings in Ghana and prepare a card with a picture of the building, GPS coordinates and directions.  On the back we posted a map.  We have laminated these directions and offer them to all who wish to have copies.  We have not finished this project.  We have 2 of the 6 Stakes in Accra and some of the outlying areas to finish.  We hope to complete this project soon.


In addition to all of this, we spend a considerable amount of time praying, reading our scriptures and in meetings.

This is me with the Elders from the Benin Cotonou Mission that we met a couple of weeks ago.  I am the one with the white hair!

We are missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!  We are happy to be engaged in furthering the work of the Lord in West Africa.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Hotter than the 4th of July

Hotter than the 4th of July-Ghana Independence Day 2013


By Debi:


We all love the 4th of July but in Ghana they all love the 6th of March.  This is the date that Ghana received their independence from England.  It is a very important holiday for Ghana.  Just like the 4th of July in the United States, this holiday is always celebrated on the exact date of March 6th. 



The Church Office Building was closed for the holiday so Greg and I decided on our morning walk that we would walk to the Black Star Square (or Independence Square) to see what was happening.  To our amazement we experienced one of the most interesting events that we have seen since here in Africa.


All of the branches of the Military were represented in their full dress uniforms.  School children from various schools were there in their school uniforms ready to march for the President of Ghana. 


Greg and I always love a good parade.  The parade was to begin at 8:00 am so we decided to stay and watch.  First all of the soldiers marched into the square.  As they marched they would swing their arm up to shoulder height and the other arm held a gun.  There were several units with just women.  They were very sharp in their uniforms and held their guns with authority.  To contrast the day we took pictures of Muslim women walking in the crowds.



Here is a video we took of the march.  It is a bit shaky, sorry for that.  At the ended the people with the white long sleeved shirts are the students.  They were amazing.  We enjoyed watching them turn the corners.  The band played the entire time, but the sound you hear is what was going on around us.  We hope this comes through for you.


To lead the parade the military marching band came first onto the square.  They were a full band and played with strength.  The band played and marched for almost 3 hours.  That in and of itself was amazing but they were also a very good band.  Their drum majors were very colorful and full of energy.  They had 4 drum majors and every so often we would see their batons thrown into the air very high, spinning as they flew, and back into the drum major’s hands. 


When all of the military branches and school children where in their places, out in the square, a tribal chief came into view.  A full entourage followed him with the huge umbrella and body guards that you would expect to see in days gone by.



While we were waiting for the President to arrive in the square Greg and I noticed a first aid station on the edge of the square.  They had big shades and blankets rolled out on the ground.  I mentioned to Greg that I wondered what they were for.  Well it didn’t take to long for us to find out.  People standing at attention out in the hot sun on asphalt with hot uniforms are a formula for disaster.  After the first 45 minutes of the parade, people started to drop.  I thought it would only be the young students but even the soldiers started to go.  All of a sudden I saw a soldier just fall over.  The first aid people ran out as fast as they could and put him or her on a stretcher and run back to the first aid station putting them on the blanket on the ground.  They gave them water and let them rest.  Pretty soon some of the students started to pass out.  At first it was kind of interesting to watch all of the action but pretty soon my mother instincts kicked in and I started to worry about the children.  I couldn’t believe they were going to stand out there as long as the adult soldiers.  But after all of the full events of the morning of 3 hours the students did stand as long as the trained soldiers.



The stadium was packed with cheering citizens of Ghana. They love their country and they are proud of what they have been able to accomplish since they achieved their independence.  The one thing that I am so impressed with the people here in Ghana is their patriotism and their desire for peace and unity.  They love their country, their heritage, and they love God without any shame!  We all can take a lesson from the people of Ghana.




By Greg:


We had a tragedy this week that really shook us up.  The roads here are so narrow and they all have cement drain ditches (about 1-2 feet deep) along each side.  Thus there is no place for pedestrians to walk.  In fact, there is barely room for two vehicles to pass.  We were driving slowly and a car came toward us just as we passed a man walking toward us on our side of the street.  I thought I was OK but then there was a loud bang!  I looked and saw that our right mirror was knocked back into the closed position.  I realized then that we had hit the man with our mirror.  I stopped and looked back and I saw that he was hurt.


The man came up to Debi and was holding his arm and side.  He said he needed us to take him to the hospital.  We have been told to avoid that as we would then be responsible for his medical bills, his food, and the money he missed from work, his family and friends support and on and on.  I told him to take a taxi and gave him some money.  He said he needed money for the hospital.  I gave him 10 GHC for the taxi and 50 GHC for the hospital (about $30 USD).  His injuries were not life threatening and I am not sure it was my fault, but we were glad that he went away.  Except for the fact that he appeared to have a broken arm, we might have thought it was a sham.  They do that here.


When we got to the office we filed a report and took a few minutes to unwind.  This was a bit of a different experience that I do not want to repeat. One of my primary goals in my life is to get through this life without killing anyone.  I still am hoping to do this.


Now back to the parade.


We were amazed that all of the soldiers had guns. The women had gun.  The men had guns.  We were glad that the students did not, however.  I asked one of the soldiers if they had bullets.  He said, “Yes we have some.” They were so casual with these weapons of mass destruction (some people have said that the AK47 is the real WMD in the world).  Several times a gun would fall on the ground and the solider would just pick it up.  I fully expected it to start rattling off and killing all of us peace loving observers.


It is hard to have tight security when everyone has a weapon, but I guess that is the security.  Some of the older men had older weapons.  This man had a cool sword.



When the president came in he was escorted by a mounted guard.  These were on fine Arabian horses with banners.  Of course, the president was in a black car, as were all the other important people.  He came after the field was full of marchers and soldiers.


We were here at this arch about six months ago on Founder’s Day.  Behind the arched stadium stand is the ocean.  At the other end of the square is the Black Star Triumphal Arch.  All through the program General-looking men stood at attention and watched the activity.  They had a good view but I bet they were hot.  We did not see any of them drop.  We were on the stadium seating that lines both sides.  We had a canopy over us so we were not in the hot sun the entire time.


I think Ghana lost more men to heat stroke this day than they did in the last war.


They brought out all their hardware as well. They had fire trucks, army vehicles, missile launchers, cannons, assault vehicles and police vehicles.


The President inspected the troops.  He had these two really cool vehicles.  At first they looked like regular SUVs.  Then, of a sudden, the back opened up and the top retracted and steps appeared and he and his generals and his security detail walked up the steps and stood in the back of the vehicles as they went up and down the rows of soldiers and students.  As he came to the end he would wave at the crowd.  He is very popular.  I think he waved at Debi!  She did stand out it the crowd.



He also lit the “eternal flame” that I had a hard time getting a good picture of because the fire truck was in the way.  So it looks like the flame is being put out by the firemen.  We smiled to each other that the eternal flame is supposed to burn all of the time, but they are having a gas shortage as we speak.  The entire country is out of natural gas.  There is no hot water on Temple Square because there is no gas for the boilers.  Perhaps it was all used on the eternal flame.


Like our parades and rodeos, there were lots of hawkers selling everything from boiled eggs, rice and fish, kabobs of stuff, and candy to drinks of all shorts (we did not see alcohol drinks however) and flags and toys.  It was a fun day.  We walked home afterwards and was it hot!


So we have one more thing to report.  Next week we will write of our recent missionary experiences lest anyone doubt that we are really missionaries.  In fact, our new friend whose name is Sunday, and is from Nigeria, was baptized today.  We will say more next week.