Sunday, April 28, 2013

Concerts and Wood carvers

By Debi:

I have had an experience this week that not everyone will experience in life. I turned 60 years old Thursday in Africa.  It was an amazing day.  I received cards and letters from all of my children and grandchildren. And to top off the day my daughter, Stalee, gave birth to a beautiful baby boy.

I will now have someone special to share my birthday.  I will never forget my 60th birthday!

BYU-Idaho Collegiate Choir
 The BYU Idaho Collegiate Choir has been in Ghana for the last two weeks.  They have been planning this concert tour for about a year.  They have traveled to several cities and performed for people all over Ghana. 

Their last two concerts were here in Accra.  They performed Thursday evening at the Stake Center by the Temple. And Friday night they performed with two other choirs at the National Theater.

BYU Idaho has a program in several countries called “BYU Idaho Pathways”. It is a program to help the local students to prepare themselves to enter the BYU Idaho on-line college program.

The Choir came here to promote the Pathway program and to increase public awareness and good will for the Church. The interesting thing is that the two African choirs sang LDS Hymns and the BYU Idaho Choir sang several African songs. The choirs also sang a few numbers together.  A couple of the numbers have been posted on YouTube if you want to check them out.  You can see them by searching BYU-Idaho Collegiate Choir Ghana or Winneba Youth Choir-The Morning Breaks.  The Winneba Youth Choir sang the Hymn “The Morning Breaks” as well as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  It was awesome. (We did not post these on YouTube, someone else did.  And the recordings do not do them justice.  But it is fun to look at and know that we were there.)
We met a group of young men that were off on a hunt for "bush meat".  We asked him what he was trapping and he said frogs.  There were about 5-6 and they all had their own trap.  I snapped this picture from the back seat of the car, but you can see the boy and the trap.

As Garrison Keillor would say, “It has been a quiet week here in Africa but not at our home town of Hooper where the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average” especially our daughter Stalee and our new grandson Heber.


By Greg:

I want to say more about the wood carvers today.  Now I have talked about them in the past, and shown some of the items we have purchased for souvenirs, and I think we have just about enough, but I am intrigued by these men.  They can take a hunk of wood and turn it into some amazing things.  I want to show the village elders again.  This is quite a sight and a good display for our new friend, Aaron.  As a group we are becoming his best customers.  The Area Presidency purchased several elephants from him this week to give as gifts, and a lot of couples have also supported him.  I have challenged him to carve me an Angel Moroni.  I have invited him to come to temple square and look at the angel on the temple and get a pattern.  Of course, he cannot get too close.  But I think if he does the first one, others will want one and then he will need to read more about the real Moroni, in order to carve him better, and then he might read the rest of the book.  We’ll see how this goes.

He has carved this magnificent steamer-sized trunk. It would be a beautiful piece of furniture.  I really want it, but there are a couple of big issues for me.  First he wants 2,500 GHC (about $1,300 USD) and second it is very heavy and big and I don’t know how I would get it home.  The shipping cost would be a lot.  Anyway, I have been trying to help him sell it because I think it is so cool.  It is made out of one big huge log.  He cut off the lid and hollowed out the chest and then carved it.  It is a special wood that is sacred here in Africa and is often used for incense, and the markings are special.  This is why he wants me to buy it, because he thinks we are special and would treasure it.  We would.

At the National Theater I saw this huge carving.  It is rather bizarre.  I think it is a slave ship, as there are people “below the decks” lying in cramped quarters and there are huge chains.  It is massive and very interesting. 

We have had several days of utility issues this week.  We lost all our water one day when the water pump went out.  The fire department brought us water in their tanker truck, which was very welcomed.  Then we lost power on Friday.  The community system went down (it goes down almost every day for a little while).  We have a huge backup generator but this time it failed.  We were in the Temple when it went down.  I had 11 names that I was doing initiatory work for and I had done 3, but the men had to stop as it was very dark. Debi and the sisters just got flashlights and kept right on going.  So I went back to our apartment.  All the power for the entire complex was gone.  With no power we also lost water as it needs to be pumped.  We have bottled drinking water, but that was it.

The ancillary building was full of guests from Takoradi.  With no water or power they could not go to the temple, wash themselves or their clothes, cook their food, or anything (like flush toilets).  They all went outside and just mulled around. Of course the air conditioning did not work either.

I broke out the suckers and at first said they were just for the children.  The women got on their knees and said, “We are children!” Then the men claimed they were still deacons, so I gave in and gave them all a sucker.

I used the last of my balls to give them something to do.  I demonstrated juggling and then gave the balls to some of the youth.  I told them to share, but do you think I could get that concept across?  Those who received the balls assumed that I gave them to THEM.  These are wonderful people but they are not good at sharing.  They are good at taking from each other, however, and I imagine the balls have changed hands several times.

When I came up the stairs to go to our apartment, and it was in the dark, I found several children hiding on the stairs in the corners.  I think they were playing, but they were totally unseen and unrecognizable.  My phone has a flashlight app and when I turned it on I discovered I had started a new game of “find the African children in the dark!” If they don’t smile, you can’t find them without a light.  It was pretty funny and fun.  I wonder what these children think of me.  They have a word for us, abrouni, which means “White Man”.  And boy, are we white!

We are excited that there are several of our open house guests that are going to be baptized in the next few weeks.  We have two ladies, and their children, and maybe a man or two.  This is wonderful.  We have a poster that we use and Wednesday one of the Path-way students, who was there practicing their dance, came up and said, “That is me” pointing to one of the pictures.  She was a young girl in the picture and now is a beautiful young adult.  We know her father, who is also in the picture. 
We had a baptism today.  The girl in the middle in the pink was baptized.  She is 15.  The boy in the tie is a future missionary after he is baptized and grows up.  His name is James.  We have a new friend that was here with his daughter.  Brother Greer and his daughter are from Alpine, Utah. She is on the left.  He gave James his tie and James was so proud to display it.  The other girls are from the Jamestown Branch.

We met one of our young adult friends from Ofankor at the concert and he announced that he is engaged. We are so happy for him.  He is a returned missionary and a fine young man.  We hope to go to the temple with him when he gets married.

Not only is the Church true, but it is real.  It is such a big part in these people’s life, and it is also a force for change in their lives, as well as the lives of those around them.  I am sure it can change the world.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

April 20, 2013

By Greg:

This is a modern apartment-note the sign says: To let, not Toilet.
West Africa is a place of contrasts.  All over Accra there are modern buildings like this one and right across the street is a vacant lot that looks like the picture below, which is right across the street.  People want to improve, and try to keep clean, but it is a struggle.  Every morning we see women sweeping.  Others clean out the ditches. But the problem is that they just pile it up so that when it rains it washes right back into the ditch.  But we really think that they are making progress.  In the 7 1/2 months that we have been here, we can detect progress.  We wonder what it will be like in 10, or 20 years!

They really need Waste Management to open a branch here

If everyone would sweep their own front yard, the entire world would be clean!

Now I do not want to alarm anyone, and I would not even bring this up if my mother were still alive, but I have been having some weird skin issues. It seemed that something was happening to me that I had no control over.  I have always had complexion issues, but this was different.  A lot of people asked me if I was OK, but a lot more just wondered.  Finally we took a picture and sent it to my wonderful son-in-law, Greg Jacobsen, who is a dermatologist in St. George.  In my email I asked him if he could help me cure my "leprosy".  Well he wrote me out a detailed treatment plan and we took that to the pharmacy.  Here in Africa you do not need a prescription to buy medicine.  When the Pharmacist looked at the treatment plan to see if he had the medication, he looked at the word "leprosy" in the email that Greg responded to and in shock said, "We do not have a treatment for leprosy".  Well, it is funny now, but we assured him that it was not leprosy, but a staph infection.  We got the medication and I have followed the plan and I am happy to report that I am on the road to recovery.  Sorry, I know this is pretty gross, but as all of you love and care about us, this is just one of the many things we are dealing with here.

A few of our fellow missionaries have had malaria.  We have not, and we take great care and hope that we will not get this sickness.  Even so, we have no guarantees.   In every grave yard there are old graves of Christian missionaries who died of malaria (and other diseases).  All of those pioneers knew they were risking their lives coming to Africa.  All just bought a one way ticket.  We take medicine everyday and we also are careful when out in the early morning and evenings.  So far we are just fine.  We also take precautions with our fruits and vegetables. 

In the MTC, they teach the young missionaries how to install a mosquito net around their beds.  They also give each new missionary a pillow that they take with them throughout their mission.  When we see missionaries on transfer day they all are carrying a pillow.  You can buy anything you need on the street.  Here is a man selling pillows, just in case the one they got at the MTC needs to be replaced.

This weekend we visited a serious wood carver that we met a couple of weeks ago.  He has carved some really cool things.  One of them is a life sized group of village elders.  Well, I am an elder too!

I gave them the first discussion about Joseph Smith.  They all agreed to be baptized.


Debi saw these giraffes that she just had to have.  There were two sets,  One was big and one was little.  So we bought both of them.

They are now on display with our boat, and elephants and our other carvings. A few weeks ago,  I found this cool set of Noah's ark that I loved.  All of these are carved by men and sold for really reasonable prices.

By Debi:

I am about to have my first birthday in Africa.  When I saw the two giraffes at the wood carver's shop I thought they would be a wonderful birthday present.  Greg was very sweet to buy them for me.  I have been looking for some giraffes since we got here but I just couldn't find the ones that I liked.  As soon as I saw these two I knew they were the right ones!  I am so excited to bring them back to Hooper.

I also want to mention that real men wear aprons.  Greg is a real man and here is a picture of him with his new apron!  Thanks Judi for sending it to him.

A few weeks ago we were privileged to watch General Conference live on the Internet at our Area Offices.  Our wonderful Area President, Elder Dickson, spoke in the Saturday afternoon session.  We took a picture of all of the missionary couples that we serve with here in Accra right after that session.  It is quite a group and they are all wonderful missionaries.  Greg's hair is not as white as this picture seems, but it is getting pretty close.  But we are not complaining because he has more hair than most of the other elders! 

We have mentioned about our open house that we have started a few weeks ago.  We are excited to announce that we now have a banner out by the main road on the fence.  We also have a sign up on the Stake Center reminding the members that they can bring their friends on Wednesday evening to see the Church and the Temple grounds and we also show a movie about the Restoration.
Even though the numbers have been small up until now, we feel like it is a great success.  We have had visitors every week and they are very impressed with what they see and feel.  I took a women on a tour of the Church last week and she was so touched.  After we saw the baptismal font and I bore my testimony of the importance of baptism by the right authority and by immersion she asked to be baptized.  The young missionaries set up an appointment with her and are teaching her this week.

The worth of a soul is great in the sight of the Lord and in my sight.  I would stand there at the Stake center every week for my whole mission if it helped one person find the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

An Easter Excursion

By Debi:


The Monday after Easter is a national holiday in Ghana.  The Church offices were closed for the day. Because of the holiday we took a little outing with the other Missionary Couples.  We decided to drive to the Volta Dam and reservoir. There are three rivers coming into the Volta Lake. Ghana is very proud of this modern day accomplishment.  The lake is the largest man-made lake in the world.

On the way we drove past some small hills and valleys.  This hill had two very large boulders at the top.  They look like they were placed there but they are natural. 

Also on the way there is an animal preserve for baboons.  We saw some baboons right along the side of the road.  You have to look closely in the grass.  Some were eating man made food that people threw out on the wayside.  It reminded me of the bears in Yellowstone Park.

I was not prepared for the absolute beauty of the lake.  It was so green all around the lake and the water looked fresh and clean.  We even saw a few small fishing boats on the lake and on the river below the dam.  They are fishing for tilapia.  Tilapia is a real popular fish here in Ghana.

After our visit to the reservoir we went to the Volta Hotel and had lunch.  They had a beautiful view of the lake. Also, the grounds around the Hotel were so lush and beautiful.  I love the flowering bushes here.  They are a lot like the bushes in Hawaii.


As you can see, Greg and I are happy, healthy and doing great.  We are happy to be here in Ghana and we are happy to be on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.


By Greg

One of the first things the new President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, did when Ghana became an independent country was to put into action a plan that had been developed years earlier to build the Akosombo Dam which created the Volta Lake.  As Debi said, it is the largest man-made lake in the world (in land area it is 3,283 square miles and covers 3.6% of Ghana).

The dam was a joint venture of a subsidiary of Kaiser Aluminum and an aluminum smelter was built in Tema.  The power plant supplies the electricity to run the smelter.  Ghana took out a loan to pay back the $258 million it took to build the dam, which is now 55 years old.  The government of Ghana is on the hook to pay back 50% of the loan but they only get 20% of the electricity.  The rest goes to Kaiser.  But they have enough power to sell to Togo and Benin.

The President built him a house on the hill overlooking the dam, and the current president flies into that home when he needs to look at the dam and the lake.  It is very lovely, but needs to be watched.  Their Dam authority also built a Dam Hotel where Dam people can stay when they want to watch the Dam and the Dam water.  We ate a nice lunch as we watched the Dam water.

In 2007 there was a great concern because the water level dropped due to a drought, which was caused, of course, by Global Warming.  There was much concern and anxiety.  Oh what should they do?  But, by 2010 the water rose to its highest level and there was concern it was going over the top.  That Global Warming thing is so fickle!

Here is a better picture of the monkey, or baboon.  Debi did not want this one on her section.

We had a great time watching General Conference.  I am sure anyone that watched it noticed there were several references to West Africa.  I did a little analysis of the statistical report and I found that over 33% of the new wards and branches created in 2012 in the entire church were created here in West Africa.  Now keep in mind if a branch becomes a ward it is not considered new.  But a ward or branch splitting, or just plain starting a new one, is counted.  We are growing here, and the growth is real and lasting.

President John B. Dixon, our Area President spoke in Conference in the Saturday afternoon session.  He is such a wonderful, kind man, and has been a general authority for over 25 years.  He is just about finished as he has turned 70.  We love him and will miss him if he is released.

We also were hoping they would announce a new temple here in West Africa.  We were hoping for Ivory Coast, or Corte d’Ivorie.  This would have been a French speaking temple.  Every week a bus load of Ivoirians come here to this temple and spend the week with us at the ancillary building.  It is a combination of a youth conference and a temple trip.  They get up at 5:00 am for a prayer meeting, even though the temple does not open until 8:30.  They cook their own food and the smells travel throughout the building.  They also have use of the laundry and the children enjoy running around waiting and looking for the big white elder who has suckers.

Debi spent much effort making laminated signs with the rules on them and pasted them on all the doors.  She had two of the other Senior Elders translate it into French.  It says a lot, but mainly that there are quiet hours from 10:00 pm to 6:00 am.  We turn on a fan and we both use earplugs.

They are so faithful, but this is hard for them.  They travel for 14-16 hours on a bus (assuming it does not break down) and then they attend the temple non-stop.  The temple is air-conditioned and they darken it during a session so many of them fall asleep.  When they do fall asleep, and especially when they snore one of their fellows is quick to wake them.  I am sure they do not want to leave the temple for reasons other than their personal comfort. 

We attend every Friday and many times have to wear headsets as the session is in French.  A couple of times I have gone it alone and I felt like I could understand French.  Often the person I am going for is from Corte d’Ivorie so French is their native tongue.  I wonder how that works.  When we die can we all speak every language, or do we all change to a common one, or is there still a language issue?  French is a major language in Africa.  So boys and girls, study French!

Elder John B. Dickson 
First Quorum of the Seventy

Elder John B. Dickson was called to serve as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April of 1995 after serving in the Second Quorum of the Seventy since June of 1992. As a Church leader, he serves as the president of the Africa West Area. Previously he served as an Executive Director of the Audiovisual Department, assistant Executive Director in the Priesthood and Missionary Departments, and president of the South America South, North America West, and Asia Areas of the Church.

Elder Dickson served a mission in Mexico as a young man and returned as a mission president in the Mexico City North Mission in 1978. At the time of his call to full-time Church service, he was vice-president and partner of Summit Timber Company, an independent sawmill and timber operation in Washington State. He is former president of Northwest Independent Forest Manufacturers, a timber company association. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Brigham Young University.

Elder Dickson was born in Tacoma, Washington, on July 12, 1943. He is married to Delores Jones Dickson, and they are the parents of seven daughters and one son. They have 38 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.