templeamankwa.jpgI have received further news via email from the West Africa Ghana Mission, Elder and Sister Moncur. Their fascinating email and new photographs are posted below. (The photos follow the email). You’ll read all about the “green bowl”, get an update on the orphan Phillip, and incredible front line accounts from the Ghana Mission field.  Also, if anyone knows about the documentary PBS is doing on the Church in Africa that Paul mentions in his email, please leave a comment with any information you might have. Note that you can view all these photos and other West Africa Ghana Mission photos at my flickr account here and here. If you click on the flikr photos you can enlarge them to their full size for printing if you want. Prior mission posts on this mission are here, here, and here. The email begins below the page break:

Dear family and friends,

First, a brief explaination. I hope the origin of our emails isn’t too
confusing. My emails are now being prepared on Bibi’s computer since
mine stopped working. I guess the 220 volts here were just too much
for it. While typing, I could feel minor electrical shocks where my
wrists made contact with the frame. Previously Bibi’s emails would say
from Paul Moncur, since she was using my computer. Now, if I
understand it correctly, mine will say from Bibi Moncur, since I知
using hers. I think the last one I sent said it was from Sister Lewis,
since I was using her computer. Since I didn’t add a subject, this
might have been perceived as junk mail. I will try to make it clear
who our emails are from. Anyway, I hope my emails and pictures somehow
get through the cyber maze to their intended destinations.

We are still learning the various protocols in Ghana. There is much to
learn. Most days we encounter a police check point where vehicles are
pulled over for some reason or other. Four to five officers stand in
the street, and one makes a motion with his hand that is never quite
clear. As it seems different everytime, I’m never sure if it means
stop or keep going, so I keep going unless by doing so, his motions
become agitated, then I stop. Since no one has chased after me yet, I
must be interpreting it correctly.

The other day I was driving through Nkawkaw on a very narrow crowded
street. As I was inching forward, trying to avoid pedestrians, who are
everywhere, a woman suddenly ran in front of my truck and I came within
inches of hitting her. When she slammed her hands on the hood I
thought I had hit her. Fortunately I did not.

Hitting someone in Ghana can have dire consequences for both the hitee
and the hitter. I recently read a graphic (newspaper) article about a
woman who was knocked down by a car. A crowd quickly surrounded the
driver and began to administer street justice. Because of the lack of
police services, street justice is a real possibility. Due process is
but a vague notion on the streets.

If you hit and injure someone, custom dictates that you put them in
your car and take them to a hospital and pay for the charges. Since
the average Ghanian is extremely poor, this isn’t likely to happen if
you are the injured party.

A few days ago a taxi rear ended me. This was a minor collision but it
generated much excitement. Immediately we were surrounded by a crowd
who had intense interest in the matter. Since there really is no
remedy in these situations, and damage to the truck was extremely minor
(small scratches–the taxi sustained greater damage) we went on our
way.

I am constantly amazed at how many times we must dart off the road to
avoid head on collisions. Cars, trucks, and buses, routinely pass each
other on the two lane road to and from Nkawkaw, on blind curves, or
while approaching the crest of hills where you can not see what’s
coming in the opposite direction. Almost every day we see another
wrecked car, tro tro, or truck at the side of the road, some of which
stay there for weeks or longer since there is no system for removing
them. The don’t use flares here. When trucks breakdown they pull up
weeds from the side of the road and arrange them in a pattern that
directs cars away from the disabled vehicle.

Ghanians like to shake hands, with an unusual twist. You grasp hands
just like in the U.S., but as you let go, middle fingers touch so that
they snap together, making a snapping sound as the grip is release. It
is considered an additional act of friendship. I’ve become quite good
at this and can generate quite a loud snap. The problem is, it twists
my finger in such a way as to make it sore. The price of friendship!

Men “snap” more than women. They will frequently shake hands with you
three or four times during an encounter. In a group they shake hands
from left to right. It is also customary to wave at each other only
with the right hand.

Some of you have asked about Philip, the little boy in our branch whose
mother died. Philip was the only person in his family who was a member
of the church. He loved the church and always asked if he could go
proselyting with us whenever he saw us. During meetings he would
frequently come up to us and tell us someone was sick and needed a
blessing. We recently heard that he is living in Kamasi with his
uncle, about 200 kilometers north of Nkawkaw. I will miss him.

Nkawkaw (pronounced N-co-co as in “cocoa”) is a population center. I
would estimate about 25,000 people live there. It has no stop lights
or signs. At the intersections it’s every man for himself. It’s
small, very crowded business center is flanked by residential areas
mostly accessible by unmaintained dirt roads. The farther away you get
from the main road it becomes more remote until it becomes total
wilderness.

It’s a busy place and lots of people and traffic go through it. One of
the main roads in Ghana passes through its center. The part that goes
through town has pothole after pothole after pothole. One was so
large, the wheel of a large truck actually got stuck in it and blocked
traffic for hours. There are no tow trucks so when trucks breakdown
they just sit in the road until they are fixed and can continue.

Nkawkaw is between two big cities: Accra and Kamasi. Accra, where the
mission home is, is the capital of Ghana. Kamasi, north of Nkawkaw, is
like a regional capital. The church does not extend past Kamasi.
Living in the far northern part of Ghana is quite primitive. There are
no services available there.

You don’t see American type toys here at all. One toy I do see quite
often is a long stick at the bottom of which two skate sized wheels are
attached that make contact with the ground. Small boys hold the
non-wheeled end and push these home made contraptions all over the
place. I guess it’s their version of a toy car.

I finally met the town madman up close and personal. He stands in
street most days and threatens cars with a large rock. Sometimes he
opens car doors and attempts to pull people out. He doesn’t wear much
clothing. We have seen him on many occasions but managed to avoid him.

Sometimes you can’t because he’s on the one road through town. Today
he walked up to me, softball sized rock in hand, and started yelling.
He was in a state of high agitation. I’m not sure what he said but I
didn’t stick around to find out.

When we went back to the car later there he was again. This time he
approached the car and started yelling, rock in hand. Next I heard
something hitting against the car and assumed it was the rock. Rather
than confront him and his rock I drove off. A later inspection
revealed no damage to the truck. He must have been hitting it with his
hand.

We have been looking for a new house closer to Nkawkaw. Our present
location, Anyinam, is quite far away and involves almost a two hour
commute each day (round trip). The house we are looking at is quite
nice and is situated in a more village setting than our present
location. There are no paved roads leading directly to it, so access in
the rain might be a problem. It is much newer and more modern than
our present house, and has some nice features. Since it may or may not
be available, we don’t know if we’ll be moving. More about this later.

We met a German man named Gert, who owns the Rojo hotel where the
baptisms are held. As previously reported bathrooms are in short
supply in Nkawkaw. Gert gave us permission to use the hotel restroom
whenever we want. Mission life just got a lot better.

Recently we had a special treat. We asked Gert where the best
restaurant in Nkawkaw was and without hesitation he said “My hotel.”
We took his word for this and he was right; dinner was delicious and
the entire bill for two was $12.00. I had meat balls, carrots, and
mashed potatoes with a brown sauce. Mom had chicken and rice. We ate
outside by the pool and it felt like we were on a regular date in the
U.S.

Power in the country is systematically shut off every third day due to
the low water level in the lake where electricity is generated. The
lake was created by a damn which I’m told is the largest man made
reservoir in the world. Unfortunately it is shrinking.

Apparently there are serious lake issues that are causing the water
level to drop, hence the cut backs. In a strange way this is an
improvement. Instead of sporadic black outs now we have scheduled ones
which makes things more predictable. Unfortunately we still have the
sporadic ones too which are totally unpredictable and may last for
days.

The lake is dangerous to boaters. Just prior to our mission I read
about a ferry that hit a submerged tree and sunk. Fifty people
drowned. Many more were stranded on a small island for a days.
Apparently there are sunken trees everywhere that pose a significant
hazard to boats.

Nkawkaw is classified as an independent church branch which means it
operates under the jurisdiction of the mission. Arrangements are
underway for it to be assigned to a district, which means there would
be a district president and high council.

Our attempts to rent a building for the branch failed. The owner, a
bank, wanted to rent to a commercial entity, not a church. To rent a
building, house, or room here requires two years rent in advance. That
makes it expensive to get into a place. We are still looking for
another place but building rentals are extremely scarce.

Most of our branch members live in compounds divided into small rooms
with a central courtyard in the middle where laundry and cooking take
place. A few members have larger living areas, and one has an entire
house. Some have electricity and some do not. Typically a family will
occupy one small room that is divided in half by a curtain. On one
side is the living area, consisting of a couch, and whatever other
furniture they have. On the other side is the sleeping area, with
barely room for a bed and not much more. Cooking is done outside on
small charcoal stoves similar to very small barbecues.

Bathroom facilities, if they exist, are outside. In the villages they
consist of a two compartment enclosure, one for men and one for women,
some with roofs, some without. They serve the entire village.

Water is drawn from wells, or in some cases a community hand pump if
they are fortunate enough to have one. We’ll see a small crowd of
people, mostly young boys, vigorously working the hand pump filling up
plastic buckets with water. Life here is pretty basic here but it
works just fine and does not depend on gas or electricity.

Diets are quite limited and consist mainly of four things: Plantain,
cassava, yams, and banku (a soupy dish made from corn), supplemented by
fruits and vegetables that are grown on family farms. Fresh milk does
not exist here. When meat is available it is chicken or fish. The
chicken is bought live and then killed and prepared for eating.

The chickens are everywhere. I don’t know how they keep track of them
since they wander all over the place, and all look alike to me.
Occasional you see ones that are spray painted pink, no doubt so the
owner can recognize them. I don’t know how this affects its standing
in the chicken community, but they sure stand out in a crowd.

Fufu is the main dish. It is prepared by pounding the cassava root,
sometimes mixed with plantains in a large wooden bowl. This is a two
person job. One pounds the fufu with a large wooden pole, about six
feet in length, with a blunt end. As the pole is raised, the second
person turns the ingredients in the bowl exposing a new side to be
smashed with the pole. After much work it looks and feels like bread
dough. If they get out of sinc, the pole could hit the person’s hand
that is turning the fufu, which could easily break a bone. The process
requires concentration and complete synchronization. The pounding is
hard work and takes a long time. I’ve wondered if the process consumes
more calories than the end result yields. Ultimately the mixture
become soft, pliable, and eatable.

We have been working with branch members to prepare them for the
temple. On September 24th, five were issued recommends, and six others
were approved for advancement in the priesthood. When we came to the
branch only one person had a recommend. This number has increased to
eleven and others are in the process of qualifying.

We went up on the mountain to visit Clement Owusu. He and his family
are going to the temple on October 3rd. We will go with them. He
teaches at a presbyterian school attended by well over a thousand
students. When we went there we couldn’t find him so a boy was
dispatched to show us where he was.

At first I thought he was close by, but after we walked a half mile, I
knew otherwise. During our walk across an open field, without any
warning it suddenly started to pour. We ran for the nearest shelter
which was a small courtyard inside a small residential compound. As we
stepped into the courtyard, a man, who obviously lived there, came
forward and brought us a bench to sit on. He immediately returned to
his task of arranging buckets and barrels to catch the roof run off.

When the rain stopped we resumed our march. As we did so we passed
hundreds of children in uniform who attend or hang around the school.
They were grammar school age, but included two and three year olds who
were wandering around unattended or being carried by an older child.

Because they have never or rarely seen whites, whenever children see us
they are moved to great excitement. This occasion was no exception.
Within moments, I would estimate that at more than 300 children were
following us all chanting “Obrunie” (white man) in unison. They came
from all points of the compass. Their combined voices were just short
of deafening. I thought to myself, “What an adventure, this would
never happen at home.” We finally found Owusu and took another way
back to our truck, in order to avoid another mass reaction to our
presence.

About a month ago we were walking past a small store and I spotted a
large, pretty beat up green metal soap bowl with the inscription “Key
Soap – Trust Longest Lasting.” The bowl was filled with small packages
of sugar that were for sale. I thought the bowl would be a nice
memento of Ghana, so I offered to buy it. The store people found it
incredulous that I wanted to buy the bowl, and not the sugar, and no
doubt thought that perhaps I been in the sun too long (they may have
been right!). In any event my offer was not taken seriously.

Over a one month period whenever we walked by this store I would
express an interest in the bowl, and would be politely turned down.

Recently I was near the store, and walked by to say hello. By now the
people in the area had become familiar with me and seemed pleasantly
amused at my interest in the green bowl. As I approached the store the
employees (3 or 4) seemed excited and happy. Something was in the air.
A woman said the owner wanted to talk to me. The owner, smiling from
ear to ear, then emerged from behind the counter carrying, you guessed
it, the green bowl. I asked him how much he wanted for it and he said,
“No, no, it is a gift,” and handed it to me. He refused to take
payment. I thanked him wholeheartedly and then took a picture of us
standing in front of his store holding the bowl which is attached to
this email. If you look closely you can see the employees smiling in
the background. I will make a point of shopping here in the future.

We had a wild ride recently. I was taking the missionaries home from
zone conference. It was nighttime and visibility was extremely poor.
It was raining so hard you couldn’t tell where the road was or wasn’t,
or spot the pot holes. The truck was somewhat overloaded. Sister
Ennen was in the front on Mom’s lap, and four others were in a back
seat designed for three. We plowed through the mud and invisible pot
holes hoping we were on our side of the road. Lots of silent prayers
were answered in the truck that night.

Life goes on here. The power outages, daily tuna fish sandwiches,
absence of bathrooms, and our traffic adventures are tiresome but pale
by comparison to the blessings we receive. Our strengths and weaknesses
are tested everyday in ways that tend to convert weaknesses into
strengths. There’s a real front line feel to the work here. I’ve had
this feeling before, but never at such a level of consistency and
intensity. It is such a privilege to be part of work here. To work
with nineteen and twenty year old missionaries, who elsewhere might be
searching for meaning in life, but here are focused, dedicated, and
valiant in the service of our Lord. They continually strive to become
more and more effective in bringing all to Christ. Magnifying their
calling is always on their minds. We see the Lord’s hand in the
details of our mission over and over. Things that shouldn’t work out
do. Obstacles that should derail things don’t.

For example, recently the young men and women planned an activity at
the branch. They planned to watch the video “The Other Side of
Heaven,” and have some refreshments. When we arrived at the branch,
there were over 100 people already there for some type of apprentice
seamstress gathering. Since we don’t have exclusive use of the branch
site, it is frequently rented out to others without our knowledge.

The entire branch area was covered with tables and sewing machines.
Women were busily making dresses to demonstrate their sewing prowess.
Others were modeling the dresses they had just made to a crowd of
onlookers.

Due to this bustle of activity, the likelihood of our youth activity
seemed nil. I was ready to throw in the towel when unexpectedly, and
with great rapidity, the women packed up their gear and vacated the
premises. In much less time than it should have taken, the area became
the branch again and the youth had their activity.

Since this epistle is becoming quite long I’ll end here and send it
when we go to Accra in a few days to resupply, and to say good-bye to
Sister Waokonko, our favorite missionary who is going home to Nigeria.
She wants to come to the U.S., and we have offered her a place to live,
but it is doubtful that she can get visa. We are told by reliable
sources that immigration from Nigeria is extremely difficult, but God
willing, somehow she’ll make it. Her best hope is to enroll in a
university in Nigeria, a difficult process, and then complete a year of
studies. The next step would be to apply to a U.S. university, get
accepted, and then apply for a student visa. I hope that someday you
get to meet her.

PBS is filming a special on the church and some of it includes Ghana.
President Gay is being interviewed (about why he left Wall Street to go
on a mission) and we just learned that Sister Waokonko was also
interviewed! Look for this broadcast and be sure and tape it so I can
see it later.

Your prayers sustain us and your emails and letters buoy up our
spirits. For all of you who have helped us by sending much needed
supplies, I am extremely grateful. To those who are taking care of our
home I am thankful. Please be assured that you are all greatly missed
and appreciated.

I’m never sure if these emails actually make it to you so it would be
reassuring if you gave me some minor feedback. “Received on such and
such date” would be sufficient for this purpose.

We are looking forward to being with you again in about 13 months. May
God be with you till we meet again,

Elder Moncur

The most recent photos follow below. The fickr set will allow you to view the photos in their orginal larger sizes:

The daily commute to Nkawkaw. Are we there yet? (more pictures will be sent separately.)

We are enjoying an “FM” which stands for “free meal,” at a member’s house. We are eating Banku made from corn and dipped in pepper sauce and fish out of the little red can on the table. From left to right: Elder Lea Akron, zone leader, me, Michael, branch mission leader, and Elder Frei, from Idaho Falls. This member lives pretty deep in the jungle and it’s quite hard to get there.

View from the member’s house. Nothing short of spectacular! Getting there in the truck really tested my driving skills.

We just taught a new member lesson at the member’s house. On the wall to the right is a package of balloons. The little boy at the lower left peels off a number on the board and then gets to pick the balloon that corresponds with the number. He was very upset because the number he picked got him a small while balloon that he didn’t want. He could not be consoled.

Our memory wall where all the pictures and drawings from home are posted. Keep sending them–we still have more wall space! Visitors never fail to spend considerable time at this wall. We do too. Latest pictures are posted on the opposite wall.


Newest branch member. 1 week old. My hair has grown back.

The Amankaw’s at the temple. Now a forever family.

As I receive more updates from the Moncurs I will post them on this site. I hope you enjoy their updates. As Paul describes they are literally on the front lines. Our thoughts and prayers continue with them.