DSC02174
After such an ugly end to 2006, it is so refreshing and energizing to post and discuss something truly virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy I have received the most recent update from the West Africa Ghana mission, and was buoyed up after having the opportunity to read it and look at the photos Elder and Sister Moncur sent. Reading their emails and seeing the photos brings me a much needed reality check for those things which are truly needful and good.

Everytime I read one of these emails, I always think of King Benjamin’s discourse on service:

Behold, I say unto you that because I said unto you that I had spent my days in your service, I do not desire to boast, for I have only been in the service of God.

And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.

We are indeed blessed to live when we do, and where we do, after the Restoration of this Great Work. I am truly humbled.

Happy New Year everyone–May God’s blessings follow you throughout this new year.

Following is the email. The photos follow after that. You can double click on them, to see them in the original and full sizes

Dear family and friends,

A common expression in Ghana is “Safe Journey.” This especially applies if you’re driving. I don’t know how many fatalities there have been on our road to Nkawkaw since we arrived, and which we drive on everyday, but several dozen or more would not be an exaggeration. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Living in Ghana is just plain hazardous. As a branch member told me the other day, “Germs in Ghana are not harmful, they just kill you.”

“Safe Journey” is also the title of a book by Elder Glen L. Pace, that does a very good job describing the church and conditions in Ghana and West Africa. I highly recommend it.

The following quote from the book pretty much sums things up. “As I looked at the problems of Africa, I found they were legion. There are wars (none in our mission at present, but there was a civil war in Liberia just before we came that required an emergency evacuation of our missionaries), crime, corruption, disease, illiteracy, witchcraft, poor transportation, inadequate communication. poverty, unemployment, tribalism, multiple languages, and many other seemingly impossible impediments to the work.”

He then asks the question: “Could the gospel of Jesus Christ survive in that kind of environment?” As our experience indicates thus far, not only does it survive, but it thrives.

There are parts of Accra (the capital of Ghana) that are taking on the appearance of a more modern culture, but the villages remain pretty much the same as they’ve been for centuries.

It is not my intention to belittle the country, just to convey my observations about conditions here. Every village and town still has a chief who yields great influence. Drums still call the students to school where we live. Electricity is still absent in many villages and sporadic in the rest. Phone service in the villages is at best uncertain, at worst unavailable. People still carry water from the rivers in buckets on their heads. Industry (and work) is still absent in the villages, and barely present in the larger towns like Nkawkaw where we serve. Aside from the basics, there is a shortage of goods most everywhere you go. If you find something you need, you better buy it now because you may never see it again.

Adequate schooling for the masses just doesn’t exist. Those seeking better education for their children must send them away to school which undermines family unity and is an expense few can afford. Corruption is widespread and just part of life here. The police receive bribes openly. We see it almost everyday as overloaded trucks, taxis and tro tros are stopped, bribes are paid, and off they go with hardly a delay. If you need police assistance at home, you must go to the station, pick up the officer and take him to your house.

Disease is a constant reality and many walk around very sick because they can’t afford the price of medicine. Most who have jobs, do not receive wages that cover living expenses. Begging is widespread, and everywhere. In Accra there are many who have severe physical deformities who sit in the street in busy traffic lanes asking for donations. Some with withered or twisted legs somehow scoot around on their hands over the rough asphalt moving from car to car. The more fortunate use wheelchairs to reach passing vehicles. It is a wonder they don’t get run over, and no doubt some probably do.

The street merchants (hawkers) race each other from car to car trying to get there first to present their wares. They ignore a “no” answer and unceasingly try to pressure you into buying something. I’ve seen them run alongside cars for blocks attempting to close a sale.

It is very sad to see people living with such hardships, and yet most brave them with a smile day after day. Based on what I’ve seen so far I don’t know how this will change, but believe that the gospel is their only real hope. The gospel changes people from within, who can then change their environment. (Emphasis Added by Mesenger and Advocate). In spite of the hardships, Ghana is considered one of the safer and most favorable countries in western Africa.

The church continues to flourish here. At our recent District Conference, 33 men were sustained for priesthood advancement and it was announced that 130 in our district (much smaller and less organized than a stake) have gone to the temple for the first time during this year. So far we were able to attend with 14 of them. It is exciting and a privilege to play a small part in the rapid growth of the church here as missionaries.

After seven and one half months on our mission I have made the following observations: We learn more than we teach and we gain more than we give. We see God’s hand in the details of our lives more clearly than ever before. Our prayers are more urgent and answered more quickly. We are protected far beyond what we can do for ourselves. Some of the best, most receptive, most considerate and friendliest people in the world live in Ghana. These people are easy to love, and easy to be around; they make the best of difficult circumstances and rarely complain. We admire them greatly.

What’s it like to be on this mission? I think it’s one of the best and hardest things I’ve ever done. To borrow a quote by Willa Cather, “This is happiness: to be dissolved into something completely great.” This is what our mission is like. We are dissolved into something completely great. I do however, greatly look forward to the time of reconstitution when I can come back home and be with my family and friends again. This too is happiness.

Being a missionary here is immensely fulfilling. Helping others is always more satisfying than helping yourself. There is never a problem finding those who need help in Ghana. All you have to do is open your eyes.

I hope all of you had a great Christmas this year, and wish you a “safe journey” until we meet again.

With much love,

Elder Moncur

DSC02174

Ghana temple at night decorated for Christmas. With it’s unique African ambience, the inside is simply stunning.

DSC02191

The Yeboah family, standing in front of the temple, sealed for time and all eternity. What a privilege to be part of all this.

DSC02193

I’m walking with these two little girls towards the temple. They were ealed to their parents today for time and all eternity. The little one in the yellow dress cries at almost everything, but remained perfectly calm and quiet the entire time she was in the sealing room.

On the left is the ancillary building containing the temple patron partments and the distribution center. Behind me is the area office building where President Snow, the area authority for West Africa works, as do all the church full time employees. Area missionaries work there too. It has a nice little cafeteria that serves local food.

On the other side of the temple is the Christiansborg Stake center. It s a modern building built to American standards. Two opposing walls n the chapel consist of huge windows to help keep it cool. This constitutes the 3.6 acre temple campus which is probably the nicest property in Ghana.

DSC02212

Sister Moncur custom fitting an “I am a child of God” crown on the head of one of the primary children. They loved their crowns and decorated them themselves. Bibi has pretty much taken over the primary for the time being.

DSC02226

Our primary children proudly wearing their “I am a child of God” crowns, we made for them.

DSC02237

In Accra these odd characters run from car to car asking for money. There was nothing festive about their costumes. The non-visible side of this person’s mask displayed a missing eye complete with fake blood. It was all rather ghoulish.

DSC02246

The entire crew! The Ghana Accra missionaries with the exception of the twenty assigned in Sierra Leon, gathered at the temple for our Christmas conference. Senior couples in front. Mom and I on the left. President and Sister Gay at far right.

DSC02251

We went to an orphanage to deliver toys and food provided by the church. We’re in the back row with the Calls. The rest of our zone missionaries are also present in this picture. The food consisted of rice, beans, sugar, cooking oil, and tomato paste. The cook said it should last about two weeks. The younger kids are seated, the older ones are standing in the background. It was hard to get these kids to smile.

DSC02265

Getting gifts made them smile! These girls at the orphanage are thrilled to get something for Christmas.

DSC02271

The end of another day in Nkawkaw. We are supposed to be home before dark. We won’t make it today. The sun is dim and discolored due to the Harmattan winds that blow fine red dust from the Sahara all over West Africa. It gets into everything, including your lungs. We coughed for about two weeks when it first started. It lasts about two months and comes back every year. The tower to the right of the sun is one of the many mosques in Ghana. There are thousands of Muslims in Nkawkaw.

DSC02273

Making rice for the Branch Christmas party. Grace, our nursery leader is on the left. Vivian, our Relief Society president is on the right with Percy, probably the most adored baby in the branch, on her back. This is how all babies are carried in Ghana. This is one of the nicest compounds in the Branch. All cooking is done outside.

DSC02275

I’m helping cut up chicken for the Branch Christmas party. We were short on chicken so we had to make the pieces smaller. Elder Thompson is on my right. Joana, our family history consultant, and counselor in the Relief Society presidency, is on my left. Janet, who was in active for 19 years, and has come back, is standing behind us.