I’ve received the latest update from the Moncurs in the West Africa Ghana Mission. As always their emails are inspiring and their photos breathtaking. The society and culture in which they serve is an amazing contrast to our own, and one that teaches me at least, that my priorities are not always what they should be. I’m grateful for the further light and knowledge the Gospel of Jesus Christ adds to the lives of the Saints. As always, I’m humbled by these reports. I will miss them when the Moncurs return home. For all the updates on the West Africa Ghana Mission, please click here, and then scroll down to read all the prior updates.
FROM ELDER MONCUR: 6-25-07
Dear family and friends,
We are into the rainy season now for real. The other night we were driving in heavy rain over a dirt road flooded by a river that overran it’s banks. Standing nearby were men offering to carry pedestrians across the flooded area for about 3000 cedis (30 cents).
In a burst of unwarranted enthusiasm, we drove into the swirling waters. About half way through, the water displaced by the truck was coming over the hood, and I questioned the wisdom of my decision. Although the road below was nothing more than muck and mud, somehow we managed to plow through.
On a tragic note, a man died in our yard on 6-18. While cleaning out our underground reservoir he apparently succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning from running a gasoline water pump inside the reservoir, a fatal mistake. The reservoir is a large subterranean concrete box (10 X 10) with a metal trap door on top through which one can enter. It is about ten feet deep and is used to store run off rain water from the roof. It was empty at the time and had never been used due to the debris inside.
Ghanians are extremely curious, and people came by in taxies, cars, trucks, and foot to see what happened. Due to uncertainty as to the community reaction, and an expanding crowd, our four elders, and some branch members came over to stand by until the crowd dispersed, which they finally did, except for a few who came long after the body was removed, and others who continued to come almost a week later.
Branch members are very protective of us. I was told by the police to come to the station to make a statement. Not wanting to drag Mom through the process–she had been through enough trauma today already–I left her at home. Two branch members volunteered to stay at the house with her, as they said, “To keep mama safe.” I was completely confident that they would; they treat us like family. In fact one member called and chastised me for calling another member for help and not him, during this incident.
Needless to say the day was unsettling, and made much sadder when we learned one of our missionaries passed away from an acute case of sickle-cell anemia the same morning.
On a very happy note, a few of our kids are coming for a visit. Our daughter Paula, and her husband Travis, and my son Grant are coming on June 28, leaving on July 2. It will be a whirlwind visit, but we’ll take what we can get. The branch is looking forward to seeing them too. When the first counselor learned they would only be in Nkawkaw for one day, he said the branch needed them here for at least two days. He also said they had to eat fu fu when they are here, the most popular Ghanian food. He said it wouldn’t be correct unless they did. I’ll leave that up to them.
On July first there will be three changes in our life. The first is a new mission president. President and Sister Gay have completed their three years in Ghana and are going home. Keeping track and taking care of 120 plus missionaries in three countries was a big job and they did it well.
The second is we are finally getting a new church building. This will be a huge improvement for us, and the people are really excited. It’s not really new; it’s a remodeled house, but it will be new to us.
The third is the change in currency. It is being re-denominated. Currently one 1000 cedis is worth ten cents (U.S.) the price of a shoe shine here.
As you might imagine, this makes carrying money extremely bulky. When we do our banking, we leave the bank with about eight pounds of paper money. I have to carry it in my backpack; it won’t fit in any wallet or pocket. This sounds like a lot of money until you realize that $100 U.S. is the equivalent of a million cedis.
The shear bulk of the money is maddening. The time spent counting it at the cash register, and then waiting for the clerk to recount it, bogs down the process of shopping. Many of the bigger stores in Accra have money counting machines to speed things up, but it still takes a long time and is endlessly confusing.
With the change, one cedi will equal one dollar, about 10,000 times more than it is worth now. I don’t know how the villages will cope with this, but it will sure make things easier (and lighter) for us.
Thus far three apostles have come to speak to us on our mission: Elder Holland, Uchtdorf, and Bednar. On June 16 we met with Elder Bednar. As a body of about 100 missionaries from all over the country, we were ushered into a small room with two members of the West Africa Area Presidency (Elders Snow and Carden), the mission president, the MTC president, and Elder Bednar.
Quite by accident, we were seated directly in front of, and about five feet away from Elder Bednar. For almost three hours, Bibi and I were literally schooled at the feet of an apostle.
It was an experience never to be forgotten, and other than riveting, words are wholly inadequate to describe it. Elder Bednar prefaced it by saying, “You will never again in your lifetime have the opportunity to be in a meeting like this, and ask an apostle questions for three hours.”
The three hours seemed like 20 minutes. It was truly a meeting you didn’t want to end, and I’ve not attended too many of those.
There was a moment of light heartedness when Elder Bednar asked the area president to explain the difference between “special witness,” and “especial witness” (D&C 107:23,25). With a serious look on his face, Elder Snow walked to the podium and said, “The difference is one is spelled with an ‘e’ and the other is not.” Then, without another word, he sat down. This crisp, very short answer got quite a few laughs (including Elder Bednar, who said the answer was correct in the sense there wasn’t much difference). I guess you had to be there.
A second bit of humor came when Elder Bednar said that the gospel ought to make us happy. He then related a brief story, that I think I’d heard before, about a conversation between a senior general authority and his grandchild. The grandchild asked, “Grampa, are you happy?” Grampa said, “Yes.” The grandchild said, “Then why don’t you tell your face?” The point being made was if the gospel makes you happy you ought to look it.
Don’t get me wrong, this was a spiritual meeting through and through, perhaps the strongest I’ve ever attended, and had a deep impact on those attending, including me.
Serving a mission in Ghana is a combination of hard and easy. The easy part is the missionary work. The hard part is witnessing the severe impact of poverty on the people, and experiencing the unrelenting environmental issues that are part and parcel of living in Ghana.
The people are willing to work hard but there is little or no work, and what there is pays small, small, (the term used for anything little) certainly not enough to meet their basic needs. When we talk to them about it, they shrug and say, “There’s nothing we can do.” What they do do, is simply do without almost everything; however they come to church neat and clean with smiles on their faces. These are wonderful and courageous people.
They are extremely helpful. Recently while coming out of a narrow driveway surrounded on both sides by deep open sewers, my right front wheel slipped into the sewer making it impossible for me to go backwards or forwards. This is a common occurrence here, and if you’re here long enough, eventually you’ll probably drive into a sewer.
Instantly a crowd of about 15 people formed, and while lifting up the front end, they pushed the truck backwards out of the sewer. This willingness to help is typical in Ghana, particularly in the villages where the only help they have is each other. Now, whenever I see a stalled vehicle being pushed, if I can, I join in with the pushing as sort of pay back. The locals are somewhat amazed to see an older white man so engaged.
Having completed almost 80% of our mission, we realize more and more with each passing day, we will not be able to complete all the things we started. I suppose that no matter how long a mission is, when it’s over there are some loose ends left dangling, and some outcomes unachieved. Such is the reality of a mission, as is life itself.
Pictures follow. I hope you enjoy them. They come closer to showing life here than anything I could write.
Love to all,
There’s a big market for ropes to tie trunks and hatches down on overloaded tro tros and taxies, or to string clothes lines or curtains. We needed some and bought them from this man.
We are teaching Matilda temple preparation lessons at her house. When a customer comes, she runs to her small stand, stocked mostly with warm drinks, to make a sale. She used to sell alcohol but has given that up. Cattle passing by is a common sight.
Little girls having fun being little girls at the temple. When children here see a camera, they clamor to have their picture taken, and squeal with delight when they see the result. Most have never seen their image in a camera or photo. When we distribute pictures to branch members they treat them like treasures, and walk around showing others who are equally fascinated.
All the senior missionaries gathered together prior to the meeting with Elder Bednar. All are grandparents. All work in villages or towns close to, or surrounded by jungle. The term “bushionaries” is sometimes humorously applied to those working in such areas. There are other senior missionaries too, not present, who work in the area office, and a couple in Liberia, and Sierra Leon,
From left to right: The Moncurs, the Calls (front row), the McDowels (behind the Calls), the Grays (next to the Calls), the Sudweeks, and President and Sister Gay who are going home on July 1st and will be replaced by President Brockbank who is transferring from Nigeria.
District meeting at our house. Just a bunch of happy missionaries. The extension of our porch looks like the fan tail of a ship. So far we’ve managed to remain afloat!
May 28, P-day (preparation day) in our front yard with Maria, a return missionary we worked with and became quite attached to. We are wearing clothes she had made for us in Nigeria, her home country.
Our property has a small maize and yam farm visible in the background. Since this picture was taken the height of the corn has tripled. It was planted and tended by locals who will reap the harvest. Behind are the beautiful mountains of Nkawkaw, about 1500 feet high in some places. They really are spectacular.
Buying water for the house. After we fill the poly tank, mounted on a 15 foot platform outside, we fill buckets and tubs–every drop is precious. Unfortunately most of this water was lost when a pipe burst.
Kente is a famous fabric in Africa. This is how it is made. It was amazing to watch this man, hands and feet blurred by the motion of weaving, create this fabric. You can see the end result hanging up in the background.
PARTING SHOT: In their Sunday best. Ghanian children are exceptional good looking; their endearing smiles would melt the hardest of hearts. They are happy in spite of their poverty. When everybody’s poor you don’t know you’re poor.