There is a missionary couple in our ward who are now serving in the West Africa Ghana Mission, I believe in the city of Nkawkaw. The capital city is Accra, where they travel to restock on supplies. They recently forwarded one of those mass emails, which I am going to post here because of some of the wonderful stories it contains, and the lessons of service for everyone.I was particularly struck by the story of a Doctor Merrill, who along with his wife sold all their worldly possessions and have been serving in West Africa now for five years. He is 72 years old and plans to serve as a missionary of the Church until he dies. I had no idea they called folks for that long. Anyway, it’s refreshing to know there are such people still left in this crazy upside down world:
Dear Family and friends,
I miss you all and really enjoy, actually relish, your emails and
letters. The stories about my grandchildren really make me laugh and
touch my heart. I love it when you give me a blow by blow account of
something that involves them, or you. Especially the dialog
sequences. Your hard copy letters are a special treat. I wish I
could send more individual emails but there just isn’t enough time
and emailing facilities are scarce and slow. Our days are filled
with work and we come home pretty much worn out so I’ve opted for
this group approach. Here are a few of the things that have happened
A NEW LOOK
We went to Accra to resupply. The highlight of the trip was getting
new tires for our car. We also met the area medical advisor, Dr.
Merrill. He was in our ward some thirty years ago and we wanted to
reconnect. As I think I previously mentioned, he gave me a very
short haircut. I am still somewhat shocked when I look in the
mirror. Who is that stranger?
Elder Merrill’s story is as unique as it is interesting. He is 72
years old. He and his wife have been on their mission in Ghana for
five years. Before leaving, they sold their home and gave away all
their possessions to their children. Everything they own is in three
suitcases. They don’t intend to replace anything. They plan to
finish their lives serving missions. He said that getting rid of
their possessions was the most liberating thing they have ever done.
He has truly followed the Savior’s advice found in Matthew 19:21.
When we returned from Accra one of the elders called and said his
companion was very sick so we went to check on him. He was indeed
very sick. We took him to a little hospital, literally in the middle
of nowhere, where they could do a blood test. He had Malaria. We
gave him some Plasmotrim, the malaria medicine, and some aspirin and
took him home. He is showing improvement, and went to a baptism on
two days later. He attended church on Sunday. When we saw him again
on Monday, he was practically well. He has since transferred.
His replacement is from S. Africa. After teaching a lesson with him,
he told us he was very sick. Malaria is always the worry. We gave
him a blessing and took him home. He is to call us in the morning if
there is no improvement and we will figure out what he has. We
called him and he is much improved.
Malaria is not as serious for the Ghanians. They have a partial
immunity due to centuries of exposure. With the whites it’s a
DOCTORS ON STRIKE
Medical help is hard to find here. In some places it’s nonexistent,
such as where we live in Anyinam. The doctors at the public hospital
in Nkawkaw and elsewhere are on strike so the people can’t go there.
They can’t afford private hospitals so it’s a problem without a
solution. We are told that many have died because of the strike.
We went to visit the Relief Society president in the same hospital
that treated the elder for malaria. She has severe asthma, and was
having difficulty breathing. On the way we found her standing on the
side of the road looking quite sick. She left the hospital due to
lack of funds. She was several miles from home and waiting for a
taxi. Since you can’t call a cab here, she hoping one would come
by. We picked her up and took her home.
We take malaria medicine everyday called Doxycyclene. It doesn’t
prevent malaria; it only makes it less severe. If you get malaria
then you take the Plasmotrim. All the missionaries are supposed to
take “doxy” everyday, but some don’t. You have to have it in your
blood at all times. The rainy months are May and June so this has
probably increased the mosquitoes and the malaria risk.
On our way to Nkawkaw, our assigned area, we saw a bad accident on
the side of the road. A car had somehow plowed into the jungle and
was barely visible in the tall grass. Since many cars were pulling
over and stopping, and there was a crowd around the car, we didn’t
stop. I felt really bad for the occupants in the car, who may have
been seriously injured, knowing there was no rescue unit coming to
offer aid, and no functional hospital anywhere near. As we drove on
I reduced by speed considerably.
There are lots of accidents on the roads here. Big and little trucks
lying on their side along the side of the road are a common sight.
They are so overloaded, they sometimes just tip over.
We have discovered a safer place for our morning walks. It is a
small road to a village near our house. Walking on the main road is
just too dangerous. Huge trucks, traveling downhill at 70/80 mph,
pass us at about 4 to 5 feet away. It’s unnerving but you actually
get used to it. There is no margin for error and if they swerve
you’re in trouble.
At home we walked almost everyday. This was curtailed considerably
when we were preparing for our mission, and due to the heat, we only
walk short distances here. It’s amazing how fast I’ve gotten out of
shape. Now that we’re exercising more, I can walk better.
GHANIANS LOVE SOCCER
While in Nkawkaw people everywhere started to shout and cheer
spontaneously. They were cheering and dancing in the streets
throughout the entire city. It turned out that Ghana had just scored
a point against the Czech Republic in the world cup games. Ghana
went on to win the match. As we drove home, the dancing, yelling and
waving, continued mile after mile. I’ve never seen such widespread,
unrestrained joy. It went on for several hours. A week later Ghana
went on to beat the U.S., which caused a similar celebration. The
country is totally into soccer.
ADJUSTMENT PHASE COMPLETED
We have finally adjusted to the conditions here. Everyday we adapt
more and more to village life. Our living conditions, which seemed
so unsettling at first, have become our new normal. Once you get rid
of your American expectations, things become a lot easier.
We have developed a real admiration for the Ghanian people, and our
fellow missionaries who work so hard, and are so valiant. They are
truly dedicated to this work. Everyday we feel the Lord’s presence
in our lives, and cherish this closeness. Recently we drove on a
dirt road, more like a path, to visit a member. We came to a place
in the road that seemed impossible to drive through. Somehow our
little car trudged forward and plowed across a great mound of dirt in
the middle of the path, barely getting through it. When we could go
no further, we walked the rest of the way. Finding no one home, we
returned to the car. By this time it had started raining. When we
got to the problem stretch of road, it had become worse. I tried to
drive through but the tires slid into two long, deep muddy ruts. We
could not go forward or backward. The tires just spun in either
Michael, a branch missionary and our interpreter, jumped out of the
car to push. Moments later he was joined by a small boy. As I added
up my resources—one man and a small boy—it seemed hopeless that
we could escape from this quagmire. But that’s exactly what
happened. Somehow the car pulled itself out of the mire, and we were
on our way. Moments later, there was a torrential downpour. It
rained so hard I could barely see what was ahead. Had the member
been home for the visit, we would have arrived at this stretch of
road during the downpour and never would have have made it through.
God is truly involved in the details of our lives.
Teaching opportunities are abundant. Not all bear fruit but the
mission baptized about 2500 people last year. Several hours before
the above drama, a man called out to us and wanted us to teach him.
People often approach us and ask us about the church. As we started
teaching, a small crowd gathered and listened, which is often the
case. We were in an open space in a remote area of town. Benches
appeared from nowhere, and people just down. One of the men was the
chief of this area.
We ended up teaching six people. A crowd of children always seem to
come around when we are teaching. All, except two adults that left
early, promised to pray about our message and come to church on
Sunday. We have an appointment to teach them again. We don’t know
where they live–there are no street names or house numbers–so we’ll
simply come to the same spot and look for them.
Earlier in the week, we went to another small village (all the
villages are small.) The elders in that area stood in the street and
contacted about 120 people passing by. Those who were interested were
directed inside a house that we were in. We taught 12 people the
first discussion, and eleven of them came to church next Sunday.
We put on a family home evening demonstration in a village about 15
minutes from our house. It went well. About forty people showed up
and asked a lot of questions. I gave a talk and then we put on a
family home evening using four children we had never met before.
They did great. If we rehearsed it it wouldn’t have gone better.
The kids here are really great. Without exception they are
fascinated with Mom and I, and sometimes just walk up and touch us.
Wherever we go they call out “white, white, white,” in Twi.
While writing this there is a violent storm passing through. The
wind, accompanied by very loud claps of thunder is blowing our
curtains up to the ceiling. Multiple mini waterfalls are cascading
from our roof and water is everywhere. Normally, a storm of this
magnitude would take out the power but we were lucky this time. It
rains almost daily. They arrive suddenly and leave just as
suddenly. We have been treated to unusually mild weather. It’s
still hot, but much less so.
A SAD STORY
We were told that there were two women at the local hospital from
Koforidua, a small town where we sometimes go for supplies, who had
lost their babies this morning. All six missionaries from the
branch, and four branch members went to see if we could help. It was
a very sad. While there, there were two more women who had lost
their babies in the same room. Both women had started their labour
in Koforidua, about 85 kilometers away, but were turned away from all
the hospitals due to the doctor’s strike. By the time they got to
Nkawkaw, where there was an open hospital, it was just too late to
save the babies.
NEVER A DULL MOMENT
Recently Mom saw the world’s biggest mouse, or a medium sized rat, I
couldn’t tell which, running around our house. He runs straight for
the front door and scoots through a big gap at the bottom. Quickly I
got out the mouse traps Karyl sent us and placed two at the door.
Not more than five minutes later, oh what a commotion! The big
mouse, or rat, came back and stepped directly into the sticky trap
and was stuck. He was trying very hard to get loose and was dragging
the trap all over the place. I was able to subdue him before he got
away. One less mouse/rat. Thanks Karyl for the traps. I put two
traps out and I just noticed that there’s toad in the other one.
They just walk through the door. The toad escaped but I caught him
the next day under a chair. If anyone wants to send us the sticky
traps we can use them.
MORE HIGHWAY ANOMALIES
#1. I have gotten use to cars coming at me from the opposite
direction, that are passing a truck or car, and barely making it back
into their own lane before crashing into us. This is such a common
occurrence, we don’t even flinch anymore when we see a car coming
straight at us. I think, “They still have a few yards left to get
back on their side so what’s the big deal?” I am adapting to driving
#2. We were driving on a two lane road which would accommodate about
four cars (two on each side) if they were squeezed close to
together. As we went on our merry way, we observed four cars, side
by side, coming right at us from the opposite direction. The entire
road was full of cars coming at us. Plenty of room for them to sort
this out I thought as I quickly dashed for the shoulder. Apparently
three cars were passing one car at the same time. All came out well
and Mom and I just laughed.
#3. Driving in Nkawkaw is not for the timid. Imagine what it would
be like to drive through Disneyland main street on a very crowded
day. Now add other cars and some of the world’s biggest trucks to
the equation. This is what it’s like driving through Nkawkaw.
People are everywhere, mingling with and dodging cars and trucks, who
are somehow missing them, and each other. The tolerances are
sometimes so close, you don’t quite know how you weren’t hit, or why
you didn’t hit something. Into this mix add enormous pot holes
waiting to swallow your car. At first this was extremely
intimidating. Now it simply seems normal. L.A. freeways will same
tame when I get home.
Our surroundings are really quite beautiful. People here make the
best of their humble conditions. They have accepted the fact that
there is little or no hope for improvement and don’t complain about
it. In the villages for many the only hope for employment is to
stand in the street and try to sell something–anything. Ghanians
are polite and expect the same from you. Last Sunday I parked the
car and was heading for the branch. An old woman I didn’t even
notice, called me back and demanded to know why I didn’t salute her.
She was quite upset. My parking the car on her property didn’t
improve things much. I apoligized and spent some time trying to
assuage her hurt feelings. We parted friends. She said I could park
at her house anytime. Now whenever I drive by, I slow down and wave
and she waves back.
The people here look out for each other. Today we were with the
branch president and first counselor making some visits. We stopped
at a small store. The lady in charge didn’t have what we wanted so
she ran out of the store to get it. As she did, a little boy started
to run after her. The first counselor immediately ran after the
little boy and called him back so he wouldn’t run into the street.
It was just a natural reaction. There are no safeguards in place, so
they look out for each other. Sometimes I have to back up onto the
main road to gain access. Often there are blind spots and you really
can’t see if cars are coming. You sort of hold your breath and hope
for the best. Often people just appear from nowhere and hold up
traffic so I can enter the road safely. They know how desperate it is
to get injured so they do what they can to keep each other safe.
BACK TO ACCRA
Tomorrow we go back to Accra for supplies. We hope to make some
repairs to the car. The key sticks in the ignition, and I think its
turning days are numbered. One of the doors won’t open, and there is
an awful odor coming from the A/C. We think something died in
there. I also hope to get some new shocks, but that may be hoping
for too much.
We have been told again that another couple is coming to Anyinam, to
live above us. They last couple that lived where we live went home
due to injuries. Another couple is going home on Friday do to
injuries. I don’t know what the new couple’s assignment will be but
they sure would be welcome. Our sense of isolation would be reduced
We’ll check our mail and emails in Accra, and I’ll send this one
along with some pictures if everything works. Pictures take a long
time since they are taken at such a high resolution and I don’t know
how to adjust the camera to a lower setting.
Paula, please forward this to the Ohwilers and email me their email
address. Tell them the one I have doesn’t work. If they send me an
email I’ll have the right one.
Thank you for all your prayers, kind words, and support. They really
help. I miss you all.
What an incredible experience. What an opportunity to be in the service of others, which of course means in the service of God. I’ll post any other updates as I get them.