Update 6:10 p.m. Four new photos added at end of post. I have previously posted on the West Africa Ghana Mission as I receive news and photos from a couple in our ward currently serving as missionaries there. See here and here. I have received another email and additional photographs that I will share in this post. The stories and photos are incredible. I hope you take some time and read this email. From our busy and important lives here in America, one can scarce believe an entire world away, the Gospel rolls forth as the stone cut from the mountain without hands:
Dear family and friends,
Please excuse this if you have already received it since I’m having trouble sending emails.
I surely appreciate your letters and emails. It helps bridge the distance between us. Each letter and email you send is carefully read and relished. I wish I could respond individually to all mail received, but due to time constraints it it is simply not possible. I do however greatly appreciate all mail received.
All is going well in Ghana. We are starting to know our way around now and can find many places by ourselves, including the locations of the ten branches in our area, some which are quite distant into the jungle. Fortunately there are paved roads to each branch, except one.
Nkawkaw, where we are assigned, is beautiful. It is at the foot of mountain that is covered with jungle except for massive exposed rock areas. It’s a postcard kind of scene. The town itself has many old large houses from the colonial days. They have seen better days but are still quite picturesque. We have been to the top of the mountain many times to visit members. Not many live there because it would be too hard for them to get to church since no branch member has a car. The drive to the top takes about ten minutes and is a steep narrow, winding, dangerous road.
While driving up once, a very large, very overloaded truck was coming downhill, from the opposite direction. The truck was carrying large bags of charcoal, piled on top of each another to unbelievable heights. Since everyone cooks with charcoal, there is no end to the demand for it and it is constantly being transported everywhere, hence these trucks are very common, and all are grossly overloaded. If you ship charcoal there must be some overloading requirement, based what you see here. Without exception they are on the verge of tipping over; hence we have nicknamed them “tippers.” So here comes this tipper, rocking back and forth, just about ready to tip over, and coming right at us. The road is too narrow to get out of the way and the only way out of the way is to plunge over the side of the mountain. Once again we are protected as the tipper rights itself and we scoot by. There are thousands of these trucks on the roads, all crawling along. You have to pass them or you crawl along too. When we do, we are always worried that the trucks might tip over on us, but they never do. There are police check points all over the place, and they pull these trucks over quite readily. A bribe (called a “dash”) is quickly paid and the overloaded truck lumbers on it’s way.
When the tippers are descending the mountain, a man runs along side them carrying a wedge shaped block, which he will use to place in front of one of the wheels should the brakes go out. I suspect the brakes are pretty much inadequate to stop these very heavy vehicles. The road is quite steep and all the way down the mountain there are signs that say “Continue using bottom gear.”
We are working with an investigator named Alex. He is a carpenter and makes furniture by hand, no power tools here. We have been working with him now for about two months, but the process has bogged down. He always has another question that holds things up. I asked him today if he thought what he had been taught was true and he said yes. I told him he if he thought it was true, he should go ahead with his baptism, and then he had the rest of his life to ask questions. Today he couldn’t seem to accept that during the great apostasy the fullness of the gospel was not on the earth. He is a very thoughtful individual and will make a great member of the church if he can get past his questions.
Between appointments, we parked the car and walked around Nkawkaw looking for supplies. We bought cucumbers at 20 cents a piece, about 15 tomatoes at $1.50, and a few onions. These and a can of tuna fish will make a great salad that we will have for dinner tonight. Canned tuna fish has become one of my main dishes now.
Like driving, walking in Nkawkaw is different and takes awhile to get used to. There is a mixture of cars and people trying to occupy the same space, at the same time. Cars just sort of weave through crowds of people, who somehow manage to avoid being hit. I guess the reason it works is it’s so congested that the cars can’t go very fast. When there’s the slightest break in traffic, a dozen or so people will dart between the cars to get across the road. You see near misses everywhere. No one seems phased by this. It’s just part of the being in Nkawkaw. While walking around, a woman yelled at us to buy something she was selling; some kind of root I think. Mom said “no thanks,” and the woman, in a loud voice demanded to know why not. Mom just sort of shrugged, and then the woman laughed.
We also bought some material to make a new ironing board cover. The one on the new ironing board we just bought is falling apart and needs to be replaced. We replaced the ironing board because it was literally full of termites and was being converted to sawdust right before our eyes. Every morning there were mounds of what looked like sawdust underneath the ironing board. I sprayed the entire thing with raid, and dozens of termites fell out, but it the rest of them, deeper inside, just kept chomping away.
There are two prices in Ghana. The one for Ghanians and the ones for the brunies (whites) which is usually double. I tell the sellers now I don’t want the brunie price. They are not amused.
The main occupation here is selling something. Most all of the sellers are women, who carry their wares on their heads in boxes, trays or bowls. These women seem to have incredible strength. We saw one lifting and than placing a very large wooden container full of tomatoes on her head. This was a big, heavy box. As she walked away I noticed she was also carrying a baby on her back.
There isn’t much hope in Ghana to do much else but sell. The other day we saw one of our young women carrying a large bowl of water packages on her head for sale. This may very well be her lot in life. I felt bad for this young girl because the reality of her probable future was coming at such an early age.
A step up from street sales are those who man the small roadside kioshs, like Grace, baptized about a month ago. She sits at the side of the busy dusty road all day. She hasn’t been paid for months. We asked her why she doesn’t ask the owner for payment and she said that since there is no work in Nkawkaw, the owners don’t care if you quit because someone else will take your place in a minute. Because she has no clout whatsoever, she just doesn’t ask to be paid.
When we are in Nkawkaw, food isn’t really available to us, unless we bring it along. There is one restaurant that sells rice and chicken, but our instructions are never to buy chicken unless it is hot off the grill, and we pick it ourselves. This of course is not possible since we don’t have access to the chicken, and it’s not hot. Since we can’t determine the status of the rice either, we can’t eat at this restaurant. We have however adapted. When in Nkawkaw we eat frozen yogurts made by an excellent company called Fanmilk. It only costs 30 cents and comes wrapped in plastic so we don’t have to worry about contamination. It only comes in one flavor, strawberry. We have become addicted to it. Second on the short list of things we can eat is popcorn. I found a vender that makes popcorn and sells it by the bag for 10 cents. It is as good as any I’ve ever tasted. I was very pleased to make this discovery. We bring yogurt and popcorn to our missionary correlation meetings and the missionaries love it.
I am working on finding a new location for the branch which we sorely need. There is a very large room at a bank that is available. It would need modifications, and considerable clean up, but it is infinitely better than our roof location. Sometime soon I will meet with one of the Area employee who is in charge of procurement to assess this location.
A few nights ago there was a knock at the door. This surprised me since our house is surrounded by a wall with razor wire. I must have left the gate unlocked. Since our lights don’t work, I couldn’t see who was at the door. It was a man who said he was a plumper sent by “Paul.” Since Paul had earlier told me a plumber would come, I opened the door. The man told me he was going to sleep upstairs and do some work upstairs the next day. The Osino branch that has met upstairs since we moved here has been closed and the second floor is now getting readied as an elder’s apartment.
The man said he was going into town to get some food and since it is completely dark out, he wanted to borrow my torch. Since I can’t afford to lose my only flashlight, which is the only light I have when the power is out, I said no, but offered to drive him into town for food. He readily accepted. We got into the truck and I drove him into the busy area of Anyinam, and stopped to let him out. There are no American type restaurants in Anyinam, but there are some chop bars where he could eat. Chop bars are where they serve bush meat and rice.
One has to be very careful where one stops because it is very dark and there is little or no parking along the side of the road, and huge trucks are going by all the time and will not stop for cars smaller than them. As soon as I stopped, a man appeared at the window, and started telling me that the Osino branch should be moved into town, and started giving me all the reasons why. It was if he had been waiting for me and we had an appointment. I have no idea who he was or how, in the complete darkness, he knew who I was.
At the same time, another man started pounding on my other window, demanding that I turn off my headlights, this all happening while large trucks are bearing down on me. I thought, what next? and decided it was time to leave. We are not supposed to drive at night but sometimes it’s just unavoidable.
This is a very busy mission. We had 228 baptisms in July, 30,000 contacts, and averaged 16 discussions per week per companionship. Our little branch had 83 baptisms in the last 12 months. On Saturday our branch is scheduled to have seven baptisms. The missionaries here work very hard, under difficult circumstances. Most live in the villages with very humble accommodations. Most go without lunch everyday. They are the cream of the crop for sure. They never complain to us and have terrific attitudes. Some have to ride their bikes for one hour to get to their assigned areas. Then, another hour to get back to their apartment. Without their bikes they would be unable to get to many areas. Our mission president, President Gay, is extremely generous, and has done a lot for Africa. He purchased all the mission bikes out of his own pocket. The missionaries are told to cherish their bikes because when President Gay is released, they are not likely to get new ones.
On Saturdays we have our baptisms at the Rojo Hotel swimming pool. They charge us $2.00 for each person who gets into the water. Today we had seven baptisms. I brought our investigator, Ebenizer, age 20, to view the baptisms. After taking him home, we went to a funeral up on the mountain. It was held in a town that is the highest inhabitable place in all of Ghana, 2080 feet above sea level. The deceased was Philip’s mother. Philip is a 13 year old member of the branch who, along with his four sisters, is now an orphan. After his mother’s death 3 weeks ago, Philip disappeared. Later we learned he was in Accra. Surprisingly he was at the funeral, and was so happy to see us. I was happy to see him too because I was worried about what would become of him. Philip took us to three different places. One was the home of some relatives. We met everyone there and then sat down in a little room and more came to meet us. Tradition called for a small donation in this room which we made.
Then Philip took us to another building up the street. There we met more relatives. Then we went into a two story building where we met more relatives. At this location, drinks and food were served. Mom and I had a Sprite. I asked Philip if he wanted a picture of him and his four sisters who were all there. They all want their pictures taken and wanted this very much. I’ll try to send it in this email.
Next I took a picture of a very cute little girl about 3 years old. She was very scared of the camera but once she saw the picture she was absolutely enthralled. When family members tried to get her to poise for another picture she got very mad and would have nothing to do with anyone—but me! She stayed by my side and wouldn’t leave. Then she started breaking up cookies and giving me little pieces. She wanted me to mix them in my Sprite for reasons that are not clear to me. She wouldn’t stop. Soon I had a whole handful of broken cookies pieces.
The children were all gathered around me. All dressed in black. Even the little girl. If you have a camera you’re an instant hit. An older girl patted the little girl on the head from behind and the little girl reared back and smacked a little boy next to me, thinking it was him that patted her. He had no idea why he had been hit. The whole room, including me and mom, started to laugh at the injustice of it all.
It seemed that the whole town was involved with funerals. Not only this town, but several others we passed through to get here. This is obvious because there are hundreds of people in the streets, dressed in black or red, the traditional funeral colors. The funerals go on for days.
Everyday I see something interesting. While I was parked waiting for mom to make copies, a taxi pulled up in front of me. These taxies are like miniature cars. They remind me of something from the matchbox series. They can fit into the smallest of spaces and can turn on a dime. They all have a fifth door (hatchback) that lifts up in the rear. I watched has two men started loading large sheets of corrugated metal into the taxi through the hatch, completely covering the miniature back seat. Next four children climbed into the back on top of the metal sheets. Then the father placed a fifth child in the front bucket seat. Then the father climbed in the back with the children. Even while looking at it, I couldn’t quite figure how they could all fit in this impossibly small space. They all just sort of merged together back there. I thought at least the child in the front has his own seat. Then, to my surprise, a very stout woman carrying a baby, suddenly squeezed into the front seat, more or less on top of the child already there. Next, the driver, the ninth person, hopped in and they all drove off, metal sheets hanging about four feet out the back.
On Fridays I teach a temple preparation class at the branch. When we arrived, there were over 300 people crowded into our little branch, none of whom were members. Every square foot was full of children of all ages. Unfortunately we don’t have exclusive use of our branch location. There was some kind of teen age event taking place there. I never found out exactly what it was, but it was clear I wouldn’t be teaching there that day.
We went to a member’s house for the lesson. Afterwards, the member, Naa Baa, a man in his 70’s, told me to drive the car around his house instead of the way we came, because it was a shorter and easier way out of the area. Since the way we came was a very bad dirt road with huge mud puddles, I took him up on it. First however, I asked him if the way he told me to go was actually negotiable by car. He said “oh yes,” as if he had done it many times. As soon as I started going that way I immediately knew it was a mistake. What was represented as a road was actually a path full of obstacles, including a clothes line full of clothes. The interesting thing in Ghana is that nobody drives but all give instructions on driving. Even though it was impossible to drive my truck through this jungle path, Naa Baa kept urging me to go further as if there was nothing to it. I knew I was over my head, so I started backing up. At this point about six people were standing behind me all directing me on how to back up. Fortunately I didn’t hit anything, or anyone, no thanks to my directors.
We spend a good deal of time with the branch members in the truck. Since they have no transportation, I am their transportation. Initially I thought to restrict the number in my truck to five. That’s how many seat belts I have. This doesn’t work because once the door is open, people pile in until there is no more room. That can be as many as seven, sometimes eight, and on occasion I’ve crowded another four into the small bed of the truck. Since no one wears a seat belt anyway, I guess it doesn’t matter. I don’t like doing this, but otherwise they would have to walk for miles.
I will be teaching two classes on Sunday now. A prospective elders class during priesthood meeting, and the temple preparation class during Sunday School, that has been moved from Fridays. At the end of all the Sunday meetings, I still have to process the branch finances, and prepare them for deposit. I also attend the PEC and branch presidency meetings. After this is done, we often go on ministering visits with the branch president. Sometimes we have to take members home who are sick and can’t walk. They usually have or are coming down with malaria. After that I’m pretty tired and hungry. Sundays are a long day. On Mondays I drive to Nkawkaw, pick up the first counselor, and deposit the funds into the bank. After that we spend the day visiting less active members, new converts, or investigators.
The drive to Nkawkaw is getting longer everyday. Due to road repairs traffic in both directions is stopped for 15 to 20 minutes on each trip. As we stop, about 100 plus women (and a few men), carrying wares on their heads pass by our car and attempting to make a sale. A long stretch of the road is torn up and is so bumpy and dusty that at times you can’t see more then 20 feet in front of you. If you go too slow you are in danger of being rear ended by one of the endless huge trucks that traverse this busy road day and night. It is the main road from the landlocked northern countries to the seaport in Accra. Most big trucks in California have 18 wheels. Most here have 22 or more. These trucks all have signs at the rear that say “Long Vehicle.”
At the end of the day we are worn out and literally fall asleep in about two minutes. Mom goes to bed at 8:00 pm, and I go down at about 10. I always wake up too early no matter what time I go to bed. There are very large black and white crows that visit us at about 5:30 am, and start screeching with gusto. Combined with the roosters this “fowl” chorus eliminates any possibility of remaining asleep.
The bats have returned to Accra and if you look up you can see thousands of them flying in erratic patterns returning to their tree homes along the main street that leads from the airport to the temple.
Well, like they say in the Book of Mormon, I can’t write 1/100 of our activities so I’ll stop here until next time.
Thanks for your prayers, emails, letters and offers to help. We really appreciate them, and miss you all very much. Love to you all,
Below are some photos I received. As I look at some of the humble circumstances which they depict I reflect decades ago of another missionary and another mission in South America . . . but that’s a topic for a different post. You can view all these photos in their original sizes on my Flickr Photo page here. Just click on the individual photo and then click on the “All Sizes” icon above the photo after it opens and you can see the photo in its original or smaller versions.
Service Project at a member’s home.
The Moncurs visiting with a sick member who also had as you can tell, goats!
Ready for a baptism of a young man named Philip.
Philip (in the middle) about a month later at his mother’s funeral. His father died previously, he is now an orphan.
Road to Nkawkaw. Stopped for repairs.
Branch temple outing
Lady with doll. She’s the one that demanded to know why I didn’t salute her one day. To appease her I gave her a doll that she loves.
This one didn’t come with a caption; but, from the looks I’d guess it’s their district or more likely their zone of missionaries.
Elder & sister Moncur at the top of the mountain.
Elder Moncur at home.
Elder Moncur and our branch mission leader at the Nkawkaw bakery.
Sacrament meeting at Nikawkaw branch.
The branch visits a sick member after a service project at the hospital. Not a bad turn out.
Latest Photos added:
Our sacrament meeting at the branch taken from the rear.
Guys pushing a car on a cart down the middle of the main road through Ghana. There was a line of cars behind them a mile long.
At the temple with the branch members who are doing baptisms
The one with the ladies in black dresses is a funeral for Philip’s mother. Philip is the boy who lost both his parents and is now an orphan. He is sitting by his four sisters. We have no idea what will become of Philip. (Note, this is the same Philip above who was recently baptized).
What a great story these photos and this email convey about the growth of the Kingdom in far away places with some of the choicest people on earth. Our thoughts and prayers continue with the missionaries the world over for continued success in spreading the Gospel of Peace and Salvation in this fallen and failing world.