Monday, December 28, 2015

The Holidays In Ho

Happy holidays from Africa. We hope you've been enjoying time with family, holiday traditions, and cold, snowy weather (yes, we're actually missing the snow right about now)! It's been a lot simpler, less hectic Christmas season for us here in Ho and we've enjoyed focusing our time and attention on being with our Ghanaian family and friends and the eternal gifts that come thanks to the birth of our Savior. Here's some of what we've been doing this holiday season:

One of the best gifts was the arrival of two of our daughters - Tash and Hillary - and our grandson Krew.
It was so nice to be with them again, and their 11 suitcases. Thanks to all those who worked
so tirelessly to send donations, school bags and humanitarian kits to be used here in Ghana.
Thanks to Zack Thacker's Eagle project, we were able to deliver 50 school kits to the Almighty
Preparatory Academy in Tsito, Ghana. When the headmistress announced that each child
would receive their own bag full of pencils, paper, scissors, crayons and other school supplies, the kids danced
and sang with joy. They also loved playing and talking with Krew, who they called Komla, meaning Tuesday born. 
Our kids were really taken aback by the heat and humidity in Ghana. Luckily, we took a break one day and hiked the Wli Falls, the largest waterfall in Ghana. The mist from the falls reaches all the way into the surrounding jungle, so we were able to cool off once we got close. All of the local kids wanted us to take their picture with Krew.
Between zone conferences, district councils, a Christmas devotional, and Christmas eve breakfast at our
house, we've been able to spend a lot of time with the awesome missionaries from the Ho zone. 
We have the opportunity to participate in a lot of service and humanitarian projects that support the local communities. Here we helped hand out thousands of eye glasses to local Ghanains after doctors from Utah screened their eyes and provided a prescription. Each participant was able to choose two pair of eye glasses from the over 6,000 that were donated. We've also helped on dental, medical and maturation programs as well as teaching English, genealogy and audit training.  
We had an incredible experience as we worked with the young women from our home ward back in Utah to
help send 70 youth from the Ho district to the Ghana Accra Temple. What a wonderful example of following
the 2015 youth theme of "Embarking in the Service" of others. If you're interested in seeing more of this activity,
you can check out the video on Youtube entitled "From Lindon to Ghana to the Temple."
Each of the young women from Utah attended the temple recently and wrote about what the temple
means to them. We shared these letters with their "pen-pal" here in Ghana. The youth here were so excited
 to "meet" their new pen-pal and to write back about their experience at the temple as well. 

We recently experienced a change in our local weather. Every December starts the Harmattan season,
when strong northern winds blow sands from the Saharan Desert all over Western Africa. Here in Ghana,
the sands make everything look hazy and dusty while blocking out the stronger rays of the sun,
making the temperatures a bit more mild. It's cooled things down to a balmy 91 degrees today.
The Harmattan winds blow fine sand and dirt through every crack and gap in our house. This is what our mop looks like after cleaning a 4 x 4 foot section of our bedroom floor.
The cooler temperatures have also brought out more creepy-crawlers, as Sarah learned the hard way. These infected, toxic spider bites on her leg (and one more on her neck) made life miserable for almost 2 weeks. Thanks to quick response of our mission nurse and the area medical doctor, she was able to quickly get on some strong antibiotics.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Joys of Service

One of our favorite parts of being a full-time missionary is getting to know the people we serve with in and around Ho. They fill our days with joy and love.

Most senior high school students live and board right on campus. We love to go see them on visiting days to find out how they're doing and to bring them a little treat, which is usually biscuits and a local malt drink.

The youth know the sound of our truck and are often waiting for us when we get home. We love their
happy smilies and their love for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Brother Dikro is a member of the Ho 1st branch and one of the finest tailors in town. He's sewn us scripture bags, a purse and even a new pair of pants. He's also always working with the missionaries to make sure they look their best.
Brother Ankra lives in Tsito and is a barber and a basket weaver. He and his wife Josephine have 6 children and we always stop to visit them when we're in town because they make us feel so welcome and special.

Sister Atando lives in Ho and sells popcorn, ground nuts and water in a busy part of town.
She's always thinking of new business ideas and we love when she goes back
to her hometown to buy fresh bananas, which we make into the best smoothies.

Young kids are pretty inquisitive about senior missionary couples and tend to gather around us whenever we sit down. We had taken some pictures of them and they laughed and laughed when they saw themselves on our camera.

It takes a lot of work (and strength) to make some of the main dishes here in Ghana. Sarah is pounding cassava into a dough that will be used to make Fufu, which is then served with soup. 

Sarah has a calling in the District Young Women's Presidency and loves working with and training the local leaders. 

Edith always waves us down when we pass by so that she can tell us that she loves and misses us!

Congratulations to our friends on the recent addition of a baby girl to their family.
And she came out with more hair than John!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Faith in Every Footstep

Each week here in Ghana brings different adventures and new opportunities to serve and grow. Many of these experiences are brand new to us, so relying on the Lord to guide us as we go has been a wonderful learning experience. Here are a few of the things that have kept us busy these past few weeks:

We've been helping many of the youth get ready for school. Here we're shopping in the outdoor market for food and other provisions, since most of the students board at the school and won't come home until Christmas.

I'll never be part Ghanaian if I can't learn to balance anything on my head!

This is Faith's dorm room at school that she shares with 25 other girls from here school. She's
wearing the uniform of her school in the color that indicates that she's
 in form 3 or the final year at senior high school.

Each student has to bring their own tank of gas to use for cooking at the school. It took almost an hour to get through the line and, at 95+ degrees and almost 100% humidity, our sweat could have probably filled up the tank.

Meeting up with the missionaries usually entails finding something to eat. The elders know that Sarah is a little more hesitant when it comes to trying the local foods, but they always seem to get Elder Bodine to try something new.

Sarah has been meeting with all the young women in our area to take them through their Personal Progress booklet. This is Veronica from Kpando who was baptized 4 months ago. She's already completed most of her value experiences and she will be receiving her medallion in the next few months.

We do a lot of teaching at mid-week activities where the local branch members get together to study the scriptures and learn more about the gospel. Here are some members from Kpando "holding fast to the iron rod."

A big part of what we do each day is spending time with the families from the 5 branches where we serve. They always welcome us with open arms and bright smiles and we love the friendships we've made with these loving people. 
Here are the elders from the Ho Zone after zone training. These are 18 of the finest young men and we feel blessed and privileged to work with them on a daily basis. What amazing examples of faith, obedience and sacrifice.

A few weeks ago, the Hohoe Group was made into a Branch. The church is growing quickly here in
Western Africa and we were humbled to be present on this historic day. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

12,000 Kilometers and Just Getting Started

Thanks to our handy truck (a 4-wheel drive Nissan) we've been able to criss-cross a larger part of the Volta region as we get to know the amazing people of Ghana. It seems like each day brings a new cultural experience and a new opportunity to serve, and we're grateful to see the Lord's hand in the miracles that happen each day.

Our truck has been a huge blessing and has gotten us up, over and through every obstacle we've put in its way.
The streets here are very narrow with more taxis, tro-tro buses and potholes than you can count,
but everyone seems to give us a wide berth and we've yet to end up in one of the drainage ditches that line every street.
We keep praying for safe drivers (us included)!
We travel to Accra a few times a month for meetings, transfers, departures and the temple. The trip can take anywhere from 3 hours (on a good day) to 5 hours if the wait is long at the ferry or traffic is bad in Accra, which it always is. While we're there, we always stop at the "American" stores to stock up and resupply on some of the brands we miss from back home.

Froot Loops, Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs - oh my! The options are limited and expensive
but nothing says home like a stale box of Frosted Flakes. Sarah even found some Bath & Body lotion
in a scent called Ghanaian Geisha, but we left that on the shelf.
Transfers occur every six weeks and bring a measure of happiness and sadness as strong missionaries head
home after serving valiantly for two years. These are 4 elders from our Ho zone. The second from the left
is Elder Ravia from Fiji who's headed to serve the remaining 3-months of his mission in the Liberia, Monrovia
mission. They haven't had any full-time missionaries there since the Ebola breakout over a year ago and he's
going to train all the new missionaries that arrive there soon. Elder Ravia started his mission in Sierra Leon and was transferred to Ghana when his first area was closed due to Ebola. Three countries in two years - what an example!
We continue to see miracles happen all around us and love the experiences and perspectives we're learning as we go. 

On Saturday we were able to attend the baptisms of seven new members of the Ho 1st Branch. What a wonderful spirit as two husbands from the branch baptized their wives into the church and 5 other youth and young adults from the area.
We attended the local Kente Festival this week which celebrates the rich tradition and culture of the Ewe tribe in Togo and Ghana. This area is know for it's fine artistry, colorful Kente weavings and fierce warriors. These are the Queen Mothers from each of the local tribes who have come to celebrate and be honored at the festival.

A huge blessing for us this week as the mission installed a new solar-powered battery system at our house. We even had "light off" the night it was installed and were able to test the system immediately. It ran our lights, refrigerator and air conditioner for a full 10 hours! Hooray for solar power and no more generator! Special thanks to President Heid who is always looking for ways to upgrade the missionary's apartments and living conditions, even senior couples!
We had two days of District Conference last week with a zone training afterwards, so all 18 elders in our zone were in town for a couple of days. Add the AP's and the office elders as well and you know there was a lot of teaching, learning, food and fun going on. We love these missionaries! 

While major food consumption always tops the list as a favorite for missionaries, weighing each other, and subsequently teasing each other mercilessly about the gains and losses, comes in a close second.
District Training and the Ho 2 Branch. Just like herding cats in the states, they call it herding chickens here in Ghana, and we still missed getting all the elders in the pictures. There are 7 countries represented in this picture!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Busy, busy, busy...

We love being here in Ghana and are thankful that each day brings new opportunities to work alongside the wonderful people here in Western Africa. A quote from Elder Dickson, who served as the area president here, best sums up what we've learned from them; "they have little of what matters least and a lot of what matters most." We feel humbled and blessed to be amongst these great people and are grateful for their examples of love, service and a dedication to living Christ-like lives. The pictures we take and share on our blog can never fully convey the whole story or depth of what we're experiencing, but we hope you enjoy seeing a little bit of everyday life for a senior missionary couple. Here's some of what we've been up to these last two weeks:

Donne, wearing the #3 jersey, was one of the first people we met here in Ho. His mother moved away three
years ago and Donne and his sister have been working together to raise their family. We've been driving
Donne and his father out to the village where their mother lives in order to provide them with some family time.
 What a blessing to have seen them reunite all together back in Ho this week! In the picture
above, Donne is teaching a Family Home Evening lesson to his whole family outside their home. 
The church held an All-Africa Service Day where members throughout the continent spent the
day serving in their local communities.  In Ho, over 100 people from the Ho 1 and Ho 2 branches
worked together to help fix one of the worst roads in the city. What hard workers!
Working with 5 branches and 14 missionaries in our zone means we're blessed to be able to attend a number of baptisms each week. These wonderful, life-changing events are filled with the most peaceful spirit. The elders use either a portable font that can travel between locations while some of the buildings have outdoor fonts like this one.
We spent three days at the District Youth Camp with 61 amazing young women and young men from our area. We rented a facility at St. Paul's Senior High School where the kids were called on a "mini" mission. This year's theme was "Embark" which is taken from a scripture in the Doctrine & Covenants 4:2 - "Oh ye that embark in the service of your God, see that ye do so with all your heart, might, mind and strength." What a great goal for us all. Truly amazing kids.
We were also asked to speak at another youth camp, this time in front of 500 junior high students.
We talked about finding hope and happiness through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and that the
decisions they make today will determine their destinies down the road. They gave us a "Yevu" cheer at the end! 
We've been holding missionary firesides throughout our area where the members invite their family and friends to join us for an evening of fun, facts and food. We've been showing a video about the church pioneers here in Ghana, sharing a message about reaching out to those in need and feasting on local foods like banku with stew, jollof rice and malt drinks. 
One of our favorite activities is when we get to go with the missionaries on their teaching appointments. The spirit is always strong as the testify of God's plan of salvation to humble and happy families here in Ghana. We trekked through a village to meet with Anthony and Elizabeth and their young son Miracle (she was told that she'd never have children, hence the little boy's descriptive name). 
Speaking of missionaries, here's our favorite. The one on the left is our son and youngest child Elder Bodine, who is currently serving his mission in Cuernavaca, Mexico. We miss him tremendously but we wouldn't want him to be any other place. We absolutely love having this shared experience and to see his joy in serving others. 
While traveling up north this week we saw a sign for a local restaurant that we hadn't seen before, so we decided to give it a try. Even at under $3 a bowl, we decided to head home and snack on our crackers and cheese (we think the rabbits here are so skinny that they only come with one "B"). Let us know if you want us to order you something!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Mission Life

While we miss our family and friends immensely, we've settled into the extremely happy but tiring life as a missionary here in Ghana. There are so many people, places and opportunities here that teach us that true love comes through serving others, and we're finding joy in every journey. In a nod to one of our favorite musicals, here are a few of our favorite things...

Our children gave us the best present ever by writing 365 reasons why they love us and we open a new one each night! And if that wasn't heart-wrenching enough, they had all of our extended family and friends do the same.
Thanks for all your uplifting words - we love you too!

Cheese! Yes, of all the things we've found we love here in Africa, it's the cheese. Most nights we skip dinner and snack on a plate of cheese and crackers in our bed. It's one of the simple things we've grown to love.

Believe it or not, we're both trying some of the local foods. Yes, this is Sarah buying and eating some food from a street vendor - a Sokomie sandwich we bought on the border of Togo. It's avocado, lettuce and mayonaisse - yummy! 

Ooops - this isn't one of our favorite things. John was "arrested" last week for speeding - nothing that a few cedis couldn't fix. We were also stopped for a random drug search by machine gun-toting soldiers. Luckily, none were found.

The people - we absolutely love the people. They are all so kind and loving and so generous with what little they have. This is Bernice who runs a non-profit called Days for Girls on top of being a mom, wife and business woman. Their organization provides education, training and maturation kits for the young girls here in Ghana.

The children here radiate love and beauty and are especially fascinated by Sarah's blond hair and wonderful smile. They often run up to us to touch our skin, yelling "yevu - yevu" as they run away laughing. 
It's a simpler life when an old, rusted bike rim can provide all the fun you need.
Throw in a few goats and you've got a great game of tag.

We love our missionaries! What wonderful examples of faithful, obedient hard-working warriors for the Lord.

Meet Rebecca, a 15 year-old girl living on her own with her younger sister Happy. Mom and Dad
aren't around much so she has to support herself and her sister. She made this table decoration for
Sarah after we dropped off a loaf of bread when we went to visit her one day. 

Helping to make eternal families! Thanks to so many of you for your generosity in helping these members go to the temple for the first time. This group from the Ho 2 felt like they were visiting heaven here on earth.