Tuesday, November 12, 2013

We have continued to travel since our last posting.  In late September we went to Benin City, Nigeria.  We had done training there during our first mission and knew the Area Seventy very well. Elder Akinbo had been a Stake President then.  We flew into Abuja which is the capital city, waited for 6 hours on very hard metal chairs (our flight to Benin City was delayed - a common occurance on Arik Airlines).  Flying a short hour to Benin City, the pilot said there were thunderstorms in the Benin City area and we might have to turn around and go back.  Luckily that did not happen and we were met by Elder Akinbo and a new Brother who had just been called as the website/newsroom writer.  We were so pleased to meet him. He has been a TV journalist and has since turned in a couple of very well written articles.  We had dinner with them at our "OK" hotel and had a chance to fill Elder Akinbo in on the structure of the Summit and what we would cover the next morning.  It rained really hard that night so in the morning when we drove to the meeting house, there was a lot of mud and deep water on some of the roads.  The meeting began at least an hour late waiting for some of the people to get there because of bad road conditions.  There are 6 stakes and 4 districts plus two mission branches. The mission branches are about 4 hours away and two of the districts are a couple of hours away.  But- every leader who was invited showed up.  All in all we had about 140 people there.  They were awesome.  They will actually have two Summits because of the distances and the high rate of activity of the YSAs.
Here is Arlon instructing.

The groups always seem to like the candalier game.
During the last part of the games, the priesthood leaders met with Elder Akinbo and the two Summit chairman (one of whom is a Mission President) got all of their committee heads assigned.  We were there for about 5 hours.  Elder and Sister Akinbo and their daughter had sent out for "take out"  for us. It was the normal chicken and rice so prevelant over here.  They are very sweet people.

Game time.  I believe they were playing "Who am I?" at this point - with bible and Book of Mormon names on their backs.

Twelve year old daughter of Elder Akinbo
Trip to Sierra Leone
A couple of weeks after Benin City, we went to Sierra Leone which is a couple of countries to the west of Ghana.  The 3000th stake of the church was formed there last December by Elder Holland.  They now have 1 stake and 3 districts......a huge percentage of the members are YSAs. In the Bo District, 40 %.  So, we had a lot of interest.  Sierra Leone is a beautiful country - at least the part we saw.  Nice tall hills coming right down into the 3rd largest port in the world.  Freetown, the capital city at the harbor and is a very large city.  We flew into the airport and had to take a 25 minute water taxi ride over to where we were met by President Swarray, the Stake President and Summit Chairman.

From our hotel room - a great view and of course when we were at the restaurant, we did not have our camera to capture the gorgeous sunset over the ocean.  You'll just have to imagine it!

Front of the hotel.  It was pretty old, but clean and the restaurant had good food.  We met Elder and Sister Kanzler at the meeting and they came over to join us for dinner.  They will be a big help there.

It was interesting to drive through the various streets of Freetown.  There is not a single stop light in the entire country.  The streets are full of potholes.  We have known that the civil war which lasted from 1991-2002 devastated the country and that most of the infrastructure was destroyed.  But we saw for ourselves the lasting effects.   We were told that at the Stake Conference where there was a huge attendance, only 10 members owned their own cars to get there.  That includes a few church employees who are able to buy old missionary cars.  Even President Swarray does not own a car. The streets were filled with the 3 wheeled yellow taxis. 70% of the people live in poverty despite the country being rich in diamonds, gold, bauxite, titanium, etc.  amazing!  We went to church on Sunday morning at a newly rented building.  It had been a home and had lots of rooms that worked.  Surprisingly, the owners had an outdoor spa with a cover.  It is a perfect baptismal font!

                          Primary room above.  Chapel below.
Almost everywhere we visit on Sundays, we are asked to bear our testimonies.  It is very humbling to be among such faithful people who have so little of what we would consider needs....yet they are happy and do not take anything for granted.  The Sr. Missionaries who we talked to here in Sierra Leone just love it.  Some are more comfortable with the living conditions than others, but they LOVE the people and the work.  We came back on Sunday on the same flight as the Mission President and wife - Ostlers.  They are a great couple and we had lots of waiting time to talk about the YSAs and their needs.  These couples only have a few hours a day when they turn on their generators and have electricity.  The church is building a new Mission home and three or four new buildings there right now.  Most branches meet in little rentals and they are growing so quickly that they cannot keep up.  Every building, we were told, is filled to capacity every week. 
Just as a note:  When we left in January 2011, there were about 475 units in West Africa.  Now there are almost 700.  Just in 2012, 79 units were created, which was 1/3 of all units in the church created that year.  Can you imagine trying to keep up with buying property and constructing chapels?  In the first place, buying property in these countries is very difficult.  Most countries do not have in place a record keeping system with titles, etc.  Our real estate attornies here sometimes work for more than a year just to get a piece of land purchased....Law suits, ownership disputes, tribal pressures, it is just a wonder that we are as far along as we are.....which is WAY behind what we need.
So far - as of the 1st of November, there have been 13,500 baptisms in West Africa which is more than the 13,100 total in 2012.

 Next blog will feature our trips to Aba, Nigeria where the 2nd West Africa Temple is.  Also our trip to Liberia....talk about contrasts!!!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Trip to Togo

Our training with YSA Committees in Stakes and Districts as well as the training for each coordinating council for a 2014 YSA Summit takes us to the seven countries in the Africa West Area.  During our first mission here, we did not have the opportunity to visit the French speaking country directly east of Ghana -Togo.  We went there this weekend and had a great experience.  The city of Lome (Lomay) has about 1.6 million residents.  The country itself has about 6 1/2 million.  Lome is on the coast and we stayed at one of its largest and best hotels right on the beach.  The hotel is older and the rooms leave things to be desired.  The lighting was very poor, especially for reading, but the service was wonderful and the restaurants....well....think French pastries.  ooh la la

This is the largest pool I've ever seen at a hotel.  It was at least 5 times as big as a normal hotel pool.  The grounds were beautiful as you can see from the next few pictures.

We were picked up at the airport by Folley...his first and last names we can't pronounce or spell yet, but he goes by his middle name.  We met him at the  Area offices just two days before our trip.  He had lived in Ghana for several years so he speaks perfect English.  He is originally from Togo and lives there with his wife and 4.6 children...works for the Church in Physical Facilities.  He takes care of the 1 church owned and 8 rented buildings in Togo as well as the several rented buildings used over in the next country to the east - Benin, also French speaking.  It was so nice to have an English speaking friend there.  These next pictures were taken while traveling back and forth from the chapel to the hotel.  There are at least 3 "motos" (motorcycles) to every car.  They use them as taxis as well as just personal. Made for interesting driving.  Some streets are beautifully paved, others with lots and lots of potholes, and others wide - but just dirt with lots of bumps.

Econobank headquarters


The afternoon of our arrival, we walked out to the beach.  There were fishermen there in their boats, working on their nets and doing some fishing from shore.  It was an interesting juxtaposition to have several huge ships in the background.  The hotel was near the port.  The native boats of today haven't changed for hundreds of years. 
I got a couple of pictures of children carrying their "catch" back home.  Also a woman carrying a huge tub of fish on her head.

Saturday morning we left for the chapel for our meetings.  When we were here for our first mission, we handled all of the paperwork for Lome to become a District.  It had been just 4 mission branches - part of the Cote d'Ivoire Mission. When Cote d'Ivoire had its war in the year of 2011....just as we were leaving, they had to take all Missionaries out of that country.  Because of the French speaking, the Church sent all of those missionaries to Togo and Benin.  Well....that resulted in a huge increase of membership there.  They actually opened a Benin Mission in 2012.  Now there are 11 branches in Togo and instead of 3 in Benin, there are about 8-10...not sure exactly.  The Church just completed its first real building in April.  The same plan is used for many of the chapels here in Africa.

When we arrived, there were quite a number of young boys there playing soccer in the back.  We learned that they usually came each Saturday morning to play, then helped clean the church house before going home.  They liked having their pictures taken - especially the younger set.

Part of our training is playing games - showing them a variety that they can do when they hold activities on any level - and the Summit in particular.  Here are some pictures from our fun with them.

Folley...our new friend

Face the Cookie.  They have one minute to get the cookie from their forehead into their mouth using just facial muscles and twitches.  It is hilarious and they really loved it
We enjoyed a relaxing evening Saturday and then were picked up by Elder and Sister Eastmond, a US Missionary couple serving there, on Sunday morning to go to church.  We took a few pictures there of families.  Their babies are so adorable.

This is another new friend, Richard, who is Folley's assistant - also speaks English and sat in our Sunday meeting with President Amegandji to talk more about the Summit organizing.
We met several missionaries from the US and one said he was from American Fork.  Imagine our surprise when we determined that he was in our daughter Amy's ward and had been a home teaching companion of our son-in-law, Donald Bennion. 

Elder Rybin from American Fork
We had a wonderful afternoon at the Eastmond's apartment. Then, a relaxing evening in our dimly lit hotel room.  We returned to Accra on Monday mid-day.  The only flight they could get us on was with business class....nice roomy seating and all.  Too bad it was only a 35 minute flight!!
Off to Benin City (not to be confused with Benin, the country).  It is in Nigeria and was one of our favorite places to visit in 2010.  The former Stake President, Fred Akinbo, is now the Area Seventy.  We really love him and are looking forward to our trip there in two weeks where we will proceed with the same trainings there as well as meeting with our Website writer from that Council.