Sunday, March 30, 2014

Our Final Week!

Tuesday we spent the first night of our 15 day stay in the Anchillary Building, which added another unique experience to our mission. The Ancillary is where the temple missionary couples live, as well as some of the other couples, and is located on the temple grounds. Patrons coming to the temple from Ghana stay here as well as those places in West Africa that do not have a temple. Our room is the size of a motel room with a double bed and is wall to wall with our luggage, etc. The kitchen we share with Sister Martin (temple worker from Nigeria) is located off the dining room down the hall from our room. There are two more kitchens that the patrons use when they come to the temple. It was a busy time with the Saints that were there from Cote d' Ivoire, which is the country Ivory Coast. As I prepared some of our meals, I enjoyed listening to the singing of these French speaking people as they sang the hymns and shared testimonies in what seemed to be a devotional meeting. These dear people travel 3 days, with their children, on a bus to go to the temple. They spend a week or two doing temple work, and then travel back to their homes. They bring their own food with does not need refrigeration (Sister Judd said what this was but I did not write it down), and work together to make this a spiritual experience. I believe they do this twice a year and I call this truly honoring the covenants they have made in the temple. I would not be surprised if, in the not too distant future, they will have a temple built in their land.

We have had a busy four days since Elder and Sister Crisp arrived.We have shown them shopping places but mainly have been teaching what their responsibilities will be in the office. They are very willing but definitely feel over-whelmed, which I so understand when reflecting on the beginning of our mission. They will have their first experience at apartment inspections tomorrow and then more office work. I know the Lord will bless them and once we are gone and they rely on Him, they will be able to remember what they need to do and be a great asset to the mission.

My companion was released today in Senchi as the counselor in the branch presidency. Brother Amake (sp) was sustained and will be a great asset to the branch. He and his wife have invited us to eat with them after meetings next Sunday, and was surprised that we travel to Senchi from Accra every Sunday morning. We don't feel that a big deal should be made of this but it gets mentioned quite often. I again express how blessed I feel to have had this opportunity. I told the children that I will remember them and say prayers for them and I encouraged them to stay strong in the Church and serve missions and be good mothers and fathers one day. There is so much more I could share but I am just plain tired tonight.  One more quick thought, because the water was off in Senchi and in Kpong, we had to go to Kpong for the baptisms today where a water truck brought water to fill the font. There was seven people baptized from the Senchi, Kpong, Odumase, and Akuse Branches which is a reflection on the great missionaries we have and the dear people who recognize this is the gospel of Jesus Christ restored to the earth.

This is Millicent on the left and Comfort on the right. I have really enjoyed this girls and was tickled how Comfort just cuddled right next to me.

This is Emmanuel who has been dear to my heart since the first time I met him. He listens to carefully each Sunday as I teach.

This is Patrick who I have been teaching piano to in Senchi after the meetings.
This is Brother Okuna showing proudly his church keys. He is a dedicated man who is at the church when we arrive at 8:00 am with the CD player going with music, makes sure the building is ready for the Sunday meetings, and prepares the Sacrament when the young men are not there.

These are Elders: Vernon, Strong,(on the left) and Turley, and Brighton on the right. I didn't realize that Brother Okuna also got in this picture too. Good for him.

This is Simon, Kenneth and Patience (Juliana) with Elder Avery on the baptism day of Patience.
She is the one we bought fruit from and the whole family has joined the Church and is preparing to be able to do baptisms in the Temple. A great family.

Well it has been a good Sabbath Day and we are always richly blessed. I have always found that when writing down the happenings of the week (daily too) I look at them from a better, more positive perspective than when I was experiencing them. I guess I recognize my blessings more clearly during the process.

With love,
Sister Avery (mom, grandma)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Each time I enter a baptismal record, I think of how this simple act is happening throughout the world. On a very small scale, I am seeing the membership of the Church increasing right before my eyes. I have been privileged to experience the Spiritual guidance I have needed to decipher the handwriting and to know when more information was needed to make the record accurate. I have prayed for my eyesight to be strengthened when it feels like I just can't do one more thing on the computer. I hope I never forget the blessings I have experienced, so that in those inevitable weak moments that will surely come, I will be able to draw upon this knowledge.

Speaking of baptisms, Elder Avery's 'fruit lady' was baptized on Saturday. He connected her with the missionaries many months ago while buying mangoes and pineapple from her. Her husband Simon was more receptive when the missionaries came to visit and was baptized about a month ago. Their son Kenneth was baptized two weeks ago and is enjoying the youth classes in the ward and is passing the Sacrament. Juliana, actually her name is Patience, was baptized by Elder Avery and now the whole family will be working towards the sealing covenants of the temple. There have been other names, with well-know faces, that we have given to the missionaries. We don't always see the outcome of things, so this family coming into the Church has been a special blessing to us.

While my companion has been in his branch presidency meetings after Church, I have been teaching Patrick the piano. Last week I was very discouraged about his progress as he is only able to practice on the keyboard at the church on Saturdays. The dilemma of not having a keyboard at his home to practice during the week is holding him back in his progress. I prayed for him to be able to learn quickly as I have such little time with him. Today I was amazed at how much better he played and how quickly he was sight reading the simple hymns. Last week I asked him to ask Brother Adjei about possibly buying a small  keyboard through Church Distribution and then Patrick pay him back. Today I learned that Brother Adjei had donated a keyboard to the branch that his daughter had used. Patrick found out that Brother Ahiabor, 1st counselor, had the keyboard and would let him take it to his home so he could practice more. I have seen the answer to prayers even when my prayers did not have a lot of hope in them. I have learned a very valuable lesson. I know that even though I have only two weeks left to teach him, he will be blessed with even more tender mercies in his learning to play the piano.

The Senchi Branch Presidency has practiced what they felt was the way to have talks in Sacrament Meeting. They would ask the Relief Society and Priesthood leaders (mainly the men) to give names of people that could be called on to speak whenever the Branch Presidency called on them. Elder Avery has worked and worked with them to change this and follow the handbook. Today was the first Sunday that the speakers had been asked the week before and were given a topic to speak on. The difference was like night and day and it was so good to not hear the same speakers that we heard two weeks ago. He has already asked the speakers for next week so I think he has experienced how good it feels to truly follow what the Lord spoke when He said "my house is a house of order". President Ampomah asked Elder Avery what should the branch do if they got 'heading into the ditch' after we go home. Elder Avery just counseled him to follow the handbook and to counsel his branch leaders to do the same. Of course there is more than just following the handbook, but they as a branch are getting stronger all the time and I feel will continue to do so.

I wish I would have been better about writing sentences down, when they are spoken, to give an idea of how different English is here as compared to home. Let me give a small example of an announcement today in Church that might explain what I am saying. "Incoming Kpong District Conference that is ahead of us will be coming on 12 and 13 April." Delightful isn't it! I saw another one on a road sign that said, "to God be the glory". We would probably say glory be to God. It would have been fun to have more examples but it is probably because I am so busy trying to decipher what was just said. All and all, it has been a very unique experience I have had these eighteen months, and has added greatly to the kind of person I hope to become.

With love,
Sister Avery (mom,grandma)

Sunday, March 16, 2014

When I think back on the week and what has taken place, I wonder how two semi-old missionaries experienced all that. The Lord really does make us more than we can ever be on our own, because we simply could not do it on our strength alone. We pray for President and Sister Judd all the time because we see more of what they do than anyone and what we see is only a fraction of what they actually do. The missionaries in this mission have been loved, encouraged, prayed for, and at times chastened, but always with hope that they will choose to be obedient. I have learned so much from this couple who never show how tired I know they must be because of what their calling entails. Personal interviews with all the missionaries is the focus this month and they travel to most of the areas rather than have the missionaries come into Accra. When they went to Ho, they had the experience of waiting in line to cross the Volta River on a ferry. The bridge is being torn down and rebuilt, so everyone must take the ferry, probably for a couple of years. Anyway, tender mercies happened for them so that their wait was not nearly what it could have been.

I had an experience this past week assisting Sister Adjei from Senchi, in helping with emailing a Senator in the States who works in immigration. She was trying to get a visa to go to her daughter's graduation from BYU and her son's marriage in the Salt Lake Temple and her first request had been denied. She was trying to go further in her visa request and so my help was needed because I could email the documents from our equipment. I was so sad when I learned that her second interview was also denied. I saw her today and gave her a hug and as I expressed my sympathy, she said that she was at peace with it all and had been able to speak with her children on the phone. She is a District Relief Society President in the Senchi area and does a great job.

The Oduamse Elders called me and needed us to stop on our way from Senchi today to get their baptismal records. They had a unusual request regarding one particular convert just confirmed today. She was wanting to apply for the education program sponsored by BYU Idaho called Pathway. They are taught through internet classes and have to have their member record number on their application. The deadline for the application is tomorrow and I was asked if a record number could be acquired for her. The first thing I did when we returned from Senchi to the office to write our letters, was to entered her record and submit it. This process allowed for the records I submitted on Friday to show on the computer with record numbers. Because they had two baptisms this week (thank goodness), I entered the second baptism and submitted it which allowed her member record number to show on the computer. I then text the number to the missionaries and hopefully this young woman will be accepted to the program so she can begin her education.

After we left Kpong where we met the Odumase Elders, we drove up to Akuse to take the missionaries there an iron. After that we started looking for a road that we were told would go through Dodowa and would bypass some of our least favorite areas when we go to Senchi. We did find it and except for a few more potholes than we hoped for, it was a much more pleasant drive. We even had one less toll booth so that was a plus also.

Elder and Sister Crisp are enjoying the MTC and will arrive March 25th. We made arrangements for us to stay in the Anchillary building (housing for people who travel to attend the temple as well as some of the couples who serve from the Area Office), so they could get settled in the apartment. We have been starting to pack, which seems a little weird but good at the same time. We will then spend two weeks with them and it will be a great experience to see them learn and carry on without even a 'hick-up' in the process. That is the way it should be and it is marvelous how this goes on throughout the world in missionary service. We have been so impressed with them, with the little bit of emailing we have done, and we are excited to meet them in person. She is willing to keep teaching Linda the piano of which I am grateful.

Well, I am very hungry and the paint smell from our newly painted office (hooray) and an empty stomach is not a good combination. I am grateful for another safe and good Sabbath Day.

With love,
Sister Avery (mom,grandma)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

I reread Elder Scott's and Elder Nelson's General Conference talks this morning as we drove to Senchi. (For a moment, I felt some sadness that we will barely miss the April Conference broadcast). Elder Nelson's talk spoke of Abraham being chosen before he was born and this caught my attention as we have been learning about Abraham in Primary. I shared with the children that Heavenly Father has known them for a very long time and that they were chosen to come to earth at this time. I wanted them to know that the reason they came at this time is because of their courage to do what was right and how brave they would need to be. I asked them to read the Book of Mormon every day and promised them that their understanding would increase as they searched for truth. I praised those who were kind to others in Primary to let them know I had seen how they changed from last week. Elder Nelson spoke of how we can change our behavior, even our very desires can change, through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. We can access this power as His commandments are kept eagerly, earnestly and exactly. I often wonder why we complicate living his laws when it is something as simple and certain as those three words.

This past week was transfers and although it is sad for two of our great missionaries to leave us, we were blessed to welcome four to start their service. One Elder was from Samoa, two Elders from Nigeria and a Sister from Nigeria. We are having an abundance of young men and women who will be and are serving from the Ghana Accra Mission Branches. It is delightful to greet them in the office when they first come for their mission interviews. I help process their papers to be submitted to the Area Presidency Office where they are then sent to the First Presidency at Church Headquarters. When their call comes, we find a way to see that they receive it as soon possible. This can be challenging because they live some distance from Accra, but it always seems to work out in a short time. We then see them again for Temple Recommend interviews, and finally for their setting apart right before entering the MTC. The whole process may take several months, but when this final step comes I feel so blessed that I have had the privilege to be a part of it.

We had a somewhat different day on Saturday when we traveled to Dodowa to take some needed supplies to the missionaries. We then went on to Aburi to see if we could buy some more things from Ghana for our family. As we drove up to the little shops along side the road, a man pointed to our tire that was quickly going flat. He was willing to help us change it and as my companion and Foster worked on the tire, I went to his sister Yaa's shop to see what there was to buy. During the whole process we made some good friends, and I must say, the excitement they expressed by receiving a Book of Mormon from us was something I wish everyone could experience.  As we completed our shopping and were visiting with them, a young man walked by and stopped to speak with us. He joined the Church about eight months ago and expressed very positive words about his membership. Foster (interestingly this is a family name of my companion) and Yaa's (which means Thursday born) phone numbers are on my desk and I will soon send to missionaries. We just opened up a new area called Mamfe which is very close to Aburi. I hope this will not be out of the missionaries area, or if it is, that they will have the means to go to the missionaries. What a choice experience we had by having a flat tire. We probably would have rushed to get out shopping done and been on our way, but with the delay, we took more time and did what the Lord had intended for us to do.

I don't know if I have used this quote before or if I have just shared similar ones. I have thought much lately about being truly converted and these words say it once again. Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, "To testify is to know and to say, to be converted is to do and become."

With love,
Sister Avery (mom, grandma)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

I am grateful for the blessing of being taught each week by the weekly letter that is written to  the missionaries by President Judd. Time does not allow me to make a note of each letter, but I know I am strengthen through the reading of them. The letters not only pertain to missionary work but to our personal lives as well. After all, it really is all connected anyway, if we are true disciples of Jesus Christ.

I have read and heard many talks on grace, but I appreciated the following insight from last weeks missionary letter. "By His grace" is a phrase that is often spoken by many of the people here in Ghana, and actually throughout the world. Those who say these words are sincere in acknowledging their need for God and the gratitude they have for the blessings they have received. There are others where that statement represents their belief in a magical god who grants salvation and gives blessings to those who simply believe in Jesus. The belief that success in this life, and redemption in the world to come, doesn't require us to do our part has been called by some as 'cheap grace.'

I don't know if I have heard that definition before but it makes sense. President Boyd K. Packer
taught the following, "the Atonement of Jesus Christ is the very root of Christian doctrine. You may know much about the gospel as it branches out from there, but if you only know the branches and those branches do not touch that root, if they have been cut free from that truth, there will be no life nor substance nor redemption in them." (Ensign, May 1977, p. 54)

President Judd continues with the opposing belief that some people think the blessings we are seeking come only through our own hard work, which is know as 'legalism' or 'humanism'. These are terms I have never heard before either. I remember a song that was written by a music duo called Afterglow entitled, "I am the captain of my soul".  Another phrase, 'whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve'. These may contain some truth but deny the need we have for a power beyond our own. For the most part, Latter-day Saints aren't guilty of believing in 'cheap grace', but are more likely to believe in the opposite counterfeit--the idea that if we work hard enough and smart enough, we can earn our way to heaven. This denies the necessity of the grace of Christ and the power of God. Those of us who understand and live the gospel in this way often do so for the reward we are hoping to receive and not out of love for the Lord, our fellow servants, or the people we are teaching or leading.

It was brought to my attention, through further reading, that the anti-Christ Nehor taught the false doctrine of 'cheap grace' which is found in Alma 1:4. The false doctrine of 'humanism' was taught by Korihor in Alma 32:37-43. Even though I have read those words many times, I had not put them in the context of the relationship of grace and works. I also have been confused by the scripture in 2 Nephi 25:23 which states that "it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do". I read further that the Book of Mormon identifies just what is meant by the phrase "all we can do" in the statement from the Lamanite King, Anti-Nephi-Lehi found in Alma 24:11. From that scripture we learn that at least a part of the "all we can do" is to repent. It is through repentance that we make ourselves open to the grace of Christ. I was grateful to be taught more fully.

I want to share one more message from another of President Judd's letters that brought clarity to me. The Greek work for sin is hamartia, which means "missing of the mark".  He taught that both the lazy or over zealous can miss the mark. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, "The mark is Christ". To sin is to purposely fall short of the example and the teachings of the Savior and His servants. We can sin by purposely falling short of the Mark or going beyond.

I probably have heard or read similar messages before, but it was very helpful to remember once again. When I have a somewhat discouraging day, as I did in Primary today, I remember these truths and check myself for the tendency to be over zealous and that the work I am doing is because I love the Lord and I need His grace to be with me when I return next week. Besides, when I asked the children today to give me names of people they love, my sweet Emmanuel said, "Sister Avery". No matter how discouraged I was, those words have the power to erase every ounce of discouragement, and they did.

With love,
Sister Avery (mom,grandma)