Saints from Liberia at the Ghana Accra Temple
In our last website update, we had a short segment about a two day trip we took to Liberia. We mentioned that the members there were planning and preparing for the first ever excursion from Liberia to the new temple in Accra, Ghana. This update features that excursion.
Click the button below to review our trip to Liberia
For perspective, read the following quote from the Lonely Planet Travel Guide for West Africa, October 2002 Edition, regarding the economy of Liberia:
Liberia has abundant natural resources, including timber, gold, diamonds and iron ore, although potential revenues have never been realized. The economy, weak before the war, is now in a shambles and World Bank data rank the country as one of Africa’s poorest.
Agriculture has been the traditional mainstay of the economy, with major crops including coffee, cocoa, rubber, palm trees, fruit, rice and cassava. However, the number of Liberians involved in this sector dropped significantly during the past decade because of massive wartime displacement of rural communities; only slowly is this trend beginning to reverse.
Apart from resettling displaced populations, restarting an educational system, and reintegrating thousands of former fighters, Liberia is faced with the task of rebuilding almost all infrastructures. A small but steady stream of outside investors has been visiting the country, but serious investment is hampered by fears of further instability and corruption. Under any scenario, Liberia remains heavily dependent on international aid for the foreseeable future. The unemployment rate is estimated at well over 70%.
Two Small Buses, 58 People, 800 Miles of Bad Roads
Late Sunday night, February 27, 2005, two unairconditioned mini-buses pulled into the Accra Temple site. They had been on the road for four days. Inside were 58 faithful saints making an historic visit to "their" temple in West Africa. This was the first organized large group of Latter-day Saints from Liberia to attend a temple. Not only was the experience a crowning event in their lives, it changed forever the lives of those of us who were privileged to observe and interact with these brothers and sisters during their week in Ghana.
To review the purpose of sacred temples, read this brief article by
President Gordon B. Hinckley
Monrovia Stake President Toby Tweh with his wife (right)
and 1st Counselor, President Amos Warner and wife (left)
The Stake members left Monrovia on Thursday and traveled through the Ivory Coast to come to Ghana. Recent civil unrest in the Ivory Coast added time, risk and cost for the Liberians. President Warner came to visit us in our office and said there had been about 40 military stops in the Ivory Coast. He said there were so many stops that sometimes while stopped at one, they could see the next barrier down the road. They spent three nights on the road. Twice the men got out and slept along the side of the road on the cement at police stops where they felt they would be safe. The women and children slept in the buses.
|In temples, worthy members receive sacred ordinances, including being eternally sealed as families. This "sealing" ordinance provides assurance that loved ones can be together after death. In addition to receiving their own ordinances, members can serve as proxies and do vicarious ordinances for those who have died without having the opportunity to receive these ordinances. (See 1 Cor 15:29, 1 Pet 4:6, Mal 4:5-6, D&C 137:7.) Most Liberian members have lost close family members during the long civil war. For them, these sacred ordinances have very strong meaning. The standard printed instructions for temple patrons desiring to do proxy work for deceased family members and ancestors requests that "Temple Ready computer disks" be brought with the patron to the temple. The story of "temple ready" disks brought by the members (see below) from Liberia is heart warming.
The Toe Family was sealed for eternity
in the Accra Ghana Temple.
The Story of "Temple Ready" Computer Disks
In many stake centers of the Church, including West Africa, there are well equipped Family History Centers (FHCs). These centers, and the faithful volunteers who staff them, provide helpful resources for anyone seeking to trace their ancestors. Most FHCs have computers and software to help find and record genealogy. The Church distributes a free computer program named Personal Ancestral File (PAF) which is a standard among genealogists. To prepare names of deceased family members and ancestors to have ordinances performed in their behalf is a three-step process. First, vital information including name, birth and death dates and locations are entered into a PAF file. Second, the PAF file is processed in a proprietary computer program named Temple Ready. This is available at most FHCs. The Temple Ready program checks each name being submitted to a temple against a massive database of all vicarious ordinances done previously to eliminate duplication and ensure unique identifying information is complete for the individual. Temple Ready output is then written to a computer floppy disk. Finally, this "Temple Ready computer disk" can be taken to a temple where a computer program logs the names and which ordinances will be done, then prints cards for the patron to use when doing the vicarious work. Our good friends, Elder and Sister Armstrong, have the missionary assignment of being Africa West Area Family History Directors. They spend much of their time helping members complete the temple ready process. Due to lack of computers and computer skills in West Africa, this can be a big challenge for the members here.
While the Monrovia Stake has a nice church building that survived the war, the materials and equipment inside were all stolen during the war. There is a room for a FHC, but there are no longer computers or software programs. The members preparing to come to the temple read that they should bring "Temple Ready computer disks," but they were not aware of either PAF or Temple Ready computer programs. They generally did not have computer skills or even access to a computer. However, desiring to be completely obedient, they hand-wrote what family genealogy information they had and then paid to have the information either typed into a wordprocessing program or scanned as a picture file. They then purchased computer disks and had their family record files stored on the disks. Many of the disks were old and very used, but that was the least expensive option. Each disk was carefully wrapped in a sheet of paper to keep it clean. These disks (about 20) were carried together in a plastic grocery bag and presented at the temple as "Temple Ready computer disks." They were not. But who could be critical of such wonderful faith and obedience? The bag of disks was brought to the Armstrongs. They asked us to help. Sister Armstrong and Sister Markham used their computers to get all the information they could off the disks. Sister Armstrong printed out the information and Elder Armstrong then entered the available names into PAF. Disks that couldn't be read were assigned to Elder Markham who downloaded recovery software from the internet and recovered much of the data. The team effort paid off. By Wednesday all the information the Liberians had brought was safely stored in PAF files. The Armstrongs spent three days working with each member to fill in blanks and gather extra names, dates and places.
Statistics don't really matter, but it is interesting to note that since the Accra Ghana Temple was dedicated in January 2004, the most ordinances done during a single week were done the week of March 1, 2005, when the 58 Liberian saints were here.
Sister Armstrong in the Family History
Office helping Bishop Cooper.
Bishop and Sister Cooper had their
marriage sealed for eternity.
More (Happy) Eternal Couples
|Brother and Sister Bokai
|Bishop and Sister Nyanforh
|Brother and Sister Palane
|Couple whose name we didn't record.
|Brother and Sister Slamie
Brother and Sister Tugbe
Sister Tugbe was over 8 months pregnant,
but made it home safely to have the baby.
Brother and Sister Smith
He is the Stake Clerk.
Bishop and Sister Sarvic
She is the Smith's daughter.
Brother and Sister Harris
He is the older brother of the
Monrovia CES Director.
|Brother and Sister Pannoh
Sister Jackie and Husband
We didn't get all the names.
|Nellie and (Pres.) Amos Warner
Bishop and Sister King
He served in Accra as a missionary.
|Brother and Sister Koneh
The Temple Door Story
(Told in first person by Sister Markham)
On Tuesday morning, the first day the temple was open during the Liberian visit, I was buying bread from Brother Addy. Brother Addy brings freshly baked bread to sell each Tuesday for 60 cents a loaf. He parks his little station wagon near the Distribution Center at the temple site. Brother Addy is a volunteer temple worker on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
|Brother Addy with freshly baked bread
Brother Addy and I saw a group of about ten Liberians leave the Distribution Center with their bags of temple clothing. They looked at the Temple, but they were walking very slowly and looked hesitant. I recognized Brother Koneh from our visit to Liberia in January, and I walked forward to greet him. He recognized me and I could see a look of relief on his face. As he shook my hand he said, “Sister Markham, they told us to be at the Temple 15 minutes early, but there is no one there.” He looked up at the Temple doors. I knew the Temple was open and I couldn’t imagine what he was seeing. I turned my head to look at the doors, and then I realized he was expecting someone to be waiting for him on the porch. I encouraged him by saying, “They are waiting for you just inside. It’s OK. Go on in.” He was astonished at my words and said, very humbly, “You mean, we can engage the doors?” Brother Addy gently took Brother Koneh by the arm and led the group to the Temple.
Later as I thought about his words, I was overwhelmed by the reverence these people showed toward the temple. Am I so comfortable with the Temple that I take these great blessings for granted?
Some Eternal (Happy) Families
|The Moore Family
|The Togbe Family
|A family whose name we missed.
|The Weah Family
A Story from Sister Armstrong
Most people in West Africa are very poor by any global standard. The Liberians even seem poor by West African standards. One obvious clue is lack of fancy braids in their hair that we see so often in Ghana. We were all worried about them having food to eat during the trip. Sister Armstrong is so genuine and friendly that everyone feels comfortable talking with her. She got into a discussion about tithing with a brother she was helping with Family History. He told her that his wife had a good government job, but she did not earn enough money in a month to buy one bag of rice which costs about $25 US equivalent. (This means her "good job" pays less than one US dollar equivalent per day.) He volunteered that for last year he had paid $75 (US) in tithing and he was quite proud. (This means his gross income was 2-3 US$ per day depending on whether or not his wife's income is included in the tithing he mentioned.) He told Sister Armstrong that he understands the reason Church leaders encourage members to pay tithing and he has a testimony of the principle. He said, "It’s so we will qualify for the blessings the Lord has in store for us." He felt he had been very blessed. During the war, many of his family members died, and he took in nine children, most of them relatives. He told Sister Armstrong they were under his “umbrella” and he had been blessed and had found the means to take care of them during those difficult times.
|As near as we could determine, there were three single adults with the group. All three were very engaged with the activities and were happy to be at the temple. Sister Walker had a son in the Ghana Missionary Training Center (MTC) and was able to visit him. Many of the group found time to visit the MTC in Tema about 20 miles from Accra.
|Brother Francis Essonba
|Sister Marelyn Walker
A Story from Sister Leishman
On the Temple Site, there is an ancillary building with dormatory style apartments that temple patrons can rent at very low cost while attending the Temple. Temple missionaries also live in the ancillary building, as do some other missionaries, such as the Leishmans. Sister Leishman and her husband are in Ghana for a six month humanitarian mission. Last Spring, the Leishmans completed an 18 month proselyting mission in Indiana. Elder Leishman is a retired audiologist and is helping Korle-bu Hospital in Accra set up a hearing clinic. Much of the equipment has been donated by the Church and Church members in the US.
Sister Lieshman often makes friends with the children of temple patrons, offering them cookies and treats. She grew especially close to Martha and Betty Toe, who reminded her so much of her own grandchildren. They were very trusting and affectionate. It made Sister Leishman very sad to see each girl wear the same dress all week long. She wished there was a way for her to give some of her granddaughters’ extra clothes hanging in their closets to Betty and Martha. In telling us about Betty and Martha, Sister Leishman told us about one young girl from Nigeria who had on a very pretty dress that appeared to be a flower girl’s dress. Sister Leishman admired the dress and told the girl how beautiful she was. With excitement the girl told Sister Leishman, “A big box came to the Church with clothes in it. I pulled out this dress and it fit me so I got to take it home!” Clothing from donations such as this often does more than supplement a child’s wardrobe. It can be their only clothing. All through West Africa we have seen used American clothing. If you have ever wondered where your old T-shirts go, many end up in West Africa and are worn until they can’t be worn any longer.
Sunday Meetings Story
Monrovia Stake President Tweh is strong, wise and purposeful. He insisted from the initial planning of this temple excursion that the group stay in Accra over a Sunday to attend meetings there. He wanted his leaders to see and experience the best Accra had to offer in terms of maturity in the gospel and church administration. He split his group into two parts and had them infiltrate two very strong wards that meet at the Christiansborg Stake Center on the Temple Complex. We choose to attend these meetings to see and hear what happened. It was a first Sunday, so Sacrament meeting would be testimonies from the congregation. It was amazing to see the Liberians taking part in all the classes, singing with the choirs, and being thanked for the wonderful spirit they brought to Accra. Bishop Quaisie of Cantonments Ward served a large portion of his mission in Monrovia about 15 years ago, before the severe hostilities broke out. He was overjoyed to see people he had worked with and taught the gospel to among the Liberians in attendance. Then in Christiansborg Ward, Bishop King from Liberia stood to bear testimony and spoke of serving in Accra 14 years ago as a missionary. He also found some of his contacts in the congregation. Knowing the political situation that has isolated these people for so long, it felt like witnessing the reunion of Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah. (See Alma 17:1-4.)
Concerns about how the Liberians were getting by in Accra were erased as we learned that five members of the group had served missions here and know very well how to eat from the market for very little cost. They knew where to go and helped the whole group. It was a powerful experience to see how obedience had resulted in such real blessings for so many people, and how the whole program of the Church is so well interconnected.
An American businessman who lives in Accra with his family had been totally unaware of the Liberians until he came to the meetings on Sunday. He thanked the Liberians with tears in his eyes for the beautiful spirit they had brought and the gospel perspective they provided for him in only a few hours. It was a feeling we shared so deeply, that it is hard to express. We have experienced a spiritual bonding and awakening that has truly changed our hearts.
On Monday the buses were loaded for the return trip home.
The banner on the side of the bus actually serves a purpose to help convince the many border, police and military checkpoint personnel that this really is a religious trip. We hope it gets much more service in the future.
Sister Armstrong was invited onto the bus just before it left
to take a final picture. Does this look like somewhere you would be
willing to spend eight days and nights?
Goodbye, Betty. You are in our prayers.
You are a child of God and have reminded
us that we are, too.
The buses arrived safely, without incident in Monrovia on Friday.
|Two weeks after the Liberian visit, Sister Armstrong met three Sisters from the Buduburam Refugee Camp in the Temple. The camp houses about 10,000 Liberians refugees, most of whom have been there for 12 years. Sister Armstrong asked these sisters if they knew of the Liberian Temple Excursion. Oh yes they knew! The buses had stopped at Buduburam on Monday afternoon. Friends were reunited briefly and President Tweh encouraged the refugees to "come home." These sisters all lost family members during the war. One had lost 11 family members in one day when rebels killed 200 worshippers at a Presbyterian church. Events like that caused most churches including ours to stop meeting in large groups for several years. These sisters have little confidence in a future in Liberia, so they were trying to immigrate to any other country. North America would be nice, but they will go anywhere with reasonable security and opportunity---things they have been denied most of their lives.
Sisters from the Buduburam Refugee Camp
Click the button below to review our visit to Buduburam Branch
Temple Patron's Fund
Poverty is so great in West Africa that it is not possible for members of the Church to come up with the funds to attend the temple without outside assistance. The Church has set up the Temple Patron's Fund to help worthy members get to the Temple. In addition to travel costs, housing and ordinance clothing are subsidized according to need. It was a sacrafice and challenge for these Saints from Liberia to pay a small portion on the subsidized items, as well as their food costs. Their lost wages during this time were not covered. If you would like to know more about donating to the Temple Patron's Fund, click on the button below.
Special thanks to Elder and Sister Armstrong, Elder and Sister Whisenant and Sister Leishman for sharing their words and pictures to make this update possible.
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