It seems like most of our time in Ghana is spent in isolated, protective bubbles. We spend our days in the Area Office on the fenced, guarded temple complex and our evenings in our fenced, guarded apartment, mostly interacting with other senior missionaries and local Church employees and driving between the two in a locked car. We do get out shopping, but mostly in the relatively safe, upscale neighborhoods near our apartment. Last Sunday, we escaped our bubbles and attended the Michel Camp Ward, located about 40 miles west in an area that is decidedly light on wealth and Western influences, but is populated by very real Ghanaians.
The Michel Camp Ward was recently upgraded from being a branch and has a group of enthusiastic, dedicated members who are extremely new to the gospel. Since the Church is adding about 120 new wards or branches each year across West Africa, there is no way to keep up with constructed buildings for each unit, so many of the congregations meet in rented buildings. The Michel Camp building is about a half mile off of the major Nigerian highways, which means you have to drive for a half mile on a byzantine of unmarked, unpaved roads to get to a relatively comfortable home that has been converted into a church meetinghouse, mostly by adding a covered patio with ceiling fans to serve as a chapel.
Music for all the meetings was acapella, primarily because none of the members are comfortable playing the available electronic keyboard and it would probably just slow them down anyway. No lack of volume or quality in the least. When we arrived about ten minutes before the meeting, the members were seated, enthusiastically singing hymns waiting for the meeting to start. During the meeting, one older sister began singing the first few stanzas of each hymn to give the pitch, then the chorister energetically leads the whole congregation through the hymn.
The only cars at the chapel were the one we came in with another missionary couple, one belonging to the Mission President who was attending with his wife, a taxi and a rented tro-tro. Two sets of proselyting missionaries had bicycles, there was one other bicycle, and everyone else walked from the surrounding area to attend church.
For the sacrament meeting, a recent convert spoke, followed by a local returned missionary. Both gave on-point, lively 5-7 minute talks on gospel topics, with strong emphasis on relating what the scriptures and the church mean in their lives. That left us with thirty minutes remaining in the meeting, so the counselor in the bishopric turned the time over to Michelle, me, the other missionary couple and the Mission President. I understand that most meetings where we show up, we will very likely be called on to speak. I tried to keep my message pretty simple, but was very impressed how the other speakers have learned to communicate through simple analogies, visual imagery and parable-like messages that resonate with the local members.
For Sunday School, we attended a “Gospel Literacy” class, which I assumed would be a discussion of fundamental gospel principles. Instead, the teacher printed the alphabet on the board and proceeded to teach the five attending women how to write and pronounce English characters. Many of the new adult converts primarily speak one of two local dialects and lack English reading and writing skills, so there is a big emphasis to help them develop those skills during Sunday School. This will enable them to be able to read the scriptures themselves, help teach those same language skills and the gospel to their younger children, catch up with their older children and secure better employment opportunities. It was a fascinating example of taking the principles of the gospel to meet the needs of the individual members.
The lesson in Priesthood meeting was on avoiding pride. As the lesson started, I thought to myself this would not be much of an issue or concern among these humble brethren, but the discussion gravitated quickly to a lively discussion on how young men should not let a focus on getting their education, careers or other worldly pursuits distract or delay them from serving missions.
In the MTC, they have an oft-quoted line that there are “sins of Omission, sins of Commission and sins of No Mission.” Here in Ghana, the latter category is not a glib catch-phrase but a very real concern. The very real people here are very serious about their obligations to the Lord.