In our apartment complex and at the office, Michelle and I are generally insulated from the frequent electrical outages that are commonplace across Ghana. Both buildings are equipped with back-up generators, and when the lights flicker out, I’ve learned to sit back and wait the five to ten seconds before the generator kicks in and everything comes back to life. It means you rely heavily on surge protectors, and it takes a bit of time for the modem to reset, but, in general, it is nothing
beyond a minor inconvenience.
That is not the case across the rest of the country. In the inland Ashanti region, home to 11 million people, including Kumasi, one of the nation’s largest cities, the amount of available electricity is one-fourth of the current level of demand. To manage the situation, the government frequently shuts off electricity to most of the populace to keep its security infrastructure functioning. In some parts of Accra, the capital city where we live, people only get electricity for an hour or so a day. In general, the nation’s existing electrical grid is unreliable and underdeveloped, while the demand for electricity in virtually every locale continues to race well ahead of any repairs to the existing grid or increases to the generating capacity.
I am most aware of the situation on Sundays, where nearly all of the chapels we visit are not equipped with air conditioning or back-up generators. They do have a series of ceiling fans, so I typically try to find a chair directly below one that is in high gear. That works fine until the electricity goes off; then it’s time to find a discrete way to fan myself and frequently mop my expanding brow. So far, that has happened about half of the Sundays I have been here.
Last Sunday, right on schedule, the lights blinked off and the fans slowly stopped spinning. It was 10:30 am, sunny, no breeze, the outside temperature was 85 degrees with 75% humidity making the “comfort” index 94 degrees. And that was outside. I was not outside, I was in a packed chapel with about 100 faithful members. They had asked me to address the congregations, so in my remarks, I thanked them profusely for making a Texas boy feel right at home.
Being in that congregation with and without electricity the past two weeks reminded me of a Houston meeting I participated in back in September, 2008, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. Elder Douglas Callister of the Seventy presided over a phone call with 25 stake presidents across the region, who were reporting on damages and their plans and activities to assess damages and begin the rebuilding process. Many of the brethren commented on fallen limbs which had taken down power lines and shut down roads and gasoline supplies for several weeks. In wrapping up the meeting, Elder Callister praised the brethren for their commendable efforts in setting the example across the community and making things happen despite the challenges, but noted that their oft-repeated concerns about a “lack of power” in the region were misstated. He reminded them that we only lack electricity; we have an abundance of power through the faith of our members and, in particular, the priesthood of God, which sets us apart from every other government agency or charitable entity in the region.
Those words kept coming back to me over the past week. In the temple preparation class that Michelle and I taught last week, she was explaining the need to be a full-tithe payer to be worthy to enter the temple. In a moment that qualifies for teaching nirvana, two separate women in the class bore witness how they had had recently hit a financial crisis where they chose to pay their tithing, although it looked like that would prevent them from meeting their immediate household needs. They both commented on how touched they were by the Lord’s tender mercies as they exercised their faith and were rewarded beyond their imagination for doing so.
This morning, in two separate sacrament meetings, we watched the confirmation of six new members who had been baptized during the past week. In all cases, the bishops used newly ordained Melchizedek Priesthood holders to perform and participate in those ordinances. The two newly baptized young men were given the Aaronic Priesthood this morning as well. To top it off, a man speaking in sacrament meeting this morning told how he had taken his infant daughter who had been shrieking with pain from his exhausted wife last night, but could find nothing to console the baby himself. He finally recalled that he held the authority to give his suffering child a priesthood blessing. He gave the blessing, looked up and was amazed to see that the baby had already dropped into a blissful sleep, which lasted the entire night, until she woke up this morning with a huge grin.
The electricity grid problems will continue in Ghana, but among the people I am privileged to know and serve, there is no shortage of power.