Monday, April 25, 2011

#86 Easter

Dear Family,                         April 25, 2011

     Well, this week was pretty cool. Nothing of note really happened. Just a lot of meetings. Is anyone else really impressed with the new Handbook of Instructions? I know I am. We've been part of a LOT of branch council meetings up here in the bush to train leaders on missionary work, and it's just a great experience every time. I steal a copy of book 2 every chance I get and read those first chapters. Councils govern the Church. As started in... Heaven? ...when God made the Grand Council to decide the fate of His Spirit children. That being said, take these things very seriously.
      We've been working our tail ends off, and things haven't been going 100% awesome. In fact, a lot of missionaries have been getting down right discouraged. I was starting to feel like that when, on EASTER Sunday, NO ONE came to Church. Easter is a HUGE party week here in Ghana (and I didn't get to sleep because of the crazy parties going on around our apartment.) But, when we got to Sunday School, the branch president in Sankubanase pulled us aside and said we had an investigator. His name is Samson, and he's a police inspector. We read a little with him from the Book of Mormon about Easter time (namely, 3 Nephi 8 and 9) and then ask him what he would do if the things in the Book of Mormon were true. "I should be baptized, then." YES!!!! So we immediately gave him a baptismal date. Elder Dominic and I talked about it later and we both felt like the Lord was saying, "You are working hard, but your investigators have their agency, and aren't using it well. So, here is Samson."
      The other really cool thing that happened was today, we went to go watch para-gliders for my BIRTHDAY. Well, it's not my birthday, but there would be no para-gliders on the Monday after my birthday. It was weird seeing so many white people. But man, I loved the idea of paragliding. I, to this day, have not been able to figure out how people who travel so much when they are young do so, but I think I'd like to pick up a hobby like paragliding and run all over the world finding new things to jump off.
      Of course, all my reflections have been about the Savior recently. The Atonement is such an infinite thing that I've all but given up trying to understand it. But I like what the Savior says about it in 3 Nephi 9. "17 And as many as have received me, to them have I agiven to become the sons of God; and even so will I to as many as shall believe on my name, for behold, by me bredemption cometh, and cin me is the dlaw of Moses fulfilled." Really, the Atonement was to give us all the necessary tools and helps to fulfill our divine nature. He, being so many greater then we, reached down and condescended to lift us to where He is. This came with a terrible price, but one He was able and willing to pay. I love my Savior for this, and will do all I can to help others become fully converted from Fallen Men to Sons (and Daughters) of God. I love being a missionary.
Happy Easter!
Elder W. Farnbach

Monday, April 18, 2011

#85 - Free At Last! / District Conference

Dear Family and Friends, April 18, 2011

     First, I'd like to add to the reports given by Sister Terry. Elder Ke. and Elder Om. are free. Ghanaian justice being what is it, the prosecution has appeal rights to a finding of not-guilty. What? But I doubt they'll try it. One friend very wisely pointed out that, while the original trial was widely publicized, the overturn will not be. Why? Because it doesn't make us look bad, and therefore is uninteresting. They called us on Friday night, and we talked. Elder Om. has been reassigned to the Sierra Leone, Freetown mission. He is currently requesting up to 10 months be added to his mission, so that he could spend 24 months proselyting, as he agreed to do. What a stud!

     We went to the temple this week. I was really needing it. President talks about using these opportunities as a chance to recharge. Having gone nearly 5 months without a temple trip, I realized exactly how low my batteries were when I first came in. What a relief, then, to be there! The session was packed, as other missionaries had pointed out theirs had been earlier in the week. Why? Well, interesting story. Things in the Ivory Coast have gotten worse. While the former president has been captured, his supporters are fighting worse than before. The mission home in Cote D'Ivoire has been completely ransacked, with all the computers and vans being taken. Missionary work has been suspended, and all native missionaries have been sent home (earlier, the non-natives had been reassigned). The border is completely closed, which is where the real beauty of this story comes in. The temple sessions have been packed because a group of Ivorians had come over before the border was closed to visit the temple. Even with the conflict, the Ivorian saints had been regulars at the temple. Now, they are stuck over here. I don't know anything about their living arrangements, but they are now spending all their time doing Temple work. What a blessing it must be, in a time of turmoil, to be constantly in the most peaceful place on earth. I know the work they are doing there will bless their homeland.

     The other really great experience was the District Conference. Now, I love conferences as much as the next guy, but sometimes, they just seem a little dull. Not this one. Part of it was that 6 of the 8 speakers were finishing their assignments, 2 on that day, soon. This would be the last Abomosu District conference for President and Sister Smith, Elder and Sister Terry, and Elder and Sister Ab. (in their function as full time missionaries). There was a wonderful spirit about the chapel. A LOT of work had been done to invite friends, and prominent members of the community. Every one had come prepared to listen divine instruction, and the Lord rewarded that. Elder and Sister Ab. shone as bright examples of the Ghanaian saints. They are people of faith, of understanding, working hard to share a beautiful thing with their people. Elder and Sister Terry, seasoned Africa missionaries, bore simple testimony of this work, and all the saints responded. The congregation was invited to raise their hands if the Terrys had visited them in the homes. Every hand was up. Amazing what good two people can do. Then it was President and Sister Smith. They have spent the last 5 years in Ghana. They know and love the people of Ghana more than you could imagine. President talked of his first Sacrament meeting in Ghana, surrounded by people who looked nothing like him who could not understand him. He said the Spirit of God whispered to him, "These are your brothers and sisters. Love them and serve them." He then talked about what he has learned in Ghana. The point that stuck out to me most was the great faith inherent in the people. Anyone will tell you, I love my country. But I began to realize, as President pointed out, the Lord is withdrawing His spirit from our land. As we continue to reject Him, and trample His laws, He allows us to go. Not so in Ghana. The people here love God. They seek after Him. Missionaries back home can go a few weeks without a serious lesson, or a new investigator. President pointed out, on his mission, he went 12 weeks with only a single lesson. Here, I can find 10 new investigators every week. The Spirit of God is being poured out on Africa, and this continent will find peace as it accepts the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. More temples will be built, conflicts will calm down, and Africa will be a mighty land in the near future. I intend to come back, many times if possible. Then he pointed out the great lesson I loved. It may sound offensive to those who were not there, but if you knew President Smith, and were in attendance, you would know it was not. He pointed out that the great hold-up in the Church in Africa is the people have not yet fully understood what sacrifice means. "Many of you think that living in Africa, in poverty, while others abroad enjoy luxury is your sacrifice. It is not." This is true for all of us. We tend to think it is enough, like the Dragon boy in the Voyage of the Dawntreader. The Lord knows our capacity, and requires 100% of it. It is not ours to dictate how much we must give of ourselves. This does not mean money or material things, or time, or talent. This encompasses our whole selves. We sacrifice to obtain better things. It will hurt, but we will grow to receive a fullness of all that God has and is only when we give up all that we are.
     Elder Onelu, the Area 70 from Ivory Coast, then spoke to us. I don't have much time to summarize it, but he spoke at length concerning the many traditions in Africa. He brought his family with him. They were a wonderful example of how a family should be. He encouraged the saints to lay the foundation of the Church in Ghana, and to establish righteous traditions in their families. It was just great to have an African concluding speaker. Sometimes I worry people get the idea this is a white-man's church. It is not. It is the Lord's church. It administers the Law of the Kingdom, the laws by which one may progress to eternal life.
     Many investigators were present, and we've been working to get members excited about missionary work. Two of our converts were asked to usher, and you should have seen how they beamed. The priesthood and auxiliary leaders would proudly bring our investigators to us. "See! Our brother is here." "Did you see my family here?" It was wonderful! The Queen Mothers of Abomosu and Asunafo were there, and the one from Asunafo asked to be baptized. (The Queen Mother is sort of a hard concept to explain. It is not the chief's wife, or even family. The Village Elders select a Queen Mother as a sort of judge and peace keeper in the town, and she selects the Chief. When he dies, she selects the next. When she dies, the Elders again pick a new Queen Mother) We're going to read of all the kings in the Book of Mormon with her. She's a wonderful lady.
     I love Africa. I love the African saints. I am deeply saddened, knowing that I must leave soon. I do not know when, but I will come back. I wish you all could meet these wonderful people, in this tiny village.
Elder W. Farnbach

Monday, April 11, 2011

#84 Look and Act Like Wheat

Dear Family and Friends,                                             April 11, 2011

This week was another really good one. We've got plenty of families to work with, the Branch leaders are up and excited to work, I'm not sick, and we worked on a farm today.
 I'm really trying to think of this week, though... One thing that really stuck out to me was, most of our lessons were out of the Book of Mormon. I cannot stress enough how important it is to read the Book of Mormon. I will be personally asking everyone to read it when I come home, especially if they have not. It does contain God's word. It answers all the great questions we have. It satisfies our soul, and opens a line of communication between us and God, as we ponder that maybe, just maybe, He loves ALL of us, and not just one nation, one time. What really brought this up was, I had my FIRST lesson with a militant atheist this week. It's the kind of thing missionaries dread, but I've been preparing for it my whole life.
 "Religious people are delusional." (This man has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, he claimed, and he enough of  vocab to back that up.)
"Really? What do you believe in?"
"I'm a Darwinist."
"Oh. Modern Cell Theory states that all living cells come from other living cells. How does Darwinism answer that?
"Well, there are gaps in the Theory."
"And there hasn't been a single Macro-Evolutionary fossil record discovered. You still accept this theory?"
"I'm not challenging you. My point is, there is a certain element of 'you just believe it', even if  your understanding is imperfect. That is Faith. The evidence we have of our message     is not the same kind as you would look for in a lab, but it is there. Let me give you a Book of Mormon, and you go find out for yourself."
"Why not? I'd love to enrich my library."
"Well, it's more than that. I hope we've established that we are neither delusional nor ignorant. Nothing in the whole world stands as evidence that there is no God."
"I wish I had your optimism."

I really, truly felt like we helped him. The best part was, after he had spent some time putting down the man sitting next to him, our investigator, for believing in God, he left. Our investigator then immediately said "I feel so sorry for that man."

The other lesson we really like what with a man named Isaac. He is 25, and he's been confused about religion his whole life. He knows a lot of the things he is doing are not right, but he doesn't know what he SHOULD be doing. As we explain the Priesthood and Gospel dispensations, he had a really hard time accepting the notion of "One True Church." And you know what? All the metaphors, examples, arguments I had didn't do anything. We then just simply had to ask him to pray to ask God himself. And that is true of all of us. Enos shows us that, even with the Prophet living in his house, more was required - divine communication. We are invited to ask for ourselves, and we must, because nothing else will stand the trials of this life.

I had another cool lesson today, too. While on the farm, I was "weeding" - attacking everything with a machete. Unfortunately, some of the crops were with the weeds, and they looked similar. Sound familiar? But I realized this. If you are wheat, you better look and act like wheat. And you had better not be surrounded by a bunch of tares, because those harvesting angels might not notice you. This is, of course, way too simple, but it just occurred to me how important that what we are on the inside matches what we do on the outside. I've never accepted this notion of saved merely by Grace. The things Jesus asks us to do are WAY too much work to have Him say, "But really, all you have to do is say you believe in me." "Take up your cross." "Deny yourself" "A broken heart and contrite spirit". This is work, and it is the greatest work we can ever do.

We continued our hot streak. We've had a baptism (at least one) every week for the past 5 weeks. This week looks good. Next week looks good. We just have to find someone for the 30th...

Thursday, we will go to the temple. Supposedly, that will be the trial day, but I'm not hopeful. It's been 3 times since "the last time". But, if it happens and the missionaries are released, maybe we'll be the first to see Elder Ke and Elder Om..

Love you all. I know God wants me in Africa right now. I will do all I can to serve faithfully, because I know this Church is true. There is a God. He loves us, and does everything for us. I know Jesus Christ is the Savior. He marked the path to happiness. Please, just follow it.

Elder W. Farnbach

Monday, April 4, 2011

#83 The Dreaded "M" Word

Dear Family and Friends,                                      April 4, 2011

I spent half of this week, lying on my back, absolutely hating
everything. I was joking with Elder Do. that malaria has some
unknown side effects that I will make millions documenting, including
the shortening of one's fuse.
It started Sunday night when my fever shot up to around 103 and stayed
there. Monday, I had a terrible fever, but was chipper the whole day.
Not sure why, but I was the smiliest I've been in a while. Then,
Tuesday morning... oh my gosh. I tried to go out and proselyte. Not
going to happen. When I called Sis. Smith, she told me to just bite the
bullet and take the malaria meds. I had resisted once before, out of
pride (and I was RIGHT, by the way), and so she was pretty adamant.
Tuesday, I spent asleep. Wednesday, I spent asleep. Thursday, I was
about 88%... just well enough to have to take a nasty, rickety Tro-Tro
to the mission home.

Zone Leader's Council was informative. One thing we do there is set
our goals for the upcoming month. President pointed out that, even
though we had about 200 more people with a Baptismal Date (people who
have heard our message, and agreed to be baptized), our Mission's
overall goal was LOWER. Why? Because last month, we experienced some
challenges, and NO missionary wants to miss his goals twice. So, even
though this month looks WAY better than last month, everyone just sees
his last failure, and acts accordingly. I think we do this all the
time, with too much focus on the path, and not enough hope in the
future. Because sometimes, the future is a terrifying thing. I'm
sitting down with a list of majors on Mondays now because I'm
supposed to have a future. But the whole point of what we teach is
that if you do what is right, the future works out for itself. "Take
no thought of tomorrow... sufficient to the day is the evil thereof",

The only real full day of preachin' and teachin' and workin' as
missionaries do was Saturday, and that was in a rougher area. Just a
word of advice to all the wards back home. Maybe, after you have a
really good relationship with your missionaries, ask them how the
mission honestly perceives your unit. If I was a bishop, or an elders'
quorum president, or even just a member, I'd love to have the
missionaries at their little secret meetings say things like, "Man!
Your going to that place? Sweet. I'd kill to go there." and not
"If I have to spend another day in that area, I will punch myself."

Sunday, we had a cool baptism for a sister in Sankubanase. We decided
to have it right after church. It was awesome to have the entire
congregation attend one of our baptisms. This sister was baptized by
her husband, with the entire branch there. It was a great feeling,
welcoming someone all together into the family.

President called us on Sunday. No matter how long I serve, leader or
not, numbers look good or not, that will always terrify me. We were
sitting in a lesson when "Pres. Smith" shows up on the phone. "You
take it," I say to Elder Do., and quickly go back to teaching. He
came back. "President says to call him back when we can be on speaker
phone." Oh no... That's never happened before.
-Ring ring... ring ring...-
"Hi! President Smith.”
“ Are you both there?"
*gulp* “Yes President," I said.
"Just finished reading both your letters. I'm very impressed with you
          two. You're doing great work. Make sure you teach
          the other missionaries in your Zone to do those things, okay?"
“Yes, President".
"Alright. Thank you!"
... few seconds... *Gasping for air* "We're alive!!" hahahaha. I love
President, but I thought I'd share a small missionary moment there, as
I really didn't have anything else this week to talk about.

Elder Ke. and Elder Om. had their trial moved again. THIS Thursday
should be it, though.

As Dad likes to say "Never let not having anything to say stop you
from writing a huge letter." Mission accomplished.

Elder W. Farnbach