Saturday, October 11, 2014


My husband's cousins, Russ and Shelley Cannon, are serving as LDS (Mormon) missionaries in Accra, Ghana. (Russ is the son of the first Mormon missionaries sent to West Africa in 1978. More on that in a future post.) Russ explains what they do like this: "We are Self Reliance Missionaries and run the Accra Self Reliance Center with the help of a dozen returned missionaries ages 24 to 28. These volunteers help us facilitate workshops that help members and non-members get a job, start a business, or get an education that leads to a job. We also have a computer center where people can write their resumes, look for jobs, or write their business plans to start a business.  We spend our Sundays visiting wards and branches around Accra telling them about our Self Reliance Center and teaching Temple Preparation Classes."
Russ and Shelley help administer the Perpetual Education Fund, or PEF, a program that provides motivated people over the age of 18 with a small loan to be used for education and training, which should in turn prepare them for future employment opportunities in their own communities. The money for the PEF comes from donations from LDS church members.

The program is modeled after a similar program used by the Mormon pioneers, the Perpetual Emigration Fund, which helped impoverished converts to the church move to Utah. Once established in their new homes, the recipients were expected to repay the money so that the funds could be used for future emigrants.
Limited funds were available, and one of the ways the Mormon pioneers saved money
was by traveling with handcarts rather than by wagons pulled by oxen or horses.
 Similarly, modern PEF recipients are expected to repay their loans once they procure a job.

Shelley and Russ have loved being part of the pool of "senior" missionaries for the church. There are currently over 88,000 Mormon missionaries serving around the world, and 5,000 of those are seniors. All missionaries, young ones and "mature" ones, go through some training in a Mission Training Center at the beginning of their mission. In Russ and Shelley's MTC group there were senior couples going to Uganda, Montreal, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, New Delhi, Omaha, Armenia, Cambodia, Iceland, Mexico, Nicaragua, Auckland, and China. Wow!

Unlike the young 18- to 26-year-old missionaries that the LDS Church is known for, senior missionaries have a little more flexibility. Russ said, "There is always plenty of time to have fun activities with over 24 couples that are serving in the Africa West Area office and the two missions based in Accra." Lucky for us, they were also able to have some fun with us on a trip along the Ghana coast, a trip we could not have taken on our own and without their knowledge of the Ghanaian world.

Senior missionaries can also choose their length of service--Russ and Shelley committed to 18 months in Ghana, and they'll be returning to the United States in January. Their mission just happened to coincide perfectly with our trip to Africa. While not exactly close to Kenya and Tanzania, Ghana was more or less on the way home, which made stopping there "convenient." I know you'll be shocked to learn that Bob and I were the only family members to drop in on them during their entire mission.

Russ and Shelley live not far from the Accra airport in a gated and very well-maintained complex owned by the church.
Senior missionaries stay in this nice church-owned apartment building:

Two other important structures are part of the compound. One is an LDS meetinghouse/office building, which is where Russ and Shelley conduct their self-reliance workshops and attend church:
. . . and the other is a beautiful LDS Temple, one of 143 that are currently operating worldwide. 
Most Mormon Temples (all but eight) are topped by an Angel Moroni, an important figure from the LDS scripture, The Book of Mormon. This one has a pretty humorous story that Russ included in one of his emails.

"The temple is closed for two weeks. Four of our volunteers are contracted to help with cleaning projects on the grounds. They told us that the large flat area of the temple roof is carpeted and the rumor about a second Angel Moroni laying unseen on the roof is true. (I have four witnesses.) The local story is that for some reason, a second, larger Angel Moroni was brought to the temple to replace the original. They were having trouble getting the first Moroni off his post when the sun broke through the clouds and radiated off him and a rainbow circled his head. (Several people have told me they have a picture of this phenomenon.) This was obviously a sign to them that he was to stay in his place, so the second angel was just laid on his side on the roof out of sight."

I guess you just can't argue with a rainbow halo, can you?

The Accra Ghana temple is very similar to the one in Redlands, California, where I live. It is 17,500 square feet to the Redlands Temple's 17,300 square feet. The floor plan is very similar. The Accra Temple was dedicated in 2004, four months after the Redlands Temple.

These distinctive fan palms lining the walkway to the temple remind me of peacock or turkey tails:

A hornbill surveys the scene:

My two hour recovery nap ended just in time for us to catch the last temple session of the day. I was a little weak from not having eaten much for over 36 hours, but the temple doesn't require a lot of energy. It was a marvelous, almost surreal experience to attend a predominantly African temple session--patrons and officiators--and to recall my youth when there were no Mormon Church members in Africa. As of October 11, 2014, there are 57,748 members of the Church in Ghana, 4 missions, and 168 congregations.



  1. I didn't notice that wonderful fan palm - crazy leaves! I wish we'd gotten some pictures of the large fruit bats they have in the area. I tried unsuccessfully to get a picture of that hornbill. I'm glad you got one. The temple compound is a nice oasis in what can be an intimidating and unfamiliar culture. It was wonderful to be able to be with Russ and Shelley and share in their experience and knowledge.

  2. What a unique and fun mission experience. Makes me want to turn in some papers! I love the angel story--it must be a puzzling sight to airplanes flying over the area.

  3. I know you are not supposed to aspire to callings but I have to admit being a senior missionary sure sounds like a fun calling.

    1. Actually, I think that is one the Church WANTS you to aspire to. (Think of the song "I hope they call me on a mission...")

  4. Beautiful compound--Dave's Bro and SIL had a much rougher experience in Benin/Togo (she lost about 25 pounds while they did their 18-month mission) from the place they lived (routinely lost power and a/c) to the places they went to church and shopped/ate. I could serve a mission like the one Bob's cousin is, but I know I would be ill-suited to the rigors of Benin/Togo.