Lark and Richard Fife returned home on Aug. 15, from Accra, Ghana, West Africa, after serving an 18-month mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Richard states, “Before we left on our mission, I thought I had an idea of what it meant to be a missionary. I knew the full-time missionaries were called to bring people to Christ. They teach of Christ’s love and His atoning sacrifice. Most of the senior couples are called to strengthen the wards and branches, work with the young adults, teach self-reliance, be involved in humanitarian efforts, family history, etc., but we were called to be the mission’s financial secretary and mission secretary. That doesn’t sound very glamorous. I have since learned that our calling is to love and strengthen missionaries.”
Lark shares that many missionaries make great sacrifices to serve a mission. She says that one young missionary who served with them will face his own personal challenge when he arrives home in the Congo. There will be no place to live, no job, and no family to welcome him home.
Before he left on his mission, he was living with his grandmother who has since passed away.
The missionary’s father, who is not a member of the church was displeased that his son had left the family to serve a mission and has moved his family to Europe. The missionary’s father has been unwilling to provide the information necessary for the young man to get a visa to join his father and the rest of the family in Europe. But fortunately, he will have his church family there in the Congo.
“We have witnessed numerous miracles during our time in Africa,” Richard comments. “All have demonstrated God’s love for his missionaries, in fulfilment of Romans 8:28. As our young missionaries complete their mission, their return home is complicated by the COVID-19 virus and closed borders. One of our missionaries was in that predicament. A repatriation flight had finally become available to him. Unfortunately, his required COVID-19 test was positive.
Miraculously, the flight was suddenly delayed for more than a week, which was long enough for him to recover, receive a negative COVID-19 test result, and board the flight home.”
Living in a foreign country like Ghana has been an interesting experience for the Fifes. They say that although the people speak English their accent is so strong that you can hardly believe you are hearing English. Richard laughs, “The scariest thing is the driving. It is like a huge traffic jam with hundreds of cars, small buses or trotros, motor bikes, pedestrians, street sellers with everything imaginable stacked on their heads, push carts, pull carts, police, taxis, and chaos.
Actually, it is a kind of a controlled chaos that somehow flows together. Driving in Ghana is like driving those electric bumper cars at the fair; add a bunch of people onto the track, and then unlike the bumper cars, don’t run into anyone.”
As Lark puts it, “The society of Ghana is made up of contradictions. The people are very religious, and you see religious signs and billboards everywhere. You will see a bus covered with scripture quotes and pictures of Christ, as well as, on the same bus, a picture of skull and crossbones and pictures of marijuana. All the buildings have tall walls with razor-wire, but the people are very kind. They love Americans.”
Lark exclaims how exciting it was to see all the women in their colorful African dresses and moms with babies strapped to their backs. The Ghanaians are a beautiful people, Lark feels, with radiant smiles. All the women, young and old have close-cropped hair cuts like the boys and men but baby like skin and complexion.
Local culture and traditions add special interest to missionary service in Africa, Richard says. He notes that His Royal Highness Togbega Gabusu Vi, a paramount Chief of Gbihohoe traditional area in Hohoe (Volta Region), passed away. There was a ban on drumming, noise making, and disturbances in the area. Flags were to be flown at half-mast during the period of mourning, and all daily activities were to be carried out with sobriety. All citizens were expected to show they are bereaved by wearing red or black attire.
The missionaries were moved out of the area until the mourning period was over. Unfortunately, one Sunday during the mourning period, the local authorities determined that the PA system used at their local chapel (the humming of the ceiling fans make it impossible to hear the speakers without a PA system) was a violation of “noise making” so four of the branch leaders were arrested. The chief’s family said things could be forgiven if the Church would buy alcohol for the mourners. Richard says, this was out of the question, so the Branch president worked out an amount of money that could be paid to the family for the infringement and the matter was closed.
“On July 13 of this year, after one of our missionaries tested positive for the virus, the dynamics of our mission changed,” Richard says. “Our immediate concern was not only for him but for those who had been in contact with him. He was one of the president’s assistants and lives at the mission compound with his companion, the office missionaries, and a missionary from Sierra Leone who is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. There was additional anxiety because he shares the office with us.” After waiting hours after being tested, they were finally contacted only to be told the devastating news that Lark was positive. “One by one each of our young missionaries also learned that they were positive for COVID-19.” The Fifes had to move their office operations to their apartment where they were quarantined. Luckily, Lark and the young missionaries had almost no symptoms and for the most part, were asymptomatic.
When the virus began and countries began closing their doors, the Fifes had an opportunity to return home but chose to stay. Their daughter, Jennifer Whelchel shares her feelings of her parent’s decision to remain in the country. “It has been wonderful to see how the Lord blesses people all over the world. As my parents sent weekly emails, I could see how they were instruments in the Lord’s hands to move forward His work in Ghana. They had the opportunity to come home when COVID-19 spread to Ghana and the borders were closed. They were going to come home early, but as they prayed, they knew that there was still work for them to do in Ghana, so they stayed. Because they stayed, they were able to help others return home, assist the missionaries who remained in Ghana, and continue to serve the Ghanaian people. Their willingness to put the Lord first is an example that I strive to follow.”
“Our family has always received blessings of protection, guidance, and the strength to bear life’s challenges,” Richard comments, “but especially during the time we have served as missionaries and through the challenges of COVID-19. Our six children have been blessed to either work from home or have other suitable jobs to provide for their families. Our grandchildren see our example of service, which example has become a part of their life and will bless them. We are grateful for the blessings we receive from serving (the Lord.)”
Submitted by Bonnie Holyoak