June 3, 2015
Many of you in the US have heard of the tragedy that befell the people of Accra, Ghana, last week. We actually weathered the storm an hour and a half north in Koforidua. Storms like these always seem to hit in areas around the world where the severity is always worse because of the circumstances of the people that get caught in the middle.
Ghana has just finished its three days of mourning for the 152 people that were killed either in the gas station fire where so many were huddled under the gas station canopy to get out of the rain or in the foods that ensued down many streets and in humble houses.
Very few Ghanaians can swim and often believe that the reason white people can swim is because our skin is "waterproof". The following is a letter from Elder Bowring of the Ghana Accra West Mission that he sent home to his family this week about his experiences. He was originally a Liberian Missionary that came to Accra after the outbreak of Ebola. He will go home to the US next month.
Well this week was pretty out of the ordinary to say the least, its up in my top 3 craziest weeks on mission. So I heard that you have seen the weather and the catastrophes that have been happening over here, and that even 4 missionaries were very close to it all. Well I was one of those 4 missionaries and right in the middle of it all.
I am just going to tell you about something that I had a chance to do that was probably one of the most life changing things in my life and probably one of the craziest things that has ever happened to me. It all started on Wednesday even around 6, we were out proselyting and the rain just started coming down. We went around and helped of few people and then we went inside at about 7:30 to shower and to clean up. Around 9 I was getting ready to go to bed and I decided that I wanted to go and check on the gutter that is right out side our apartment just over our compound wall. When I checked on it, it was a raging rapid; it had completely overflown and was just going crazy. Just huge chunks of debris flowing down the gutter and I just couldn't believe it. A little bit after that we got a call from our bishop asking us to go and check on his family to see if they are ok.
Elder Vandehei (from Tennessee) and I decided to go down. We put on some cut offs and headed out. By the time we got to the end of our road we were treading water up to our waists. When we got to the road , there was a heavy current that almost took us out , I just remember looking back at Elder Vandehei like are we really about to do this, but I just had a strong feeling that we needed to keep going. Well by the time we got to the bishop's street, the current was pretty strong and we had to go towards the side of the streets by the shops. As we kept on going the water just kept on getting deeper and we ended up starting to swim. We had so many people yelling at us in building from the side “Where are you going” “Turn around its not safe” But we just kept going. We ran into my Recent Convert Phillip, who was posted up on a wall, completely terrified, the rain just coming , lighting all over the place. I will never
forget the terror on his face. I didn't even recognize him until I heard Elder Vandehei say “Phillip”. Phillip then said, “Elder Vandehei lets pray” and our Recent Convert prayed for us all begging our father in heaven to please stop the rain.
That is when I started to realize how serious the situation was. I was so scared to what we were going to find at bishops place. As we were swimming me and Elder Vandehei ran into a truck (fun fact).We finally got to his house and found his Wife with there 1 month old daughter strapped to her back, her mother holding her 2 year old son and they were at the highest point where their house could go, under a small tin shelter with water past their knees and rising. When we got there, I literally didn't know what todo. I feel like this is the first time in my life where I felt like I couldn't get out of a situation by myself and that there was nothing that we could do to help our selves. We were helpless. Finally I got the prompting that we needed to pray together, so there in the pouring rain, water past our knees,flashes of lighting going on all around us, I prayed the most sincere and heartfelt prayer I have ever offered. I was just praying with all my heart that he would show us what we needed to do , and that he would protect us , that we have done everything that we have been asked to do being faithful in keeping his commandments and that he was the only one who could help us.
After that prayer, miracles started to happen. About 3 minutes after the prayer, Elder Vandehei spotted what looked like a bucket floating out in the water, so he went and he retrieved it. It turned out to be a plastic trash can, with a lid on top and in nice condition. We decided that we needed to get the baby out of there, that is was getting worse. Bishops wife trusted us enough to place the baby in the bottom of the trash can and then to lightly put the lid on top and then to attempt to swim it out to safety. We couldn't go back the way we came because the current was just to strong , but going the other way, we had an overpass that there was dry ground there about 100 yards. Our original plan was to take the baby up to the over pass and then try to pass to the church where we “thought” our bishop was. The last I remember as we set of was bishops wife pleading with us to keep her baby safe. I was at the back of the bucket at the base holding it up while kicking my legs to keep my head above the water, while Elder Vandehei was in the front leading it. Luckily I knew the area and some things that were in the water so as we went I tried my best to talk to Vandehei to guide him to where I thought I knew where some high ground was.
Another miracle occurred as we were able to find a wall and I would hold onto the wall and the baby as Vandehei would go about 10 feet at a time to go and make sure that everything was safe ahead. We did that for about 50 yards praying the entire way and then we had another place that we needed to make a decision. We passed by a 2 story building and there were some people up there yelling at us that it wasn't safe to go to the over pass. We had been ignoring people telling us those kinds of things all night but we stopped and thought about it for a second. We told bishops wife that we were going to take the baby to the church, but now these people were telling us to just bring the baby the the upstairs building. At about the same time, me and Vandehei decided that the best decision was to just take the baby up into the story building.
As we were leading the baby inside I realized that I hadn't heard the baby for some time and my heart absolutely stopped. The worst thoughts ran into my head about how was I going to live with myself if that baby hadn't made it through our journey. I opened the top and stuck my hand inside and felt the baby and she was breathing. I can't express the way I felt when I knew she was alive.
They all decided that it would be best for bishops wife to go to be with the baby so she could take care of her, so we found a wooden shelf thing that was floating in the compound and we came and put her on the top. She was pretty scared, not one of them knew how to swim and she was so nervous. We already knew the way and we were able to get her to the story building pretty quickly, they got her there and gave her a dry pair of clothes and she was able to be with her baby.
I just felt so happy that they were together and that we made it safe. Now we went outside on the balcony of the house to figure out what we were going to do next and the next thing I know I hear this huge explosion. I turned around and just saw a huge cloud of black smoke and then a huge flame rising up. There was people screaming on the over pass and running. I felt like I was just in a movie, rain, thunder, and flood on both side of me and then a huge fire burning in front of me with people screaming and running. I just remember turning to Elder Vandehei asking him if it was the 2nd coming. It turned out to be the gas station that had exploded and it was probably only a half a mile away from us.
Luckily we looked down and the water had started to go down. That was probably one of the greatest feelings as well to see the water starting to drop. We decided that we were going to go down to the bishops house again but as we got the bottom of the stairwell, the people at the top started shouting at us that they had a brother inside his room at the bottom of the story building who needed help. We got to the house and we had to budge the door open, it took me and Elder Vandehei all we could to open the door.
He explained to us that he had been trying to get to his house ever since he called us but that he just physically couldn't. He said that we were the last phone call he had made , and after he had called us he phone died. There was one point where he was over looking his street and he just bowed his head and he just prayed that his family would be safe. We were a literal answer to his prayer. We went to his house and picked up his 2 year old boy and then we took him to his wife. I cant describe the feelings I had to see that family reunited after all that had happened.
We stuck around for a little bit but decided that we probably needed to be going now that things had settled down and the flood under control now. As we were walking back me and Elder Vandehei just started talking about what had just happened and I just had some an overwhelming sense of Gratitude to our Heavenly Father, he was literally there with us every step of the way, and I could feel His presence going through it all. When we had the baby, he led us to know what to do, where to go and protected us. He helped us make the decision to take the baby to the story building instead of taking it to the church where our bishop wasn't even there.
The only thing that I could think of was the promise that I received in my patriarchal blessing and my setting apart as a missionary that I would see dangers and be in scary situations but as I was faithful to the gospel that I could approach life with a sense of peace and direction and know that things would work out. I have seen that promise fulfilled so many times on my mission but never so much as I did Wednesday night. The Lord was with Elder Vandehei and me without a doubt that night and we were protected. I am just so grateful and my testimony has grown so much that God is always there and He will always fulfill his promises He gives to as long as we do our part.
I am sure it was quite the sight for President Hill when we showed up to his house that night. We got there around 12:30 and Elders Forrest and Uzoho were already there. Elder Vandehei and I were just in cutoff tee shirts, shoe less and soaked from head to toe showing up to President house. It was kind of funny to be honest.
This week because of all the flooding, we have done a bunch of service around the community and helped a lot of people. Come to find out that the people who we carried there daughter out are from Liberia , so we will definitely be going back there. I don't really know what else to say, I am just not the same as I was last week.
We are now homeless, we had to stay at the president house for 2 nights and now we are with the AP's and the office elders. Most of my stuff is ok, some got destroyed in the flood but nothing to serious. We don't really know what the plans are for the future, I think here in a few hours we will go back with our President to the apartment and look at things. We cleaned it all out Saturday and all the furniture is destroyed so it might be a week or so before we get back in. All that stuff doesn't matter to me now though, I am just happy that everyone is ok and that everyone one is safe. I hope that this letter does some small justice to what has happened this week. Just know that I am totally fine, I have never been better. I love you all so much and I love this gospel so much and I love my father in heaven. If I have forgotten anything I will tell you in 4 weeks ;) Love you all, Elder Bowring
There can be nothing but admiration for so many that serve whenever tragedy strikes. Blessed is the Lord that protects the servant.