Jeff Call, Deseret News
Editor's note: This piece is part of a series about the Ghana Missionary Training Center. Read the first piece here: Behind the scenes of Mormon missionary work in Ghana MTC.
TEMA, Ghana — When Elder Justin Brian Wilding opened the envelope that contained his mission call for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he wasn’t surprised that he had been assigned to serve in a West African nation, the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission.
“I had a unique experience,” recalled Elder Wilding, who hails from Fort Payne, Ala. “Not a lot of missionaries can say this, but when I was growing up, my dream mission was Africa. Opening my call, nobody believed me. My family knew I wanted to go to Africa. I got called exactly where I wanted to go. It’s wonderful. Like any missionary would, I did some research on it. Other than that, I’m just walking by faith.”
One thing he wasn't necessarily planning on, however, was being sent directly to the missionary training center in Tema, Ghana.
“The toughest thing is the culture change, coming from Alabama to Africa,” Elder Wilding said. “The language, the food, the culture. It takes some getting used to, but I know I’m going to love it.”
Elder Wilding, and his companion, Elder Tyson Labrum, spent 11 days in the Ghana MTC before departing for missionary service in Sierra Leone. They left their respective homes and flew directly to Ghana, which they say is both a challenge and a blessing.
“I didn’t really know what was going on,” Elder Labrum said of his first day in Africa. “It’s definitely a big change, getting used to the language. They speak a little bit different than we do. That was interesting getting through customs. But I’ve enjoyed it. It’s definitely a lot more humid here. You sweat quite a bit. I’ve never been a big fan of seafood, but I guess I’ll learn to love it. The food is spicy, but it’s not bad. A lot of rice, bread, fish, noodles.”
Elder Labrum is from the small town of Meadow, Utah. Because he has friends who served in Sierra Leone, he had heard plenty about that West African nation.
“I was in awe. I’m from a little town of about 200. And in the last three years, I’ll be the fourth missionary out of my town to serve in that mission,” Elder Labrum said during his final day at the missionary training center in Ghana last July. “There are a couple from my town that live on my same block that are there right now. It’s kind of cool how the Lord works like that. I’m way excited. I was familiar with Sierra Leone. I didn’t know where it was on the map, but I knew about it. One of my friends just got back last July from there. I have two other friends from home that are there.”
The missionary who had recently returned from Sierra Leone had already told him about the experience.
“He loved it. He loved the people,” Elder Labrum said. “They are truly ready for the gospel. I think that’s why the Church is growing so much in Africa — the people are humble and they’re ready. They want that knowledge.”
Time spent at the international MTCs can allow for a more gradual adjustment to many aspects of the local culture, such as food, language and companions from a different culture while the missionaries are still in a rather sheltered environment, Ghana MTC President Stephen L. Graham said, “rather than facing all of the changes at once upon arriving in the field.
"It’s an advantage, because when they leave here and go out into the field, it’s easy for them to adapt because they’re used to it. It’s the ones from the Western countries that have the adjustment.
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